The legends of King Arthur and his knights are always popular, and their original sources are found in the oral tradition of Wales. “Culwch and Olwen” contains one of the oldest mentions of King Arthur, but few people have heard of it. One reason is that more modern (12th century) versions of the Arthurian legend are better known. Another is that the legend itself is incredibly violent and not particularly relatable. It contains unpronounceable names, endless lists of people and deeds, a lot of unnecessary slaughter, and no real central character.
“The terrible legend of Kuluch and Olwen” is a readers’ theatre-style retelling that attempts to solve those problems. I focus the story on its hero, Culwch (which I’ve spelled phonetically as Kuluch), remove most of the violence, and emphasize a particular episode (the tale of the lame pismire*) that teaches the importance of teamwork. The characters are all clearly aware that they’re modern-day actors and occasionally break the fourth wall – especially Kuluch’s snarky stepsister, who provides commentary on the sexism common in 6th century epic poems. There are 18 major and minor characters, and it can be performed by 10-25 students.
This version of the story grew out of my attempt to write a picture book about the lame ant. It’s a nice story where a bunch of tiny ants all work together to help a human gather flax seeds. It has a lovely message about community and working together, the worth of everyone’s contribution, and the importance of seemingly unimportant people (or ants, in this case). And it made a terrible picture book. It needed the Culwch and Olwen frame. The goofiness of the Cricket story just came naturally from trying to explain this ridiculous epic to modern 12-year-olds.
But to me, the best thing about this story is that it found a home in Cricket. My grandparents got me a subscription to Cricket the first year of its publication. It was just a thrill to have Ladybug trying out for all the parts in my little play!
*pismire = ant