Originally published on the CREW Review website (swansea.ac.uk/crew/crewreviews) in October 2009
In the first line of the introduction to Seren's 'New Stories from the Mabinogion', Penny Thomas legitimately suggests that "some stories, it seems, just keep on going." Although the series editor then goes on to painfully romanticise such stories as being "a whistle in the reeds, a bird’s song in your ear", the opening eight words of this introduction are enough to suggest why Seren have commissioned this series. There is evidently a market for the modern retelling of ancient myths, as Canongate's recent sequence has shown, but the overriding impression is that the Bridgend publishing company are not simply cashing in on this apparent readership, but helping to create a Mabinogion manuscript for the new millennium. As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, almost a thousand years since the alleged origins of the myth cycle, Seren are ensuring that these ancient Welsh stories do indeed "keep on going".
For this series, the eleven tales of the Mabinogion will be retold by eleven contemporary Welsh authors, with two novellas released each October. Within the first two novellas released is Owen Sheers' White Ravens, a retelling of the second branch of the Mabinogion (Branwen, Daughter of Llyr). The re-imagined second branch is largely set during the Second World War, familiar territory for Sheers following 2007's Resistance, and moves between a lonely Welsh farm, the Blitzed streets of London and the green hills of neutral Ireland. Sheers partners the ancient myth of Branwen, a woman who suffers at the hands of those intended to protect her, with the long-upheld mythical belief that if the ravens leave the Tower of London then the kingdom of Britain will fall.