Prince of Annwn
This book retells the first part of the stories of the Mabinogion, the book of traditional Welsh myths. In it, Pwyll, prince of Dyved, makes a bargain with Arawn, lord of Annwn, the land of the dead. The two princes will exchange places and roles so that Pwyll may conquer Arawn’s enemy Havgan, with whom he has promised to fight a duel. Pwyll makes his way to the Land of the Dead, overcoming several dangerous foes, and comes to his meeting with Havgan in spite of delays and frightening obstacles. The second part of the book tells of Pwyll’s acquiring his wife, Rhiannon of the Birds, and his schemes to overcome his rival suitor Gwawl.
The book is well-written, with well-crafted prose. However, these ancient Welsh stories are definitely pagan — in this retelling, none of the roughness has been removed, and the pagan-ness is at times startling. More problematic than just the extreme un-Christianity of the worldview and environment of the stories (which is understandable considering the source), though, Walton seems to put a deliberate anti-Christian spin on them. She portrays Havgan, the evil adversary who is nevertheless beautiful and sympathetic in appearance, as representing the “Gods of the East” who will overcome the Celtic deities and eventually rule the western world. She also puts negative spin on Christianity. For instance, Arawn says, “Already, in the Eastern World, in those hot desert lands where Gods are rising who will drive out us Gods of the West, many men believe that death will plunge them into a sea of fire where they must burn forever. So burn they will, until at last they realize that even that fire is Illusion, bred of their own guilty fears.” After Pwyll responds in shock, Arawn explains, “No man has yet truly worshipped any God. In essence all Gods are the same, and One; but few mortals have glimpsed that Untellable Glory…so around the little they can remember those seers fashion poor clumsy un-Likenesses in their own image, and preach of these to men.”
In the author’s note, she comments, “Dream in one world, reality in another — can we be quite sure what reality is?” Obviously the author’s moral code is extremely shaky at best. The book also has a fair amount of potentially offensive content, including sexual material and quite a bit of graphic and gruesome violence and imagery. For all these reasons, I find the book morally completely lacking.