Review: The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating: 4 out of 5

This is a reworking of a British and Breton myth to a consistent poetic story with the original Breton and French versions (also in verse) used by the editor as frequent points of comparison. Not having heard the specific Breton story before, the general premise of the myth is also not so unknown in other cultures: a person promises to pay a price for having one of their wishes fulfilled, but then refuses to do so when called upon for which reason he dies.

Much like other Tolkien investigations into mythology, some changes are made to the original which is frequently used as a comparison within the text, including for verse metrics. The changes include leaving the characters unnamed—”Aotrou” and “Itroun” are the Breton words for “Lord” and “Lady”—as well greater contrasting between the mythology of the folk tales to the Christianity of the external world. One of the most interesting aspects of seeing the Breton version written down was the possibility of reading the original’s rhythm and words (though no doubt these ended up pronounced very wrong).

I am generally more fond of prose than poetry, and the electronic version of the book I read had gone awry somewhere: when the editor told the reader to look at the rhyme structure, my e-Reader regrettably only displayed about five lines per page. This seemed linked to the verse numbering and not anything to do with the stanzas, but at least in this case the electronic version was not superior to a printed one. While not a catastrophic error, it did make it clear to me that something as small as this could undo part of the emotion that the book should have generated.

Overall, I liked it and it was a most welcome introduction into Breton mythology.

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