Review: Tolkien in Translation edited by Thomas Honegger (Guest Post by Jenna)

Tolkien Reading Event 2017

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the complete schedule here.


tolkien in translation 2

tolkien translation 1

Once upon a time, I wanted to write a paper about translating Tolkien for an undergraduate course. Numerous challenges accompany the task of translating literature. Tolkien crafted his stories on a foundation of language. His careful use of the English language and his creation of Middle-earth’s own languages further complicates the process of translating his works. As he wrote of The Lord of the Rings, “Hardly a word in its 600,000 or more has been unconsidered” (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 160). Though my paper never materialized, the beginning of my research led me to Tolkien in Translation¸ a volume of works that “reflects on some of these challenges and how different translators overcame them” (back description). This book is the fourth volume in the Cormarë series from Walking Tree Publishers. The series currently consists of 35 books collecting scholarly papers and studies about Tolkien and his writing.

Tolkien in Translation contains six papers, one that posits a translation theory for Tolkien’s work and five that each focus on a particular language of translation. Allan Turner’s “A Theoretical Model for Tolkien Translation Criticism” gives the collection context by providing a translation model that complements the articles to follow. Turner adapts George Steiner’s hermeneutical theory of translation. The fundamental idea of this theory, particularly as applied to Tolkien, is that to produce an accurate and faithful translation, the translator requires a deep acquaintance with the source text. This idea connects the six papers. Whether the authors of the papers explore their own translation or critique others’, they each appreciate that a translator of Tolkien must understand not only the text which they are translating, but also Tolkien’s other writings and comments about his Middle-Earth universe.

“In the Middle-Earth books, the interconnections are so frequent and complex, and the pitfalls for the translator who does not know the larger structure so numerous and well hidden, that ‘ordinary competence and conscientiousness are simply not enough” (Nils Ivar Agøy, 42)

Even if you’re not specifically interested in translation, you may learn something new about Tolkien’s language choices from this text. For example, the works about the Norwegian and French translations both comment on English’s Germanic background. Tolkien often selected words with a specific English history. This background means that English has many words of a particular history that Norwegian and French cannot necessarily trace or replicate. In addition, each work references Tolkien’s own comments on translations. Readers unfamiliar with Tolkien’s opinions on translation can still gain a sense of how he would have liked to see his work treated.

Discussing translation necessitates a discussion of Tolkien’s stylistics. When I first considered the difficulties of translating Tolkien, I thought only about the meaning he built into his names and his constructed languages. Never mind the choices he made when using the English language! As a native English speaker, I rarely stopped to consider what kind of impression his use of English made on me, the reader. This is just the sort of thing to which a translator must pay careful attention. Sandra Bayona’s exploration of socio-linguistic features in the Spanish translation of The Lord of the Rings exemplifies this idea. For example, the phrase ‘I reckon’ (frequently used by Sam) is translated seven different ways in Spanish (82-3). ‘I reckon’ loses its significance as a marker distinguishing Sam’s discourse. Bayona’s close reading of the text identifies a number of speech elements that convey meaning easily lost in translation.

If pressed to choose the paper in the collection that least interested me, I would choose Arden R. Smith’s “The Treatment of Names in Esperanto Translations of Tolkien’s Work”. This paper is the only one that focuses on name translation. The paper consists of numerous list and charts detailing one translator’s poor and inconsistent choices when translating names into Esperanto. I can appreciate the challenge of an Esperanto translation. Esperanto was a language constructed to be simplified and easy to learn, in order to facilitate universal communication. Tolkien certainly wasn’t going for language simplicity in his works. However, I found the Esperanto translation errors less interesting than, say, the Spanish missteps, because Esperanto is not a living language with the history and connotations of the other languages explored.

Some final comments on the three papers I haven’t yet mentioned: The second work in the book is a reflection, as Nils Ivar Agøy explores some of the decisions he made in translating The Silmarillion into Norwegian. This is the shortest work in the collection, and the only one that focuses on The Silmarillion. Vincent Ferre, Daniel Lauzon, and David Riggs’ paper provides an explanation of how the awkward choices and delays in the French translations may have contributed to France’s cool reception of Tolkien. Mark T. Hooker’s “Nine Russian Translation of The Lord of the Rings” provided me with the most ‘did you know’ moments in the book. I.E. Did you know that The Lord of the Rings first circulated in 1960s Russia as an underground condensed translation by a woman named Zinaid Anatol’evna Bobyr’, because official translations were banned until the 1980s? (120). Each of these articles sheds illumination on an aspect of Tolkien’s work that may have gone unconsidered had it not needed to be translated into a particular language and culture.

I recommend Tolkien in Translation to those with an interest in how language shapes literature. Tolkien fans will find much to appreciate in this accessible collection. A companion volume, Translating Tolkien: Text and Film (Cormarë Vol. 6) [link: http://www.walking-tree.org/books/translating_tolkien.php%5D also looks promising, though I have not yet read it.

About the Author

Jenna enjoys reading Tolkien, middle grade, and speculative fiction, though she blogs about all kinds of books at Falling Letters. She will be moving to Vancouver in the fall to begin a master’s in library and information studies. You can also find her on Twitter and Goodreads.

My Tolkien Collection (Guest Post by Emily @ Rose Read)

Tolkien Reading Event 2017

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the complete schedule here.


Greetings, weblings! My name is Emily, and I blog over at Rose Read. Here’s a little about me: I am a grad student studying Library and Information Science, though I started out as a high school English teacher. I also work on MuggleNet.com, the #1 Harry Potter fan site, and I co-manage the Apparating Library Book Club for the Harry Potter Alliance. Other than books and blogging, I love musical theater, hiking, dark chocolate, Mumford & Sons, owls, and unicorns. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @enchntdrose or my blog at www.rosereadblog.wordpress.com! Thanks to Briana and Krysta for letting me do a guest post – let’s get started!

Today I’m going to share with you some of my most prized books in my entire personal library: my Lord of the Rings trilogy box set, which is a second edition from 1965. This set has sentimental value as well as being just really pretty. It was given to me after my childhood best friend’s grandmother passed away. My best friend and I would often spend time playing at her grandmother’s house, which was always great because she had the BEST cookies and a really cool old house to explore. One of our favorite places in the house was the basement. I remember it as a very dark, plush lounge, complete with a fancy old bar, fancy plush chairs, and a fancy, giant, old bookshelf. My friend wasn’t much of a reader, but I was always enamoured at the old bookshelf and would spend time just staring at it, afraid to touch any of the old volumes. After her grandmother died, my friend’s mom gave me this set of books from that very collection. The set still has its box and dust covers pretty much pristine. The top edges are tinted and there are pull-out maps in the back of each book. I love them more than a person probably should love inanimate objects. Behold:

Tolkien Books

Fellowship of the Ring

Lord of the Rings

Tolkien Map

Beautiful, no?

I’ve tried my best to find other Tolkien books to match these for the rest of my collection. I managed to find a Silmarillion copy that is from the same publisher, and it’s an American first edition, so it matches pretty well. Unfortunately, I do not have the dust cover, but it’s still pretty:

Tolkien Books

Then I have a first American edition copy of the Book of Lost Tales, which matches the others, too! This one does have the dust cover!

Book of Lost Tales

I sadly do not have an old Hobbit copy, but I do like the edition I have. Also pictured is A Tolkien Miscellany with short stories (that has AWESOME cover art of Smaug) and 3-Minute J.R.R. Tolkien because I am a sucker for pretty illustrated “quick guides” like these.

Tolkien Quick Guides

Tolkien Quick Guides 2

And that’s the extent of my Tolkien book collection. I know it’s probably not as large as the collections of Tolkien fans reading this post, but it is very special to me. I tried to build it around my prized trilogy set, which will forever remind me of the giant old bookshelf and the kindness of my friend’s grandmother. I tried reading different editions once, and it just felt wrong. I love the mustiness of these books and the memories they hold of the dark, plush basement – somehow the smell turns to Gandalf’s pipe-weed, and the dark basement into a candle-lit Hobbit hole, and it’s all part of the magic.

Do you have special copies of any Tolkien books? I know I can’t read any other copies than these!

Whimsical Fairies: Tolkien’s Disowned Poem is My Favorite (Guest Post by Lyse @ Belle Reads)

Tolkien Reading Event 2017

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the complete schedule here.


Early in Tolkien’s career, he published a whimsical fairy poem. It was quite popular at the time, although he eventually came to distance himself from it, as one does with early writing. In the time before his graceful warrior elves were introduced, he portrayed happy little creatures, the elves of fairy tales. He titled the short piece with words that conjure very different images in his well-known books: “Goblin Feet.”  Here is the first stanza:

I am off down the road
Where the fairy lanterns glowed
And the little pretty flitter-mice are flying
A slender band of gray
It runs creepily away
And the hedges and the grasses are a-sighing.
The air is full of wings,
And of blundery beetle-things
That warn you with their whirring and their humming.
O! I hear the tiny horns
Of enchanted leprechauns
And the padded feet of many gnomes a-coming!
O! the lights! O! the gleams! O! the little twinkly sounds!
O! the rustle of their noiseless little robes!
O! the echo of their feet – of their happy little feet!
O! the swinging lamps in the starlit globes.

 

Tolkien seems to have written the poem for his fiancee, Edith Bratt. And while he may have come to regret it, this poem has always been my favorite of his verses. I do like The Lord of the Rings, of course, and I’ve read Roverandom and portions of The Silmarillion. But “Goblin Feet” is my earliest memory of Tolkien’s writing.

His writing, not of him. I was born knowing about Tolkien. My older sisters were a little obsessed with LOTR. They had movie calendars and all the soundtracks and beautifully matched trilogies. So I knew about Tolkien. But I wasn’t allowed to see the movies (my parents were quite concerned about the violence) and too young to read the books. I tried to join the obsession though. I memorized the track listings from hearing the soundtrack too many times. And I kept all the loose sheets from my sister’s page-a-day calendar. Even now, broody Aragorn graces my wall, reminding me of 2003, which is, now that I think about it, a really long time ago.

Aragorn Poster

So I knew about Tolkien. And when I discovered “Goblin Feet” in my Favorite Poems: Old and New, I was astonished. This was Tolkien just for me. This was Tolkien of the scary orcs and too-old-for-me bloodshed writing about dancing and fairies and everything that warmed my small girl heart. This was Tolkien in a length and lilt that I could memorize and impress adults with. This was Tolkien I could dance and skip and imagine to.

I’m sad–not surprised, but sad–that Tolkien eventually disowned this poem. “Goblin Feet” is the perfect amount of whimsy and earnest awe for small children. And for adults. We could all use more whimsy in our lives. Even today, 10+ years later, this poem reminds me of the little girl who was so yearningly serious and daringly whimsical. She might have been idealized and suppressed over time, hidden by “maturing” and “responsibility,” but I hope she never stops looking for fairies.

About the Author

Lyse was born into a family of Tolkien enthusiasts and proudly displays LOTR art on her mantelpiece. When she’s not doing adulty things, she reads YA & blogs about whatever enters her mind. Follow her blog at https://lyseofllyr.blog/ or follow her on Twitter for hardcore fangirling.

A Secret Vice by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien Reading Event 2017

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the complete schedule here.


a-secret-vice

A Secret Vice is the title of a lecture written by J. R. R. Tolkien in 1931, given at a conference. Some twenty years later, Tolkien revised the manuscript for a second presentation.

It deals with constructed languages in general, and the relation of a mythology to its language. Tolkien contrasts international auxiliary languages with artistic languages constructed for aesthetic pleasure. Tolkien also discusses phonaesthetics, citing Greek, Finnish, and Welsh as examples of “languages which have a very characteristic and in their different ways beautiful word-form”.

Tolkien’s opinion of the relation of mythology and language is reflected in examples cited in Quenya and Noldorin, the predecessors of Quenya and Sindarin. The essay contains three Quenya poems, Oilima Markirya (“The Last Ark”), Nieninque, and Earendel, as well as an eight-line passage in Noldorin.

Overview

Although I’m always excited about a new Tolkien book, I was hesitant about spending money on A Secret Vice since the essay that forms the core of the book is published in The Monsters and the Critics, which I already own.  Ultimately, I do think A Secret Vice is an engaging critical edition, and the editors made a good call to republish the essay as a standalone book with additional supporting material (including an introduction, another essay on phonetic symbolism, a look at the various manuscripts/revisions of the essay, and a coda about the legacy of Tolkien’s languages).  The Monsters and the Critics basically just collects several of Tolkien’s academic lectures.   The limited external commentary means the lectures can be overwhelming or confusing to readers who don’t already have some knowledge about the topics the lectures address.  A Secret Vice fixes that problem and provides a nice introduction to settle readers into the linguistic theory that Tolkien used to invent the languages of Middle-Earth, while also offering more in-depth material for more academically minded readers.  (Basically, I think this book works well for both a general audience and scholars.)

The Introduction

The editors’ introduction to A Secret Vice is a quick but comprehensive overview of what Tolkien covers in the essay “A Secret Vice” itself and of some of the contemporary linguistic theory that informed Tolkien’s work on languages.  It is a nice reminder, as well, that Tolkien was interested in linguistics and philology, which I think is still overlooked, even as Tolkien’s other academic work (medieval literary studies) continues to gain recognition.

The editors outline four major characters Tolkien desired his languages to have, which I found a useful way to organize the information from the book:

  1. aesthetically pleasing word forms
  2. fitness between form and meaning
  3. elaborate grammars
  4. illusion of historicity

I was initially skeptical about point two, since what I know about language theory is from Saussure, who declares that the signifier is unrelated to the signified (words-their forms or sounds-are not related at all to the objects or ideas they describe). Saussure’s theory dominates academia today.  However, the introduction presents a brief overview of earlier scholars who argued word form and meaning could be related and how this might be.  I like the idea that Tolkien tried to adhere to this theory in his own language invention, even if success in that area must be largely subjective.

My one gripe is that the introduction occasionally repeats itself in a manner I find odd.  My only explanation is that the authors were thinking that readers might skip about the introduction and read only certain subsections they found interesting. While such selective reading is common in academia (Who reads an entire monograph from start to end?), I think it would be unusual for someone not to read the introduction with some care, particularly when the introduction (and the book as a whole) are not very long.  Repeating the same point three times is unnecessary.

A Secret Vice

I admit it: I enjoyed this essay much more with the context of the introduction than I would have without it.  The “essay” is really a lecture that Tolkien read aloud to an undergraduate society at Oxford, and reading it reminded me of similar lectures I have attended throughout my own academic career. Unlike actual essays, which tend to have a strong thesis/focus/structure, these lectures (somewhere between formal and informal), tend to be meandering.  I often leave them asking myself, “What was the main point?” and Tolkien’s work is no exception.

Tolkien, you see, begins with some general ponderings on language and language construction. He talks a lot about Esperanto.  He, eventually, gets to reflecting on people he knows who have created languages.  He takes an odd digression into why some of these languages do not actually count as invented languages or contribute to his argument. Finally, he gets to the topic one would have thought was the point all along: his own invented languages.  With a bit of explanation of his process and some examples of poems he’s written in his own languages, the lecture is done.  I suppose it’s more of a narrative than an essay. Tolkien eases into his main topic; he doesn’t forefront it with a clear thesis.  This isn’t my favorite structure, so I appreciated that the introduction outlined some main take-aways of the lecture.  Frankly, I think it might be possible for a reader to miss them.  However, once you have your bearings with the lecture, it does offer fascinating insight into Tolkien’s invented language production.

Essay on Phonetic Symbolism

This essay is more technical.  It isn’t entirely clear what audience Tolkien intended it for.  The book does a lot of cross-referencing between this essay and “A Secret Vice,” so for many readers it’s going to be most useful to shed light on “A Secret Vice.”  The editors point out that the essay appears to have been written in one sitting, and I do think it reads like a draft.  It’s a bit confusing at times, but the editorial notes are helpful.

The Manuscripts

Publishing every existing manuscript/draft of a work is currently a popular scholarly practice and has been standard practice for all of the most recent Tolkien books.  Scholars want to avoid publishing a “definitive” version of a text if one doesn’t clearly exist, and they also want to provide readers with the chance to see an author’s process and how his/her ideas developed and changed over drafts.  In theory, this is interesting. In practice, I don’t read these sections of the book. Unless I’m doing an academic study,I don’t have a lot of personal interest in reading five versions of the same text to pick out what’s different between them.  I think a general audience would agree with me for the most part, but if you’re really into Tolkien studies, this section of the book will be useful to you and give you access to material you’d otherwise need to get from the Bodleian library.

Coda

This section of the book reads most like something the authors intended for a general audience, rather than an academic one. It starts with an overview of Tolkien’s work that will be old news to many serious Tolkien fans.  However, it does offer some new information specifically on Tolkien’s language invention and ends with a reflection on how Tolkien’s work has influenced fantasy.  I learned, for instance, that linguists are routinely hired to help create fantasy languages for books or for books turned to movies. (Apparently George R. R. Martin mentions Dothraki briefly in A Song of Ice and Fire, but HBO hired linguists to flesh it out for the television series.)  It’s not an earth-shattering section, but it’s entertaining and nicely wraps up the book as a whole.

4 stars
Briana

The Book That’s Not Supposed to Exist (Guest Post by Joanna Maciejewska)

Tolkien Reading Event 2017

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the complete schedule here.


The Last Ringbearer

Whenever I watch Aragorn’s coronation scene in The Return of the King, with Eowyn standing in the crowd beside Faramir, I can’t resist thinking: “Poor Eowyn. A victim of the Elven conspiracy!” What an odd thought, you say? Not so much if you have read the book that changed my perception of the coronation scene.

I’m not a devoted Tolkien fan. Yes, I read it when I was young, but before him there were countless other books, including another pioneer writer, Robert E. Howard, and a Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski (if you’ve heard of the Witcher video games, he’s the writer who wrote the books the games were based on), so The Lord of the Rings was just (I can almost hear you gasping!) another fantasy book, and I never fell in love with it. I could probably redeem myself by admitting I loved The Silmarilion much more, but that would likely be countered by the fact I enjoyed the Hobbit movies.

Anyway, I digress. My experience of the Aragorn’s coronation comes from the The Last Ringbearer by Kiryll Yeskov, as opposed to Tolkien.

The Last Ringbearer was fun. Even though it kept the major events that readers know from The Lord of the Rings intact, it depicted the war between Orcs and other races from an entirely different angle. The story focused on the quest to separate the Elven world from the magicless Middle Earth—a mission given to two soldiers from the destroyed Mordor army by a Nazgul, but the more interesting bits were in the background. For example, the poor Orcs were attacked for their attempts of bringing industrial progress and science to the Middle Earth, and their bad and cruel image was nothing more than Elven propaganda aiming to discredit their enemies.

I won’t recount the whole story, as it’s available on Wikipedia (or you might decide you want to read it yourself), but as you might have guessed, in The Last Ringbearer, it’s Eowyn who is Aragorn’s loved one, but he is stuck with Arwen due to Elven plots. In this reimagining of Middle Earth’s history, it’s not the happily ever after one could expect.

What’s even more interesting than the story in the book is… the book’s story.

Even though it’s been published in Russia, and then translated into several languages (including Polish which made it available for me), it’s considered copyright infringement by the Tolkien Estate, so has never been commercially translated or published in English.

I learned about the book’s rough path long after I’d read The Last Ringbearer, and it made me regret I hadn’t paid closer attention to reading this book (which I got from the library), and that I didn’t reread the original work along with it, to discover more interesting tidbits of the alternative story of Middle Earth. All I have left is the memory of the Elven conspiracy that always returns when I see poor Eowyn standing beside Faramir.

But now, after all those years, since my English is much better than when I was young, I might reach for the non-commercial translation available on the net, and once more explore all the details that had escaped me during my first read-through.

What about you? Would you read The Last Ringbearer if it was published in English? Maybe you stumbled upon its non-commercial English translation available online? What did you think of it? Or maybe you agree with Tolkien Estate’s stand on the derivative works and would rather not see this book around?

About the Author

I grew up in Poland, spent over 8 years in Ireland, and I’ve recently moved to Arizona. I have several short stories published in Polish magazines (“Nowa Fantastyka”, “Science-Fiction Fantasy i Horror”, “Magazyn Fantastyczny”, “Esensja”) and anthologies (Fabryka Słów, Replika, Solaris).

Visit Joanna at http://melfka.com.

How I Discovered The Fantasy Genre Through Tolkien (Guest Post by E.E. Rawls)

Tolkien Reading Event 2017

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the complete schedule here.


Tolkien Books

Fantasy took on a whole other light for me the day I first met Tolkien’s work: The Lord of the Rings.

It was the year my family moved back to America from Italy—a difficult transition, as Italy had been my home for 6 years, and was the longest we had remained in one place for my dad’s job. That year was a low point in life, and I needed something encouraging, something adventurous, to lift me up. The timing of this could not have been more perfect.

There was a movie coming out in theaters called The Fellowship of the Ring. I knew nothing of it or Tolkien, but my parents seemed pretty excited about it. They couldn’t remember the whole story, so they gave me vague summaries of the series which I didn’t understand at all. But the movie’s preview showed elves and gorgeous mountains covered in snow, so I thought, “Sure, why not. I’ll go see it.” Little did I know what I was in for!

The movie began, with dark enthralling scenery and a melodic voice. My eyes grew wide as I was sucked into another world.

This was fantasy unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I knew I liked fairies and other fantasy-ish things, but I hadn’t been deeply immersed in the fantasy genre until this moment. There were elves who were not the happy helpers of Santa. There were more-than-creepy goblins, trolls, and orcs. Grand places like the Mines of Moriah, and enchanting Lothlorien, and gorgeous Rivendell—places beyond my limited imagination! And there were hobbits, a new race of people who were the smallest of all, and a lot like me. Froddo was the only one brave enough to take on the challenge of destroying the Ring. Small as he may be, and ignorant of combat skills and traveling, yet he was the one person willing to give his life to save the world—and that captivated me. It made me see that, no matter what I lacked in ability, anything was possible if only I put my mind to it.

Once the movie ended (and on such a heartbreaking cliffhanger!), I went straight to the bookstore and bought the whole series and The Hobbit. I could not wait a whole year to find out what happened next! So I read them all within two weeks, and went looking for more great works in the fantasy genre afterward. The Lord of the Rings gave me the escape and time I needed to adjust to a new life situation, and it voiced lessons I would hold close for years.

My favorite quotes are:

“So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

“It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.” (This scene touched me so much, I remember the tears in theaters!)

Even after so many years, Tolkien’s world has stuck with me, just as it has for so many of you, and is what encouraged me to begin creating my own worlds through writing. This year I hope to publish my own debut fantasy novel, and all because I went to the theater that day, long ago, and met Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

About the Author

E. E. Rawls is a full-time author currently residing in New England. Europe is the source of her writing inspiration, after having lived in Italy for six years. A time spent road-tripping through the Alps, exploring castle ruins and dungeons, wandering Victorian towns and tucked-away villages, discovering their hidden legends. She now lives off of coffee, games, and bookshelves, with goals to one day master the arts of drawing, riding a dragon, and speaking Tolkien’s language of the Elves.

You follow her blog at  www.rawlse.wordpress.com or sign up for to get exclusive content from her about her projects at http://eepurl.com/2F36f.

The Lay of Aotrou & Itroun by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien Reading Event 2017

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound is hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring several guest posts.


lay-of-aotrou-and-itrounInformation

Goodreads: The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: November 2016

Official Summary

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 (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.

Review

In Britain’s lands beyond the seas
the wind blows ever through the trees;
in Britain’s land beyond the waves
are stony shores and stony caves

This year’s official Tolkien Reading Day theme is “Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction,” so perhaps this isn’t the greatest time for me to admit that I am not always a fan of Tolkien’s poetry. It’s hit or miss for me, and much of it tends to the sing-songy. However, I think Tolkien excels when working with older verse forms, such as Anglo-Saxon alliterative poetry, so I really enjoyed The Lay of Aotrou, his take on a Breton lai. You can see from the excerpt above that it’s in octosyllabic rhyming couplets, and I was drawn in by the writing and the story from these, the very first lines.

Flieger has been going on about the “darker side of Tolkien’s imagination” since she also worked on The Story of Kullervo, but while the story is definitely sad, I don’t know that it’s particularly darker than much of Tolkien’s other work.  The Silmarillion has some dark moments.  Mostly, I was struck by how much it sounds like an authentic medieval lai.  It definitely has Tolkien’s style about it, but the writing, plot, and general message all hit the right tone for me.    It does seem to have a bit of a superficial message–don’t mess with dark magic–and ends with a very medieval invocation to the Virgin Mary.  Yet the story is captivating, and I think there’s room in the poem for more interesting analysis and interpretations.  (I actually would have loved to see Flieger take on some more analysis, but I suppose some will be forthcoming in Tolkien studies.)

The book also includes two other Corrigan poems that are supposed to be precursors to the Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, and while they are presented as complete, they definitely seem less sophisticated.  Here’s an excerpt from the first one, which has some of the sing-songy air that I don’t like about some of Tolkien’s poetry:

“Mary on earth, why does thou weep?”
“My little child I could not keep:
A corrigan stole him in his sleep,
And I must weep.”

Basically, I felt these two poems were interesting in terms of illuminating Tolkien’s composition process and his reworking of material. They also present some more traditional views of corrigans. However, the Lay of Aoutrou and Itroun is the real start of this book.

There are some notes on the texts after each poem (but, once again, nothing to alert you in the text that there’s a note for the line to look for), that outline a few historical and linguistic concerns. I’m fairly familiar with medieval literature, so I didn’t need a lot of the notes, but my impression is that they would give a good amount to context for a reader who isn’t that familiar with the Middle Ages, without being overwhelming.

Beyond the core poem and the two Corrigan poems that are its precursors, Flieger attempts to bulk up this book with some manuscript drafts and some comparisons of versions between Tolkien’s work and his sources, but ultimately there’s not much material to work with.  The book is about 100 pages and took me less than an hour to read in full.  Flieger apparently doesn’t have much to say even in the introduction, which is only four and a half pages and spends about a full page of that quoting Christoper Tolkien’s Note on the Text–which the reader would presumably just have finished reading.  The core poem is great, and I’m pleased to see it back in print, but some of the latest Tolkien releases have been obviously struggling for content, and it’s painfully true here. If you’re really into Tolkien, this is a nice addition to your collection, but I can also understand just borrowing this from a library or a friend to read the poem and passing on purchasing.

4 stars Briana