A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages

Tolkien at IMC Leeds 2018 – round-up

I am now back from Leeds, after an excellent Tolkien Society Seminar, and an outstanding series of papers and a roundtable discussion on Tolkien at the International Medieval Congress 2018. Here’s a quick overview of all papers presented at the IMC, mostly based on my live-tweeting during the sessions. Just to warn you that my reporting of the papers is uneven at best, and doesn’t always reflect the richness and depth of each individual presentation. The number of tweets I could do was often limited by the fact that I was also chairing/moderating a number of these sessions, so I have done the best I could under the circumstances! At least readers will get a flavour of the scope and range of topics covered. I also should say that all the Tolkien sessions were very well attended, often to the point of having people standing or sitting on the floor! After the midpoint, the IMC very kindly started moving us to bigger rooms!

Session 127
Title: Memory in Tolkien’s Medievalism, I
Session Time: Mon. 02 July – 11.15-12.45

World-Building and Memory in The Name-List to the ‘Fall of Gondolin’
Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar, Brighton

  • @asthiggins: lists were important in #Tolkien’s early mythology, as in ancient and medieval epics and tales #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • @asthiggins: The Book of Lost Tales records philological debates which contest how origins of names are remembered in his Invented world #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • @asthiggins: Legolas features as an obscure character in the very early writings of #Tolkien, and in the name-list associated with The Fall of Gondolin. Legolas = green-leaf and keen-sight (different meanings in his two invented languages) #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • @asthiggins: the name list to The Fall of Gondolin becomes an archival memory of stories and characters – the first of many paratextual elements that #Tolkien would integrate in his Invented mythology #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds

 

The Smith, the Weaver and the Librarian: Sub-Creating Memory in Tolkien’s work
Gaëlle Abaléa, Centre d’Etudes Médiévales Anglaises (CEMA), Université Paris IV – Sorbonne

  • Abaléa: the figure of the weaver reoccurs in #Tolkien’s mythology – linked with mythological figures such as the Norse Norns. #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • Abaléa: weaving is significant among the Valar, linked with sub-creating the fabric of time in the early versions of the legendarium #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • Abaléa: Ungoliant and Shelob as anti-weavers or “dark”-weavers – literally creating darkness and sucking in light and memory #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • Abaléa: Aule and Feanor as a prime examples of the figure of the Smith in the legendarium. The incident at the Barrow-Downs also as an example of armour-giving linked to memory. The weapons obtained there seem to carry the memory of past conflicts with them #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • Abaléa: The Elves too attached to memory and to preserving the past. But not preserving leads to misremembering – see Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth

Tolkien’s Typological Imagination
Anna Smol, Department of English, Mount Saint Vincent University, Nova Scotia

  • .@AnnaMSmol#Tolkien would have been familiar with typological interpretations of the Bible. The term has also been applied to the study of myth. #imc2018@IMC_Leeds
  • .@AnnaMSmol: Conventional Christian typology: defining of “types” who predict or look forward to “anti-types” and make spiritual links. E.g. Adam as a “type” for Christ. #Tolkien#imc2018@IMC_Leeds
  • .@AnnaMSmol#Tolkien’s imagination is typological – 4 Ages in the legendarium – movement towards an end (finite time) #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • .@AnnaMSmol: Sauron and Shelob as a later version of Melkor and Ungoliant. Also Arwen as a re-enactment of Lúthien. In both cases these are separate characters but with typological analogies. #Tolkien#imc2018@IMC_Leeds
  • .@AnnaMSmol: Interesting moments when types merge into one: Frodo and Eärendil as two overlapping layers in the cave of Shelob when Sam reminds Frodo to use Galadriel’s phial. #Tolkien#imc2018@IMC_Leeds
  • .@AnnaMSmol: Eärendil also acts as a prefigurement: as Eärendil sails to Valinor (without permission) Frodo does too at the end of the #LordoftheRings (with permission) #imc2018@IMC_Leeds#Tolkien
  • .@AnnaMSmol#Tolkien’s On Fairy-Stories: each leaf of the tree of tales is a unique embodiment of the pattern. But in On Fairy-Stories there IS an overarching pattern: all fairy stories are typological in a particular Christian way. #imc2018@IMC_Leeds
  • .@AnnaMSmol: the typological imagination prefers the proliferation of specific historical examples of “types”, rather than reducing everything into allegory. #Tolkien#imc2018@IMC_Leeds

 

Session 227
Title: Memory in Tolkien’s Medievalism, II
Session Time: Mon. 02 July – 14.15-15.45

Tolkien Remembering Tolkien: Textual Memory in the 1977 Silmarillion
Gergely Nagy, Independent Scholar, Budapest

  • Nagy: the 1977 Silmarillion as a “textual field” – it was accused of reducing the multiplicity of the variants that #Tolkien created. #s227 #imc2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Nagy: the making of the Silmarils – the diction around Feanor’s actions changed subtly throughout the different versions. Christopher Tolkien seems to have been attuned to the sounds of language when choosing between versions. #s227 #imc2018@IMC_Leeds
  • Nagy: Christopher Tolkien (externally) and Bilbo (internally) as editors – the published Silmarillion is a work of editorial processes #Tolkien #s227 #imc2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Nagy: how much is Bilbo imagined to have acted as a unified of textual variants? #Silmarillion #s227 #imc2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Nagy proposes the term “secondary philology” for this process in the fictional level – Bilbo as translator/editor/compiler/negotiator of the 1977 Silmarillion. #Tolkien sees history and culture as a series of textual transformations. #s277 #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds

Remembering and Forgetting: National Identity Construction in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth
Sara Brown, Independent Scholar, Conwy

  • .@AranelParmadil#Tolkien is interested in record-keeping and ways of preservation past history, but Middle-earth itself and its nexus of texts draws attention to the insufficiency of memory via written texts #s227 #imc2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • .@AranelParmadil: Tolkien’s recurring “Atlantis” dream: inherited memory as a neat way to solve the problem of the insufficiency of textual memory? #s227 #imc2018@IMC_Leeds
  • .@AranelParmadil: forgetting as equally important in terms of nation-building – Boromir as a case of forgetting negative elements of one’s national history (in contrast to Elrond’s words about Númenor) #s227 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • .@AranelParmadil: the healing of the Shire with the seeds from Galadriel allows the hobbits to forget the trauma of the recent war – the hobbits positively erase memories of the war (wish fulfilment?) Forgetting allows the regeneration of their “nation”. #s227 #imc2018 @IMC_Leeds

Longing to Remember, Dying to Forget: Memory and Monstrosity
Penelope Holdaway, Department of Humanities, Cardiff Metropolitan University

  • Holdaway: is the monstrous located in the physical? Cohen’s 7 theses may offer a broader way to look at the monstrous #s227 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Holdaway: more emphasis on cultural definitions of the monstrous – Túrin’s otherness is a cultural otherness, where does that cross into the monstrous? #s227 #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • Holdaway: Túrin is monstrous within the Elves but not monstrous enough among the Outlaws – always othered. #s227 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Holdaway: Túrin’s weakness is that he can’t let go of the past – he’s most at peace with Nienor because he has no memory of her as a sister. Is memory a curse? #s227#IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Holdaway: Wolverine as a point of comparison with #Tolkien’s Túrin. Wolverine is a mutant with no culture or morality – he fulfils more of Cohen’s theses about the “monstrous”. #s227 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Holdaway: The peaceful part of Wolverine’s past ends when his past life starts to emerge – memory as a curse again? #s227 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Holdaway: the monsters are those with distorted memories – those who remember more, less, or differently to others. #s227 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds

‘Forgot even the stones’: Stone Monuments and Imperfect Cultural and Personal Memories in The Lord of the Rings
Kristine Larsen, Department of Geological Sciences, Central Connecticut State University

  • Larsen: (forgetting) family history in the #LordoftheRings: the hobbits mistake the Trolls as real, while Aragorn remembers the story of their petrification from Bilbo #s227 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds #Tolkien
  • Larsen: forgetting (“other”) cultural history: the Púkel-men at Dunharrow – the head of the Gondorian king on the way to Mordor. #s227 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Larsen: the symbolism of the stone monument is significant throughout the #LordoftheRings#s227 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Larsen: for #Tolkien the lack of cultural memory leads to superstition and fear: e.g. the stone of Erech. Also, the Argonath invoke fear and dread to those not in possession of cultural memory (e.g. the hobbits). #s227 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds

 

Session 311
Title: ‘New’ Tolkien: Expanding the Canon
Session Time: Mon. 02 July – 16.30-18.00

‘I will give you a name’: Sentient Objects in Tolkien’s Fiction
J. Patrick Pazdziora, College of Liberal Arts, Shantou University, China

  • Pazdziora: Kullervo is, in reality, “old” #Tolkien – pre-war, pre-Middle-earth. The paper will focus on animism, esp. Kullervo’s talking sword. #s311 #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds #Tolkien
  • Pazdziora: the speaking sword is the most tangible link between Kullervo and Narn-i-chin-Húrin – but it doesn’t occur in the Kalevala. #s311 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds#Tolkien
  • Pazdziora: Tailbiter in Farmer Giles of Ham is also described in anthropomorphic terms and has agency. Bilbo’s Sting seems to also have this sort of agency and a name. #s311 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds #Tolkien
  • Pazdziora: where does that leave us in terms of the agency of the One Ring? The “luxuriant animism” of Kullervo remained as a subtle element in Middle-earth. #s311#IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds #Tolkien

Tolkien’s ‘The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun’ and The Lay of Leithian
Yvette Kisor, School of American & International Studies, Ramapo College of New Jersey

  • Kisor: The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun and The Lay of Leithien were written at the same time and they both contain elements of sexual desire and rapaciousness. #s311#imc2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Kisor: The encounter of Beren and Lúthien in the Lay is intensely physical, as opposed to the text of the Book of Lost Tales. #s311#imc2018@IMC_Leeds#Tolkien

 

  • Kisor: the illegitimate desire of Curufin and his brother for Lúthien chimes with the desire of the Corrigan for Aotrou and Aotrou’s greed for a lineage. #s311 #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds #Tolkien

Invented Language and Invented Religion: Tolkien’s Innovative Symbolic Systems and New Religious Movements
Nathan Fredrickson, Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

  • Fredrickson: there’s an essentialist humanistic way of thinking in #Tolkien, but also a critical, almost post-modernist emphasis on the constructiveness of things.
  • Fredrickson: linguistic invention has been neglected in fiction-based religions. There is some acknowledgment but not a proper consideration in #Tolkien-inspired religious movements.
  • Fredrickson: neologisms are crucial – as #Tolkien points out, new languages create new worldviews. This is something we need to discuss more in terms of these movements. #s311 #imc2018 @IMC_Leeds #Tolkien

The Grammar of Historical Memory in Tolkien’s Legendarium: The Tale of Beren and Lúthien
Christian F. Hempelmann and Robin Anne Reid, Department of Literature & Languages, Texas A&M University, Commerce

  • Reid: project on computational linguistics comparing “Tinuviel”, “Beren and Lúthien”, and “Aragorn and Arwen” in terms of text statistics, archaisms, geographical terminology, and “keyness”. #s311#IMC2018@IMC_Leeds#Tolkien
  • Reid: more onomastic richness (in terms of place and geography) in Beren and Lúthien, rather than Tinuviel. Evidence of the development of #Tolkien’s worldbuilding? #S311#imc2018@IMC_Leeds
  • Reid: shift from dance to song from Tinuviel and Beren and Lúthien – time and doom are words that occur more in Aragorn and Arwen. #s311#IMC2018@IMC_Leeds#Tolkien

 

Session 749
Title: Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches, I
Session Time: Tue. 03 July – 14.15-15.45

Some Boethian Themes as Tools of Characterization in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
Andrzej Wicher, Zakład Dramatu i Dawnej Literatury Angielskiej, Uniwersytet Łódzki

  • Wicher links Théoden’s lethargy with the amnesia/lethargy that Lady Philosophy can heal in Boethius #s749 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Wicher: Gandalf and Galadriel as two sides of one character, both with androgynous characteristics #s749 #imc2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Wicher: views on Boethius as implementing a “neutralised Christianity” – comparison with #Tolkien’s Christian-inspired yet non-overtly-Christian mythology. #s749#IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Wicher: Lady Philosophy bridges a number of binaries: male/female, young/old – compare these two descriptions of Lady Philosophy and Galadriel #s749#IMC2018@IMC_Leeds

Eldest: Tom Bombadil and Fintan Mac Bóchra
Kris Swank, Northwest Campus Library, Pima Community College, Arizona

  • .@krisswank: Tom Bombadil has much in common with Fintan Mac Bóchra of the Irish tradition. In an early prose fragment Tom B is “one of the oldest inhabitants of the kingdom” after the Britain had suffered many invasions. #s749 #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • .@krisswank: original answer of Tom B when Bingo (later Frodo) asks him who he is was “I am an aborigine”. #s749 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • .@krisswank: Tolkien made a note about Fintan in his drafts of The Lost Road. Many parallels between Tom B and the legend of Fintan, esp. being the oldest man in the world. #s749 #imc2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • .@krisswank: Both Fintan and Tom B have experienced deluge: Tom remember the world “before the seas were bent”. Both have otherworldly associations. #s749#IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • .@krisswank: Fintan is called upon to give evidence about the history of the land – he tells the story of a yew tree from seed to great tree. Tom remembers “the first acorn” and the history of the trees in the Old Forest. #s749 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • .@krisswank: Tom as a guide and teacher for the hobbits, the guardian of historical knowledge – just like Fintan #s749 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds

Hobbits: The Un-Recorded People of Middle-Earth
Aurélie Brémont, Centre d’Études Médiévales Anglaises (CEMA), Université Paris IV – Sorbonne

  • .@LelieFairy: what do hobbits know about the world outside the Shire? In The Hobbit Bilbo knows very little, and so does the reader. In The #LordoftheRings Tolkien world have had two sort of readers: those who knew The Hobbit and those who didn’t. #IMC2018 #s749 @IMC_Leeds
  • .@LelieFairy: in their origin history, on their way to the Shire, hobbits meet Elves and Dúnedain, and learn letters and crafts from them. They promptly forget whatever language they spoke before. #s749 #IMC2018 #Tolkien @IMC_Leeds
  • .@LelieFairy: the hobbits have also forgotten what they knew about the “Guardians”, the people who protected them – the remnants of the Dúnedain. Why were the hobbits under this protection? (long before Bilbo found the Ring) #s749 #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • .@LelieFairy: We don’t really know enough about where the hobbits come from – what happened BEFORE they crossed into Eriador. #Tolkien doesn’t tell us. #s749#IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • .@LelieFairy: for the War of the Ring #Tolkien needed heroes; by randomly asserting the hobbits’ “tough” core, without explanation, he could really exploit the element of surprise and turn the hobbits into heroes for the needs of The #LordoftheRings#s749#IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds

Session 849
Title: Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches, II
Session Time: Tue. 03 July – 16.30-18.00

Longing for Death: Tolkien and Sehnsucht
Anna Vaninskaya, School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures, University of Edinburgh

  • Vaninskaya will focus on the recurrent motif in #Tolkien of the desire to voyage to Elvenhome via the concept of Sehnsucht (Longing) #s849 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Vaninskaya: William Peter’s “imitation” of Schiller interprets the “other” land of desire in a non-Christian context – compare with Tolkien’s Undying Lands. #s848#IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • Vaninskaya: The desire implies homesickness – there’s imagery of fragrance and flowers, and flexibility of space and time. The land is across the sea and there are associations with the desire for death. #IMC2018 #s849 @IMC_Leeds #Tolkien
  • Vaninskaya: significant question in #Tolkien’s legendarium: where is the home of Men? Ideas of home and homelessness abound in the legendarium. #s849 #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • Vaninskaya: Eriol/Ælfwine already express this longing but many more characters from the legendarium suffer from Sehnsucht. #s849 #imc2018 @IMC_Leeds #Tolkien
  • Vaninskaya: as the figure of the voyager reoccurs, his old age becomes more central, thus highlighting the impossibility of reaching the Undying Lands. #s849 #IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • Vaninskaya: link with #Tolkien’s biography? Many of these voyagers are father figures with sons. #s849 #imc2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Vaninskaya: Sea-longing, home-longing, death-longing, merge into one. #s849#IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds

Tolkien’s Agrarianism in its Time
Joshua Richards, Faculty of English, Williams Baptist College, Arkansas

  • Richards: can we really accept that the early Middle-earth is the same as the later one? Themes may be the same, but the socio-cultural context is different. Focus on one version of Middle-earth in this paper: the earliest #LordoftheRings drafts. #s849#IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Richards: earlier stages of #LordoftheRings – use of agrarianism by #Tolkien to test its boundaries, especially in the Shire. The hobbits are creatures of an agrarian society, well-ordered and well-farmed. #s849 #imc2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Richards: Bingo (early version of Frodo) contemplates a career as a gardener or carpenter – spiritual resonances. Agrarianism and spiritual links also apparent in Chesterton and Eliot. #s849 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Richards: links between Chesterton and Tolkien – e.g. #Tolkien reading The Ballad of the White Horse. #s849 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Richards: in both Chesterton and #Tolkien: connection of land and literature, against industrialization. The cohesive aspects of society dissolve in industry. #s849 #imc2018@IMC_Leeds

Frodo Surrealist: André Breton and J. R. R. Tolkien on Dreams
Claudio Antonio Testi, Independent Scholar, Modena

  • Testi argues that there are surrealist moments in The #LordoftheRings via dreams. Breton’s manifesto attempted to merge reality and dreams via surrealism. He also talked about dreaming while awake. #s849 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Testi: 1936: International Surrealist Exhibition in London with an abstract and concrete show in Oxford. Tolkien was then working on The Lost Road and soon after The #LordoftheRings#s849 #IMC2018 @IMC_Leeds
  • Testi: Tolkien’s early art had some surrealist overtones. #s849#IMC2018@IMC_Leeds
  • Testi: #Tolkien referenced Surrealism in On Fairy-Stories. There are several types of dreams in Tolkien’s work, all experienced by Frodo, including, notoriously, Faërian Drama.
  • Testi: The Faërian Drama experiences by Frodo in Rivendell has surrealist overtones which can be read via Breton. #s849#IMC2018@IMC_Leeds

A Man of His Time?: Tolkien and the Edwardian Worldview
Brad Eden, Christopher Center for Library & Information Resources, Valparaiso University, Indiana

Session 949
Title: Tolkien in Context(s): A Round Table Discussion
Session Time: Tue. 03 July – 19.00-20.00

Moderator/Chair: Dimitra Fimi

Participants:

  • Yvette Kisor, School of American & International Studies, Ramapo College of New Jersey
  • Kristine Larsen, Department of Geological Sciences, Central Connecticut State University
  • Irina Metzler, College of Arts & Humanities, Swansea University
  • Gergely Nagy, Independent Scholar, Budapest
  • Sara L. Uckelman, Institute of Medieval & Early Modern Studies, Durham University

Not much chance of live-tweeting for this last session, as I was (actively!) moderating! But the Tolkien @ IMC Leeds sessions ended (as always!) with a meal with the Tolkien scholars, presenters and attendees!

Here’s to Tolkien @ IMC Leeds 2019!

 

 

New journal article: J.R.R. Tolkien and early 20th-century radical linguistic experimentation

Last month I had a new journal article published in the Open Access Journal of Tolkien Research:

Fimi, D. (2018) ‘Language as Communication vs. Language as Art: J.R.R. Tolkien and Early 20th-Century Radical Linguistic Experimentation’, Journal of Tolkien Research, 5(1), pp. 1-28. Available at: https://scholar.valpo.edu/journaloftolkienresearch/vol5/iss1/2/

The article was an outgrowth of the research I did for A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages, co-edited with Andrew Higgins.

One the one hand, I have always wondered about one of Tolkien’s rather pointed remarks when referring to International Auxiliary Languages:

At present I think we should be likely to get an inhumane language without any cooks at all – their place being taken by nutrition experts and dehydrators. (Secret Vice, p. 5, italics added)

Who were these “nutrition experts and dehydrators”? My article offers a potential answer to this question, by tracing the history of language invention, and the idea of sound symbolism, and then placing Tolkien’s comment within the exact historical and intellectual moment of the delivery of “A Secret Vice”.

On the other hand, Tolkien’s manuscripts edited and presented in A Secret Vice revealed unexpected links with Modernist and avant-garde movements of the time, including James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. The article traces the remarkable parallels between Tolkien’s theorizing of imaginary languages and the radical linguistic ideas of Modernist and other avant-garde writers of the early 20th century (not only Joyce and Stein, but also the zaum and Dada poets). The article shows that, despite political and ideological differences, Tolkien and experimental writers engaged with current linguistic research and came to similar aesthetic and imaginative responses.

As an overarching argument, the article claims that at the heart of Tolkien’s exploration in “A Secret Vice” (and its accompanying papers) is the question of language as communication vs. language as art. It argues that Tolkien’s language invention navigates the (perceived) binary between a utilitarian aim for language invention (contemporary International Auxiliary Languages) vs. an aesthetic linguistic pursuit (contemporary Modernist and other avant-garde linguistic experimentation), by choosing a third (middle) way.

  • You can read the article here

Article on Invented Languages on the Times Literary Supplement (TLS) Online

I have had a new article published today on the Times Literary Supplement (TLS) Online, titled: “Inventing a Whole Language”. In this article I discuss imaginary languages, from early modern traveller’s tales and Victorian fantasy, to Tolkien, of course, as well as George Orwell and Anthony Burgess. This piece builds on the research I did with Andrew Higgins for our edition of A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages (HarperCollins, 2016) and argues for language invention as an enduring form of art.

You can read the entire article here.

Continue reading this article on the Times Literary Supplement Online: http://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/how-to-invent-a-language-tolkien-burgess/