Tag Archives: Culhwch and Olwen

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!

In which I have a theme for this summer

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Lately I’ve been suffering from a rather unfortunate case of writer’s block. There’s various reasons for that (which I will save for another post) but it came down to me worrying about keeping up with my schedule since, well, no ideas=no motivation to write=missed posting dates. It doesn’t help that every summer my brain tends to shut down in an effort to recover from what I put it through over the academic year. Here I was then, moping over my lack of scheduled posts when it hit me! I could do a series of themed posts! Not a post-per-day one; I’m still trying to recover from NaPoWriMo…

So here’s how it’s gonna work for the next couple months: Tuesday posts, instead of being my usual quasi-coherent rambles will be devoted over things that I noticed during my last semester’s Arthurian Traditions module but didn’t have the time or energy to write about. Don’t expect anything incredibly serious, I am on holidays after all. It’ll be short pieces on the more bizarre things that came up during conversations or my own obsessive note-taking sessions. Hey, I’ll even give you a preview! Next week our subject will the tale of Culhwch and Olwen and how it is, in fact, a romantic teen comedy.

In which there is a level-up

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Not on the quality of my writing, sorry! No, I realised the other day that I’ve reached a level of familiarity with the subject I am studying where I feel I can get away with pop culture references. Don’t get me wrong, the occasional Monty Python or Airplane (or Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or whatever) joke came up in the conversation, but I had never actually done something like that on coursework. And then I was assigned to do a presentation on Culhwch and Olwen, which, when you take out all the death, violence and magic, is the story of an overprotective father who won’t let his daughter date anyone and kills anyone brave (or stupid) enough to try. Cue a frantic search for relevant jokes and kudos to Google for providing me with this little gem:

torturing your daughter's boyfriend

So why do I consider this a level-up? Well, think about it. If you’re going to seriously study something (in my case Medieval Literature), then the least you can do is treat your subject with the respect you’d show someone much older than you (who also happens to be in possession of several embarrassing anecdotes from your parents’ youth). Eventually however, you will start gaining familiarity with them, until you are trading stories instead of just listening. I claim to be no expert in Middle Welsh poetry or Arthurian legends. I can only say that I have spent enough time reading (about) them to recognise names, themes and patterns and to see them more as a part of a long chain of literary works that -when stripped to their bare bones- all go back to the same subjects, rather than as a remote and separate entity that cannot be comprehended (I leave that sort of holy terror for the moments I have to speak on the phone. I HATE talking on the phone!)

Next level-up would be for me to be capable of stringing two sentences together in Middle English, if only to enjoy the look of shock on the faces around me if it ever happened in casual conversation. I do that sometimes with Shakespearean expressions and the result is usually hilarious.

 

 

P.S. Cookies to whoever guesses which Monty Python and Airplane references we made most often!