For my birthday a friend bought me a copy of Snowdonia Folk Tales signed by its author, Eric Maddern. I visited Snowdonia earlier in the year and was sad to leave, so it has been heartening to return through these tales breathed into new life by Eric’s local knowledge and enthusiasm and a fresh gust of Snowdonian air.
Eric was born in Australia but ‘after a ten-year journey around the world’ moved to Snowdonia and founded the Cae Mabon eco-retreat centre. Working in Aboriginal communities he came across the notions of the Dreamtime, songlines and ceremonial sites through which a people maintained a spiritual connection with their land and ancestors.
The Aborigines observed white Australians have no dreaming. Likewise In Britain we have largely lost touch with our spiritual heritage. In Snowdonia Folk Tales, Eric sets out to remedy this. The book is founded on a great song-line running through the Pass of Two Stones east-west through the Snowdonian mountains. Who walks this pass?
In the first two sections ‘Mythic Roots’ and ‘Legends of Arthur’ Eric covers the Matter of Britain. What I love about this section is that he has crammed in pretty much every tale from The Mabinogion which is linked to Snowdonia! These old, old, myths contain deep wisdom but in the translations I have read can come across as inaccessible and wooden.
Eric really gets into the bones of the characters and brings them to life. His re-working of the story of Lleu and Blodeuwedd is exemplary in conveying their feelings, teasing out the humour but also maintaining a sense of the numinous. The dragons buried at Dinas Emrys by Lludd form a narrative thread worming their way into the story of Merlin and Vortigern. Merlin disappears as mysteriously as he appears with the Thirteen Treasures of Ancient Britain. ‘Rhitta and the Cloak of Beards’ is hilarious. An unexpected gem is a brave reworking of the story of Lindow Man (how Eric connects him with Snowdonia I will leave out as I don’t want to spoil the surprise).
The following sections are ‘The Lives of Saints’ ‘The Tylwyth Teg’ ‘Folk Tales’ and ‘Historic Legends’. Arthur gets his come-uppance from St Padarn for coveting his richly woven clerical robe. The ‘fair tribe’ travel from Cader Idris to make mischief by inspiring endless dancing with the gift of a magical harp. The harp reappears floating hauntingly on Bala Lake after the old town of Bala was drowned and the harpist made a narrow escape with the aid of a robin. The stories of Maelgwn Gwynedd, Owain Glyndwr, Mari Jones and others illustrate beautifully how the lives of real people become the stuff of legend.
I enjoyed this collection of Snowdonian myths, oral tales and embellished histories immensely. I would recommend it to all people interested in Snowdonia and Britain’s heritage and to everybody who enjoys a good story. I also hope it will encourage people to visit some of the incredible places where these tales are set and share them with a wider audience.