Saturday 21 January 2023

Book Review: The Lay of Aotrou & Itroun by Tolkien (Poetry)

Title: The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: 2019 (1945)
Pages: 106
Format: Paperback
Genre: Poetry
Source: Xmas Gift

Unavailable for more than 70 years, this early but important work is published for the first time with Tolkien’s ‘Corrigan’ poems and other supporting material, including a prefatory note by Christopher Tolkien.

Set ‘In Britain’s land beyond the seas’ during the Age of Chivalry,
The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun tells of a childless Breton Lord and Lady (‘Aotrou’ and ‘Itroun’) and the tragedy that befalls them when Aotrou seeks to remedy their situation with the aid of a magic potion obtained from a corrigan, or malevolent fairy. When the potion succeeds and Itroun bears twins, the corrigan returns seeking her fee, and Aotrou is forced to choose between betraying his marriage and losing his life.

Coming from the darker side of J.R.R. Tolkien’s imagination,
The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, together with the two shorter ‘Corrigan’ poems that lead up to it and are also included here, was the outcome of a comparatively short but intense period in Tolkien’s life when he was deeply engaged with Celtic, and particularly Breton, myth and legend.

Written in 1930, this early but seminal work is an important addition to the non-Middle-earth portion of his canon alongside Tolkien’s other retellings of myth and legend,
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, The Fall of Arthur and The Story of Kullervo, a small but important corpus of his ventures into ‘real-world’ mythologies, each of which would be a formative influence on his own legendarium.


The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun was an enjoyable poem. As always, the commentary on the development of the work was almost as interesting to read as the work itself. Perhaps fans solely invested in the world of Middle Earth would not be as taken with this piece, but readers who already enjoy Tolkien's wide range of writings outside of The Lord of the Rings will find something to love here. It gets four stars from me.

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