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#AmReading: The Pendragon Legend, Antal Szerb (1934)

One book not mentioned in Jane Aaron’s Welsh Gothic but that deserves some more attention is The Pendragon Legend, a gem of a book by Hungarian author Antal Szerb (1901-1945), published in 1934. This counts as Welsh Gothic, albeit by an outsider looking in, and has much in common with the ‘first contact’ Gothic novels of the earlier period discussed in the first few posts.

The protagonist in this case is Hungarian, like the author, and as such can poke fun at the Welsh, English, Irish and Scottish alike with the (sometimes bitingly) gentle humour of an East European abroad.

antal szerb

Don’t let the title fool you: there’s nothing Arthurian about it, except the borrowed name. The novel is narrated by a Hungarian scholar, János Bátky, a witty academic studying 16th-18thC alchemy and Rosicrucianism, who is invited to the Earl of Gwynedd’s stately home. The Pendragon family have many occult secrets, and what follows is a humorous, tongue-in-cheek Gothic murder mystery with occultism, the secrets of life and death, apocalyptic drama on North Welsh hillsides, and the wild Welsh forests as dark forces lying at the edges of civilisation.

This could well be classed as Welsh Gothic due to the setting and the subject matter, the use (and adaptation) of Welsh folklore and mythology in particular. Naturally, there are esoteric secret societies, mysticism and black magic, a femme fatale and plenty of stock characters for comic relief, including a number of stereotypes, and of course, an external satirical view of the British class system.

Gothic Fiction does not have to be serious, and Szerb enjoys playing the fool with the genre conventions to mixed effect (it really depends on personal taste in this regard: I enjoyed it). In some respects it’s a parody – in others, it’s hard to tell. It twists into the absurd and more fantastical by the end, and if you are the kind of reader that requires things to fit into genre-boxes, be warned that this book won’t do that. It’s best to put presumptions of genre to one side and take this as it comes.

More Books by Antal Szerb

(Translated to English)

The Third Tower: Journeys in Italy (1936)

Journey by Moonlight (1937)

The Queen’s Necklace (1942)

Oliver VII (1943)

Love in a Bottle (1946, published posthumously)

(Hungarian)

A magyar irodalom törtenete (1934)

Budapesti kalauz Marslakók számára(1935)

A világirodalom története (1941)

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