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Old 09-03-2003, 04:55 PM
Engywook Engywook is offline
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Prydain and Tolkien (and British folklore) - possible spoilers

I've just started re-reading Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles - which I last read nearly 20 years ago, at the age of 12 - and I'm immediately struck by the similarities between Prydain and Middle Earth.

Take, first of all, the Summer Country - I'm reminded of Valinor. Arawn and Sauron could be drinking buddies. And Coll, Dallben, and the Horned King may be similar to the Maiar. While I know that Gurgi amounted to much more, the way he speaks is strikingly similar to Smeagol.

I wonder if such similarities might be a result of Alexander and Tolkien drawing from the same, or similar, folklore. Both Valinor and the Summer Country, for example, could be echoes of Avalon or some other unreachable island paradise from the mythologies of the isles. Arawn was a "real" figure in Welsh mythology... might such a being have been a model for Tolkien's Sauron?

How deep do these similarities go?

Unrelated question: was there a Gurgi in Welsh mythology?
Old 09-03-2003, 08:07 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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They both definitely have some common ground. Virtually everything in Prydain comes from Welsh mythology. Tolkien has some Welsh influences as well, but he tried to be mostly English.

I'm not sure that Coll, Dallben, and the Horned King are really analogous to Maia, though... Dallben was just a normal human, until he accidentally tasted the brew of the Three Os (although those three might arguably be Maia). The Horned King was just the champion of Arawn, a petty warlord whom he elevated. And Coll was not only mortal, but common: He was an everyman sort of hero. The House of Don, though, does seem rather Numenorean.
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Old 09-03-2003, 08:21 PM
panamajack panamajack is offline
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They were both doing the same sort of thing - working elements of an ancient mythology into a new story. And both working through a basically British view of those elements, so it's no wonder they have some similarities.

Tolkien leaned more on the Norse tales (e.g. the Eddas), but manages to work in some of the Celtic & Germanic influences; he was in some sense re-creating English history.

Alexander's source material is primarily the Welsh tales collectively known as the Mabinogion. While in their present form they've gone through some modifications from transcribers they retain a strong Celtic flavor.

I can't recall if there's a definite Gurgi character, but there's at least the loyal servant (which is partly what Gurgi is). Something else of note : One of the stories in the Mabinogion is of how Culhwch won Olwen. 'Culhwch' means "pig-town" and 'Olwen' means "white footprints" (cf. the epithets of Taran & Eilonwy).
Old 09-04-2003, 02:30 PM
panamajack panamajack is offline
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Location: up the coast
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Actually, I misremembered - 'Culhwch' is "pig run", not "pig town", which is Mochdrev, referenced in another story (Math?). Doesn't change it really; moreover, the exact meaning of the words isn't all that well known, and probably less so when Alexander wrote.

The meaning of names in the Welsh stories are rather important - often parts of the story are modified to try and explain place names or character traits. As often as not somebody got it wrong, though, so it's kind of interesting to see elements attempt to fit in.

On an unrelated note, I was looking through my copy of the Mabinogion and found that the 'Dream of Maxen' is based on the story of Maximus ("the general who became a slave ... who defied an empire ...").


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