Pig Boy has a big problem. He has been fostered by another family and, one day, a message arrives saying that his real mother is dead. He goes home and by the time he arrives he already has a new step-mother and she wants to have a word with him. When she says that Pig Boy has to marry her daughter he says ‘No’. Then he discovers that his new step-mother is also a powerful and vindictive witch. She curses him with love for Olwen the daughter of the terrifying and bloodthirsty Hawthorn Giant. This love consumes Pig Boy and he has to do something about it.
He has never heard of the giant or his daughter and doesn’t even know if they exist. The love is real enough and he is in quite a state so he does what any sensible young man would do and talks to his Dad. Unfortunately his old man is as clueless as he is and this only advice is… “Go to your cousin King Arthur and ask him for help. If he can’t help you no one can”.
That, in a nutshell, is the set-up for the story of Pig Boy and his adventures. Yes, he does get to meet Olwen, but I’m not going to let on what happens, at least, not yet. The oldest animals in the world guide him on his way and he does battle against seven terrifying wild boar. He tries to understand magic and poetry and goes on the road with a multi-talented team of warriors and magicians. Finally he encounters something in a cave that is too scary for me to tell you about here.
This story was written down about eight hundred years ago but its roots go back a lot further. Certain things feel medieval, such as fighting styles and social hierarchy. However there is also magic and a parallel world to the one we think we live in known as the Otherworld (or Annwn, in Welsh). In the Otherworld all sorts of transformations are possible. Men and women use this powerful magic for good or evil. The word ‘Celtic’ can seem a bit wafty but in this story the magic is real and has very real consequences.
The story is based on a simple model where a young hero recruits seven companions to win the hand of the daughter of a cruel and violent giant. There are many traditional stories all over the world based on this basic plot. There are even films like the Seven Samurai and the Magnificent Seven. However this story opens up this simple plot into an epic that involves King Arthur himself. With Arthur’s help Pig Boy has to accomplish nearly forty impossible tasks.
The story is clearly oral and would have been told as part of an evolving tradition. Once written down people read the manuscript aloud to an audience rather than the quiet, personal reading we are used to. If you are interested in reading the original there is a great modern Welsh translation by Dafydd and Rhiannon Ifans (Gomer) and an English translation by Sioned Davies (OUP). There are also many synopses of the plot available, many with beautiful illustrations. However I am trying to do something different. I want to use the novel form to allow a lot more description and background in the story. I’ll also be going in to the head of Pig Boy so we can get a feel for how he copes with love, danger and magic. If you don’t want to wait until publication you can get free sections of the book and audio samples by signing up here.
I have many favourite bits of this magical and mystical romp of a story. Mabon, in particular, is one of the most mysterious characters in the story. He is both the oldest and youngest man alive and is in prison but nobody knows where. Pig Boy and his friends set off to find him but, of course, nobody knows where he is. So they ask the animals because they are much older and wiser than us. Eventually, after many adventures, they find the oldest animal of all. It is a huge salmon who takes two of the heroes on his back up the river Severn to where Mabon is in prison. They can hear him singing a heart-breakingly sad song through the stone walls. Then the two heroes jump off the salmon’s back, break through the wall and release Mabon.
If you want a proper preview of the book then sign up here and I’ll send you the odd chapter and sound file to whet your appetite before launch day. Pig Boy is coming!
You can find out more about me, Michael A Harvey, here.