The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends by Peter Berresford Ellis

I found this book at the annual Popular Bookfest, where it was being sold at a 73% discount! Since I love fairytales and myths, I had to pick up this book (I was actually pretty good at the fair and only bought two books – the other being How Not to be a Twit, a collection of quotes by Roald Dahl).

This book was so interesting because I haven’t heard of most of these legends! It starts of with an introduction that talks about the history of the Celts and their language. Next, we move into the legends. The legends are divided according to country, with a brief introduction to each area. There are a total of thirty-seven stories from Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany. I enjoyed most of them, but the ones that stood out to me were:

  • The Love of Fand: I normally don’t like love triangles, but this one about Fand, Cú Chulainn, and Émer was extremely tragic and a very poignant look at love and loyalty.
  • The Poet’s Curse: It is mentioned that poets were highly regarded because the words they spoke held weight – this story is about a poet who doesn’t fact-check and a king who’s determined to be proved right. Obviously, I rooted for the king who was accurate.
  • Island of the Ocean God: This story was fascinating because it was not only a story about how Christianity came, it features the Children of Danu, who are basically the descendants of the native gods. It’s pretty interesting to see how the change in religion was recorded.
  • Y Chadee: This is about two handsome princes, Eshyn and Ny-Eshyn. Eshyn is handsome and good but Ny-Eshyn is jealous of his brother. When he meets a strange old man, he receives instructions that change both their lives.
  • Conall Cròg Buidhe: After Conall’s sons offend the King, they must get the horse of a murderous lord. When they are caught in a pinch, the lives of his sons depend on the story he can tell. This tale made an impression not only because it was entertaining, but because it reminded me of a legend from the Myth and Legend podcast. While both are Celtic myths, Conall Cròg Buidhe is from Scotland while the legend from Myth and Legend is from Ireland – I’d recommend listening to that to see the similarities and differences!
  • The Kelpie: I keep thinking of Kelpie’s as Kappa’s, but they are totally different and this legend will make me remember. It’s also very interesting how the Kelpie was humanised somewhat, despite being the antagonist of the story.
  • Geal, Donn and Critheanach: This story reminded me of Cinderella, only instead of stepsisters, it was her actual sisters who mistreated poor Critheanach. Also all three sisters look alike because they’re triplets.
  • Twedrig, Tyrant of Treheyl: Like Island of the Ocean God, this story also covers the arrival of Christianity to the Celts. The Christians here are all trying their best to fulfill their mission of spreading the Gospel, but they’re also fallible and aren’t complete saints (although I would say their anger is justified)

There are also a few legends involving Arthur, but he isn’t the main character.

I have to admit, I thought I knew Western myths and legends pretty well, having read them growing up and in recent years. But this book has shown me that I have so much more to read and that the German and French myths that are so familiar to me are not the only myths and legends in Europe. I’m really glad I bought this because I will definitely want to reread the stories here.

4 thoughts on “The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends by Peter Berresford Ellis

  1. I used to love myths and legend when I was little, especially Greek. I still love them but I guess the intensity of my curiosity faded a bit. These last two years, I’ve been wanting to get back into fantasy and mythology. At the end of last year I read Circe! The legends you shared from this book don’t sound familiar to me at all, which is exciting. Thanks for sharing! -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

    1. I hope you get a chance to read this! And Circe is one of the books I want to read – hopefully I get a chance to pick it up soon!

  2. I would like to read this now that you’ve brought it to my attention. I have Celtic ancestry (however small), and yet do not know as much about the myths and legends as I do other areas. Some, yes, but not a lot.

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