The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
By: J.R.R. Tolkien
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun is a poem of 508 lines, written by J. R. R. Tolkien in 1930 and published in Welsh Review in December, 1945 (vol. IV, No, 4).
Aotrou and Itroun are Breton words for “lord” and “lady”. The poem is modelled on the genre of the “Breton lay” popular in Middle English literature of the 12th century, and it explores the conflict of heroic or chivalric values and Christianity, and their relation to the institution of marriage.
A major source for the poem has been identified as the Breton song ‘Le Seigneur Nann et la Fee’, which Tolkien probably knew through Wimberly’s Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads (1928).
Honestly, I had no idea that this book was coming out until it was mentioned in passing somewhere either on Twitter or on Goodreads (and omg did I add that book so fast onto my wishlist). Having found this poem he wrote amongst his notes, does it warrant a whole book about it? Ehh, like previous books before it (Beowulf (review) and The Fall of Arthur (review) spring to mind), probably not, but whatever, it’s something by Tolkien 😛 Not to mention it staved over my wait for Beren and Luthien coming out in 2017 🙂
I guess I didn’t read the blurb about it properly because I was surprised for whatever reason that the poem was complete 😛 It’s a beautifully-written poem, with its rhythm and its imagery evoking a sense of the countryside and its character. And while the story itself was fairly brief, it was interesting with its chivalry and its magic, but at the heart of it is about Aotrou and Itroun’s marriage and their desire and struggle for children. That aspect of the story is something that is quite relatable dspite of how different their time period was from ours.
Aside from the poem itself, the book also includes other poems that Tolkien either worked on and stories that influenced the lay. These were interesting as well, though the accompanying notes and commentaries are pretty sparce that it may not interest everyone, especially in relation to the main work.
Overall, I did enjoy reading The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun but as it is a lesser-known lay by modern standards, this may not interest everyone, even if you are a Tolkienite, unless you have a deep interest in the classics and Middle English poetry and literature. But it’s an interesting piece that nonetheless solidifies the knowledge that Tolkien was deeply entrenched and influenced by medieval literature when he crafted everything Middle Earth.