Friday, January 05, 2007

Book Review: The Mountain of Marvels


The Mountain of Marvels

by Aaron Shepard

The Mountain of Marvels is a retelling of several tales of Welsh mythology from the Mabinogion. Aaron Shepard tells the stories in a clear, compelling prose that is perfect for elementary-age kids. There are three related stories in this book, all of which tell the adventures of Lord Pwyll, King of Dyfed, his friend Manawydan, and the Lady Rhiannon. In the first story, Lord Pwyll meets and marries Rhiannon, but not without gaining a dangerous enemy in the process. In the second story, Rhiannon and Pwyll lose their son, and Rhiannon, blamed for his death, receives a heavy punishment. In the last story, the kingdom of Dyfed, and then Pwyll and Rhiannon, are cursed by an unknown evil. Manawydan must try to save his friends and their kingdom. Through the progression of the stories, the friends learn that there is a consequence to every action, and some choices come with a price.

The Mountain of Marvels would be a great book for a librarian or teacher to read to a class. The stories are written in a lyrical voice that channels the ghosts of storytellers past. I could almost hear the storyteller in my head as I was reading the story, and imagine the wide eyes of the children listening. The Welsh names may be difficult for some readers, but Shepard has included a pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book.

Some of the behaviors and values seem, at times, extreme to our modern sensibility, but that only accentuates the exotic nature of these stories from another time and place. There is one scene that may be disturbing to some children: the ladies who lost Rhiannon’s son kill a piglet and spread its blood on Rhiannon to accuse her of killing and eating her own son. However, this isn’t really any worse than some of the things that happen in the Greek and Roman myths that are read by many children.

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