Student Author(s)

Rebecca Fox

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Curtis Gruenler

Document Type


Event Date



Myth has always captured the imagination of humankind, yet there is great disagreement among scholars over what these stories reveal about human nature. The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, a group of Welsh myths written down in the twelfth century, certainly are among the most enigmatic of the world’s stories. Like all myths, the tone of these four interrelated stories ranges from captivatingly beautiful to strikingly violent. This study attempts to interpret the Second Branch through the lenses of two very different theories of myth—those of J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973) and René Girard (b. 1923)—while keeping in mind other interpretations of this story by leading scholars. Tolkien, the famous author of The Lord of the Rings, believed that myths are just a form of fairy-story. His theories focus on the magical elements of such stories and the effects that they have (or ought to have) on readers. Tolkien’s work mainly concentrates on the joy produced by the happy ending—or ‘turn’—and the communal element of fairy magic. Girard, the literary theorist and social philosopher famous for his Mimetic Theory, on the other hand, believes that myths are based on actual events. Therefore, in order to reveal the facts, certain facets of the story, including the supernatural aspects, must be removed. His theory focuses on the violence of myths and the traditional villains of such stories. The ideas of these two men reveal two completely different interpretations of the strange tale of Brânwen Daughter of Llyr, while also leaving other sides of the tale completely unexplained. I suggest that together they can help a reader understand this myth, just as the myth helps a reader prove the validity of both such opposite theories.


This project was supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts & Humanities at Hope College.