In which the Welsh invent Rom-Com

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Ever heard of the Mabinogion? It’s collection of stories (originally in Middle Welsh I think) that were introduced to me as one of the earliest collections of Arthurian tales still around. Meaning that there are recognisable names, romance, random supernatural forces, mindless violence, bizarre quests and generally hijinks. Also a Rom-Com. I’m not kidding! Culhwch and Olwen is a rom-com, I swear. Here’s what TV Tropes have to say about rom-coms:

 

“Every story needs a conflict, and since rom-coms are driven by the quest for love, the conflict derives from the obstacles to the quest. This could be the apparent incompatibility of the leads: mutual Love at First Sight is rare. The two characters will spend a good part of the movie fighting their obvious attraction. Eventually, they’ll realize they’re perfect for each other. Or, something will pop up; maybe a Three’s Company kind of misunderstanding, or a revelation in the third act about one of them lying. One of the two characters will storm off in a huff. Or the couple is already married for some reason, and the conflict comes partially from different expectations and misunderstandings.

 

The climax of a rom-com requires the satisfactory recognition of love: the other chases after the love interest and does something really romantic to win them back. The reconciliation scene ends with the two characters reunited in a romantic embrace. Often ends in a wedding.”

 

Now match that to what happens in Culhwch and Olwen: Culhwch, the hero, is cursed to only marry Olwen, who in turn is forbidden by her father to marry at all. Here’s the Romeo and Juliet angle, with Ysbaddaden being either the Big Bad or the Overprotective Father, depending on your reading of the story (coughTenThingsIHateAboutYoucough). Culhwch would then be the Big Damn Hero (whether he deserves the characterisation for any other reason other than his name being on the title is up to debate) and Olwen the Magical Girlfriend.

 

Of course it wouldn’t be a rom-com if there weren’t an assorted cast of characters to surround our star-crossed mains. Call it a motif or trope but Culhwch’s gang can be categorised under Six Go Round The World, a group that includes somebody ideal for every occasion that may arise (also known as token characters). They are provided by Culhwch’s Fairy Godmother of a cousin, our good old friend, Arthur. One might argue that Culhwch and Olwen’s aunt (just go with it) is also a Fairy Godmother, since she enables the two lovers to meet.

 

And, truly, it wouldn’t be a rom-com without wacky shenanigans now, would it? Just have a look at what Ysbaddaden demands Culhwch and co. do before he agrees to the wedding! Sure, serious people call it a quest, but considering an impressive amount of the things the knights collect go towards giving the Big-Not-So-Friendly-Giant a makeover…well….

 

To top it all off, this little, violent beyond expectation, rom-com ends with a wedding. Say what you will about what happens before but at least these two crazy kids will have some fantastic, How-I-Met-Your-Mother-esque stories to tell in the future!

 

Sooooo….How close is my wacky interpretation to the original? Have a look here and see for yourselves!

2 responses »

  1. I’ve still not got around to reading The Mabinogion. It’s been on my to-read list for a while, as I like to read old Celtic tales from the lands I live. I have read The Tain, and others. It has been a bit of a bugbear of mine that in our schools here we learn about Roman and Greek mythology, but our own British mythology is ignored. Although recently I was amazed when my then seven year old daughter came home from school and told me she had read The Children Of Lir. Whenever we are at the lodges now and she sees a swan she talks of this story. So there is hope yet!

    • I read it last autumn as part of my university research and it was my first contact, so to speak, with Celtic myths. Funny thing though, Children of Lir is on MY to-read list.

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