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Tolkien’s Tale of Brittany

Bonjour From Brittany

The popular memory of JRR Tolkien’s literary output will forever be overshadowed by his novels of Middle-earth, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings but other gems are to be found amidst his rich body of work. One of these is a lengthy poem written in octosyllabic rhyming verse in the style of a medieval Breton lay, entitled The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun; a tragic tale featuring several motifs found in the traditional folklore of Brittany.

Believed to have originated in Brittany, lays are long narrative poems that typically explore the nature of love while recounting the deeds of great heroes and marvellous beings. Written in rhyming verse, these poems were initially designed, in medieval times, to be sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments.

Tolkien wrote The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun around 1930; some seventeen years after he had stayed several weeks in the up-market Breton…

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