OSTADAN'S LORE & LETTERS:
The Letters of Middle-earth
In a 1955 letter to W. H. Auden, Tolkien wrote,
"...languages and names are for me inextricable from the stories. They are and were so to speak an attempt to give a background or a world in which my expressions of linguistic taste could have a function. The stories were comparatively late in coming."
As we learned in the companion article, Cent o Hedhellem, the history of Tolkien's languages is long and complex, and the study of Tolkien's linguistic inventions in their entirety - or even of the Elvish languages as they existed when The Lord of the Rings set them into a more or less 'final' form - can literally fill a book.
This article will focus on a single aspect of Tolkien's invention, from a 'practical' rather than theoretical standpoint: the writing systems that appear in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. As we will see, even this relatively narrow area is complex, and a short list of references for further research by the interested reader appears at the end of this article. The vast majority of the information here can be deduced from The Lord of the Rings, especially Appendix E, but like the Hobbits, sometimes we like to read articles 'filled with things they already knew, set out fair and square with no contradictions'.
The writing systems in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings fall into two broad classes: the angular runes, which appear prominently on Thror's map in The Hobbit and atop the title pages of The Lord of the Rings; and the Tengwar, the flowing letters that appear on the bottom of the Lord of the Rings title pages and the illustrations of the Ring inscription and the Westgate of Moria. Although Tolkien is careful to distinguish these two forms of writing, careless people sometimes will use oxymoronic phrases like 'Tengwar Rune' to describe some mysterious glyph. As often as not, the characters being described are simply runes; and it is to the runes that we will first turn our attention.
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