A Celtic Tale Retold By Angela Cay Klingler.
Do you have pets? A cat? A dog? Fish? Birds? How about a snake, iguana or rat? Certainly there are differences between the kinds of pets people have. Take a cat or a dog for instance. One minute a cat will thread itself around and through your legs, nearly tripping you, purring, begging, “Please pet me, oooh, I love you, pet me!” And the next minute, it will act like it is in middle school and walk away like, “Right! As if!”
But a dog will not do that. Dogs are always ready to greet you with excitement! You can even wake up in the morning with major dragon breath and your dog will want to lick you in the face. You can have worse than a no-good, very bad hair day and your dog will still think that you are beautiful. Why, you can even be ugly to your dog and it will forgive you. This is known as unconditional love. Which is why, ever since ancient times, dog has been known as “man’s best friend.”
Now this was especially true for Prince Llewelyn. And one morning he stood out before his castle wall and blew upon his hunting horn loud and long and all of his hounds came running to answer the call. All, that is, except his favorite hound, Gellert. The prince blew upon his horn again, louder, longer. Yet still, Gellert did not answer the call.
The prince was anxious to be out upon the hunt and he and his men set forth on horseback with the other hounds as companions. But there was no pleasure in that day’s sport. Not without his favorite hound, Gellert, at his side. Gellert was a near constant companion and was always at the prince’s side. Why, he even slept at the foot of the prince’s bed, and within the castle walls, he was as gentle as a lamb. But out upon the hunt, he was fast, fearless and obedient!
As morning wore into afternoon, the prince became increasingly irritated and angry at Gellert’s absence. Finally, he called an end to the day’s hunt and he and his men returned to the castle. When they approached the castle walls, who should come bounding out to greet him but his errant hound Gellert!
Yet as the hound approached his master, the prince suddenly stopped in his tracks and began to back away. This was a most unusual greeting from his master, and as a dog will do, he tucked his tail between his legs, crouched and cowered and began to inch his way toward his master. Yet still Llewelyn backed away as his mind tried to make sense of what his eyes did see, for the dog’s muzzle was matted, caked and dripping in blood! Suddenly, the most terrifying thought began to burn through his mind! His child! His one-year-old heir, with whom Gellert often played, was in the castle!
With his heart pounding within his chest, Llewelyn raced across the bailey, through the castle doors and down the halls and corridors until he came to the nursery door, which he threw open wide! Everywhere he looked, he saw blood and disarray! The cradle was overturned and the bed linens were scattered throughout the room and smeared with blood! There was not one thing in the room where it should have been. Frantically Llewelyn searched the room, calling his child’s name out loud, yet he could not find him!
Then knowing, deep inside, that his favorite companion had betrayed him and slain his only heir, he drew his sword and ran it through the dog’s side! As a dog will do, his eyes never left his master’s, as he fell to the ground with one last dying yelp.
Yet the dog’s cry was answered by a child’s. Again Llewelyn searched the room, more slowly, more carefully this time, and he found his child near the overturned cradle, covered in blood yet unharmed, and at the child’s side laid the mutilated, bloodied body of a large gray wolf.
Too late. Too late did Llewelyn realize that it was Gellert that had slain the wolf! Too late did Llewelyn realize that it was Gellert that had stayed behind and guarded and protected his child. And for all of the prince’s money and power and prestige and guilt and grief, he could not bring his favorite companion back to life.
The dog was buried outside the castle wall, beneath a great cairn of stones, in view of Mount Snowden. And to this very day, you can travel to Wales and there you can see the place known as Beth Gellert, or the grave of Gellert.
© 1996, 1999, 2000 by Angela Cay Klingler. All rights reserved. “Beth Gellert” can be found in Celtic Fairy Tales, collected by Joseph Jacobs. Dover Publications.
“The tales and stories handed down to us from the cultures that preceded us were the most serious, succinct expressions of the accumulated wisdom of those cultures.”1
Story History and Source
“The Hound of Llewelyn” is a retelling of the Welsh legend “Beth Geliert.” From my studies I have learned that “Beth Gellert” is actually based on the fable “The Faithful Mongoose,” from an ancient book of tables from India, The Panchatantra. During the Middle Ages there were few books, other than the Bible, that were more translated, transcribed, traveled and widely read than The Panchatantra, This book was a number- one source for secular entertainment and through the telling of the tale, with the obscuring of time, the fable became associated with the real-life Prince Llewelyn of Wales. However, the tale is actually believed to be a medieval “urban legend. Urban legends are a very hot topic with adolescents these days. Though considered a tourist trap, the alleged grave, Beth Gellert, can still be visited to this day.
If ever there was an art on which the whole community of mankind has worked, it is this of the ageless tale. The folktale is the primer of the picture language of the soul.” 2
The Lingering Message of Beth Gellert
The traditional tale can articulate, lend a voice, to even our most difficult experiences and can leave the listener with something to think about, talk about and explore with an increased receptivity and potential for self-discovery. These stories can help us to make sense of the world around us and give us a sense of belonging by letting us know that we are not alone. These tales lend us courage and sustain us through the dark days. Through the repeated exposure to traditional tales and the reflection they elicit, we can discover that we can seek help, trust, persevere, cope, survive, transcend and find meaning in our lives. Though we may be scarred, we can heal our wounds. Many folktales and fairy tales portray this “hero’s journey,” which directly mirrors the traumas, trials and tasks of growing up, leaving home, contributing to the community and becoming a mature human being.
Storytelling actively engages the listener, and our brains process the story experience as if the story were actually happening to the listener. By making a connection to our experiences, emotions and fears and through the processing of the story, the feelings felt during the story experience then become a part of the listener’s repertoire of emotional memory. The story experience develops the imagination necessary to imagine oneself on the other side of a problem. Story can import emotional intelligence while serving as a key to our personal narratives, thus allowing one to open up, explore and tell one’s own story.
”The Hound of Llewelyn” is only one of countless traditional tales that make strong impressions that will be remembered and can leave one with much to think about long after the telling is done. Gellert’s betrayed devotion and trust is not unlike the tragic betrayal of the trust that can occur when children are mistreated by the adults in their lives, such as parents, relatives, family friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, scout leaders and clergy. Gellert’s unjust and tragic death underlines how feelings of frustration, anger, fear and betrayal can cloud one’s ability to accurately perceive, understand or react in a given situation. The resulting grief and sorrow felt by the prince over his rash action could not be undone. By listening to this story, others may know that they are not alone in their experiences of being betrayed or committing a violent act. This story can encourage another to reach out for help. Though Gellert did not possess the power of speech, we humans do. When empowered, we can seek support, find a person we can trust enough to talk to.
“When frightened, we adults usually feel like children and fairy tales offer advice and encouragement in these situations by using the ageless language of the unconscious.” 3
As one of several stories in a set for school assembly settings, I tell “The Hound of Llewelyn” to graduating 5th graders up through the 12th grade. It is a very popular story. Time and time again, I have witnessed the emotional responses of these students. Initially a few students will mutter, “Cool! Blood!” But soon their cockiness turns to a couple of short bursts of nervous laughter, followed in turn by intense attention and a stunned silence, with an ending surge of response. Suddenly blood and violence are no longer “cool” and they are left with a deep sense of empathy.
This impression has been reinforced many times over by the faculty’s amazement at the reactions and attentiveness of often the most troubled and troublesome students on campus. The most frequently received faculty comments range from they “have never seen” a particular student or group of students be so “attentive, engaged, interested or well-behaved” to “I have never seen that student smile, laugh, talk or participate.”
Once at one particular middle school, I watched as the students paraded in and took their places. One girl was particularly colorful and creatively dressed in black, with the appropriate boots, dog collar, multiple piercings, streak of neon red hair, etc. She was obviously the leader of the pack. I was thrilled when this student immediately came up to me after I had finished the session and excitedly told me that to her complete surprise she had enjoyed the storytelling! The librarian later told me that she feared this student was being sexually abused by her stepfather. Since the elementary school was located next to the middle school, the faculty had known the child well, personally and academically, for years. The changes in attitude, appearance, behavior and academic achievement went far beyond normal and coincided with the stepfather’s appearance. Unfortunately, without the student asking for help, their hands were tied.
When I returned to the school a year later, the librarian asked if I remembered the student, which I did, for besides being very memorable visually, she had made my day with her enthusiasm. The librarian told me how after last year’s session, the student had begun to come into the library almost every day after school to listen to my audio tape which I had left for the school and that this had gone on for weeks. Before the school year was out, however, the student dropped out of school and disappeared. The faculty was very worried and disappointed until they received a letter from the student, saying that she just wanted to let them know that she was “OK” and that she had found work and a safe place to live. Now, it is terribly unfortunate that this student was unable to ask for or receive the avenues of help available to her. It is a given that she has a lot of hard work and healing ahead of her. However, this librarian and the faculty were convinced, by this and other students’ reactions, that the “tales had offered hope in a world where appropriate role models are not readily available” and had left their students “with a lighter step and the courage to face problems.” This particular student, like Grimm’s “Princess in Disguise,” had a found the courage to remove herself from a tragic situation and find a “safer” place. I think of her often, since it is estimated that one out of four girls and one out of five to seven boys are sexually abused before the age of eighteen.
I have also used this story in my work with social workers and a psychologist for foster children. After these sessions, a social worker wrote to me that the stories had “engaged these children at the core of their being in such a wonderfully non-threatening manner. The bridges of communication built between these children and their foster families (through this experience) had helped them to explore the polyvalence and power of healthy relationships, had lifted spirits and brought genuine smiles to the faces and hearts of some very wounded children.” Story had given them a safe arena to explore past pain and losses, and to move on to possible brighter futures.
“From my perspective as a psychologist, I see that those who have a connection with story are in better shape and have a better prognosis than those to whom story must be introduced..to have story awareness is per se psychologically therapeutic. It is good for the soul.” 4
The utterly tragic frequency of school shootings and violence occurring in our middle schools and high schools, and the reading of Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence, gave me cause to look at “Beth Gellert” from another perspective. From newspaper accounts that I’ve read about the shootings occurring in our schools, the gunmen’s actions were often “triggered” by anger over belittling taunts received from fellow classmates, actual or perceived affronts or a failed love. Now, all this is definitely only the tip of the iceberg concerning the problems of these young perpetrators, and does not begin to entirely explain their actions, nor excuse it. I do firmly believe, however, that storytelling can also be used as a preventive measure which can provide a healing experience and promote the development of empathy, emotional intelligence and community.
“Representing our world to others through story is innately human, as crucial to our soul’s survival as breathing is to the survival of our body.” 5
The thousands of students who have heard “The Hound of Llewelyn” can carry within them those feelings of shock at the violence and tragic death, the regret and the sorrow and the inability to take back a rash action. They may not remember, or even think of “Beth Gellert” at the time, but having heard the story, it may very well give them a moment of pause. And that moment may be just enough of a window of time to give them an opportunity to think more clearly, perhaps find someone to talk to, or seek help, and hopefully they will be less likely to choose violent means toward such an end.
To ensure that these messages of nonviolence are heard, we need more storytellers to share these stories. Since each listener responds differently to any given story, we must seek out a great variety of myths, legends, folk tales and fairy tales that carry messages of respect for each other and acceptance. We must saturate our culture with tales of treating others with care instead of abuse, with tolerance instead of anger. I am convinced that the role of storytelling, story experience and the traditional tale is important and can offer guidance in troubled times, for once you have heard the call of such stories, you may never be quite the same again. some part of you will always remember it.
Suggested Activities For Student
1. Write, journal or tell about a time you witnessed or experienced a situation:
- When you felt that your trust was betrayed.
- When someone acted rashly due to fear or anger.
- When you felt let down or very disappointed.
- When you were so overwhelmed or disappointed that you acted rashly.
- When you did something you regretted doing.
- When you did something that was not in your best interest.
- Have you ever misunderstood what someone else did? Thought you knew what someone else was thinking only to learn later that you were completely wrong?
- Has an adult ever unjustly accused you of something? Were you able to speak to that adult and defend yourself? Did they listen or were you forced to accept the blame?
Pick out the situation you remember or want to write about the most.
- You can leave out particular details if you want and just talk about your overall impression of the event.
- What stands out most in your memory of the event?
- How did it make you feel?
- What understanding did this experience give you?
- What did you learn? About yourself? About someone else?
- How do we learn to control our temper? Our rage?
- How do we know what is right or wrong?
- How do we know when we need to ask and get help from someone else?
Sharing your writing as a personal story.
Just put the paper down and tell each other about your experience, giving each person a turn. Have you encountered similar experiences and feelings?
2. Find more stories on themes of trust, betrayal ,false accusations, regret, acting out of anger, disappointment, misunderstanding, making peace, righting wrongs, etc.
Go to your local library and check out some storytelling audio tapes and video tapes to listen to.
Browse the folktale and mythology sections for some books to check out to read.
The section numbers to look for are:
398-398.2 Folktales, Fairytales & Fables 970 Indian Myths & Legends Ask your librarian for other suggestions of places to find short stories on these topics.
You may find a story that you want to tell. Practice these stories with your class and then share the tales with students in other classes or in the lower grade levels.
3. Begin a student storytelling club with the help of your school’s librarian, reading specialist, English teacher, history teacher, psychologist, counselor and/or a teacher mentor.
Contact the National Storytelling Network (NSN) to learn about storytelling festivals, concerts, classes and professional storytellers available in or near your community. There are many storytellers that could assist you in getting a storytelling club started. There are also members of NSN that have produced curriculum guides and videos that can be purchased as a resource. Call NSN at (800) 525- 4514 or check out the web site at: www.storynet.org
4. Volunteer at your local animal shelter.
These animals have been cast aside or forgotten. Contact with a living animal
can be nurturing and fun. Learn about the Society for the Prevention to the Cruelty to Animals and see how you can get involved.
5. Create a work of art for yourself!
“Beth Gellert” is a Celtic Fairytale. The Celts are known for their beautiful, intricate interwoven designs and artwork. Many of the designs feature animals, including dogs. The designs are quite popular and stencils are available in craft stores or you could create your own. Color a Celtic design and make a picture, stencil a design on a T-shirt or use glass etching solution to place a design on a drinking glass or a piece of mirror to frame and hang. A craft store employee could help you with deciding on a project and getting the supplies needed.
August House Publishers, P.O. Box 3223,
Little Rock, AK 72203; (800) 284- 8784.
(Largest publisher of storytelling related materials, call for free catalogue!)
Chinen, M.D., Allan B. Beyond the Hero, 1993 & The Waking World, 1996, Tarcher/Putnam.
Cole, Joanna. Best-Loved Folktales of the World. Anchor Books, Doubleday; NY, 1982.
DeSpain, Pleasant. 33 Multicultural Tales to Tell, August House, Littlerock, AK, 1993. See additional DeSpain titles from August House.
Forest, Heather. Wisdom Tales from Around the World, 1996 Tales from Around the World, August House, Littlerock, AK, 1995.
Phelps, Ethel Johnston. The Maid of the North: Feminist Folk Tales from Around the World. Holt, 1981, & Tatterhood and Other Tales. Feminist Press, 1978.
Ragan, Kathleen. Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters. W. W. Norton, 1998.
Stotter, Ruth. The Golden Axe and Other Folk Tales of Compassion and Greed. Stotter Press, 1998.
White, William R. Speaking in Stones, 1982 and Stories for Telling, 1986, and Stories for the Journey, 1988, Augsburg, Minneapolis, MN. (Collected by a Lutheran Pastor and some of the best collections of world folktales I have found.)
Yolen, Jane, editor. Favorite Folktales from Around the World. Random House- Pantheon, 1986; and Gray Heroes: Elder Tales from Around the World. Penguin, 1999.
About Story and Storytelling:
Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press, 1972.
Greene, Liz & Sharman-Burke, Juliet. The Mythic Journey. Fireside, 2000.
Mac Donald, Margaret Read. The Storyteller’s Sourcebook: A Subject, Title, and Motif Index to Folklore Collections for Children. Neal- Schuman Publisher, 1982.
Mellon, Nancy. Storytelling & the Art of Imagination. Elemen,1992.
Schimmel, Nancy. Just Enough to Make a Story: A Sourcebook for Storytelling. Sister’s Choice Press; Berkeley, CA, 1992.
Yolen, Jane. Touch Magic. August House, 2000.
Storytelling as a Healing Art:
Brett, Doris. Annie Stories: A Special Kind of Storytelling. Workman, Maginatuon Press, 1986, 1988. (Therapeutic Storytelling Techniques.)
Frank, Arthur W. The Wounded Storyteller. University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Meade, Erica Helm. Tell It by Heart: Women and the Healing Power of Story. Open Court, 1995.
Nelson, Gertrude Mueller. Here All Dwell Free: Stories to Heal the Wounded Feminine. Fawcett Columbine, 1991.
Stone, Richard. The Healing Art of Storytelling: A Sacred Journey of Personal Discovery. Hyperion. 1996.
Applicable Resources of Interest:
Achterberg, Jeanne, Ph.D. Imagery in Healing. Shambhala, 1985 Coles, Robert. The Moral Intelligence of Children. Plume. 1997.
Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. Bantam, 1995.
Karr-Morse, Robin and Wiley, Meredith S. Ghosts from the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997.
Keirsey, David. Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence. Prometheus Nemesis.1998. Pipher, Mary, Ph.D. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. Grosset Putnam, 1994.
Pollack, William, Ph.D. Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood. Owl Books, 1999.
Angela Cay Klingler’s creative retellings of world folktales, fables and fairytales delight all ages and recognize individuality, community and realizing full potential. A professional storyteller since 1989, Angela has garnered national recognition with her performances, workshops and audio Faire Tales, a National Parenting Publications Award recipient.
1 Yolen, Jane, Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie, & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood, August House Pub; 2000， p.18.
2 Campbell, Joseph. The Flight of the Wild Gander, Harper Perennial, 1990, p. 37.
3 Livo, Norma J. Who’s Afraid…? Facing Children ‘s Fears with Folktales, Teacher’s Ideas Press, 1994 P. xi. Quoting Allan Chinen, M.D.
4 Hillman, James. “A Note on Story”, Parabola: “Storytelling in Education,” The Magazine of Myth and Tradition, Volume IV, Number 4.
5 Stone, Richard. The Healing Art of Storytelling: A Sacred Journey of Personal Discovery, Hyperion. 1996