- On Prydain
- Musings on Mapping the High Fantasy Series
"Prydain is not Wales -- not entirely, at least." So author Lloyd Alexander explained the ephemeral connection between history and legend, geography and imagination, with which he imbued his magical, yet very real-seeming, land. Those of us who have tried our hands at mapping Prydain, with occasional recourse to a real-world map of Wales, can attest to the distinction. Yet there is some of Wales in Prydain; the name itself is the Middle Welsh term for the country. And after all, we know the fictional Prydain was inspired in part by Alexander's military service in Wales, where he learned combat intelligence during World War II. Another part was the so-called Mabinogion, a collection of medieval legends which inspired the author to create his own mythic personae. A third contributor was the creative mind and spirit itself; Alexander often described how characters or scenarios would come to him unbidden, at unexpected times. History and myth, reality and dream: somewhere at the intersection of these forces, Prydain exists.
With that in mind, if I were to try my hand at creating a definitive map of Prydain, I would try to incorporate all previously known maps (by Ness, et al.) with an eye on geographical reality. The general shape of the legendary country is roughly equivalent to that of Wales -- essentially a lopsided horseshoe facing the left, or western sea -- plus an additional slice of land, currently occupied by England, grafted onto its right or eastern flank.
To be more specific, if the real-world Severn were the imaginary Great Avren River, then everything west of its north-south line -- including Gwent, Hereford and Worcester -- would be inside Prydain. The West Midlands would become the Free Commots, but since there are no mountains in that region, the Black Mountains would have to be moved northeastward from their real-world location, to become the Llawgadarn Mountains. Thus the Eastern Strongholds become Staffordshire, and the Eagle Mountains are raised still higher from the uplands that run from the Mersey to Stafford. Caer Dathyl itself could be located near Chester, The Black Lake of the Fair Folk in the vicinity of Nantwich, and the Northern Realms might include Manchester.
Moving westward, the West Domains of King Pryderi might run along the Lleyn Peninsula, northward to Colwyn Bay. Annuvin, Land of Death, seems to overlay Gwynedd, with Mount Snowdon standing in for Mount Dragon, and the Hills of Bran-Galedd being the Clwyd uplands. From there southward the Forest of Idris grows thick, through Powys, with the Cambrian Mountains becoming the hills of that region, with woods as far southward as Lampeter in Dyfed. The Marshes of Morva must lie in the lowlands of Pembrokeshire; while to the east, the Valley Cantrevs stretch from Ebbw Vale, all the way north through Powys (especially since we moved the Black Mts. to the northeast). Caer Cadarn could be Caerphilly or Castell Coch, and Mid-Glamorgan might be Cantrev Cadiffor. Northward in the valley, the Red Fallows might cover the vicinity of Llandrinded Wells, with Offa's Dyke Heritage Center the location of the Ruined Wall.
The Isle of Mona would be the same size and terrain as Anglesey, but it would perhaps be more accurate to Alexander's placement if it were moved southward into Cardigan Bay.
As to Prydain's rivers, if the Severn is the Great Avren (which takes its source farther northward), then the Usk is The Ystrad River, rearranged to run along a more north-south line. The Brecon Beacons, also moved east of the Usk/Ystrad, would comprise the Hill Cantrevs. In the west the Towy might be the River Tevvyn, and in the east the Small Avren might be the Wye. Far to the north, the River Kynvael might be the Mersey. And far to the south, Caer Dallben would be nestled below the Severn/Avren, in Avon among the Cheddar uplands, southwest of Bristol.
And that is where reality and imagination meet. Look forward to my upcoming, definitive map of Prydain, with all the above in mind and more. As always, please don't hesitate to offer any insight or criticism of my musings.