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The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Myth and Legend.
John & Caitlin Matthews.
Rider 2003.  Hb. £18.99.

This is a valuable collection of stories, almost entirely Irish. The authors state that Scottish, Cornish and Breton traditions have many folk tales, but lack the texts of deep myth, while the mythic and story traditions of Wales are not well represented in printed texts.

Some of the legends told here are new translations by Caitlin or John from printed versions in the original language, others are older versions by many academic scholars of Celtic, such as Kuno Meyer and Whitley Stokes. Each story is given an introduction stating where the original manuscripts can be found and indicating the background of the story and its relationship to other stories. Unlike the same authors' The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom, these commentaries do not attempt to elucidate any mysteries that may be hidden in the stories.

The myths and legends in this book include both battles of Moytura, many of the deeds of Cuchulain, the conception and the death of Conchobar, the voyages of Maelduin and of Bran son of Febal, and many others — one of the few Welsh stories is my favourite episode of Trystan and Essyllt (the one where Arthur offers Mark the choice to have Essylt either when the leaves are on the trees or when the leaves are off the trees).

Because these versions are direct translations of the original manuscripts rather than retellings, they are not the best ones for storytelling or reading. But for the same reason, they form an important collection of source material, much of which has previously only been available in specialist academic libraries.                        

Wood and Water 81, Winter Solstice 2002
© Daniel Cohen

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