Translation of the Runes on "The Lord of the Rings" Title Page

Updated on July 7, 2016

The "Angerthas" or "Cirth" Runes

Adapted from Appendix F at the back of Return of the King, this chart shows Tolkien's "Cirth" runes used for writing Elvish and Dwarvish inscriptions. (Where two variant sounds are listed, the first is Elvish, the second used by Moria Dwarves.)
Adapted from Appendix F at the back of Return of the King, this chart shows Tolkien's "Cirth" runes used for writing Elvish and Dwarvish inscriptions. (Where two variant sounds are listed, the first is Elvish, the second used by Moria Dwarves.) | Source

Tolkien's Elvish Scripts

The Lord of the Rings betrays its author J.R.R. Tolkien's true passion from cover to cover: words. He was a philologist, a languages scholar, and his favorite form of procrastination was inventing languages with etymologies, histories, grammar and vocabulary, then creating fantasy worlds to give those words context.

That's what The Lord of the Rings really is: a world and story Tolkien invented so he could play around with his Elvish languages. At least, he was fond of saying so.

The Elves wouldn't use Roman letters, so Tolkien also had to create a writing system. As usual, he couldn't stop fiddling, so he invented two writing systems.

Cirth and Tengwar

The runes in the above chart are Cirth or Angerthas, also called "Daeron's Runes" after the Elf who invented them. They look a little like Norse or Anglo-saxon runes, which Tolkien studied, but they aren't the same. In the backstory of The Lord of the Rings, the Cirth are the oldest writing system in Middle-earth, adapted early on by the Dwarves. In the films, they appear all over Moria and Gimli's gear. These runes were first used to carve wood, stone, and metal.

Later, a brilliant Elf from the Undying Lands, Fëanor, invented a new writing system, the Tengwar. This elegant, uncial-like script could be written in many ways, and was primarily used for book-writing and handwriting.

You can learn about these writing systems in Appendix F of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien adapted them in different ways to write different languages: Sindarin Elvish, Quenya Elvish, Dwarvish, and...English!

Lord of the Rings Title Page: One Line of Runes

So that's the background behind the two writing systems that appear on the title pages of The Lord of the Rings. Now let's take a look at the actual inscriptions. At the top, there's a line of runes in – you guessed it! — the Cirth script.

Surprise! It's actually English written with Elvish characters:

Transliteration:

~ THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRANSLATED FROM THE RED BOOK ~

A few notes:

The sounds th, ng, oo are each represented by one character (certh). So "the" is written with two characters: a th rune and an e rune. Similarly, the word book is written with three characters: b + oo (which looks a little like an M) + k.

The rune that I transliterated as th in "the" is more properly transliterated dh. They are two distinct sounds, even though we use th to represent both of them in English. What's the difference? The dh sound is a hard th, as in this, while the true th sound is a soft th as in thin. Tolkien's Elvish scripts always distinguish them with different characters.

The "e" sound in "the" is pronounced differently from the "e" sound in "red," so Tolkien uses a different character for those two sounds. Also, the "e" sound in "the" can be written with a mark that looks like an apostrophe to save space ("translat'd").

As Tolkien fans know, The Red Book of Westmarch is the Hobbits' name for Bilbo's book about his and Frodo's adventures.

In most editions of The Lord of the Rings, this line of runes at the top of the page is followed by two more lines in Tengwar at the bottom of the page. Before we can go on, we need to pause and understand how Tengwar works, because it's a little more complicated than Cirth runes.

The Red Book of Westmarch

Lord of the Rings
Lord of the Rings

This is my favorite edition of The Lord of the Rings (I also have reading copies.) All in one volume, with beautiful fold-out maps and crisp, clear typography, and a red leatherette cover that looks like the "Red Book" ought to look. The tree artwork is Tolkien's.

 

Lord of the Rings Page Title: Two Lines of Tengwar

Tengwar script is a bear to learn because there are several different modes, using slightly different characters and notations to represent different sounds! Some Tengwar modes use special characters for short words like "of" and "the," the way we use & for "and." Also, some Tengwar modes don't write out vowels; instead, they indicate vowels with small marks or accents placed over the nearest consonants. These marks are called "tehtar."

When Tolkien writes English, he uses tehtar. Specifically, he puts the vowel-marks over the following consonant, or a placeholder (it looks like an i) if the next letter isn't a consonant.

So let's take this slowly, using this helpful guide to English written with Tengwar letters.

The next line is:

of Westmarch by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Herein is set forth

Notes:

I've added spaces between the words; there aren't any in the original.

"of" is represented by a single special character that looks like an m sitting on a T turned sideways.

Tengwar has no capital letters.

The letter e is represented by a tehtar that looks like an acute accent (´). I couldn't fit it quite where Tolkien did, but it's over the s in "Westmarch." The letter a is represented by three dots over the r. The ch sound is one Tengwar character which looks a little like a y.

In the word "by" the tehtar for y is set above that placeholder character I mentioned.

I'm a little puzzled why Tolkien put the curly o-tehtar over the n at the end of "John." I suppose the h-sound isn't really a consonant.

"Reuel" presents a mess: it's got too many vowels in a row, so the vowel-placeholder shows up twice. Also, if you look at your copy of The Lord of the Rings, you'll see that Tolkien had fun turning the e and u tehtars into fancy flourishes.

"Tolkien" shows the i-tehtar, a dot, over the vowel placeholder. The combination looks like a letter i! Then there's an e-tehtar, which looks like an acute accent (´), over the n at the end of "Tolkien."

"is" uses a special character that's actually the letter z, since it's a hard S. Again, the i-sound is represented by a dot over the s.

In "forth," Tolkien extended the o-tehtar from the r-sign (which looks like an English n) over the th sign (which looks like an English h), making a fancy swoosh.

and the final line of the sentence is:

the history of-the War of-the Ring and the Return of the King as seen by the hobbits.

Notes:

Once again, "the" is represented by a single character, and "of the" is the same character with a bar under it. (This is very like the bars used in real-world medieval manuscripts, where one might write "sp" with a bar under it to mean "spiritus.")

The r in "history" is a trilled or rolled r-sound, distinct from the "r" at the end of "war" (which appears to me to be written wor, with an o-curl instead of the three dots of the a. As usual, the Elvish script represents the sounds of the English words instead of just substituting letter-for-letter.)

"and" stumps me. The long-mark over the d is an n, since Tolkien thought of nd as a "nasal d" rather than two separate sounds. So far so good. With the long-mark, there wasn't room for the a-tehtar above, so he placed it below. But why is it one dot (i) instead of three (a)?

"as" has three dots (a) over the Tengwar sign for z, since the s at the end of as is a hard s.

"Seen" is a little surprising: there's two vowel placeholders for "ee" to make the long-e sound.

"Hobbits" is very compact. The double-b is represented by a single-b character with a squiggle under it to double it, then the o-curl is placed over it (h-o-bb). Then, instead of writing out the letter s at the end, Tolkien uses a fancy curl under the "t" to make "ts", and sticks the i-dot above it.


Summing Up

So the whole title page inscription, starting with the runic line and ending with the two lines of Tengwar, is:

"The Lord of the Rings translated from the Red Book
of Westmarch by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Herein is set forth
the history of the War of the Ring and the Return of the King as seen by the Hobbits."


Which is, of course, an allusion to the Red Book's longwinded title in the "Grey Havens" chapter of The Return of the King:

THE DOWNFALL
OF THE
LORD OF THE RINGS
AND THE
RETURN OF THE KING

(as seen by the Little People; being the memoirs of Bilbo and Frodo of the Shire, supplemented by the accounts of their friends and the learning of the Wise.)

Phew! I was going to tackle the Ring-inscription, but I think I'll save that for another webpage. Instead, in closing, I'll just note that when Tolkien gives the two different G-signs for Gandalf's name in the "Long-Expected Party" chapter, the first one is a Tengwar letter G and the second is a Cirth/Angerthas G-rune.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        Daniel 

        2 years ago

        " The dh sound is a hard th, as in this, while the true th sound is a soft th as in thin. Tolkien's Elvish scripts always distinguish them with different characters."

        Remember that Tolkien was an Oxford professor of philology, with an emphasis on Anglo-Saxon literature. Old English makes this same distinction, using the letter eth (ð) for the sound of th in "these" and the letter thorn (þ) for the sound in "thick".

      • parwatisingari profile image

        parwatisingari 

        4 years ago from India

        really enjoyed reading this.

      • susi10 profile image

        Susan W 

        4 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

        Hi Ellen!

        I have read The Lord of The Rings (me being an avid reader) before and I enjoyed it very much. I have also read The Hobbit too, with the release of the films this and last year. I always wondered what those rune symbols meant, I thought they meant nothing in particular but now I realize that they are actually real translations! Very interesting, thanks for sharing this.

        Voted up, awesome and useful.

      • Katie Lineback profile image

        Katie Lineback 

        5 years ago

        That was cool. Good work. I kind of want to learn it now.

      • KrisL profile image

        KrisL 

        6 years ago from S. Florida

        You are very welcome. Two of my followers have already favorited my tweet :-).

      • Greekgeek profile imageAUTHOR

        Ellen 

        6 years ago from California

        Le hannon: thank you! :)

      • KrisL profile image

        KrisL 

        6 years ago from S. Florida

        Wowza! I'm impressed.

        I had a friend in high school who taught herself to write in tengwar, but I was never so advance. Voted interesting, shared, and tweeted.

      • tmbridgeland profile image

        tmbridgeland 

        6 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

        Thanks. Never even really looked at the writing on the cover before, or thought what it might mean. Just assumed it was decoration.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hobbylark.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hobbylark.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)