For centuries the myths and legends of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England have carried down through stories told around firesides, in halls, and finally transcribed and adapted in the pages of books—from The Mabinogion to The Lord of the Rings to The Once and Future King. We’ve gathered some of our favorite tales, some modern, and some quite ancient, to celebrate the Celtic spirit. The list is by no means exhaustive, so be sure to add your own picks in the comments!
The Forest Laird—Jack Whyte
William Wallace waits for death. He lead his fellow Scots in a mighty fight against England, but now, caught by his enemies, he will be hanged, then drawn and quartered. He receives one visitor, a Scottish priest who hears his confession. Whyte’s novel gives us that confession, a tale of revolution, love, patriotism, and freedom, but most important, it takes us into the mind and heart of William Wallace the first true hero of the Scottish Wars of Independence.
This is the first book in the Guardians Trilogy. Set in the 14th century, the trilogy follows William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and Sir James “The Black” Douglass they fight to liberate Scotland.
The Riddle-Master Trilogy—Patricia McKillip
The Riddle-Master Trilogy blends Celtic mythology, riddles, and shapeshifting magic into a beguiling tale of discovery. The trilogy begins when Tristan discovers that her brother Morgon is hiding a crown beneath his bed. He explains that he won the crown in riddle-game with the ghost of King Peven of Aum.
When Morgon learns that the great King Mathom of An promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who could best the ghost, he heads off on a quest to claim his bride. But when he and his companions are attacked by shapechangers, he decides to change course, and instead seek the High One for answers. The trilogy follows his adventures, as well as those of his intended, the young witch-princess Raederle of An, as they learn the truths behind the land, the riddles, and the shapechangers.
The Dark Is Rising—Susan Cooper
When Will turns 11, he discovers that he isn’t an ordinary boy—he’s actually the last of the Old Ones, destined to battle with the forces of darkness and recover the Grail.
Over the course of the 12 Days of Christmas he begins learning his true nature from the first Old One, Merriman Lyon. His story continues through the rest of the Dark is Rising Sequence, as he and Merry team up with the Drew siblings from Cooper’s earlier work Over Sea, Under Stone to fight the forces of Darkness that have been threatening England since Arthur’s time.
Mythago Wood—Robert Holdstock
Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood, which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1985, takes us to the ancient forest known as Ryhope Wood.
Stephen Huxley comes back from World War II to see his younger brother Christian, but finds that the young man has become obsessed with Ryhope, which stands on the edge of the family lands. Each time Christian goes into the forest he stays longer and longer, becoming more entangled with the mythical creatures known as mythagos. Will he be able to return to the every day world? Or will his obsession pull his family apart?
The Book of Three—Lloyd Alexander
Taran is unsatisfied with his life as Assistant Pig-Keeper, even though the pig in question is oracular. When the prognosticating pig escapes, he goes on a chase that soon turns into an adventure!
Taran must work with the noble Prince Gwydion, sorceress-in-training Eilonwy, and a feral man named Gurgi to rescue the pig, elude the nefarious Queen Achren, and thwart the Horned King who seeks to wrap the land in Darkness. This is the first book of The Prydain Chronicles, Lloyd Alexander’s epic coming-of-age story, and an update of the Welsh Mabinogion.
The Horse Goddess—Morgan Llywelyn
Far to the south, Athens rises. Across Europe mortal men and women are transformed into gods and goddesses as their adventures are repeated as legend. We know Epona now as the goddess of horses, whose cult spread across Europe, from the British Isles all the way to Rome.
But in Morgan Llywelyn’s story, Epona is a young horsewoman whose deeds are already being sung, but who is far from being a deity. She meets the Scythian warrior-prince, Kazhak, and together they flee across the continent from the Alps to the Ukraine, pursued by Kernunnos, a mysterious Druid priest known as the “Shapechanger.” Will they escape his grasp, or be ensnared in his evil?
Tempe, Arizona probably doesn’t spring to most people’s minds when they hear the word “Celtic,” but Kevin Hearne creates a mythological wonderland with a desert backdrop!
In Hounded, we meet Atticus O’Sullivan, the proprietor of Third Eye Books and Herbs occult shop, who also happens to be the Last Druid, and his Irish wolfhound Oberon, who happens to be telepathic. Atticus deals well enough with most of Tempe’s magical residents, who include werewolves, vampires, and the occasional god… at least until he finds himself caught in a divine caper when his mighty sword, Fragarach the Answerer, sets off a series of godly dominoes.
Daughter of the Forest—Juliet Marillier
Sorcha is the youngest child of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. She has no memory of her mother, and she has been raised by her six elder brothers. When her father is bewitched, and her brothers are enchanted and turned into swans, it is up to Sorcha to fight for her family and land. The only way she can save those she loves is to spin six shirts from poisonous, needle-like starwort, remaining absolutely silent, until the last one has been completed.
After years of this toil, a charming lord comes into her life and she sees possibilities for her life that were impossible before. Is the spell unbreakable? Or will she uphold her vow to save her brothers?
A Swiftly Tilting Planet—Madeleine L’Engle
The third novel in L’Engle’s Time Quintet follows Charles Wallace Murray on an adventure through time and alternate histories. Ten years after the event of A Wrinkle in Time, the Murray family is gathered for Thanksgiving when they learn that a nuclear war is imminent. Charles Wallace goes back in time with a unicorn to try to change the past for the better, while his older sister Meg connects to him through their psychic link.
Meg’s Irish mother-in-law provides clues, and possibly magical protection, as they try to change the course of fate. Irish, Scottish and Welsh culture are threaded throughout the book, as is the idea that Celtic travelers settled in North America centuries before Columbus.
The mystical Wildfolk have always favored Jill. She’s never understood why, she just knows that they appear to her from another realm. But if she understood their true nature, it would reveal a past and future beyond her wildest imaginings.
Four hundred years before her birth, an arrogant lord caused the death of two young lovers. His vow to right this wrong echoes through time itself, and lays the foundation for Jill’s life, and all those she loves: her father, Cullyn; an exiled warrior called Rhodry Maelwaedd; and the ancient herbman Nevyn. They are all locked in a struggle with darkness that stretches across lifetimes, and bound to a destiny that was forged centuries ago.
The Last Light of the Sun—Guy Gavriel Kay
Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Last Light of the Sun meshes elements of Anglo-Saxon, Welsh, and Viking cultures to create a thrilling historical fantasy with the Anglcyn (Anglo-Saxon), Cyngael (Welsh), and Erling (Viking) civilizations locked in conflict.
Erling marauders regularly raid Anglcyn and Cyngael villages, and bloodshed and slavery are just part of life. Bern Thorkellson, an Erling, was enslaved after his father murdered another man, but now he’s escaped to seek vengeance against the man who stole his father’s prize horse. His father, meanwhile, is haunted by the past and seeks redemption for his murder. At the other end of the social spectrum, Aeldred, legendary king of the Anglcyn, struggles to enlighten his countrymen, while the Cyngael prince Alun tries to save his soul from Darkness. The lives of these four men will all entwine as they fight for their lands and their destiny.
The Mabinogion Tetralogy—Evangeline Walton
Evangeline Walton retells the First Branch of the Welsh Mabinogion, with a far more adult slant than Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles. The Tetralogy includes the novels The Island of the Mighty, The Children of Llyr, The Song of Rhiannon, and Prince of Annwn.
The magical tales of mighty warriors, children who take to the sea, battles across continents, and cauldrons with the power to raise the dead have been the basis for much modern fantasy, all informed by the history of Wales and Ireland.
Moonheart—Charles de Lint
Sara Kendall runs an Ottawa antique store with her uncle, Jamie Tamsin. In their line of work they come across many fanciful objects: a painting of a Native American shaman’s first meeting with a European bard, an engraved bone disk, and a gold ring buried in clay. But what worries Sara is the affect these artifacts have on her. She’s drawn to them, pulled into a dangerous world that is only barely hidden. She soon realizes that not only are the otherworldly dangers real, but that there are also real evils in her own world.
When a secret division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police sends an officer after her uncle and his friend, Thomas Hengyr, Sara knows that she needs to figure out the truth about the artifacts. But when a far older evil threatens them all, they will need to join forces and draw on all the magic of the Otherworld to protect themselves. De Lint infuses early-1980s Canada with the mysticism of ancient Wales in this urban fantasy.
Originally posted in March 2015.