AN AMERICAN writer who loves Welsh myths has dived into the world of Welsh folklore.
The Fifth Branch is a fantasy story based in Wales.
The novella is about an unfortunate magician and a Canadian exchange student who embark on a public transit odyssey across Wales with a red dragon in a backpack.
Writer Kathleen ‘Kate’ Samuels said: “The police are after them. Hijinks ensue. If I called it a faithful modern retelling of the legend of the red dragon and the white dragon, my mythology professor would probably have my head; let’s call it an homage.”
The author is from Portland, Oregon, and studies at The University of British Columbia in Canada. For her link to Wales, it is both her interest in Welsh myths and also that she studied at Cardiff University for six months on a year exchange programme.
She credits the boxed set of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain for introducing her to Welsh mythology when she was about nine-years-old. Ten years later she said she jumped at the chance to study abroad in Cardiff, which is where she really fell in love with the mythology, culture, people, language, and landscape.
“The Fifth Branch sort of grew out of my affection for the Four Branches of the Mabinogi and my desire to convince my British friends how cool their mythology was,” she said.
Ms Samuels loves Welsh folklore because of its lyricism and strangeness, and because of Lloyd Alexander, but the thing that truly sank hooks into her is the long list of names in Culhwch and Olwen.
“It’s not even a list of characters who play a role in that story; it is the oral storyteller showing off how much he can memorize by rattling off an Arthurian roll call—there is a messenger who can run across the tops of trees,” she said.
“There is a warrior who turns anything he carries invisible. There is another warrior who owns a special dagger that turns into a bridge when you lay it across a river. Some of these figures probably had stories of their own once, but they were oral stories, and they were never written down.”
Ms Samuels says Wales holds a particularly special place in her heart as the Welsh people were so inviting when she came over to study for a year.
“The curator of the Llangollen History Museum introduced me to the ghosts that haunted the hill fort across from her cottage,” she said. “A waitress at Plan Café in Morgan’s Arcade Cardiff regaled me with the trials and tribulations of operating a coffeeshop in a building older than my country.
“Many colourful folks took time out of their day to give me directions, who rescued me from my inability to read a train map, fed me historical anecdotes you do not find on a tourist brochure, or tried to teach me to pronounce the double L. Some of them get cameos in The Fifth Branch.”
The American said thanks to innocent passers-by she waylaid for directions over her six months in Wales. She even said diolch yn fawr iawn to her readers and everyone who hoped her along her Welsh journey.
As for her American and Canadian readers, the prime comment she received was, “Wales? Where is that?” Samuels, with her love for Welsh culture, is striving to change that will her literature.
Kathleen Samuels said there are plans for more Welsh mythology books. Watch this space.
The ebook is available from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and a few other places—check out books2read.com/thefifthbranch for a full list.
There should be a print copy out later this year; she is just waiting for her distributor’s print-book program to go live.