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  • Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and His Concept of Native Language:Sindarin and British-Welsh1
  • Yoko Hemmi (bio)

1. The Lord of the Rings and its "paratexts"

In a letter written in June 1955, four months before the publication of the final part of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien made an extremely elusive remark that the book was to him "largely an essay in 'linguistic aesthetic'" (Letters 220). This is one among many, consistent and somewhat baffling assertions maintained by Tolkien that the histories of Middle-earth grew out of his predilection for inventing languages. These assertions also indicate that by 1955 Tolkien came to consider The Lord of the Rings as a story finished so long ago that he could take a "largely impersonal view of it" (211). He points out that the "interpretations" he might make himself are "mostly post scriptum": he had "very little particular, conscious, intellectual, intention in mind at any point" (211). However for us readers, those post scriptum interpretations could be regarded, if we apply Gérard Genette's term, as crucial "paratexts" or "epitexts" to The Lord of the Rings; they present an authorial interpretive key to his own work that it is "philological" or "fundamentally linguistic in inspiration" (218–9; emphasis in original). "Paratexts" are "those liminal devices and conventions, both within the book (peritext) and outside it (epitext), that mediate the book to the reader" (Genette xviii).2 The "paratext," of which Tolkien provides us ample amounts, functions to "ensure for the text a destiny consistent with the author's purpose" (407), or we should rather say, the purpose the author discovered post scriptum by "looking back analytically."3

Tolkien's repeated assertion that Elvish antedated the histories of Middle-earth may constitute a notable example of such paratextual remarks, particularly in light of the fact that there are conflicting views concerning the reliability of this chronology: Dimitra Fimi has recently brought Tolkien's assertion into question, arguing that the decision to create a "mythology for England" preceded chronologically the invention of Qenya. Fimi concludes that Tolkien's claim is part of a "biographical legend" which he constructed,4 whereas other scholars prefer to take his claim at face value, regarding it as reflecting the author's general view on the relationship between language invention and the creation of mythology.5 Earlier, in "A Secret Vice," Tolkien, when discussing the pleasure of language invention, had displayed his conviction that language construction would breed a mythology, stating that "the making of language and mythology are related functions; to give your language an individual flavour, it must have woven into it the threads of an individual mythology" [End Page 147] (MC 210). We may acknowledge Tolkien's assertion as a paratextual remark indicating that he wanted to emphasize the importance of Elvish in his stories, so much so that he made the claim that he should have preferred to write in Elvish (Letters 219). As Genette (408) puts it, "valid or not, the author's viewpoint is part of the paratextual performance, sustains it, inspires it, anchors it." In that sense, it seems most intriguing that Tolkien further confided, however much in a cryptic manner, that "there is a great deal of linguistic matter (other than actually 'elvish' names and words) included or mythologically expressed in the book [The Lord of the Rings]" and that it was to him "largely an essay in 'linguistic aesthetic'" (Letters 220).

Evasive as they are, these messages about The Lord of the Rings direct us to "English and Welsh," in which Tolkien delineated his "strong aesthetic pleasure in contact with Welsh" (MC 190): that particular pleasure is expressed in The Lord of the Rings through Sindarin, a common language among the Elves, "constructed deliberately to resemble Welsh phonologically" (Letters 219 n.). "English and Welsh" would therefore make an "epitext" of a foremost importance to The Lord of the Rings when considering its "linguistic matter" in connection with Welsh. As we will see below, although "English and Welsh" discusses the languages of the Primary World, English and Welsh, not the languages of the Secondary World of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien gives sufficient...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1547-3163
Print ISSN
1547-3155
Pages
pp. 147-174
Launched on MUSE
2010-08-25
Open Access
No
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