Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Trouble with love

On Thursday this week, there was an email from an old American friend which consisted of just four words: Happy Saint Dwynwen’s Day. January 24th? I hadn’t remotely remembered about Saint Dwynwen.

So I looked her up. Like the story of Saint Valentine, it’s a tragic tale! Standing up for the right to love and the cause of lovers but ending up sadly alone: that’s the story of Dwynwen. And like so many old tales of this sort, this story makes my hackles rise. The power of wealth, the power of men over women, fathers over daughters: my goodness, it makes you wonder why we still celebrate such stories.

The story of Dwynwen:

So this is the story of poor old Dwynwen (or rather one of the several versions of it, all of them equally miserable). In this version, she was one of the many daughters (all very beautiful!) of a powerful lord, son of an Irish king, by the name of Brychan Brycheiniog – and his name makes sense because they lived in the area of Breconshire still known in Welsh as Brycheiniog. The beautiful daughter Dwynwen fell madly in love with a man from the north called Maelon Dafodrill. The love was apparently mutual but – and here there’s room for suspicion – the relationship abruptly ended (and there are some different versions of why this happened). One account says that Maelon broke the whole thing off. Another suggests that Dwynwen’s father demanded that the relationship end. So who knows? It’s entirely possible that poor old Maelon finished it all out of fear of Dwynwen’s father. Or perhaps Maelon was a heartless cad who had a fancy for someone else. We’ll never know. It was over.

Then, conveniently, God intervened and in a manner that suggests he was very angry that love hadn’t carried the day. Or was there something else behind the particular punishment he doled out? For the punishment was that God turned Maelon into a block of ice. On the face of it, this may seem oddly cruel except that it has been interpreted as a way of saying that, actually, Maelon had been on the verge of raping Dwynwen and needed to be stopped in his tracks.

Anyway, at the same time as dealing with Maelon, God gave Dwynwen three wishes. These were the wishes she made. First (and with what I think was excessive compassion if indeed she’d been about to be raped) Dwynwen requested that Maelon be thawed. Perhaps she thought he had learned his lesson (though in view of what we now learn about men such as Harvey Weinstein, this seems unlikely). Second – and perhaps this is why she’s become the patron of lovers – Dwynwen wished to  be granted the ability to hear the prayers of anyone and everyone suffering unrequited love (hopefully with the implication that she’d be able to improve their situation). Third – and this is the saddest bit – she asked that she herself would live a solitary life as a nun on an island off the coast of Anglesey now known after her as Ynys Llanddwyn, Llanddwyn Island.

Questions:

1. Why on earth do we celebrate Dwynwen as the patron of lovers?

2. How can such a story be told today (and often, presumably, to children) without overtly confronting some of the many questions that lie behind it? ‘Take a pair of kid gloves to it’ is what I’d say.

I leave you with these thoughts except to add that, this last week my weekly Welsh magazine, Golwg, marked Saint Dwynwen’s day with a piece about a very enterprising woman by the name of Rose Wood who gives workshops where couples in love may come and make engagement or wedding rings for each other. Sometimes a man or  woman comes on their own, wanting to surprise their loved one with a ring that announces their love. In these cases, naturally, the person coming has had to be extremely surreptitious by taking a measurement of their loved one’s ring finger without them realising their intention. This seems a happy enough way for the idea of Dwynwen as the patron of lovers to prevail.

PS: The top photo shows the front of the little felt bags I sometimes make, though never actually as Valentine bags. The bottom photo of course shows the sort of gloves you might use in the telling of such stories as this week’s.

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