Impossible tasks (was Re: [DWJ] Catching up)
minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sun Aug 27 14:06:26 EDT 2006
>I finally caught up with the dwj list backlog and below is a few comments to
>old and extinct threads. I have been busy /worried - Stephen (offspring ) is
>off to college to learn to be a farrier fairly imminently and so I have a
>mass of attendant worries- my baby's leaving home, it's going to cost lots
>of money, I don't have lots of money, will he stick with it, will he be OK-
>it goes on and on and around and around.
Good fortune to him, and to you! An old and honourable trade he's chosen there.
>Aaah, Scarborough Fair (the longer version not the Simon and Garfunkel one).
>Another set of impossible conditions is found in Y Mabinogi, where
>Blodeuwedd winkles out of Lleu Llaw Gyffes how to kill him (he must stand
>neither outdoors nor under a roof, neither riding nor walking and neither in
>water nor out of it) and she then persuades him to DEMONSTRATE to her just
>how it could be done, and surprise, surprise (to Llew, at any rate!) her
>lover Gronw is there with a spear at the ready.
Another set of "impossible tasks" (hey, obDWJ! -- as in *Wilkins' Tooth,
each task leads to another with a sort of inexorable logic) is the one in
the story of how King Arthur undertakes to lend his entire Round Table
personnel to help a random petitioner at his Court (memorably called the
Pig-Sty Prince) to win the hand of the Princess Olwen (whom he has never
met and has no idea where to find, so first of all they have to find
*her*): when they do find her, her father utters a huge list of things that
must be done and found before he'll part with his daughter, and some of
them come down to "Find me this thing", and when they go looking for "this
thing", the person who owns it says, "Well, I'll let you have it if you get
me *that* thing in exchange", then the next person says, "You can't have
*that* unless you do whatever else", and the whole business involves going
and hunting a magical boar who has some relevant shaving-tackle hanging
between his ears, and to hunt him they have to persuade someone to lend
them the only spear that will kill that boar, and the spear's owner was
stolen from his cradle and hasn't been seen since .... or maybe that was
the only person who could control the hound they needed. Or some such.
It's a *long* time since I read that one, and I have rather forgotten the
order things happen in, but I remember being impressed as a small child by
the sheer number of impossible tasks involved.
I have a feeling that about half-way through collecting all the
plot-tokens, the Knights Of King Arthur lost patience with the whole
business and decided to cheat by simply killing Olwen's father to save
This story doesn't seem to be in the two or three collections of Arthur I
have around the place at the moment. Help? A magic pig being involved,
plus the name Olwen, makes me suspect it may be another refugee from the
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