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Weaving sagas of Celts, horses, heroes

Morgan Llywelyn is passionate about horses, heroes, and Celtic history. She is a former equestrian and the author of three historical novels, two of which are part of a projected eight-volume series based on Celtic history. Together they will form a Celtic-eye-view of Western Europe from 700 BC through the 16th century.

''I'm trying to look at the whole panorama of the Celtic world,'' Ms. Llywelyn said in a recent interview here in New York.

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An attractive woman in her middle 40s, was wearing an impressive gold torque (metal collar) with horsemen on each end, a reproduction of a 7th-century BC Scythian torque.

''The past few years have seen an enormous birth of interest in the Celts,'' she continued. ''If you have any ancestry from Western Europe, you're Celtic. The vast majority of Americans are Celtic and don't know it.

''Europeans are more aware of their Celtic ancestry than we are.''

The European awareness of this heritage may result from living with the remains of the Celtic past. There are a number of archaeological excavations of Celtic sites in progress in Europe. Many people think of the Celts as being only the modern Highland Scots, the Irish, the Welsh, the Cornish, and the Bretons. In fact, the Celts were a division of the early Indo-European peoples distributed across Europe from the British Isles and Spain to Asia Minor. They were called barbarians by the Greeks and were divided and conquered by the Romans.

Morgan Llywelyn thinks that the two most important aspects of Celtic culture were the belief in the immortality of the spirit - an idea that predated Christianity in their culture - and the emphasis on the freedom of the individual, which included equality for women.

Morgan dropped out of high school in Dallas to show horses. A gifted child, she loved to read, but wasn't challenged in school. She has yet to complete her formal education, although she teaches adult education classes in creative writing.

She began assisting her mother with their family genealogy after she failed to make the US Olympic equestrian team in 1975. After this disappointment she decided to direct her energies to another activity. Genealogy sparked her interest in history - Celtic history, especially, because of her Welsh and Irish ancestry. Llywelyn, the name of the author's princely ancestor in her book ''The Wind from Hastings,'' was her mother's maiden name. Her husband, Charles, changed his name to Llywelyn several years ago.

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The author's enthusiasm and admiration for Celtic culture are evident in her life style as well as her novels. Inspired by the ancient tribal system of the Celts, the Llywelyns live with three generations of their extended family. They share their 200-year-old, 17-room former inn near North Conway, N.H., with their son, Charles's grandmother, his brother, Morgan's father, and, until her death last May, Morgan's mother. There's also a menagerie consisting of nine cats, two dogs, two birds, and Ms. Llywelyn's retired show horse.

''Horses always wind up in my books simply because you write what you know about . . . ,'' Ms. Llywelyn says. Her novels give her ''a chance to put in a little of the mystical, telepathic relationship people have with horses, which is real.''

''The Horse Goddess'' is her novel about Epona, a 7th-century BC Celtic chieftain's daughter who introduced the Scythian horse to the Celts and was immortalized as the goddess of the horse. The author says she wanted her book ''to show the deification process - how we make gods out of people who do extraordinary things. Although Epona is just a figure from Celtic myth, I tried to figure out and bring to life the way in which a woman could have had that kind of influence on history. There's nothing fictional about the fact that some woman someplace did something so extraordinary with a horse'' that she became part of the Celtic pantheon. Even the Romans erected shrines to Epona.

Ms. Llywelyn says that we still want to deify our heroes, because ''man has an enormous need for something to put on a pedestal and admire and worship. . . . In America, we have also developed the corollary, which I think is unfortunate, of the need to destroy heroes. . . . I think what's important about my books is that I believe in heroes, (and) I don't think 'hero' has any gender. I believe that the hero is the embodiment of hope. Writers need to be, especially today, writing about hope and people who can do things.''

Besides ''The Horse Goddess'' (1983), Morgan Llywelyn has written ''The Wind from Hastings'' (1978), a historical novel based on her ancestors, which culminates with the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and ''Lion of Ireland'' (1982), a novel about Ireland's legendary 10th-century king, Brian Boru. All three of the novels were published in hard cover by Houghton Mifflin. ''The Horse Goddess'' is also in Pocket Books paperback and ''Lion of Ireland'' is a Berkley paperback.

''Lion of Ireland'' and ''The Horse Goddess'' are the first volumes in Ms. Llywelyn's planned eight-volume series on Celtic history. The third volume, ''Bard,'' about a 5th-century Celtic poet will be published next fall.

Ronald Reagan telephoned Morgan Llywelyn on Christmas Eve in 1980 to tell her how much he enjoyed reading about Irish hero Brian Boru in ''Lion of Ireland.'' He was interested in the book, not only because Brian Boru is one of his ancestors, but he is intrigued by heroes.

Llywelyn says, ''Maybe somebody needs to be writing about Celtic history these days - about courage and heroes in a real sense, not about Arthur, who is mythological, but about the reality of courage and achievement. . . . These are qualities inherent in every ethnic group. . . . It's the Celts who have been ignored. They're so much a part of all we have and see in Europe and in America today. The Celts are the free world.''

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