Twilight of the Elves

The dramatic explosion of interest in Elvish tattoos seems to have faded. The Oscars are safely over, Elijah Wood hardly appears in People magazine anymore, and babies are being named “Frodo” far less often than in months past. For those sturdy souls out there who are still interested in learning how to write Elvish (and partly to decrease the load on me for bespoke Tengwar calligraphy) I created the page Write Your Name in Elvish in Ten Minutes. I’ve looked at a lot of Elvish language web sites and they all seem to talk about how “real Elves” might write rather than providing a simple usable solution for people who just want to write their names. For the record, though, the best site I’ve come across for a credible and scholarly approach to the problem is Tolkien Script Publishing.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve written out something like a hundred names and phrases for people over the past few months, and I have discovered that if you send someone something first and then ask them to pay for it, they are actually quite unlikely to pay for it (even if they are a “SUPER HUGE LOTR FAN”). Still, it’s been a fun experiment… something like running a lemonade stand in cyberspace. My shingle is still up, but traffic is down.

6 thoughts on “Twilight of the Elves”

  1. Hi Ned,

    your guide to writing English with Tengwar is IMO
    rather well thought out in its simplicity.
    I’m afraid you got one thing a little wrong:
    The two dots for _y_ should be *over* the letter
    when _y_ is a vowel as in “cycle”, but under
    it when it is a consonant after another consonant
    as in “canyon”. FWIW I would also use this sign
    in words like “question” _kwestyon_
    and “righteous” _rietyus_. Also you have omitted
    the common mark for _w_ after a consonant, as
    in “twist”, which is like a skewed S. You have
    also omitted the common way of writing vowel
    combinations like _ai, ay, ei, ey, oi, oy_ with
    the sign for _a, e, o_ over tengwa #35 and
    likewise _au, aw, eu, ew, ou, ow_ with the signs
    for _a, e, o_ over tengwa #36 (and personally I
    would use tengwa #24 similarly for _a_ in _ea,
    oa_) I would also use the so-called long carrier
    which looks like a Roman _j_ to write _ee, ie, oo_
    at the very least. Moreover Tolkien preferred to
    write the vowel sign over the *following* conso-
    nant when writing English. IMO that looks rather
    better especially when the consonant is followed
    by a silent _e_, which is then written under the
    preceding consonant.

    As you say there are many ways to write English
    with Tengwar, and spelling is essentially free,
    but Tolkien mostly followed these conventions

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. Simplicity was my primary goal in making my little guide. There are many Elvish experts out there, but there are absolutely hordes of people who just want a quick way to see what their name looks like, but they can’t be bothered with too many details. I’m trying to help them.

    In keeping with the simplest possible approach, I prefer to do a straight letter-for-letter transcription rather than a phonetic transliteration. There are many reasons why this might not be ideal, but it has the virture of being straightforward and unambiguous. Because of this, I generally don’t worry about long versus short vowels. I am well aware of the special treatment of diphthongs, and had I been writing a slightly longer guide, I would have included a mention of them.

    I know that Tolkien typically placed the vowel over the following consonant in English transcriptions, but I learned Elvish by reverse-engineering a Quenya poem (Namarie), and so that approach became more comfortable for me. It’s a personal preference. As for the two dots signifying a vowel y when over the consonant, I’d be curious to know what your reference is for that.

    Elvish has the advantage and disadvantage of being used mostly for display rather than communication. I have seen many variants presented in many places. Mine is just one.

  3. Thanks for making your simple guide to writing elvish. I am one of those legions who wants to write their name in pretty elvish letters but not spend weeks, months and years studying tolkiens langauges. I really enjoyed your little tutorial, thankyou :)

  4. Hey Ned
    I’m a little middle-of-nowhere Utah kid who wants to learn the Elvish alphabet and how to use it quickly. Will you please send me a copy of your tutorial? I looked, but I can’t find my way around it.

  5. Hi, my sister keeps having this nightmare where a figure says this phrase to her and then she dies. It’s occurred for a long time, and I think the phrase is in Elvish. I don’t know how to write it, but she said that it’s pronounced “doh-bah-tee-noh-mahn-toe-loe”. Can you help me out?

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