Monday, March 11, 2013

The Island of the Mighty - Evangeline Walton

I've had this first book of this fantasy tetralogy on my TBR list for a long time and can't remember where I heard of it.  I picked up this volume in a used bookstore in Sedona last fall where it was sold as a collector's item and it being the first one of the series to be read, I was able to begin the collection.

The stories are "a retelling in novel form" [NY Times Review] of the old Welsh stories dating from medieval times called the Mabinogion. This volume tells of a time when family lines descended from women (the mother right) and kings and rulers had magical powers to read minds and change their shape as told in druidic legends.  This story explores the power of love and hate, sibling rivalry and the consequences of our actions.

The fascinating perspective to me is that the author wrote this book in 1936 and it received little notice until it was rediscovered in the 1970's and became a hit, presumably when fantasy novels were promoted to the youth of the time.  I gather from the reviews that it was unique in interpreting the ancient stories and making them accessible to the public.  The author J.R. Tolkien made use of the legends in creating his stories of kingdoms of long ago.

Walton was a Quaker, well-educated and a serious student of the Welsh mythologies who moved to Tucson, Arizona in 1946. She had been treated with silver nitrate tincture for an illness as a child which left her with a gray cast to her skin, adding to her appeal to sci-fi fans.

I wanted to read the series too because I have ancestors who were Welsh on both my father and mother's side and I'm speculating that these stories may provide some insight into myths they may have grown up with in their country.

The pronunciation of the characters names are a mystery to me; Math, (with an upside-down "v" over the "a'), Gwydion, Arianrhod, LLew; I will need to find some audio recordings of Welsh to understand what they might sound like. I even had a great-great uncle named Llewellyn.

Look for my future reviews of the rest of the series as the year goes on.

Published: 1936 (as The Virgin and the Swine) 1970   Read: March 2013  Genre: Fantasy

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