Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bird Myths, Pt.3: The Jewish Ziz
In searching Google Images for the Ziz I found this modern
children's book making use of this rather minimal myth.
I can't believe the author would mind a little free publicity!
       When I was writing The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, (see the Prologue and first six chapters here), I made Capt. Robbin Nikalishin a birder. What better qualification for the man who will head up the mission that encountered the first intelligent lifeform known to humanity -- and who happened to be big birds? During the mission out, there was a lot of boring downtime and one way the crew entertained itself was by telling bird myths, each crewmember telling tales from his or her own culture.  Now, this section will be cut or drastically emended if I ever get that monster ready for publication, but I did too much research and had too much fun writing it to let it all disappear, so what better place to display it than on a blog devoted partially to myth in literature?
       I did no editing or abridging to the following passage, so some explanation may help.  Lt. Avi Oman is the ship's Communications Officer.  He's Jewish and at one point earlier in The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, I decided I wanted him to get married.  (You see how far off topic I got in this saga?)  I used that as an excuse to depict one of the self-governing Enclaves for particular ethnic or religious groups that have been set aside in my secular 28th century.  And since I didn't know much about Jewish weddings, I had to research them.  That was the start of my fascination with all things Jewish, which went on for some three months, far beyond the wedding idea, even prompting me to study a little Hebrew.  Rabbi Eliyahu Kohn, who is mentioned in the selection, was a character in that section of the book.  Avi's father is the Minister of Trade for the Enclave and he and Rabbi Kohn and Rabbi Natan Ben-Ari are very close friends.  Similarly, Avi and the sons of the two Rabbis were also close friends.  Daniel was the son of Rabbi Ben-Ari, but Daniel is dead.  So that's a bit of the background. (Parenthetically, I might say that someday I may extract the part with the wedding and the Rabbis and publish it as a novella.  The story of Rabbi Ben-Ari is very moving, while the depiction of the Istrian Judish Enclave and the story of what became of the Jewish people in future times is absorbing in itself.)


       Avi began.  “All of you should know by now that I was brought up in the Istrian Judish Enclave.  My ancestral people had legends about a bird called the Ziz.  Now, the term appears only once in our sacred writings, in a verse in the book called Tehillim, and even there the meaning isn’t very clear.  It just says, ‘I know all the birds of the mountains, and the ziz of the field is mine.’  It’s sometimes just translated as ‘wild beast’ because nobody knows exactly what animal God was referring to there.  Oh, yeah, I forgot to say, the speaker in that passage is God.”  Avi snickered, and Robbie found himself thinking how ill at ease it made people to openly discuss private cultural heritages.       “Later on,” Avi continued, “it was interpreted to be a big bird equivalent to some of the other fabulous giant birds of the Near East, like the Phenix or the rook.”       “Hold on,” said Robbie.  “Last time I looked, the rook was a real bird, and it’s not all that giant."
“Well, that’s the modern spelling of ‘roc’ or ‘rukh,’” said Linna.  “I’m going to hit a little bit on those stories later, if there’s time.  Go on, Avi.”
“The ancient Rabbis who wrote the interpretations of Judish scripture called the Talmud named the Judish version of the rook the ‘Bar Yokneh.’  But they also equated it with the Ziz, for no particular reason that I can see, but then I’m no scholar on such matters.  In our times it became a subject for nursery tales.  My father’s old friend, Rabbi Eliyahu Kohn – some of you met him at my wedding … ”  And Avi beamed, but whether at the thought of his wedding or at the recollection of the Rabbi’s funny, wrinkly grin it was hard to say.
Then Avi cleared his throat.  “It was from Rabbi Kohn, the man I call Uncle Ely, that I first heard about the Ziz.  You see, there are three great Judish beasts.  One of them is the lord of the ocean, the livyatan, or king of the fishes … ”
       “In Inge it’s ‘leviathan,’” said Linna.  “It just means a big sea monster.”
“Oh, it is?” said Avi, looking foolish.  “I’ve never heard the Inge word for it – thanks for enlightening me, Linna!  Anyway, besides this big sea creature, there was a monstrous ox – and I know the Inge for that – it’s ‘behemoth,’ which just means ‘cattle’ or ‘livestock’ in Hebru.  And so I suppose the Talmudists just decided to make this mysterious creature called a ziz into a giant bird to round out a trio of fish, beast, and bird. 
“On the Fifth Day of Creation God made the fishes out of water, and then he made the birds out of marshy ground, a mixture of water and earth.  On the Sixth Day of Creation, he made the land animals out of dry earth, and then that same day he went on to make human beings, but that gets us into a whole different story.  So while the … lev-AI-a-than? … was made to rule the fishes and the behemoth the beasts, so the Ziz was made to rule the birds – King of the Birds, like Garuda.  And he is every bit as fabulous as Garuda – he’s so big that his head touches the sky."
And Avi chuckled richly, pinching his whiskered chin.  “I’ll never forget the first time I heard Uncle Ely talk about the Ziz.  I was only five years old, and he and his wife had taken his three children and me down to swim at the beach.  His son Ziv is one of my best friends – some of you may remember he was one of my witnesses at the wedding.  Uncle Ely went in the water, too … ”  He broke off.  “Now, don’t look so skeptical, Captain!  Remember this was almost 25 years ago and Rabbi Kohn was only in his early thirties.  Anyway, he told the tale while he was standing in water up to his calves, and this is it.
“One time some people were sailing in a boat and they came upon this huge bird standing in the water, so tall that its crest brushed the sky.  And here Uncle Ely sort of pranced around and kicked up spray, and then settled down standing on one leg like a stork.  And he ruffled up his hair with one hand like a bird’s crest – he had more hair then, too.  Ziv and I and Ziv’s two sisters giggled our heads off."
 “What?  The Rabbi wasn’t wearing his kippah?” queried Robbie, who was enjoying himself tremendously.
Avi regarded his Captain with mock exasperation.  “Well, it’s kind of hard to keep a hat on your head when you’re swimming, so he made an exception.  Uncle Ely went on to say that since most of the bird’s legs were above the water line, the people on the boat thought the sea was shallow at that spot, and they decided to jump in and take a bath.  But then a voice came out of the heavens – and here Uncle Ely made his voice really deep and ominous … “Do not jump in!  Once a carpenter dropped his axe overboard at this spot and it did not reach the bottom for seven years!  This bird is the Ziz, and you will never see its like elsewhere!’  Avi, too, made his voice unnaturally deep, wagging his head pompously.
“And then Uncle Ely stretched out his arms and announced that the Ziz had wings so broad that they darken the sun and hold back the winds from the south, which otherwise would have blown the Judish people away long ago.  And Uncle Ely flapped furiously … you remember how scrawny he is – his arms could hardly have darkened or held back anything!  Then he came back onto the beach and hunched down over a large stone as if he was incubating it and said that the Ziz had eggs so big that one time when one fell out of its nest and broke, 300 trees were crushed and the fluid flooded 60 cities.  Humanity is fortunate that normally the Ziz is very careful with its eggs!”
Avi paused to let everybody laugh and then he said, “I’ll always remember with pleasure what a cutup Uncle Ely could be when we were children.  He was so much fun.”
“Where was Daniel?” asked Robbie softly.
       Avi glanced at him.  Not many people in the room knew about Daniel.  "Oh ... he was only three at the time, you know -- not old enough for that kind of excursion.  but that's not the whole story of the Ziz.  He appears in several later tales meant especially for children.  I'll tell just one of them ... "

Friday, February 22, 2013

Latest Thoughts on "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head"

       I originally posted this piece back in June of 2012, but strangely enough, hardly anybody viewed it at that time.  Now, at February 22, 2013, as I'm getting ready to publish v.2, The Storm-Wing, I'm going to repost and update this piece.   I'm also going to upgrade the abridged sample chapters from The War of the Stolen Mother, so that the complete text, from the opening "Translator's Foreword" through Chapter 8 are on this same blog.  You can also download approximately the same amount of text as a Smashwords sample.

        I've inserted the back cover of The War of the Stolen Mother in the sidebar. I decided, instead of doing a description or a blurb, to use an adaptation of another of my illustrations for The War of the Stolen Mother.  It shows the first meeting between the Companions of Ki'shto'ba and the trickster Za'dut. I hope you enjoy it!
        The original art for the back cover showed the scene set among dark rocks, but I thought I would make the back mirror the front, so I framed it with the tree instead. The original also includes A'zhu'lo, but the twin would have made it a little crowded. The little critter that Wei'tu is hanging onto is one of the Little Ones -- the domesticated "dairy ants."
        Probably the only thing I might change about these covers is the type font. I'm using Lucida Bright -- I abandoned Book Antigua in this series because the apostrophe, which gets used a lot, is kind of strange in that font. But I'm not real happy with Lucida Bright either, so I may tinker some more. I have a weakness for Harrington, but it's probably fancier than would be wise to commit to. I want to settle on a font I can use for the entire series. [I ended up using Harrington on the front cover, but I'm not using that font on The Storm-Wing.]

        The formatting for the printed book is coming along. The whole thing has 36 chapters and yesterday I completed Ch. 26. That is to say, I've got that much inserted into the template. I've been making quite a few alterations as I go. Some of them are stylistic and some are substantive, but a lot of them are required to make the text fit. Remember those long, made-up names, with the syllables separated by apostrophes? You can't divide those syllables at the ends of lines -- it would look goofy! Therefore, since the text has to be justified, some lines end up with big gaps between the words. That will never do! So I have to rewrite so that the long names come at the beginnings or in the centers of lines. I never make things easy on myself! [I have now gotten used to this process and even find it rather fun!]
        The footnotes have turned out to be less of a problem than I expected. I haven't had any instances where the text split itself between pages, and only one instance that I can remember where I had to adjust for a big space at the end of the page.  [In The Storm-Wing, I had one  long footnote that had to be split between pages.  I really hate that, so I fixed it by moving the numeric reference to a later point in the text.  It's a satisfactory solution, at least in this case.]
        So all this fiddling means typos may creep in and that's why I'll probably want to peruse the thing one last time.

        I may change my mind and make an attempt to put Stolen Mother on Smashwords. I sell something every now and then to people who don't have Kindles, and I do get quite a few sample downloads, which can't hurt. It's all going to depend on whether they can cope with footnotes.  [I did that, of course, and now know exactly what to do.  Amazing how one learns from experience!]

        I have a confession to make. "Stolen Mother" is a terrible spoiler for The Termite Queen! Since it takes off right at the end of TQ, there's a lot of talk about what happened in that story. (More reason for you to buy and read Termite Queen right away!) When I did that, I never thought of it as a spoiler; I thought of it as filling in the backstory, since people who haven't read TQ may read these books. There is nothing I can do about it since references to the plot of TQ are embedded in the fiber of Stolen Mother and subsequent tales. Oh, well ...

        I have only one other remark: Back in the post about the titles of the six volumes, I stated that the tentative title for Volume V would be The Quest for the Golden Fungus: The Companions Reach the Sea.  I've decided to make it The Quest for the Golden Fungus: The Path of Gold (or The Golden Path -- I still have to ponder that some more). Otherwise, the titles are pretty much set. [Actually, I'm still pondering the titles for the final two volumes.  I think these are way too long, but I do want to keep the term The Quest for the Golden Fungus, because it mirrors The Golden Fleece.]

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Prince of Annwn, by Evangeline Walton: Analysis, Pt. 4

This is the fourth in a series of posts in which
I will examine Evangeline Walton's Mabinogion Tetralogy
and how she adapts the original myths.
Prince of Annwn is the first volume of the work,
retelling the First Branch of the Mabinogion.

Gwawl in the Bag (if that's Pwyll, he is disguised as an old man!)
From More Celtic Fairy Tales,
selected and edited by Joseph Jacobs
Illus. by John D. Batten
New York, Putnam's Sons, 1895
       Evangeline Walton sets up a history for the "Island of the Mighty" in Prince of Annwn as early as the second chapter of the book.  We learn of the Old and the New Tribes and later we learn that the New Tribes invaded from Ireland and colonized the region called Dyved while forcing the Old Tribes to retreat into Gwynedd.  (See Kingdom of Dyfed in Wikipedia, where it's stated that that area consisted of Irish tribal lands.)  Hence, Pwyll is of the New Tribes. The High King Beli rules over both areas and he has kept the peace, but he is aging and, because he is of the Old Tribes, he will be succeeded by his sister's son Bran, one of the Children of Llyr (the title of Walton's retelling of the Second Branch, by the way).  The Old Tribes retain their ancient Goddess-centered beliefs; they are matrilineal and they don't recognize the role of the father in child-bearing.  The New Tribes do recognize it and generally scorn the Old Tribes as troglodytes, in spite of their many mysterious powers.  Beli has a son named Caswallon, who wants to follow the new rules and seize the throne in his own right.  Thus a war is brewing. 
       Pwyll may be of the New Tribes, but he isn't completely comfortable with their practices.  At the beginning of the story, he thinks he wants to support Caswallon and he also practices the droit du seigneur, sleeping with many of his kingdom's brides on their wedding night, but he refused to mate with a white mare when he took the throne, a ritual that is supposed to ensure the fertility of the King.  When he first meets Rhiannon in the apple orchard, she assures him that if he had performed that act, she would never have sought him out.  "The mare would have been as defiled as you!" she tells him.  "Only your druids of the New Tribes could have devised such sacrilege, they who reject the Ancient Harmonies and twist what little wisdom they can gain into foul foolishness -- seeking their own ends!"  At first Pwyll is offended at this insult to his people, but then he acknowledges that he won his kingdom through the support of his warriors while only one of his Druids stood by him, a young kinsman named Pendaran Dyved.

       Now this prepares the way for the plot development in the final section of the book.  Pendaran Dyved is the only Druid to be named in the First Branch of Mabinogion itself, but he plays no major role there.  Walton introduces other Druids, especially an unnamed Chief Druid whose purpose is simply to embody the evil forces at work in the land.  It's he who goads Pwyll into sleeping on the dangerous mound of Gorsedd Arberth.
       In an important sequence in Part II, Chapter 10, the evil Druid lectures Pendaran Dyved in the realities of present-day life. 

       "Boy, under the Oldest Tribes Queens alone reigned in Dyved, and all of them were the Shadows She [i.e., Modron] cast among men.  When Kings came, they were Her sons at first, and later, when a new people came, Her husbands.  Even among us of the New Tribes, no King may yet reign in his own right; he must always wed the old Goddess of the land."
       And now comes a clue -- a remark I just noticed -- that may help explain the point about how Rhiannon was raped by a forefather of Pwyll.  Pendaran says, "My forefather and Pwyll's seized the last Queen, but she bore him no girl-child.  A pity."  And the evil Druid responds, "It is no pity, but a blessing that that time of witches came to an end.  To make men stronger and women weaker we druids devised the Bridal with the White Mare.  In her name we wield the Queens' ancient power. ... There is no more of Her in the White Mare than in any other she-beast. ... Sometimes it is needful for the wise to deceive common men.  ...  If the people lose the White Mare too soon, the power of women may wax again."  And then he coldly informs Pendaran, "We serve the Man-Gods.  ...  The day of the Mother is done."  In other words, they serve Havgan, the same destructive force that Pwyll has just fought so hard to eliminate.
       Interestingly, the evil Druid goes on to announce that "a day will come when men will fly higher than birds, when they will fare deeper undersea than the fish.  When the lightning shall be shut up in little boxes, and serve them like a slave.  And all these wonders will be worked by the hands and wits of men.  Woman -- she who only receives our seed and carries it while it shapes itself in her darkness -- how can she claim then to be a creator?"
       In his heart Pendaran Dyved does not buy this mechanistic definition of creator, but the evil Druid persists, even thinking to himself afterward, "To keep order always has been hard, but it will be ten thousand times harder when men's hands are filled with marvels.  They will be like children, playing with earth-rending toys.  We rulers will talk much of freedom but in the name of freedom, we must destroy freedom.  Questions can be more dangerous than swords."

       So, taking advantage of the old belief that those who mount the Gorsedd Arberth will either see a wonder or meet their deaths, the Druid, armed with his golden sickle, follows Pwyll onto the mound with murder in his heart.
       The plot structure at this point becomes confusing.  Pwyll actually remains asleep on the mound for almost the entire remainder of the story; everything he experiences during this part is a dream or a series of illusions, during which he meets Rhiannon, enters the mound, spars with the skeleton of Heveydd, participates in two wedding feasts, and travels back and forth to Dyved between these episodes. All this appears to take several years.  But the reader is not immediately clued into the fact that this is all taking place in a world of dream, so at first it's confusing.  The story keeps cutting back to the top of the mound where the Druid, who can discern what is happening in Pwyll's otherworldly quest, waits to kill Pwyll as soon as he fails one of the trials. Only when you get to the end of the book and think about what has happened do you fully understand. I consider this lack of clarity to be one of the book's flaws.
       However, Walton's underlying theme in this book (and in the other Branches) has surely become clear by now.  Since Prince of Annwn was finished last, she may have seen it as an opportunity to summarize her views concerning the oppression of women.  The loss of the recognition of the creative power of the Mother and the rise of a male-dominated society are situations that have persisted into modern times. Walton presents them as largely responsible for much of the tyranny and destructive behavior toward not only our fellow human beings but also toward the environment of the planet on which we live.  Walton is not relating just another sword-and-sorcery tale -- she is using her fantasy talents to spearhead the women's movement. 

       I can't conclude without a few notes dealing with the two wedding feasts.  I think Walton was uncomfortable with these sequences.  Fantasy worlds are supposed to be motivated by magic, but Walton's approach is a little different.  I would say her world is motivated by the supernatural -- by the forces of deity, which can't be equated with magic.  The final wedding scene is strictly a fairy-tale-like magic construction, with its introduction of a magic bag that can't be filled up.  This results in a demonstration of torture -- a mean parlor trick with nothing epic or heroic about it -- childlishly inconsistent with the themes that animate the rest of the book.  Walton tries to make the best of this.  At one point, as Rhiannon is instructing Pwyll on what to do with the bag, she says, "Great will be the sacrilege.  Perhaps, if I were a whole Goddess, instead of a mere aspect of one, I could think of a better way.  But I cannot, and I am not altogether sorry."  Clearly, Rhiannon is also not comfortable with the bag solution.
       Walton strives to give depth to these sequences by introducing the Grey Man (the death-giving god) of the Bright World, who, it develops, is also in league with the Man-Gods.  Therefore, he wants to keep Rhiannon from returning to Earth and perpetuating the Ancient Harmonies of the Mother, so he supports Gwawl son of Clud, Rhiannon's unwanted suitor.  Walton makes Gwawl reminiscent of Havgan, with his golden-haired beauty and sky-blue eyes.  Thus she manages to elevate the motivation in this episode to the supernatural level.  It's not merely that a fairy princess has taken a whim to marry a mortal and so wants to rid herself of an unwanted suitor through humiliating torture.
       Walton's purpose of promoting her views on the position of women in our culture causes this book to become a bit long-winded and sententious.  There are many scenes where one character lectures another about the situation with the Mother and the Man-Gods -- two scenes where Arawn talks to Pwyll, the conversation among the heads at the Gate where the Bird waits to devour the will, the scene between the evil Druid and Pendaran Dyved, Rhiannon's discussions with Pwyll, and the scene where she spars with the Grey Man and her father.  These scenes confer gravitas, but they do impede the narrative flow.  Perhaps they could have been condensed because they are quite diffuse and embedded in a way that makes it difficult to extract the salient points.  I wouldn't even begin to say how she could have accomplished this, however.
       Another flaw is the ending.  It has no punch, nothing memorable about it.  Pwyll wakes up on the mound with Rhiannon beside him, after having consummated his marriage in the world of illusion.  He has never faltered in his quest, so the Druid had no power to kill him.  Then the action cuts back to the Druid at a period before Pwyll awakens.  The Druid is dying, killed with his own sickle by men he had planted there to help kill Pwyll but who had proved loyal to the King in the end.  The Power of the Mother has won.  But the dying Druid predicts that Pwyll will never father a son.  Strange, because we know in the omitted third part that Pwyll and Rhiannon do have a son, Pryderi.  So I find that puzzling.  It's almost as if Walton needed something striking for him to say but couldn't think of anything.  (As a writer myself, I can understand how drawing a mental blank can lead to inserting some peculiar and ineffectual elements.)  If Walton had stopped with the predictive words of the Druid, the ending would at least have created tension, but instead she allows the other Druids to discuss whether they ought to tell anybody what the Druid has said and things just sort of fade off into nothing.
       Should Walton have proceeded to add an adaptation of the third part?  Personally, I don't think so; it would be anticlimactical. She has achieved her purpose.  Furthermore, Rhiannon has been presented as an enterprising and determined Goddess/woman with strong ideals and it would be out of character for her to accept a humiliating punishment for a crime she didn't commit.  It's even more folktale-ish than the unfillable bag ploy.  As I've said, I can't remember how Pryderi gets born in the later volumes, but as I re-read them in preparation for writing posts similar to this, we'll find out!

       After Prince of Annwn was published in 1974, Walton "admitted that she was never satisfied with her version of that branch" (from p. 14 of Douglas A. Anderson's introduction to an upcoming edition of Witch House, which Mr. Anderson kindly allowed me to consult).  Possibly she would have agreed with some of these flaws that I have pointed out.  Nevertheless, there is so much in this book that makes it a great read -- the invocation of wonder, the brilliant descriptions, the convincing characterizations, the depth of the philosophy, the humor, and the kind of realistic modern style that makes the best fantasy rise above its genre.  As she always does, Evangeline Walton achieves a modern sensibility without destroying the essential sense of mythic wonder.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Prince of Annwn, by Evangeline Walton: Analysis, Pt.3

This is the third in a series of posts in which
I will examine Evangeline Walton's Mabinogion Tetralogy
and how she adapts the original myths.
Prince of Annwn is the first volume of the work,
retelling the First Branch of the Mabinogion

Rhiannon Circles the Mound, Pursued by Pwyll
Copied from
Artist Unknown
       The second half of the First Branch of the Mabinogion is even more skeletal in nature than the first, and again Evangeline Walton fleshes it out and makes many additions in the second half of her novel Prince of Annwn.  Pwyll mounts the mound called Gorsedd Arberth, having been warned that anyone who sits upon it will either receive blows or wounds, or else see a wonder.  He goes anyway and sees a beautiful woman riding past on a horse at an ambling pace.  Smitten, he strives over a period of days to catch up with her on his own horse, but no matter how fast he rides, she still remains ahead of him.  Finally, in despair he calls out for her to stop, and she does so willingly  (A metaphor for the way men should treat women, with courtesy rather than brutal pursuit?)  She tells him she is Rhiannon the daughter of Hefeydd the Old (his identity and the location of his kingdom are not explained) and she is about to be given in marriage to a man she doesn't favor.  She would prefer to wed Pywll and she will do that if he comes to her wedding feast in a year's time.  He agrees without any question.  However, at the feast her suitor, Gwawl ap Clud tricks Pwyll into granting him a boon, then of course asks for Rhiannon's hand.  Unfortunately, Pwyll is forced to keep his promise, but Rhiannon has a few tricks up her own sleeve.  She sets another wedding feast for a year later and gives Pwyll instructions as to what to do.  When the time comes, he enters the feast disguised as a beggar carrying a bag and begs that all he wants is to receive enough food to fill up the bag.  However, the magic bag is bottomless and can never be filled unless a man of means and dominion steps into the bag and treads down what is within.  Of course, Gwawl bites and steps into the bag , only to be closed up within it by Pwyll's men.  Afterward, everybody takes turns beating and kicking the bag until Gwawl relents, swears to give up Rhiannon, and is then released to go on his way, after which Rhiannon and Pwyll spend a blissful night together and live happily ever after (until the third section of the tale, which Walton omits from her interpretation).

       One of the many additions to this tale that Walton supplies is the reason Pwyll agrees to  mount the mound: his reluctance to marry according to given rituals, which include mating with a sacred white mare (considered a stand-in for the Mother).  He agrees to submit to the Druids' demands if he succeeds in returning from the mound alive and if he has potent dreams there.  The mound turns out to be an access point to the Bright World, which is an alternate dimension of the dead similar to Arawn's Twilight World but also comparable to Faerie.  In lore such burial mounds are often seen as places where Faerie and Earth connect.  In the original, the journey to Heveydd's kingdom takes one sentence.  In the retelling, Heveydd is explained as the first King of Dyved and after Pwyll and his men ride through a magical opening in the mound, we meet the dead King's bones, set as a guard to the entrance to the Bright World.  It's a memorable scene, worth excerpting here.

       "They came out at last into a great chamber, and in the center of it stood a man in golden armor, in a golden chariot.  But the steeds that had drawn that chariot were long dead, their bones shone white in their harness, and their Lord too was dead.  His head almost had been won by his enemies; they could see the cracked, hewed neck bones beneath his white skill. ... His beard had grown after death; like a great silver coverlet, spun from moonbeams, it reached to his feet.  ...
      "And then they all screamed, for the skeleton was moving in its chariot!  And of a sudden all their torches went out, as if blown out by a great wind. ...
      "Then a fiery light filled the chamber, and they saw that the skeleton was about to step down from the chariot.  It faced toward Pwyll, the eyeless sockets in its skull seemed to hold black flames that glared at him.  And what had been its right hand was lifted, and in it gleamed a great sword from which the light came, a sword that blazed like lightning.  ...
       "[Pwyll's] fingers closed round those bones that once had been housed by fingers.  He spoke again ...
       " 'You have gone to a world where none lifts hand against another, King Heveydd.  You have no more need of this sword.  Give it to me who am King in Dyved now, and will be your daughter's man.'
      "Gently he took the sword from those skeleton fingers, and though it looked like flame it did not burn him.  Gently he set the skeleton down again, in its ancient place.  He smoothed out the great silver beard, so that those poor bones were covered again.
       "Then he straightened and held up the sword.  And under its light the mighty stone that he faced quivered like a wave of the sea.  ...  Grey stone became grey mist, a solid barrier no longer.  Pwyll walked into it as before he had walked into the darkness.  Once again all his men followed him."
       This is a good place to insert an example of how Walton utilizes the Celtic love of color that was mentioned in the previous post.  Here is how Pwyll and his men are introduced to the world into which they emerge:
       "Fair indeed is the Bright World.  None can say which is fairer: the blue of the sky that covers it, or the deep blue of the sea that rings it round.  None can say which is more delicate and lovely: the white clouds with their great purity or the many-colored clouds, gold-shot glories that gleam with every hue from dawn pink to sunset red.  Lovely too is the crystal foam that makes manes for the blue-green sea horses, they that play upon the silvery sands forever, born of a stormless sea."
       I have to say, I find that a ravishing piece of description!  And it forms a wonderful contrast with the gloom and terror of the interior of the mound.

      We will see the living Heveydd at the wedding feast, so we will understand that we have entered a world of the dead.  We will even meet the Grey Man of this world, a figure far more ominous and more deceitful than Arawn.  So if everyone in that land is dead, what is Rhiannon?
      On a prosaic level, her name probably derives from Rigantona, another name for the Celtic Great Goddess, and she is often equated with Epona, the Celtic horse goddess.  But she becomes much more complex in the Mabinogion and particularly in Walton's adaptation of it.  Here is what she herself tells Pwyll after he has called to her to stop her amble around the mound.  "I am Rhiannon of the Birds, Rhiannon of the Steeds, and I have come from my world to yours." 
       And indeed Rhiannon is at least an aspect of the Goddess.  After Pwyll has proved his honor in the bed of Arawn's Queen, this Queen herself is shown to be Modron, the Brenhines-y-nef (which I believe means "Queen of Heaven").  She speaks to the birds that roof the palace of Arawn.  "Rhiannon shapes you, but she too is born of me."
       So what are these birds?  Rhiannon is always associated with birds.  Her birds are mentioned in the Third Branch of the Mabinogion, and also in the tale "Culhwch and Olwen" where they are described as "they that wake the dead and lull the living to sleep."  And when Pwyll first encounters Rhiannon between his two trials in Annwn, she is sitting in her apple orchard (reminiscent of Robert Graves' "Apple Island" and Aphrodite's apples -- apples are frequently associated with the Goddess) whittling birds from apple wood, animating them, and setting them free to circle above her head.  Walton makes extended use of Rhiannon's birds.  As I mentioned, Arawn's palace is roofed with birds and when Rhiannon appears on her horse at Gorsedd Arberth, the birds flying with her are the first thing to carch Pwyll's attention.
       Of course, Pwyll is instantly in love and willingly accepts Rhiannon's choice of him to be her man.  When Pwyll questions her as to whether her status as Goddess might restrict her from taking a mortal husband, she assures him, "I am woman enough to wed."  And later, during the wedding feast when Pwyll is stupefied on drugged wine, she and her father and the Grey Man of the Bright World spar about the wisdom of her choice of mate. 
       Rhiannon has lived on Earth before; she is truly the daughter of the first King of Dyved. Walton makes some strange, ambiguous, and rather troubling remarks in Chapter 6 of Book II (p. 142 of the Collier Books edition).  These seem to suggest that Rhiannon came to the Bright World because she was raped and killed, perhaps by her own father or it could be by a brother ("raped by the forefather of that fool who lolls drunken beside you!")  
       The Grey Man questions her desire to return to earth and become the wife of a mortal man.  "If you go back to earth, you will learn what corruption is, woman.  ...  Age will wither your youth and beauty."  And Rhiannon answers him, "All those ills I know.  I have borne them many times before.  ...  Is the Great Going-Forward a ladder up which we can climb straight to the top?  Those who have climbed high may turn back to help those below. ...  I can do something.  I can keep Old Tribes and New from rending each other.  Pwyll does have a foolish love of fighting -- he might back Caswallon against Bran when Beli dies.  But with me beside him his word will be for peace. ...  Poets will make songs of Pwyll and me, and of how we loved each other, and some of the men and women who hear those songs may seek finer things in each other.  Many things -- little things; it is from these that great things spring at last."
        And those last words epitomize the philosophy that I myself have promulgated as a key to the renaissance of the Earth after the Second Dark Age -- the philosophy of the Mythmakers.
       I have to give up -- this book seems to require yet another post, because I desperately want to discuss Walton's philosophy in more detail and doing it justice here will make this post hopelessly long.  The philosophy is so intertwined with the plot that it's hard to extract one from the other and consider them separately.  So expect a fourth post on this topic soon, which will begin by discussing the history of the Island of the Mighty and those names Caswallon, Bran, and Beli mentioned above.

Read earlier posts on this topic: Part 1 and Part 2