The Mabinogion is the name given to the English-language versions of eleven stories taken from medieval Welsh manuscripts. Although each story may be viewed as an independent entity, it is also possible to classify the stories in various ways:
The four known as the ‘Four Branches of the Mabinogi’ form a loosely-knit unit, and are all heavily influenced by Celtic mythology. Many of the characters have godlike and supernatural qualities, and the boundary between the world of everyday reality and a magical Otherworld is an unstable one.
‘Peredur son of Efrog’, ‘The Lady of the Well’ and ‘Geraint son of Erbin’ are sometimes called ‘the three romances’, as they deal with Arthurian themes and the chivalrous adventures of knights.
King Arthur and his followers feature prominently too in ‘How Culhwch Won Olwen’ and ‘Rhonabwy’s Dream’, but their portrayal is very different from that of the romances. In the first story, we see a highly active, heroic Arthur who moves in a world of myth and magic; in the second, his exploits are presented with a strongly satirical slant, and may well be an allegory of the political situation in parts of 12th or 13th century Wales.
The remaining two stories, ‘The Dream of the Emperor Maxen’ and ‘Lludd and Llefelys’, are superficially very different in content although both present a medieval Welsh perspective on historical events. The first depicts the journey of the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus to Caer Saint (modern-day Caernarfon in North Wales) to search for the woman he has fallen in love with in a dream. Their subsequent marriage is presented as a highly positive event and reflects medieval Welsh pride in the link between the native Britons (the forefathers of the Welsh) and the Romans. The second is set in an imaginary historical past when the Island of Britain was ruled by one king. When the kingdom is gripped by ‘three plagues’, these are successfully overcome by Lludd, King of all Britain, emphasising again the supremacy of those whom the medieval Welsh viewed as their ancestors.