Monday, August 31, 2015

A standalone edition of The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun — in Serbian!

Although the text of Tolkien’s Lay of Aotrou and Itroun has been floating around the Internet for ages, it has been difficult to get a legit copy of the poem in print. Copies of the publication in which is appeared, Welsh Review (Vol. IV, No. 4), have been out of reach of all but the most dedicated (and/or luckiest) collectors for decades, and the poem has never been reprinted in the United States or England since its first appearance seventy years ago. It has been reprinted just once, however, in a Serbian translation in 2002. This was a limited print run of just 500 copies and is, so far as I know, the only authorized translation ever made. The book was a softcover of just 88 pages, rare enough that I have never seen a copy. Fortunately, the Serbian translator, Aleksandar Mikić, released an updated and expanded second edition this past June.

This minor work of Tolkien’s is obviously a special favorite of his, as it is of mine, and Mikić has honored the lay’s 70th anniversary (the 80th of its composition) with a beautiful, well-made, collectible copy. The new edition, clearly a labor of love, is a hardcover of nearly 300 pages, consisting of the poem, substantial background material and commentary, and eight accompanying color plates. In addition to the plates, there are illustrations on the front and back covers. Among the plates are illustrations of the lay by the translator himself, along with Anke Eissmann, Ruth Lacon, and three brand new paintings especially commissioned from Ted Nasmith. I always love to see new works from Ted, and my special favorite is “Aotrou chases the enchanted doe through Broceliande”. Apart from the doe, this painting strongly reminds me of Ithilien and the Men of Henneth Annûn. In fact, there’s a painting by Darrell K. Sweet called “Journey to the Cross-roads” — a favorite of mine from childhood — that I find strikingly similar in its setting and color palette.

In the original edition, as I understand it, the poem was presented in both the original English and in facing-page Serbian translation, but the accompanying essays were given only in Serbian. In the new edition, the entire book is in facing-page translation, so that the preface, essays, and contributors blurbs (and even the copyright page) can all now be read in English. Most of the accompanying material is the work of the translator, Aleksandar Mikić, with assistance from Ruth Lacon (also called in the book by the names Elizabeth Currie and Ruth Lewis). Apart from the poem, the book consists mainly of a preface; an extensive essay, “The Lay of Man and the Supernatural”; and a short commentary, “On the Translation”, contributed by Zoran Paunović, a Professor of English Literature on the Faculty of Philology at the University of Belgrade, and a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Novi Sad (about a hundred kilometers to the northwest).

What I’ve called an extensive essay might better be termed a short monograph (it’s about 160 pages). It’s organized into multiple sections, beginning with a short orientation, followed by contextual discussion in “Tolkien and Christianity”, “The Celtic Cosmos”, “Tolkien and the Celts”, “Little Britain”, and “Where and When?” Then we get into some source criticism on “The Source”, which reprints the Breton lay, “Aotrou Nann hag ar Gorrigan”, in full and in Breton! This leads to “The Cognates”; “The ‘Briton Harper’”; three short character studies of the Corrigan, Aotrou, and Itroun; and a final conclusion on “The Message”.

The book only arrived from Serbia a couple of days ago, and I haven’t had time to read it thoroughly yet, so I will have to save further evaluation of the quality of the commentary for another day. For now, suffice it to say that it looks to be a thorough treatment — probably the most thorough the lay has ever received in a long but often overlooked life. It also has an accompanying bibliography (a good sign). In any case, it is quite nice to have the lay in print, along with some beautiful illustrations of it, and substantial commentary, all in one convenient new edition. It might just be a reason to dabble in some Serbian!


  1. This is news indeed! Where can one get a copy this? I've tried looking in the usual places, but can't find it listed anywhere.

  2. Anyone looking to get a copy should reach out to Aleksandar Mikić directly. He is doing PayPal or wire transfer. Send him an email to make contact and arrangements. :)