The second branch features yet another put-upon woman, several folklore motifs familiar to me from stories from different continents, and the sudden recognition of an element from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

It begins with Bendigeidfran (I’m not even going to mentally attempt that one), king of… London. Or maybe he just owned the literal crown of London. (I did check the notes, but they were less than helpful on this issue.) He had two brothers, Nysien (good) and Efnysien (not good.) Matholwch (also not even attempting), king of Ireland, sails up and asks to marry Branwen, who I think is Bendigeidfran’s sister and one of the Three Chief Maidens of the Island (no idea what this means.) She is gorgeous.

Celebrations are arranged. At this point it casually mentions that Bendigeidfran had to sleep in a tent because he couldn’t fit into a house.

“Eh?” I thought. “He was hugely fat? He was incredibly tall? How big are these houses, anyway?”

I begin picturing Bendigeidfran as 6’5” and 400 lbs.

Efnysien, because he’s evil, mutilates Matholwch’s horses. I bet when he was a little boy, he set fires and wet the bed.

Matholwch, very confused as well he may be, starts to leave, but is caught by messengers and explains how he’s been insulted. To try to make up, Bendigeidfran gives him a cauldron that will return dead people to life, though they will be mute. It’s Lloyd Alexander’s zombie-making cauldron! Man, that creeped me out when I read those books as a kid.

Assuaged, Matholwch returns to Ireland, taking Branwen with him. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye people at court start muttering about the mutilated horse insult, and poor Branwen was forced to cook for the court and be boxed on the ears by the butcher. She and Rhiannon should get together and form a support group.

The resourceful Branwen teaches a starling to talk, and sends it off with a message for her brother. Bendigeidfran takes an army and goes to rescue Branwen, but he’s so huge that they sail across the sea, and he wades. Okay. Not 6’5” and 400 lbs! There’s a great scene in which beflummoxed messengers report the advance of the man-mountain upon Ireland. Branwen tells her husband to make peace, and he agrees. This is the part which is quite lyrically retold in A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

But the Irish have a cunning plan! They hide a bunch of soldiers in sacks hanging on the walls of the (presumably gihugic) house they’ve built for Bendigeidfran. Efnysien says, “What’s in this bag?” “Flour, friend,” replied the less-than-cunning bag. In this manner, one by one, Efnisien discovers the soldiers and crushes their heads with his bare hands. Ew.

He then, in much the same random manner in which he mutilated the horses, murders Branwen’s son by throwing him in a fire. I had not expected to find crossover possibilities between the Mabinogion and Criminal Minds, but Efnisien seems like a classic disorganized sadist.

Unsurprisingly, a giant brawl breaks out, and Efnisien leaps into the cauldron, breaking it and killing himself. Only seven men escape, one of whom is Rhiannon and Pwyll’s son Pryderi.

And then! The wounded Bendigeidfran orders his men to cut off his head and take it back to London. (Shades of Barbarika: Before decapitating himself, Barbarika told Krishna of his great desire to view the forthcoming battle, and requested him to facilitate it. Krishna agreed, and placed the head atop a hill overlooking the battlefield.) The seven men, Branwen, and the head depart. Branwen dies of heartbreak. There’s a really confusing part where they all meet some guys who tell them that there was some sort of uproar and some guy named Caswallon killed the heir and is now king of London. They all feast for seven years, and then they seem to drift into an Otherworldly Hall with a Door That Must Not Be Opened and feast there for eighty years without care or sorrow.

Having the head there was no more unpleasant than when Bendigeidfran had been alive with them. Because of those eighty years, this was called the Assembly of the Noble Head.

Then someone opens the door, and they remember everything and return to London with the head, which is still protecting London to this day.

Meanwhile, back in Ireland, everyone is dead except for five pregnant women in a cave. (!) They give birth, the boys grow up and have sex with everyone else’s moms, and Ireland is repopulated.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the sheer overwhelming weirdness of this branch. Someone should name their garage band Five Pregnant Women in a Cave.

The Mabinogion

From: [identity profile]

Wow, who knew that the cut-off head that continues to participate in things was a worldwide motif. Pretty cool. Makes me think of the horse head in the the fairy tale "The Goose Girl".

From: [identity profile]

You'll probably want to make a cut-and-paste version of that Amazon affiliate link because LJ is replacing affiliate codes.

Taking the "http://" off makes it not automagically turn into a link as below, or you could post it by using a URL-shortening service like

From: [identity profile]

I know! I just found it out! And just found out that the URL-shortening-service at (and presumably and works to bypass the affiliate tag removal, so yay. I'll be doing that from now on. Adds an extra step, but better than LJ getting my kickbacks.
Edited Date: 2010-03-04 11:53 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Tutu: the raven boy)

From: [identity profile]

The easiest way to pronounce Bendigeidfran is to break it into pieces and translate it. His name is Bendigeid + Bran, but because bendigeid (blessed - cognate to Latin benedictus) is an adjective modifying Bran, the consonant b changes to f (which is pronounced v, sigh). So, call him Bran the Blessed, and make the vowel long. (It's not, as Bran Davies says in The Grey King, bran like a breakfast cereal!).

I can't write up the pronunciation for Matholwch without looking up IPA and still (probably) describing the vowels incorrectly, so I'm not going to try that at all.

There’s a really confusing part where they all meet some guys who tell them that there was some sort of uproar and some guy named Caswallon killed the heir and is now king of London.

This moment's a peculiar and sudden entrance into historical time. Caswallon (or Cassivelaunus) is a British hero who appears in Caesar's Gallic Wars and thus is datable and exists outside of mythology in ways that Bran and Branwen and Matholwch don't appear to. I don't know what to do with it, but I'm fascinated by it.

Lovely review, again!
Edited Date: 2010-03-04 11:47 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile]

Like "brawn?"

Thanks for the info on the sudden appearance of the hitherto unmentioned Caswallon!
chomiji: Ikkaku form Belach, with the caption Let Me Explain via Interpretive Dance (ikkaku-explain)

From: [personal profile] chomiji

"Brah-n," I think. To rhyme with "gone," roughly.

I once tried to teach myself Welsh and gave up rather quickly. I do remember that the "f" is pronounced "v" (which is why you have all those "ff" - they are actually pronounced "f" ... ), and the transformation of "b" to "f" ("m" can also go to "v").

ext_6284: Estara Swanberg, made by Thao (Default)

From: [identity profile]

So would you say Brian Blessed is a reincarnation of that king? I wouldn't be surprised...

From: [identity profile]

It's my understanding that folklore scholars generally think, through many years of weird story mutations, the zombie-making cauldron ends up becoming the Holy Grail in King Arthur stories.

I continue to love these reviews!
ewein2412: (pint o' mordred/Dr Who)

From: [personal profile] ewein2412

Some Grail scholars argue that BRAN'S HEAD ends up becoming the Holy Grail in King Arthur stories. This is the most messed-up coolest argument in academia.

From: [identity profile]

Wow! So the Grail could have been a skull-cup? Someone should do a story about that.

From: [identity profile]

The zombie cauldron also makes an appearance in Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionovar Tapestry books.

Aaaaand, now I want to go reread The Dark is Rising.

From: [identity profile]

That's in the same sequence as the sea serpent that ate all the elves, right?

From: [identity profile]

Yup! I think the island it shows up on also appears in several myth-strands.

From: [identity profile]

I was like, "Where did I just read about that cauldron!?"

But it wasn't Kay for me.
I think C.E. Murphy's Dead Walking borrowed it, too...more recently.

From: [identity profile]

Somewhere between the Mabinogion and the modern times, the undead cauldron sneaks its way into the Arthurian legends as an object he quests for, so Kay borrowed it by way of all the rest of his Arthuriana. (Heather Dale wrote a splendid song about the quest, from whence seven knights total returned, admitting it was also equally based on her grandmother's war stories, because of all the men who enlisted in WWII in her hometown, seven alone returned.)

Sometimes, the Cauldron in its less evil form is also counted as one of the four Hallows of Britain. (Except when it isn't and it's the stone. Or something else. Because there can never be four legendary objects where everyone agrees what they are. The Grail is another one, which makes their sort-of-mutual origin even weirder. The other two most consistent are the sword and the spear, IIRC).
chomiji: A cartoon image of chomiji, who is holding a coffee mug and a book and wearing kitty-cat ears (Muramasa - key)

From: [personal profile] chomiji

And those four objects - stone, grail, spear, and sword - show up as the four Treasures in Alan Garner's wonderfully spooky Elidor.

ext_6284: Estara Swanberg, made by Thao (Default)

From: [identity profile]

The cauldron and the seven treasures of Arthur also show up in Patricia Kennealy's Keltiad sf fantasy space opera series.

From: [identity profile]

This one is gloriously strange, although not quite as much so as the Fourth Branch.

Am loving these!

From: [identity profile]

It's clearly been Too Long since I read A Swiftly Tilting Planet, which was my favorite book in the whole world all through high school and college, because I totally missed the link between it and the Second Branch when I read the latter a year or so ago.

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