Three Celtic Tales retold by Moyra Caldecott fancifully retells a trio of classical folk stories with a unique approach. Unlike most retellings of the past few years, nothing has been modernized. Politics or social issues have not been inserted into the tale. Character genders have not been swapped. Instead, as with traditions of old, the storyteller has embellished the tales with her own personality while expanding parts of the stories she felt needed more detail.
For the majority of the book, this approach felt invisible and organic. I immensely enjoyed the last two stories in Three Celtic Tales, but the first story (“Bran, Branwen, and Evnissyen”) felt like two different tales awkwardly sewn together. One character, Bran, connected the tales. However, the first part felt like a tale from Celtic heroic fantasy, and the second felt like Christian assimilation of an ancient tale in the effort to give it religious meaning—which it probably was.
Still, there was some wonderful imagery in the tale, and I was surprised to read an ancient Celtic tale of mindless warrior zombies. I didn’t realize that concept was so old. This story was ancient in the 1300s, which only goes to prove that there is nothing new under the sun.
The other two of the Three Celtic Tales were told with authenticity and a classical feel. “The Twins of the Tylwyth Teg” was a favorite, a Welsh story of two princesses and the fairy kingdom under a lake. One twin pretends to be the other to gain a fairy prince as a husband while the other seeks love in the mortal realm. The storyteller embellished the account of the tricksy sister—not part of the original tale—but the reader will be hard-pressed to notice. Both parts of the tale felt like a wonderful whole.
“Taliesin and Avagddu” stood out as the best. The story was more epic in nature than the others, with metaphysical aspects, philosophy, and lyrical magic to take the story to a higher, narrative level. Celtic tales often focus on the repercussions of rage, jealousy, and other negative passions. They were morality tales used to teach people right from wrong within the cloak of entertainment.
This story was no different. There were unexpected twists to the tale that delighted me, especially during the conflict between the child, Gwion, and the Earth Mother, Caridwen. Caridwen has assigned a village boy, Gwion, to stir a complicated, magical brew of which a mere three drops are intended for her son, Avagddu. With the brew, her son will be beautiful and filled with all the wisdom of the world as well as great magical power. Without it, he is disfigured and defective.
The brew spatters on the village boy who reflexively sucks his hand, thus accidentally stealing the power of the brew. The story tells of him escaping the mother’s wrath and becoming the great wiseman, Taliesin. The picturesque writing in this tale and the wonderful display of practical magic felt both modern and ancient. I enjoyed the storyteller’s addition to “Taliesin and Avagddu”, which gave Caridwen’s disfigured son a happy ending.
Lastly, there were some gruesome bits in the first tale that I should warn you about. The story was told in such an authentic way that I could not tell if they were modern intrusions or surprising peeks into the non-idyllic past. Fortunately, they were brief. Overall, Three Celtic Tales is a delightful little book.
Release Date: January 16, 2003 (USA)
ISBNs: 1843195488 (9781843195481)
Publisher: Mushroom eBooks
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (social drinking)
Violence: 1 (brief gruesome death)