Non fiction recommendations for Celtic and Welsh mythology?
August 6, 2004 10:05 PM   Subscribe

I have recently developed an interest in Celtic (Irish/Celtic) and Welsh Mythology as well as in books like _The King of Elfland's Daughter_ by Dunsany and _The Once and Future King_ by TH White. Any reocmmendations for nonfiction that covers the mythology or fiction that uses it?
posted by Apoch to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I recall Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series as being excellent — though they are young adult books, and I read them as a teenager, I recall them as being a cut above and I think I'd enjoy them today.

Anything by Dunsany is, of course, excellent. If you're looking for less novelistic works, there's the Mabinogion, which, while somewhat a fabrication, is written as nonfiction.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:26 PM on August 6, 2004

Look up the Chronicles of Prydain. It draws heavily on Welsh mythology from what I understand, and is a rip-roaring good read to share with your kids / nephews / nieces / etc. Kinda like the Narnia books, or the Hobbit, with a strong Welsh vein.
posted by scarabic at 11:56 PM on August 6, 2004

The Owl Service by Alan Garner is explicitly based on part of the Mabinogion (the tale of Blodeuwedd, Lleu, and Gronw).
The Mabinogion itself is pretty much essential if you're interested in Welsh mythology, although the later, Norman influenced, sections are rather repetetive.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 12:36 AM on August 7, 2004

Check out the Celtic folklore section on for a good online selection.

The Mabionogion and Early Irish Myths and Sagas are published by Penguin Classics, which as well as the myths always includes good introductory sections and cultural and historical background information.
posted by plep at 12:59 AM on August 7, 2004

The Mabinogion is definitely where it all starts, on the Welsh end of things. Like all "authentic" myths that aren't re-written for modern readers, it's a bit of a slog at times, but there are some great stories in it.
posted by LairBob at 5:15 AM on August 7, 2004

I keep meaning to get to Yeats' Irish Myth book...
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:37 AM on August 7, 2004

For Irish myth i'd recommend the tales of Cuchulain. Do some searches for the Tuatha De Danaan, Tir Nan Og and the Sidhe for more tales of Irish mythology. Those of us poor English kids who read 2000AD may also remember the great tale of Slaine (particularly the saga of the Slaine : The Horned God written by the great Pat Mills and illustrated by Simon Bisley).
posted by longbaugh at 11:26 AM on August 7, 2004

Yeah, I second the Black Cauldron series.

If you can get through it, the Irish epic The Tain has a bigger body count than Rambo III and some of the most hilarious scenes I've ever read of wanton, gratuitous killing. I totally lost it when some messenger introduces himself to a king, who asks his name...let's say it's Bob...and then says, "Well, here is a spear for you, Bob!" and just slays him for no reason.
posted by inksyndicate at 12:44 PM on August 7, 2004

inkysyndicate - the Tain includes the story of Cuchulain and takes great relish in informing the reader about the infamous "belly spear" (the Gae Bolg) and the fact that he could throw it with his feet. The description of uncoiling entrails as the spear was tugged out drew me into the tales as a child... Ah, innocence. How I miss it.
posted by longbaugh at 1:11 PM on August 7, 2004

Oh you've brought up a subject that's near and dear to my heart. I third the Mabinogion and would like to recommend Celtic Fairy Tales and More Celtic Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs. The Batten illustrations are so wonderful, I colored all of them in my copy.
posted by Lynsey at 4:11 PM on August 7, 2004

Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds apparently uses Gaelic mythology quite inventively. Of course, knowing nothing of Gaelic mythology when I read it, I merely found it confounding, confusing, and surrealistic (and quite good). But probably even better if you know your Irish mythology.

And speaking of the Tain, the Decemberists recently committed it to music.
posted by Gortuk at 6:11 PM on August 7, 2004

Third the recommendation for the Prydain/Black Cauldron series by Lloyd Alexander. Always liked them much more than the Narnia books for some reason. (Odd, given that I love C.S. Lewis's books for adults.)
posted by Vidiot at 10:15 AM on August 8, 2004

Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings
by Lin Carter is pretty awesome. Talks a lot about sources.
posted by th3ph17 at 8:11 PM on August 8, 2004

I hope you're still looking at this thread, beacuse Morgan Llywelyn is an absolute must-read. She has written novels about most of the main characters in Irish legends, from Fionn Mac Cumhail to Cu Chulainn. Her novel Bard is particulary good. Some of her early history novels are also good, especially Bard, which is honestly a bloody brilliant book. I know you're looking for non-fiction, but just wanted to chime in...
posted by kev23f at 2:51 AM on August 9, 2004

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