A critical edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lay of Aotrou and Itroun” has been published today by HarperCollins.
The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun is 506-verse poem written by Tolkien in 1930 in the tradition of the medieval “lay”, similar to the Lay of the Children of Húrin and the Lay of Leithian.
It was published in The Welsh Review in 1945 and has only since been reprinted in a billingual (Serbian and English) edition with limited print runs.
Edited by Verlyn Flieger, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun will publish the Lay together with “The Corrigan” (a composite poem from which the Lay developed) and a prefatory note by Christopher Tolkien.
From the Publisher
Unavailable for more than 70 years [not strictly true, see above], 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 (the ‘Aotrou’ and ‘Itroun’ of the title) 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 which are also included, 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.
Originally written in 1930 and long out of print, this early but seminal work is an important addition to the non-Middle-earth portion of his canon and should be set alongside Tolkien’s other retellings of myth and legend, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, The Fall of Arthur and The Story of Kullervo. Like these works, it belongs to a small but important corpus of his ventures into real-world’ mythologies, each of which in its own way would be a formative influence on his own legendarium.
Daniel is an Officer without Portfolio and Trustee of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2014, he is mainly responsible for the Society’s digital operations, including this website.