J.R.R. Tolkien. A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins. London: HarperCollins.

9780008131401First ever critical study of Tolkien’s little-known essay, which reveals how language invention shaped the creation of Middle-earth and beyond, to George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s linguistic invention was a fundamental part of his artistic output, to the extent that later on in life he attributed the existence of his mythology to the desire to give his languages a home and peoples to speak them. As Tolkien puts it in ‘A Secret Vice’, ‘the making of language and mythology are related functions’’.

In the 1930s, Tolkien composed and delivered two lectures, in which he explored these two key elements of his sub-creative methodology. The second of these, the seminal Andrew Lang Lecture for 1938–9, ‘On Fairy-Stories’, which he delivered at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, is well known. But many years before, in 1931, Tolkien gave a talk to a literary society entitled ‘A Hobby for the Home’, where he unveiled for the first time to a listening public the art that he had both himself encountered and been involved with since his earliest childhood: ‘the construction of imaginary languages in full or outline for amusement’.

This talk would be edited by Christopher Tolkien for inclusion as ‘A Secret Vice’ in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays and serves as the principal exposition of Tolkien’s art of inventing languages. This new critical edition, which includes previously unpublished notes and drafts by Tolkien connected with the essay, including his ‘Essay on Phonetic Symbolism’, goes some way towards re-opening the debate on the importance of linguistic invention in Tolkien’s mythology and the role of imaginary languages in fantasy literature.

Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, November 2008)

Book Cover smallTolkien, Race and Cultural History explores the evolution of Tolkien’s mythology by examining how it changed as a result of Tolkien’s life story and contemporary cultural and intellectual history. The book considers Tolkien’s creative writing as an ever-developing ‘legendarium’: an interconnected web of stories, poems and essays, from his early poems in the 1910s to his latest writings in the early 1970s. Consequently, the book is not restricted to a discussion of Tolkien’s best-known works only (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion) but examines the whole corpus of his legendarium, including the 12-volume History of Middle-earth series, which has received little attention from critics. This new approach and scope brings to light neglected aspects of Tolkien’s imaginative vision and addresses key features of Tolkien’s creativity: the centrality of the Elves and the role of linguistic invention in his legendarium, as well as race and material culture in Middle-earth.

Winner of the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Inklings Studies for 2010 (Mythopoeic Society, USA)
Shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Folklore Award for 2009 (Folklore Society, London)

Extracts from reviews:

“Dimitra Fimi’s Tolkien, Race and Cultural History traces the evolution of the legendarium with admirable care… This scholarly yet approachable book is filled with…surprising fragments.”
Jon Barnes, Times Literary Supplement

“Fimi’s study is well worth reading for the specialist as well as (or even more so) for the general reader. The author brings together (often for the first time) relevant research from cultural history and lays out her arguments fair and square… Fimi’s approach…forces us to reconsider some well-beloved clichés. Thus, it will no longer be possible to talk naïvely about the linguistic inspiration of Tolkien’s fiction without adding at least some qualifying remarks… Fimi’s book has given us some answers but has also opened up some avenues for future research. What more can we ask for?”
Thomas Honegger, Tolkien Studies

“No one doubts Tolkien’s originality, but Fimi’s book allows us to glimpse a kind of creative logic through which his legendarium almost had to happen: a climate welcoming of fairies and folklore; romantic quests of national mythologies; a general interest in language and linguistic invention… Fimi’s book reads so well that it’s hard to believe that it’s an academic tome…”
Henry Gee, Mallorn

This book sets out to examine Tolkien’s writings from a historical perspective, setting his ideas in the context of various currents of thought in the Victorian and Edwardian age. The investigation is wide-ranging, and the results illuminating; for much that seems eccentric and personal in Tolkien’s vision can be explained by reference to cultural history…. Until now, Tolkien has generally been studied in isolation, or as the father of modern fantasy-writing, but this book shows how his work was rooted in the mental world of his contemporaries and the immediately preceding generation. As Tolkien scholarship becomes more analytical, Fimi’s study provides essential new insights.
Jacqueline Simpson, Folklore

What Fimi does in this book is approach Tolkien’s oeuvre with a partly different set of keys from those commonly used in Tolkien studies, some of which Tolkien himself did his best to hide in his own comments on his work. The result is a rich study into Tolkien’s creative impulses and the influences that worked on those impulses in the course of a long creative life… [A]ny reader interested in the work of J. R. R. Tolkien… is in for a treat. The book is intelligently argued and full of interesting ideas and approaches, offering fresh insights into Tolkien’s authorship.
Nils-Lennart Johannesson, English Today

Dimitra Fimi’s Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits is a clear, thorough, well-argued study of what has been a key lacuna in Tolkien studies. It will be especially welcome to students and general admirers of Tolkien’s writings, to whom most of the background material will be unfamiliar. For even the most experienced Tolkien scholars, the book stands as a model of how scholarly studies of Tolkien should be approached and carried out. In addition, Fimi’s research opens the door to new questions and deeper inquiries… The strength of Fimi’s thesis and her skill in marshalling the evidence to support it — traversing the entire legendarium and its many satellite writings to do so — has earned her the 2010 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award for Inklings Studies. The same care and skill should justly earn her a place on the bookshelves of scholars and fans alike.
Jason Fisher, Mythlore

Fimi’s book is one of the most interesting and original analyses of Tolkien’s subcreation that has been published for a long time. It is also, lest anyone be put off by any implications of an over-academic tone in the foregoing, very clearly written. It should form part of the reading of any serious student of Tolkien.
Charles Noad,

This book is a fantastic and original work on Tolkien and I highly recommend it to all serious Tolkien fans and lovers.

Journal Articles and Book Chapters

wwelogoFimi, D. (2006) ‘“Come Sing ye Light Fairy Things Tripping so Gay”: Victorian Fairies and the Early Work of J.R.R. Tolkien’, Working with English: Medieval and Modern Language, Literature and Drama, 2, pp. 10-26.

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Fimi, D. (2006) ‘“Mad Elves” and “Elusive Beauty”: Some Celtic Strands of Tolkien’s Mythology’, Folklore, 117 (2), pp. 156-170.

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Fimi, D. (2007) ‘Tolkien’s “‘Celtic’ type of legends”: Merging Traditions’, Tolkien Studies, 4, pp. 51-71.

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Old Norse Made New


Fimi, D. (2007) ‘Tolkien and Old Norse Antiquity: Real and Romantic Links in Material Culture’, in Clark, D. and Phelpstead, C. (eds), Old Norse Made New: Essays on the Post-Medieval Reception of Old Norse Literature and Culture. London: Viking Society for Northern Research, pp. 83-99.

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Read this book online via the Viking Society for Northern Research Web Publications page (for copyright reasons, the images included in the printed book are not reproduced in this online edition – readers are advised to consult the printed edition for those)

Picturing Tolkien

Fimi, D. (2011) ‘Filming Folklore: Adapting Fantasy for the Big Screen through Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings’, in Bogstad, J.M. and Kaveny, P. E. (eds), Picturing Tolkien: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, pp. 84-101.

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Fimi, D. (2012) ‘Between Greece and Europe: The Fairy Tales of Penelope Delta’, Fastitocalon: Studies in Fantasticism Ancient to Modern, 2:1, pp. 97-112.

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Fimi, D. (2012) ‘Tolkien and the Fantasy Tradition’, in Whitehead, C. (ed.) Critical Insights: The Fantastic. CA: Salem Press, pp. 40-60.

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Fimi, D. (2013) ‘‘Wildman of the Woods’: Inscribing tragedy on the landscape of Middle-earth in The children of Húrin’, in Conrad-O’Brien, H. and Hynes, G. (eds), Tolkien: The Forest and the City. Dublin: Four Courts Press, pp. 43-56.

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Fimi, D. (2014) ‘Later Fantasy Fiction’, in Lee, S. (ed.) A Companion to J. R. R. Tolkien. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 335-49.

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Fimi, D. (2015) ‘Teaching Tolkien and Race: An Inconvenient Combination?’, in Donovan, Leslie E. (ed.) Approaches to Teaching Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Other Works. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, pp. 144-9.

Encyclopaedia Entries



(2006) “Victorian Fairyology” (pp.186-7) and “Greece: Reception of Tolkien” (pp. 257-8), in Drout, Michael (ed.), The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment (New York: Routledge)

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Literary Encyclopedia(2008) “Unfinished Tales”, under Works by J.R.R. Tolkien, in Clark, Robert (ed.), The Literary Encyclopedia at (

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(2008) “Peter and Wendy”,”The Little White Bird” and”Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens”, under Works by J. M. Barrie, in Clark, Robert (ed.), The Literary Encyclopedia (

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(2008) “Ursula Le Guin”, biographical profile, in Clark, Robert (ed.), The Literary Encyclopedia (

Book Reviews

Perilous Realms


(2006) Marjorie Burns, Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien’s Middle-earth (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 2005), for Tolkien Studies, 3, pp. 187-190

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(2007) Camilla Asplund Ingemark, The Genre of Trolls: The Case of a Finland-Swedish Folk Belief Tradition (Åbo: Åbo Akademi University Press, 2004), for Folklore, 118:3, pp. 366-7

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Icelandic Folktales


(2007) Jacqueline Simpson, Icelandic Folktales and Legends (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus, 2004), for Folklore, 118:3, pp. 366-7

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Inside Language


(2008) Ross Smith, Inside Language: Linguistic and Aesthetic Theory in Tolkien (Zürich, Bern: Walking Tree Publishers, 2007), for Tolkien Studies, 5, pp. 229-33

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Northern Path



(2008) Douglas ‘Dag’ Rossman, The Northern Path: Norse Myths and Legends Retold…And What They Reveal (Chapel Hill, NC: Seven Paws Press, 2005), for Folklore, 119:2, pp. 238-9

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Elves in AS England


(2008) Alaric Hall, Elves in Anglo-Saxon England: Matters of Belief, Health, Gender and Identity (Woodbridge, Suffolk and Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2007), for Folklore, 119:3, pp. 349-51

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Ents, Elves and Eriador



(2008) Matthew Dickerson and Jonathan Evans, Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2006), for Folklore, 119:3, pp. 351-2

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Seafarers, Merchants and Pirates


(2008) Dirk Meier, Seafarers, Merchants and Pirates in the Middle Ages (Woodbridge, Suffolk and Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2006), for Folklore, 120:3, p. 341

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Concepts of Arthur




(2009) Thomas Green, Concepts of Arthur (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus, 2007), for Speculum: A Journal Medieval Studies, 84:3, pp. 722-723


Laughing with Medusa


(2010) Vanda Zajko and Miriam Leonard (eds), Laughing with Medusa: Classical Myth and Feminist Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), for Folklore, 121:2, pp. 236-238

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(2012) Rowena Godfrey (ed.), Beatrix Potter: Fables to Faeries (Harpenden, Herts.: Beatrix Potter Society, 2009), for Folklore, 123:1, pp. 113-14.

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(2012) Virginia Holly, The Myth of Persephone in Girls’ Fantasy Literature (New York: Routledge, 2012) for Times Higher Education, 5 January.

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Fall of Arthur



(2014) Review of The Fall of Arthur, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien (London: HarperCollins), for Gramarye: The Journal of the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy, Winter 2014, Issue 6, pp. 80-2.





(2015) Review of Magical Tales: Myth, Legend and Enchantment in Children’s Books, edited by by Carolyne Larrington  and Diane Purkiss. Folklore, 126 (2), pp. 241-242.



(2016) Review of The Story of Kullervo, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Verlyn Flieger (London: HarperCollins), for Journal of Tolkien Research, 3:1.

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Professional / non-refereed publications

(2007) “A Note on Túrin and Oedipus”, Silver Leaves, 1, pp. 9-10

(2008) “Teaching and Studying Tolkien”, Mallorn, 46 (Autumn 2008), pp. 27-9

(2009) “Hobbit Songs and Rhymes: The Folklore of Middle-earth”,, Scholars Forum

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(2011) “Join the great chain of reading and be inspired”, Western Mail, 30 March 2011

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(2014) “Tolkien and Folklore: Sellic Spell and The Lay of Beowulf“, Mallorn, 55 (Winter 2014), pp. 27-8.

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(2014) “Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree to hit the screen in latest bid to aim fantasy at grown-ups”, The Conversation, 28 October 2014

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(2015) “After 150 years, we still haven’t solved the puzzle of Alice in Wonderland”, The Conversation, 3 July 2015

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(2016) “How to invent a Tolkien-style language”, The Conversation, 7 April 2016

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2 thoughts on “Publications

  1. Pingback: Tolkien and the Welsh language (and other news) | Dimitra Fimi

  2. Pingback: Talks on Tolkien: Dimitra Fimi on Folklore and “Sellic Spell” | Anna Smol

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