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A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages

A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages
A Secret Vice hardcover.jpg
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien
EditorDimitra Fimi, Andrew Higgins
Released7 April 2016
FormatHardcover; paperback

A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages is a book edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins, published in 2016. The work is an extended edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's acclaimed lecture A Secret Vice, in which he first revealed his "vice" of inventing languages in his fantasy fiction.


[edit] Overview

"A Secret Vice" is the title of a lecture by Tolkien on the subject of constructed languages and world-building. Together with "On Fairy-Stories", it is one of the most important insights into Tolkien’s sub-creative methodology.

First delivered in November 1931 to a literary society at Pembroke College, Oxford, it underwent subsequent revision and was eventually published by his son in The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays in 1983.

A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages prints the original essay alongside previously unpublished drafts and notes, together with a substantial introduction on Tolkien’s linguistic invention and editorial notes throughout.

It also see the publication of "Essay on Phonetic Symbolism" — in which Tolkien ponders the idea that the sounds of words may fit their meanings — for the first time.[1]

[edit] From the publisher

First 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.

[edit] Publication history and gallery

In July 2020, a revised paperback was published. According to editor Dimitra Fimi, the new edition "incorporates some revisions, including restoring a previously illegible name to the text".[2]

2016 hardcover  
2020 paperback  

[edit] See also

[edit] External links


  1. “A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages” published (accessed 14 June 2022)
  2. Dimitra Fimi, "Facebook post" dated 4 June 2020, Tolkien Society Facebook group (accessed 4 June 2020)