Tuesday, October 17, 2000

The Wonder Smith & his Son, Ella Young, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

A Tale from the Golden Childhood of the World
Longman, Green & Co., NY, © 1927; Floris, Edinburgh, 1992
(In lieu of Celtic Wonder Tales, which I couldn’t find)
by Ella Young

Another book by Ella Young, in the same genre as Celtic Wonder Tales, is a collection of stories about the “Gubbaun Saor, whose other name was Mananaun, whose other name was Cullion the Smith...” Young writes in her foreword, “He was a maker of worlds and a shaper of universes.”

Young learned many stories as a child in Co. Antrim, Ireland. Born in 1867, Young was acquainted with Dr. Hyde and the Celtic Revival, and she collected her stories in Ireland. Later, in California, she wrote them down. “The stories were told to me in Gaelic at times, at times in English.” Patrick Gallagher was her main source. She wrote, “I have amplified the tales but I have not altered any incident.”

The first time I read the stories I thought them pointless. I had trouble recognizing Irish words as her transliteration is pre- Modern Irish. Dún is written as “dune,” which had me wondering why on earth anyone would be building a sand dune city! 

Upon second reading, I was better able to enjoy her extraordinary use of Hiberneo-English, rich imagery and metaphor: To the Gubbaun’s feast came king’s sons on white stallions with bells and apples of gold on their reins, their tails and manes “dyed a crimson-purple...” and the land of Ireland was so glad at his home-coming, the four directions played a music so wild that “...the white bulls of the forest moved to it, tossing their moon-curved horns...” 

 The backdrop of poetry is central to the story. One recognizes echoes of Amergin’s Mystery in it. As a cross-check, I also read Irish Fairy Tales (by Crocker, MacManus and Jacobs), they seemed dull and pedantic by comparison.

The loosely joined incidents, intended to “shorten a road,” do form a cohesive story about the Gubbaun. They are chock full of Celtic references as a dragon’s lair is filled with golden treasure: triads, blessings, spells, gessa, ogham, trees, white hounds, white bulls, pookas, piasts, ever-full cups, red capes, shape-shifters, a betraying giant: Balor of the One Eye, a Formorian King, and other gods (Angus, Midir), The Hag at the Ford, The Chief Poet, Tír na n-Óge...

The Gubbaun Saor, the cleverest wonder smith in the world, got his trade from a magic bag of tools dropped by three ravens who were once djinn craftsmen building a fairy city of stone, but a red-polled woman peeked and broke the spell.... 

The Gubbaun Saor became an inventor and builder of things. He had a crackerjack daughter Aunya, as wise as he, whom he traded (in fosterage) with an old woman for her son, Lugh, who was next to useless but played a mean fairy flute. 

Unable to teach Lugh anything, he regretted his bargain, and when Lugh was of marriageable age, The Gubbaun Saor interviewed many woman; only one was as clever as he, but she outwitted him over a sheepskin and mysteriously left. 

He sent Lugh in search of the cleverest woman in Ireland, with the sheepskin, saying: bring back both the skin and its price. Lugh was flummoxed but met a beautiful girl with hair of spun gold who took the sheepskin, plucked it of its wool and gave him back the skin with its price. Lugh sent the hound home and the Gubbaun made ready a feast for Aunya. But she drove a hard bargain for the Gubbaun’s forgiveness.... For the rest, you’ll just have to read the story yourself!

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