A Secret Vice
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|Published||07 April 2016|
|Media type||Hardback, e-book|
|Preceded by||The Story of Kullervo|
|Followed by||The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun|
A Secret Vice is the title of a talk written by J. R. R. Tolkien in 1931, given 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. Some twenty years later, Tolkien revised the manuscript for a second presentation.
It deals with constructed languages in general and the relation of a mythology to its language. Tolkien contrasts international auxiliary languages with artistic languages constructed for aesthetic pleasure. Tolkien also discusses phonaesthetics, citing Greek, Finnish and Welsh as examples of "languages which have a very characteristic and in their different ways beautiful word-form".
Tolkien's opinion of the relation of mythology and language is reflected in examples cited in Quenya and Noldorin, the predecessors of Quenya and Sindarin. The essay contains three Quenya poems, Oilima Markirya ("The Last Ark"), Nieninque, and Earendel as well as an eight-line passage in Noldorin.
One of the most frequently quoted passages from the essay comes in a context in which Tolkien relates how he randomly met a fellow language inventor in the army:
- The man next to me said suddenly in a dreamy voice: 'Yes, I think I shall express the accusative case by a prefix!' A memorable remark!
- ...Just consider the splendour of the words! 'I shall express the accusative case.' Magnificent! Not 'it is expressed', nor even the more shambling 'it is sometimes expressed', nor the grim 'you must learn how it is expressed'. What a pondering of alternatives within one's choice before the final decision in favour of the daring and unusual prefix, so personal, so attractive; the final solution of some element in a design that had hitherto proved refractory. Here were no base considerations of the 'practical', the easiest for the 'modern mind', or for the million – only a question of taste, a satisfaction of a personal pleasure, a private sense of fitness.
A Secret Vice was originally due to be published in an edited form by HarperCollins on 11 February 2016, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins. The release date was then pushed back to 7 April 2016.
- Tolkien, J.R.R. "A Secret Vice" in The Monsters and the Critics (1983), ISBN 0-04-809019-0, pp. 198–223. Quotation given from p. 199
- Arden R. Smith, "Secret Vice, A" entry in the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia (2006).