The second act of Fallout 4, one of Bethesda’s most popular RPGs, is heralded by the arrival of the Brotherhood of Steel. The Brotherhood of Steel are a recurring faction who seek and preserve technology in the aftermath of nuclear war. They’re the technological hoarders of the wasteland that is America, which means while the rest of humanity is getting around using the pre-war method known as ‘walking’, the Brotherhood of Steel are getting around in a ridiculously large airship called the Prydwen.
Depending on who you’re travelling with at the time, they may pass comment on the rather grandiose arrival of the giant airship flying overhead but none of them quite mirrored the reaction of yours truly who clocked the name ‘Prydwen’ and immediately thought ‘as in the Mabinogion?’. Turns out, yes! Exactly as in the Mabinogion. When you board the airship, Lancer-Captain Kells tells you that the name was taken from a work of historical fiction. While he says historical fiction, what he means to say is ‘the ancient collection of Welsh legends and one of the earliest examples of prose in the literature of Britain.’
The Mabinogion is a collection of Welsh myths, tales, and romances, first committed to paper in the twelfth century but drawing from an oral tradition that had been passed on for quite a bit longer. Some of the tales demonstrate similarities to the romances of Chrétien de Troyes and the Arthurian histories of Geoffrey of Monmouth, though the Welsh tales predate them both. Chrétien de Troyes and Geoffrey of Monmouth are credited with definitive contributions to Arthurian mythology and both drew from the earlier Welsh legends which include tales of King Arthur, and of specific interest to us, his voyages aboard the Prydwen.
Personally, I recognised the Prydwen as the ship that bore King Arthur between Wales and Ireland in the story Culhwch ac Olwen [Culhwch and Olwen] which is sometimes included in the Mabinogion. However, this is not the first instance of the Prydwen appearing as Arthur’s ship. It’s first known appearance is in the poem Preiddau Annwfn [The Spoils of Annwfn]. The poem is thought to date back as early as the ninth century and appears in the twelfth century manuscript Llyfr Taliesin [The Book of Taliesin]. In it, Arthur boards the Prydwen (incidentally, pronounced ‘prid-when’ rather than the ‘prid-win’ that Fallout characters insist upon) in search of the Otherworld, Annwfn (sometimes called Avalon). In Middle-Welsh legend, Annwfn is found deep underground. It’s a place of beauty, immortality, abundant food, and advanced medicine, which bears no relation to the highly sought after underground Institute of Fallout 4—
The similarities between the quest of the mythical Prydwen and it’s Fallout counterpart don’t end with the name or the journey. The Prydwen is the vessel of King Arthur and in Fallout 4 the vessel of Elder Maxson, first name: Arthur. Both have royal lineage (or in the latter’s case, the closest the Fallout universe has to such a thing. Both came into their power young and surround themselves with knights. Both are fulfilling a prophecy about a great leader coming to determine their peoples future, the major difference being that as one is a video game, you as the protagonist can decide how successful Maxson is. That ship has sailed somewhat for King Arthur.
As an aside, King Arthur makes a more direct appearance in Fallout 2 (released seventeen years before Fallout 4) where unsurprisingly he appears as a member of the Brotherhood of Steel, searching with his knights for the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (a reference to Monty Python rather than the traditional Arthurian legends).
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