Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The Delicate Art

 So, thanks to Doug A.  for sending me a piece that recently (Febr 28th) appeared in the NEW YORKER, about the increasing role constructed languages play in today's movies and series: "Dune and the Delicate Art of Making Fictional Languages"  by Manvir Singh. Singh not only provides a good survey of the rise of conlang and its current ubiquity but in the process shows the way Tolkien's use of invented languages set the standard for today's fantasy and science fiction. And in doing so shows yet another way in which Tolkien was ahead of his time. 


To show just how far we've come in sixty years, compare Tolkien's statement that THE LORD OF THE RINGS was essentially "an essay in 'linguistic esthetic' " (Reilly.136) with the abrupt dismissal of any such thought by early Inklings scholar R. J. Reilly, for whom the mere suggestion was absurd.Reilly refuses to even take Tolkien's words seriously:



"No one ever exposed the nerves 

and fibers of his being 

in order to make up a language;

it is not only insane but unnecessary" 




Despite Reilly's confidence, with the benefit of decades of seeing Tolkien's ideas at work in theory and in practice, there seems nothing any more odd in creating languages than composing music or working crossword puzzles. 


People like to say 'Tolkien wd have loved this' or, more often, 'Tolkien is rolling in his grave' --a habit we shd resist when we can. But I have to admit to a bit of envy at seeing there's a biopic coming out this summer that creates a fictional encounter between C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud.  I'd love to hear and see what an encounter (say a one-act play) between Tolkien and some of his fellow language-creators wd have been like. Maybe somewhere down the track someone will be inspired to put together a JRRT-meets-RIchard Plotz play or film. I'd love to see it --though I have to admit my philological skills are miniscule and I suspect like most of the other attendees I probably wdn't be able to follow their discussion. But it's nice to think .  . . 


--John R. 




"Tolkien and the Fairy Story (1963), collected in Isaacs & Zimbardo, TOLKIEN & THE CRITICS (1968).



David Bratman said...

The movie doesn't create the encounter: it's an adaptation of a play, which I've seen.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear David:

Quite ri; the play precedes the movie, just as was the case with SHADOWLANDS (which in turn had been based on a book, Lyle Dorsett's biography of Joy Davidman.

I started to wrap up this comment by listing the CSL plays I have or knew of but stopped when a quickk scan of the shelves show there are more than I thought. Maybe that'd be the topic for a future post sojmeone down the line

--John R.