Cú Chulainn is Cooler than Hercules

9-22-10 first day of fallFall is here! The mornings are actually cold, even here in Georgia, and pumpkins are everywhere. The leaves are turning beautiful colors. Maggie and I went on a hike in the nearby nature trails with her Girl Scout troop today. The weather was gorgeous. Yesterday, we walked across the street to the Taste of Roswell Festival, and we tried all sorts of delicious food from local restaurants. I love living in an area with so much fun stuff going on and so much history, too. Or, I should say, in comparison to other places I’ve lived. Most of our local history is Civil War history, but it’s quite interesting.

Speaking of history, I’m reading Thomas Cahill’s book How the Irish Saved Civilization. It’s been such a pleasure to read so far. He discusses the Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge or The Cattle Raid of Cooley, which I read in a Celtic literature course I took in college. That class was the single most interesting and influential of all the English classes I ever took. It was fascinating. I must have learned a lot that I didn’t even remember I’d learned, too, because as I read Cahill’s book and he was discussing the two groups of Celtic languages, he mentions that one was Brythonic, and in my mind, I said, “and the other was Goidelic.” Then I turned the page, and sure enough, I was right. I have no idea where I pulled that out of my memory, but I can only have learned it in that class. Most of the literature we read in that class was pre-Christian, although of course was written down later by Christian monks, so like Beowulf, some of it has Christian elements now, although not as much, surprisingly, as Beowulf does. We studied some of the early Welsh stories, including Arthurian romances, which is how I know that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is much more like the original stories of Arthur than some of the other movies that profess to take the subject matter seriously (First Knight, I’m looking at you). Anyway, it’s been a great review, and it has only convinced me that I must, must, must read the Táin again, and I also need to check out some of the other stories, like the Legend of Derdriu and the Welsh Mabinogion and romances. I’m at a point in the book at which Cahill is discussing St. Patrick, and he was a heck of a lot more fascinating than I even realized. I love Greek myth, but Cú Chulainn is cooler than Hercules. Just sayin’.

Today was a really Celtic day around here as I fired up Pandora and listened to a Celtic station. We discovered my husband can’t sit still when he hears Celtic music, which was funny, but what was funnier was how much Dylan enjoyed it! He was bopping his head and wiggling his butt in his chair. It was pretty cute. I think it’s true that anyone with a little bit of the blood of the Celt in him responds in some visceral way to Celtic music. I know I do, and so many others seem to as well. Incidentally, if you’re looking for some good Celtic music, check out Mychael and Jeff Danna. I don’t think you’ll be sorry. Their inspiration is ancient Irish myth, and I have two albums—the only two Celtic albums I think they’ve created—A Celtic Tale and A Celtic Romance.

I’m also still giving Wuthering Bites a skeptical go, but so far, it’s a little weird. I want to see what Gray makes of Catherine wanting to be let in to her old room and scaring the bejesus out of Lockwood. So, what do you think? Is it really Catherine’s spirit, or is it a dream? I am still trying to decide, but I lean toward the former. Lockwood was asleep, but I am not sure it was all part of his dream.

What have you been up to this weekend?

photo credit: Kristymp


The Beguiling of MerlinYet again, it seems that King Arthur has become inspiration for a new work. The BBC ran the series Merlin in the UK last year, but it has only now reached the US. I just watched the first two episodes on Hulu. I didn’t hate it, and that’s a pretty ringing endorsement. Let me explain.

When I was a junior in college, I took Medieval Literature the same quarter as a special Topics in English class on Celtic Literature. The two often crossed, as when my Medieval Literature professor assigned Le Morte D’Arthur (volume II) while my Celtic Literature professor assigned The Mabinogion. Our version of The Mabinogion, like many others, includes not only the four branches of the Mabinogi, but also some early Welsh Arthurian Romances, such as “Culhwch and Olwen,” “The Lady of the Fountain,” and “Peredur son of Efrawg.” In these early tales, readers will meet some familiar characters, including Arthur himself, Gwenwhyfar (Guinevere), Gwalchmai (Gawain), Cei (Kay), Peredur (Percival), and many others. My Medieval Literature professor used to require outside reading (in addition to required texts), and he recommended Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. I didn’t read the entire book: just the parts about Arthur. This text also contains the story of King Lear (called Leir in this book, and possibly derived from the Welsh god Llŷr). I think I can definitively trace my interest in King Arthur to that quarter in winter 1991 when I took those classes. The cross-pollination of ideas served to make the subject much more interesting to me.

I am not as widely read in the subject as an expert, but for a layperson, I’ve read a lot. I know the canon. I really don’t like non-canonical Arthurian legend… unless it’s clever. For instance, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon happens to be my favorite Arthur novel precisely because Bradley ingeniously tells the story of Arthur through the eyes of the women in his life: his mother, his wife, and most importantly, his much maligned sister Morgan le Fay. I also really liked the TV movie Merlin, starring Sam Neill. That film told the story through the eyes of Merlin, as this new TV series does (after a fashion). I absolutely detested the film First Knight, which should have been wonderful: Sean Connery as Arthur and Julia Ormond as Guinevere. What could go wrong? Well, for starters, Richard Gere as Lancelot. Also, let’s not offend American sensibilities. Instead of including an important plot point involving incest—Mordred is often portrayed as the result of a Arthur’s seduction by one of his sisters—the character Malagant is introduced as an antogonist raping Guinevere’s country of Lyonesse. Whatever.

I am not sure why deviation from canon bothers me so much. I only know that it does. Merlin isn’t bad. It clearly isn’t period, but most King Arthur stories aren’t, even the great Le Morte D’Arthur, so period detail doesn’t bother me as much. Arthur stories have never been period because each period seeks to make an Arthur after its own image, I think. I find some of the casting a little weird. The choice of making Guinevere Morgana’s servant is baffling. The Renaissance faire geek in me doesn’t mind some of strange sets, either. I will keep watching. I discovered Hulu lets you subscribe to a show via RSS, which is probably something everyone out there but me already knew.

At any rate, I think it’s inspired me to pick up some Arthurian fiction I haven’t read and dip back into The Idylls of the King, which can’t be bad at all.