A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages

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/

Tolkien Sessions at IMC Leeds, July 2017

imc_postcard_2017_front_1*Update – June 2017

I am very pleased to announce that all four sessions on J.R.R. Tolkien I proposed for the International Medieval Congress at Leeds 2017 have been accepted! This will be the third consecutive year of papers on J.R.R. Tolkien at IMC Leeds, after a successful series of sessions in 2015 and 2016. Leeds is, indeed, a Tolkien-related location, and it is very fitting that his work will be explored in this prestigious conference. I am looking forward to a series of brilliant sessions and papers from well-established Tolkien scholars, alongside new voices and perspectives!

Here are the sessions titles, abstracts, papers, speakers and times:

 

Session 242: J. R. R. Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches

Session Time: Mon. 03 July – 14.15-15.45

Organiser: Dimitra Fimi
Moderator: Andrew Higgins

Session Abstract:

This session will address aspects of Tolkien’s medievalism. Yvette Kisor examines the frequent use    of the word ‘knight’ in Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, especially to translate a range of Old English terms. Anahit Behrooz addresses the complexities of orality and frame narratives in the earliest version of Tolkien’s mythology, The Book of Lost Tales. Anahit Behrooz addresses Tolkien’s cartography as a liminal space between medieval mapmaking and modern practices. Aurélie Brémont discusses the transformations of the Corrigan, from Breton folklore to Tolkien’s The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun. Victoria Holtz-Wodzak considers the ways in which medieval Franciscan theology shaped Tolkien’s portrayal of the natural world.

Paper Titles and Speakers:

Tolkien’s Beowulf: Translating Knights (Yvette Kisor, Ramapo College, New Jersey)

Elvish Ears: Medieval Orality in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Book of Lost Tales Mappa Mundi to Mappa Middle-Earth: Positioning J.R.R. Tolkien’s Cartography between Medieval and Modern Practices (Anahit Behrooz, University of Edinburgh)

Tales of the Corrigan: From Folklore to Nationalist Reinvention (Aurélie Brémont, Université Paris IV – Sorbonne)

Treebeard’s Priesthood and the Franciscan Sanctity of Tolkien’s Natural World (Victoria Holtz-Wodzak, Viterbo University)

IMC 2017 Session Link


Session 342: ‘New’ Tolkien: Expanding the Canon

Session Time: Mon. 03 July – 16.30-18.00

Organiser: Dimitra Fimi
Moderator: Dimitra Fimi

Session Abstract:

This session will focus on ‘new’ works by J. R. R. Tolkien: creative works published posthumously during the last few years. Participants will examine all or a selection of the following works: The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún (2009), The Fall of Arthur (2013), The Story of Kullervo (2015), A Secret Vice (2016) and The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun (2016). Verlyn Flieger will examine the complex ways in which Tolkien’s creative adaptation of medieval literature shaped some of his best-known fictional characters. Brad Eden will focus on Tolkien’s use of the liminal forest in terms of setting, language and characterization. Kristine Larsen will concentrate on medieval lunar symbolism in the representation of female characters, and Andrew Higgins will explore the use of the Indo-European model and Tolkien’s expertise in philology in the development of Tolkien’s invented languages.

Paper Titles and Speakers:

Tolkien, Tradition, and the Individual Talent (Verlyn Flieger, University of Maryland)

Mirkwood as Otherness: ‘New’ Tolkien and the Liminal Forest (Brad Eden, Valparaiso University)

Magic, Matrimony, and the Moon: Medieval Lunar Symbolism in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun and The Fall of Arthur (Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State University)

A Secret Vice, the 1930’s and the Growth of Tolkien’s ‘Tree of Tongues’ (Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar)

IMC 2017 Session Link


Session 442: The Road Goes Ever On: The Future of Tolkien Scholarship – A Round Table Discussion

Session Time: Mon. 03 July – 19.00-20.00

Organiser: Dimitra Fimi
Chair: Carl Phelpstead

Round Table Abstract:

Tolkien’s legendarium has often been approached by scholarship via the lens of medievalism. Scholars have been long interested in Tolkien’s medieval intertexts (e.g. Old and Middle English works such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) and such studies have established a clear view of Middle-earth as a world that engages with the heroic code, material culture, philosophical, and theological concepts, as well as fantastical beings, from the literature of the European Middle Ages. However, a more recent trend is to examine Tolkien’s work in terms of its engagement with the cultural moment(s) it was created, spanning six decades of literary and cultural history. Where is Tolkien scholarship heading? Should we move away from ‘Tolkien the medievalist’ and focus more on Tolkien as 20th-century author? And what about recent developments in literary theory? This round table discussion will debate the complexities of such questions and will interrogate scholarly practices and expectations in Tolkien Studies.

Participants:

Brad Eden (Valparaiso University)

Dimitra Fimi (Cardiff Metropolitan University)

Verlyn Flieger (University of Maryland)

Thomas Honegger (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität)

Michael Wodzak (Viterbo University)

IMC 2017 Session Link


Session 1019: Otherness in Tolkien’s Medievalism

Session Time: Wed. 05 July – 09.00-10.30

Organiser: Dimitra Fimi
Moderator:  Kristine Larsen

Session Abstract:

This session explores various aspects of the construction and role of the ‘other’ in J.R.R. Tolkien’s medievalism. Irina Metzler surveys the representation of disability in Tolkien’s mythology and its medieval analogies and constructions. Thomas Honegger focuses on Tolkien’s critique of chivalry in his medieval scholarship but also in his construction of the ‘other’ Middle Ages in his creative work. Sara Brown addresses an important figure of medieval literature and legend, the Dwarf, focusing on the ‘othering’ of female Dwarves by their very absence. Gaëlle Abaléa interrogates the world of the Dead as ‘other’ in Tolkien’s legendarium, examining its boundaries, and its relation to Faerie.

Paper Titles and Speakers:

Disability in Tolkien’s Texts: Medieval ‘Otherness’? (Irina Metzler, Swansea University)

Tolkien’s Other Middle Ages (Thomas Honegger, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität)

The Invisible Other: Tolkien’s Dwarf-Women and the ‘Feminine Lack’ (Sara Brown, Rydal Penrhos School)

Our World, the Other World, and Those In-Between: Community with and Separation from the Dead in Tolkien’s Work (Gaëlle Abaléa, Université Paris IV – Sorbonne)

IMC 2017 Session Link