Journal Articles

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:

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

Tolkien, Fantasy and Medievalism at IMC Leeds 2015

IMC Leeds 1During the last few years I have been attending the Tolkien sessions at Kalamazoo semi-regularly (once every two years, on average). The International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, hosted by Western Michigan University, has been running for over 50 years, and the “Tolkien at Kalamazoo” sessions have been taking place since 2001. But another equally important congress on medieval studies has been taking place on this side of the Atlantic for a shorter, but equally respectable, number of years: the International Medieval Congress (IMC) at Leeds has been organised by Institute for Medieval Studies at Leeds since 1994, and has been attracting over 2,000 medievalists from all over the world annually. There have been some Tolkien sessions at Leeds every now and then. I actually gave a paper in a session on Texts and Images: Aspects of Tolkien’s Medievalism in 2007, alongside Carl Phelpstead and Ármann Jakobsson, moderated by Alaric Hall. It was a very well-attended session with many follow-up questions and lively discussion. In fact, all papers from that session have been published in one form or another. Carl Phelpstead’s paper was published in Tolkien Studies, vol. 5, Ármann Jakobsson’s paper in Tolkien Studies, vol. 6, while my paper was incorporated into my monograph, Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits.

This summer, I am delighted to be returning to Leeds as an organiser of two sessions and to give a paper in a third one. Here are my sessions at Leeds 2015 (6-9 July 2015):

Celtic Literature in Tolkien’s Medievalism

This session will explore some neglected Celtic sources for Tolkien’s extended legendarium. Aurélie Brémont compares the Navigatio Sancti Brendani with Tolkien’s poem Immram and the motif of sailing west looking for Paradise in medieval Irish literature and Tolkien’s mythology. Kris Swank analyses Tolkien’s children’s book Roverandom arguing that its structure, themes and motifs are modelled upon the medieval Irish Otherworld sea-voyage tales (immrama). Andrew Higgins examines Tolkien’s earliest use of the Welsh language and medieval Welsh motifs in the Tale of Tinúviel in The Book of Lost Tales.

Paper titles:

  • Tolkien, Brendan, and the Quest for The Lost Road (Aurélie Brémont, Centre d’Études Médiévales Anglaises (CEMA), Université Paris-Sorbonne – Paris IV)
  • Immram Roverandom (Kris Swank, Pima Community College, Tucson)
  • Welsh Princesses and Cats: Tolkien’s Tale of Tinuviel and The Gnomish Lexicon (Andrew Higgins, Cardiff Metropolitan University)

Further details here.

‘New’ Tolkien: The Fall of Arthur and the Beowulf Translation – A Round Table Discussion

This session will focus on works by J. R. R. Tolkien edited and published recently by his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien. Speakers will comment on Tolkien’s unfinished alliterative poem The Fall of Arthur (2013) and his translation of Beowulf (2014) which was published together with Tolkien’s commentary and related Beowulf-inspired literary pieces.

Participants include Mark Atherton (University of Oxford), Dimitra Fimi (Cardiff Metropolitan University), and Nick Groom (University of Exeter).

Further details here.

Genre and Medievalism: From the 19th to the 21st Century (organised by Helen Young and the Tales After Tolkien Society society)

Popular genres of almost every kind, from fantasy to westerns, romance, science fiction, and crime, engage in medievalism, while genre re-imaginings of the past have a substantial impact on ideas which circulate about the Middle Ages. What do the Middle Ages mean in popular culture? The diverse papers offer the chance to compare and contrast across time and place. Does authenticity matter, why, and to whom? What ideologies are filtered through the idea of the medieval past in order to shape a given historical moment? The diverse papers offer the chance to compare and contrast across time and place.


  • The Victorian Joan of Arc: Gender and Genre (Ellie Crookes, University of Wollongong, New South Wales)
  • ‘Celtic’ Myth and Celticity in Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain (Dimitra Fimi, Cardiff Metropolitan University)
  • ‘Power is a curious thing…’: Studying of the Mechanisms of Power in Polish Historical Fantasy Novel Cycles (Joanna Szwed-Śliwowska, Uniwersytet Warszawski)

Further details here.

IMC Leeds 2

Apart from these three sessions I will be directly involved in, I am also looking forward to attending a number of others, related to Tolkien, fantasy literature and medievalism. Here are my pickings:

Special Session: J. R. R. Tolkien at Leeds and in the Brotherton Library Special Collections (led by Alaric Hall, University of Leeds)
While more famously associated with Oxford University, J. R. R. Tolkien’s first lectureship was at Leeds where, inter alia, he completed most of the work on his recently published translation of Beowulf. This talk draws on literary work published during Tolkien’s time at Leeds held in Special Collections, along with recently acquired correspondence between Tolkien and Ida Gordon – medievalist, ex-student, and wife of Tolkien’s friend and collaborator E. V. Gordon. It will explore how shaping a medieval syllabus at Leeds helped Tolkien develop his own literary endeavours. Further details here.

Sessions on Medievalism:

Sessions on the Arthurian Tradition:

Sessions on Angl0-Saxon:

Other sessions of interest include those presented or moderated by colleagues and friends. The editors of The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature will both be there – Edward James will present in a session on Transformation and Renewal in Post-Roman and Early Medieval Societies and Farah Mendlesohn will moderate a session on Revival and Renewal: New Uses for Old Stories and Patterns in the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries. Finally, good friend and colleague from the times we were both studying at Cardiff University, Emma Cavell, will present in a session on The Anglo-Welsh Frontier in the Middle Ages.

So, who’s coming to Leeds?

Recent publications, conferences and other news

The last few months too many things have happened that I have not managed to report in a timely fashion – I have been getting into the habit of using facebook for daily and weekly updates, so feel free to subscribe to my public updates if you want!

Last September I attended and presented a paper at Tolkien Society’s annual September gathering and conference in Oxford, Oxonmoot (Lady Margaret Hall, 23-25 September 2011). The conference included a series of interesting presentations and concluded with Enyalie, an act of remembrance at Tolkien’s grave. My paper was entitled: ‘Kipling, Tolkien and their ‘mythology for England’: from Puck of Pook’s Hill to The Book of Lost Tales‘.

During October 2011, Literature Wales opened and ran Wales’ first ever Literature Lounge in St David’s shopping centre in Cardiff. This pop-up literary emporium hosted an exciting series of literary events including poetry, prose, performance, games, workshops, talks, readings and much more. I contributed a public talk on 13 October on ‘Children’s Literature and Fantasy: From The Water Babies to Harry Potter‘.

On 11 December 2011, I was delighted to return to Buckland Hall for another Tolkien event, following last June’s Literary Walk on Tolkien’s Wales. A Taste of Tolkien was organised in partnership with Literature Wales. I was honoured to give a lecture alongside highly acclaimed children’s fantasy novelist Catherine Fisher (author of The Oracle Trilogy, Incarceron and Sapphique, and recently named Young People’s Laureate of Wales) and historical and Tolkien-inspired artist Stephen Walsh, whose illustrations have appeared in Harper Collins’ Lord of the Rings postcard collection and the ‘Middle Earth Collectible Card Game’ by Iron Crown Enterprises. Buckland Hall was beautifully decorated for Christmas and the evening ended with extracts from Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas and mulled wine!

On 15 March I gave the Chatterton Lecture at Bristol’s M-Shed, organised by the UWE Regional History Centre, in association with the Thomas Chatterton Society. My topic was: ‘Chatterton’s Forgery, Feigned Manuscripts and Literary Legacy: The Case of J.R.R. Tolkien’. I read Chatterton’s forgeries as a creative process of inventing a pseudo-medieval ‘secondary’ world and explored Tolkien’s Middle-earth as part of the same legacy of forged/faked/feigned manuscripts, which gave Tolkien’s invented cosmos a sense of historicity. Ultimately, my talk examined the tensions between ‘real’ and imaginary, feigned and forged, history and fantasy. For a more detailed abstract please visit this link.

Last week I took part in two more exciting events. On Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 April I lectured on Tolkien and Fantasy literature for the Danish Institute for Culture‘s study tour held at Mansfield College, alongside well-known scholars in the field including Peter Hunt and Michael Ward. On that weekend I took part in the Folklore and Fantasy Conference co-organised by the Folklore Society and the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy held at the University of Chichester (Friday 13 – Sunday 15 April 2012). My paper was titled: ‘”You must’ve heard of Babbitty Rabbitty!”: Fairy Tales and Folklore in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.’ For the entire conference programme please visit this link.

Meanwhile, Janice Bogstad’s and Philip Kaveny’s edited collection Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy was published by McFarland. My chapter, ‘Filming Folklore: Adapting Fantasy for the Big Screen through Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings‘ had a long gestation (it was initially presented as a conference paper for the 2006 Folklore Society AGM and conference – see Presentations) so it was great to see it in print at last! You can have a look at the book’s table of contents via this link – it includes chapters by an impressive array of Tolkien scholars such as Verlyn Flieger, Michael Drout and John Rateliff.

Last but not least, my latest research article in an academic journal was published a few weeks ago. Not on Tolkien this time, but on a Greek children’s author whose literary fairy tales were an important part of my childhood reading: Penelope Delta. Penelope Delta was a diaspora Greek who lived in Alexandria (Egypt), Liverpool, and Frankfurt before settling down in Athens. Her literary fairy tales (‘Kunstmarchen’) – like her own upbringing and cultural background – reflect a hybrid status between Northwestern and Eastern traditions, blending Greek elements and Northwestern European fairy-tale motifs. My article is titled ‘Between Greece and Northwestern Europe: The Fairy Tales of Penelope Delta’ and was published in Fastitocalon: Studies in Fantasticism Ancient to Modern, volume II.

Other news:

  • My online course Fantasy Literature: Tales Before and After Tolkien (Level 3 undergraduate level, 20 credits) will run again during the summer term starting on Wednesday 9th May 2012! You can enrol here. I just checked this morning and there are only a couple of last places left, so hurry up! For an overviw of the course contents please visit this link. You can also follows us on facebook and Twitter.
  • I am looking forward to The Return of the Ring in August and Tolkien: the Forest and the City in September
  • Check out this forthcoming publication: I will post an announcement as soon as the book is released!