Celtic Myth in Children’s Fantasy

Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided as an overview. The course outline, readings, and assignments may be subject to change in the final syllabus as determined by the lecturer and/or preceptors.

What does the term Celtic mean? How does the Arthur tradition relate to Celtic mythology? How has Celtic mythology been used in modern children’s literature?

The medieval literature of Ireland and Wales is thought to have saved for posterity the vestiges of what would have been ancient ‘Celtic’ mythology. Tales of heroes, otherworld voyages, transformation and magic have fascinated folklorists and antiquarians since the rediscovery of Celtic texts in the 19th century, and have inspired writers of fantasy literature from Victorian times to today.

This course will examine contemporary (post-World-War-II) fantasy works whose authors have adapted, revised and re-imagined the medieval mythological texts of Ireland and Wales. The course material is divided into two parts:

  1. we will first read and discuss selections from the original sources (Táin Bó CúailngeMabinogion, etc.)
  2. we will then go on to explore the way modern fantasy authors have rewritten this material to address a child or young adult readership.

The course, therefore, serves as a mini-introduction to Celtic mythology, while the focus on children’s and young adult fantasy will allow us to discuss matters of power and ideology, as well as perceptions of Celtic identity in contemporary fiction. The fantasy works we will explore include some of the best, award-winning fantasy of the later 20th century, such as Alan Garner’s The Owl Service (1967, Carnegie Medal), Susan Cooper’s The Grey King (1976, Newbery Medal); and Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider (1986, Tir na n-Og Award).

Note: This course has been retired from Signum University’s course rotation but is still available as an Anytime Audit.

Course Schedule

Week 1

Introduction to terms and theoretical debates (including, what does ‘Celtic’ mean anyway?)

Week 2

An overview of Celtic Mythology and the fantasy literature it has inspired

Week 3

The Irish sources (1): the Mythological cycle and the Ulster Cycle

Week 4

The Irish sources (2): the Fenian Cycle

Week 5

The Welsh sources (1): The Four Branches of the Mabinogi

Week 6

The Welsh sources (2): Arthurian Welsh sources, Taliesin and Myrddin

Week 7

Revisiting the ancient Irish deities

  • Pat O’Shea, The Hounds of the Morrigan (1985)
  • Kate Thompson, The New Policeman (2005)

Week 8

Rewriting the legends of Fionn mac Cumhaill

  • Mary Tannen, The Wizard Children of Finn (1981)
  • The Lost Legend of Finn (1982)

Week 9

Adapting the four branches of the Mabinogi (1)

  • Alan Garner, The Owl Service (1967)
  • Jenny Nimmo:
    • The Snow Spider (1986)
    • Emlyn’s Moon (1987)
    • The Chestnut Soldier (1989)

Week 10

  • Adapting the four branches of the Mabinogi (2)
  • Lloyd Alexander:
    • The Book of Three (1964)
    • The Black Cauldron (1965)
    • The Castle of Llyr (1966)
    • Taran Wanderer(1967)
    • The High King (1968)

Week 11

  • Re-imagining the (Welsh) Arthurian legend
  • Susan Cooper
    • Over Sea, Under Stone (1965)
    • The Dark is Rising (1973)
    • Greenwitch (1974)
    • The Grey King (1975)
    • Silver on the Tree (1977)

Week 12

Conclusions: Myth, ideology and ‘Celticity’

Required Texts

Students who want to use hard copies of the Celtic texts (Irish and Welsh) can look for the first three translations listed here, but all Celtic texts needed for this class will be available in the class. Other translations are also acceptable (e.g., the Jones and Jones Mabinogion).

— Dr. Fimi

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Summer 2020Dr. Maggie Parke & Sparrow Alden
Summer 2017Sparrow Alden
Spring 2014Dr. Sara Brown, Dr. Erin Aust

Course Artwork

Course artwork adapted from an original illustration by Breana Melvin. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Celtic Myth in Children's Fantasy

This course examines contemporary fantasy works whose authors have adapted, revised and re-imagined the medieval mythological texts of Ireland and Wales.

START: May 4, 2020

DURATION: 12 Weeks

ID: LITA 5308