A SECRET VICE

PrintE-mail Written by Ed Fortune

J.J.R. Tolkien’s name is synonymous with the fantasy genre. Modern fantasy writing would not be the shape or form it is today without the influence of the good professor, and this means that fans of his better-known works such as The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings are keen to grab anything else he may have written.


A Secret Vice is not a fantasy novel, but it is guaranteed to entrance and mesmerise lovers of fantasy nonetheless. This slim volume presents Tolkien’s thoughts on ideas on how one goes about creating their own language. Or to put it another way, this book contains the roots of Elvish and all the other tongues of Middle Earth. It’s based on a lecture Tolkien gave in 1931, entitled a ‘Hobby for The Home’, which was later revised 20 years later for a second lecture, then called ‘A Secret Vice’. It was eventually published by his son Christopher in The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays.

This new edition is the most comprehensive treatise on the subject; it contains A Secret Vice and a supporting work by Tolkien called Essay on Phonetic Symbolism. Reproductions of the original manuscript, a coda and extensive references are also jammed into these pages. It may seem like they’ve gone to a lot of effort with this work, but it’s easy to see wise. It’s very, very interesting.

Tolkien examines constructed languages in general and the relation of a mythology to its language. What’s also interesting is Tolkien’s own voice. Editors Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins have done much to preserve the sense of the work, and they are interesting and useful notes in the book, such as the form that the original Essay on Phonetic Symbolism was presented in.

In A Secret Vice, Tolkien compares and examines language and what effect it has on storytelling. He discusses constructed language and looks for the beauty in words. Anyone who fancies themselves a writer will benefit from dipping in and learning a bit more about the art of language itself.  Those fascinated with Quenya and all things Middle Earth will be especially delighted by this work.

If you are a hard-core word nerd, or simply a big Tolkien fan, this is the definitive work on Tolkien’s relationship with words. Worth the read and expect to have to make notes.

A SECRET VICE / AUTHOR: J.R.R. TOLKIEN, DIMITRA FIMI, ANDREW HIGGINS (EDITORS) / PUBLISHER: HARPER COLLINS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW




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