Other World Characters in the Immrama and Anglo-French Stories
By C.G. Van der Bel
Published Online (2005)
Introduction: There are many stories which deal with characters from the Other World. Those kind of stories were especially popular in the Middle-Ages, and their origin probably dates back to oral tradition. The immrama, an Irish sea voyaging genre contains such characters, as well as certain Anglo-French poetry and prose. In both traditions, these figures from the Other World are associated with water or watery substances, although they appear in slightly different forms. To begin with, the Irish immrama contain several characters from the Other world associated with water. Furthermore, the Anglo-French stories also include characters from the Other World in the vicinity of water or watery substances. Moreover, there are some differences between the two concerning their number, intent and location. This paper will make an exposition of the occurrences of these characters in both the immrama and medieval Anglo-French literature, and make a comparison of these two by using several examples from both traditions.
To start with, the Irish immrama contain several characters from the Other World which are associated with water or watery surroundings. This is clearly illustrated by Immram Brain, the story of the sea voyage of Bran son of Febal. In Immram Brain1 there are several instances of characters from the Other World. When Bran son of Febal takes a walk outside his fortress, he hears sweet music and falls asleep. When he wakes up, he finds a silver branch with blossoms, and takes it back to his palace. Arriving there, a mysterious woman appears between the crowd of kings in the middle of his house. Nobody present could explain how this happened, for the gates had been shut. She then sang fifty quatrains to Bran, of which only twenty-eight are present in the story. The narrator informs the reader that this woman came from the lands of wonders. This character clearly belongs to the Other World, which is associated in this instance with being on an island, across the sea. The woman did not seem to come directly from a spring or fountain, but she did originate from an island, across the sea. This woman then tells Bran of her land, making Bran starting his journey to this land the next day.
After being two days and two nights at sea with eleven companions, they meet a second character from the Other World. This person is a man called Mannanán son of Ler, who was riding across the surface of the sea with his chariot. This man again sings several quatrains in which he explains that where Bran sees sea, he himself sees land. What to Bran seems beautiful sea is a flowery plain for Mannanán. The sea is solid land ,and the fish are calves and lambs to him. Mannanán also explains that his people is from the beginning of creation, is immortal, has eternal youth and they keep their strength; all of this because sin has not reached them. This proves Mannanán’s belonging to the Other World, since he clearly speaks of his people living under water and not having been reached by sin.