The first time I heard the story of Gelert the hound I was on a family holiday in Wales, and as it’s The Year of Legends for Wales with St David’s Day around the corner I’ve been revisiting the tale.
The Myths and Legends podcast has a brilliant re-telling of the story, although it’s the last one of the show
In essence: King Llewellyn goes hunting and returns to find the room of his infant son ransacked, with the cradle toppled and blood everywhere. His favourite hound, Gelert, is there with a bloody muzzle. Llewellyn kills Gelert in revenge for his son and then hears a baby crying. His son is alive, and there is also a wolf’s corpse in the room. Gelert had been protecting the baby prince all along. Llewellyn erects a monument for his faithful dog and never smiles again.
This is where I come in, walking past that monument with my mum telling me the story. It made me cry. Partly for Gelert and partly because we had a family dog who walked with us, although I could never imagine blind, ditzy Goldie, taking down a wolf to save my baby brother.
I had fantasies of re-writing the story to save Gelert. I never liked that Gelert died and as I got older I blamed Llewellyn.
Where was his wife? His servants? Why didn’t he think? Why did he go hunting if he couldn’t find his dog? I’m afraid that I’m quite like him. I will often act blindly, too full of my own emotion to see straight.
The hot mix of shame and regret following my impulsive lashing out makes me identify with Llewellyn. Yes, he felt sorry afterwards, but the unthinkable had already been done.
Now I’m also angry at Gelert for being so nice, and for thinking Llewellyn’s opinion was more important than his own life.
It reminds me of the film Stage Beauty where the female actor criticises her male predecessor over his representation of Desdomona by raging, ‘You just died! Beautifully!’ and ‘A woman would fight!’
Yes, I have issues.
I want Gelert to fight because I don’t quite believe that he would just submit. Or he would at least have the savvy to reveal the dead wolf, because just where the hell was that hiding, anyway?
Maybe I’m scared I’m like Gelert too. Too nice and too willing to put others before myself. Maybe I’m scared that when it comes right down to it, I wouldn’t fight for what was just either?
What stories from you past touched you? Which ones still come back to haunt you?