J.R.R. Tolkien. A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins. London: HarperCollins.
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 This new critical edition, which includes previously unpublished notes and drafts by Tolkien connected with the essay, including his ‘Essay on Phonetic Symbolism’, goes some way towards re-opening the debate on the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.
- Review of A Secret Vice by John Garth for The New Statesman
- Interview with Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins at Tolkiendil.com
- 18 reasons to read A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages
- How to invent a Tolkien-style language, by Dimitra Fimi for The Conversation
Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, November 2008)
Tolkien, 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)
- More details on the book (including a table of contents and a free sample chapter)
- Buy this book from Amazon in hardback
- Buy this book from Amazon in paperback
- See under Media for a BBC Radio Wales interview and a Western Mail piece on this book
- Report of book launch and release of paperback edition at www.theonering.net
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, www.lotrplaza.com
This book is a fantastic and original work on Tolkien and I highly recommend it to all serious Tolkien fans and lovers.