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«Deciphering Runes in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Michelle Nevins This essay is an introduction to the many runes used in The Hobbit: An ...»

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Deciphering Runes in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Michelle Nevins

This essay is an introduction to the many runes used in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. While in

appearance, all the runes represent the written alphabet of the dwarves, known as The Angerthas, there is

in fact one runic system representing three different languages. This essay corresponds with the sequence

in which the various runes are shown, so as you view the movie as super extended 3D Director‟s Cut on

DVD/Blu-Ray (12 hours is still not long enough!), you can decipher the runes and understand their contents.

Now Khuzdul (The-Speech-of-the-Khazâd), the spoken language of the dwarves, was considered a secret language. Dwarves “used their own strange tongue, changed little by years; for it had become a tongue of lore…and they tended it and guarded it as a treasure of the past” -The Return of the King, Appendix F, “Of Other Races”. Unfortunately for us, Professor Tolkien, in keeping with the Dwarvish tradition, gave us only a fleeting example of spoken Khuzdul in The Two Towers, Chapter 7 “Helm‟s Deep” when Gimli declares his battle cry “Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!”.

This is where the work of American Tolkien linguist David Salo comes in. Mr. Salo loved Professor Tolkien‟s works and became fascinated with his languages during his undergraduate studies at Macalester College. He co-founded with his wife Dorothea, elendilion.pl and midgardsmal.com, online sites specializing in the languages of Middle Earth. He was later contracted to work exclusively on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy to develop and adapt the various languages for the films. A considerable amount of linguistic research went into his work. He found Khuzdul the most challenging.

“Khuzdul was inspired by the Semitic languages, so I drew on my knowledge of those for inspiration.

There‟s not a single complete sentence in the language, so to translate dialogue into Khuzdul required a lot of innovation, creating a large vocabulary and grammar from scratch.” Everything in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey from spoken Khuzdul, Quenya, Sindarin, and the Black Speech of the Orcs are the result of Mr. Salo. The two exceptions are the Map of Thror and any Futhark runes, to be discussed later.

Anything Khuzdul that he created is known as Neo-Khuzdul (New Khuzdul).

Now turning to the splendid An Unexpected Journey, let‟s interpret the runes presented in the film beginning with the scene where Gandalf visits Bilbo in the Shire. In Gandalf‟s recruitment discussion to Bilbo, look carefully at his staff just above his hands and you will find evidence of two stylized runes G representing the sound „G‟ incised into the wood.

These cirth (runes plural) are notably monogramed together mirroring each other, and have the appearance like a candelabra. In fact, they represent the initials for Gandalf the Grey. It may also be a nod to Professor Tolkien, who like the “GG” for Gandalf the Grey, monogramed his initials, J.R.R.T., to form a type of mirror image like so.

And it is not the last of the certh (a single rune) g used in the scene. After Bilbo‟s rather curt ending of the „adventure‟ discussion, Gandalf also incises g on Bilbo‟s newly painted door in the form of a Certh Ithil, a moon rune, which cleverly disappears as Dwalin first approaches the door, thereby shadowing the moon‟s rays and causing the certh ithil to disappear. You may also notice that the G inscribed by Gandalf with his staff is slightly different in form than the G that disappears when Dwalin approaches the door.

(Now for some literary trivia: Gandalf writes a letter to Frodo and signs it using this same certh g in The Fellowship, Chapter 10 “Strider” and again in Chapter 11 “A Knife in the Dark”.) This is our first introduction the true runic language of the Dwarves, known as Angerthas or „Longrune-rows‟. In 1955, with the release The Return of the King of the final installment of The Lord of the Rings, Professor Tolkien gives us an introduction of The Angerthas in Appendices E and F. While similar in form to Anglo-Saxon runes, their phonetic representation is different.

The Angerthas, a sort of primer, were adopted by the dwarfs of the First Age from the elf Daeron and adapted to their own language, Khuzdul and the Common Speech spoken with other races. We learn that Angerthas cirth have at least three forms, the original Angerthas Daeron dating back to the First Age and modified and used by the Grey-Elves, Dwarvish Angerthas Moria used in both the Second and Third Age, and later a more elaborate Ereborian format, used in the Third Age. Ori‟s Book of Mazarbul in The Fellowship of the Ring is Angerthas Erebor. While all three are similar, their change reflects an evolution of language similar to all languages used over time, with Angerthas Moria being similar to a Dwarves‟ Proto-Classic and Classic period, and Angerthas Ereborian reflecting Dwarves‟ High Classic and Post Classic elements as Erebor had extreme wealth and prestige “the like of which you will not find in the world today.” (Bilbo Baggins, An Unexpected Journey). Compare the three tables and note differences in phonetic sounds.

–  –  –

(note 14, 16, 17, 43, 57, 58, 59, 60) Let‟s get back to our Unexpected Journey. Our next viewing of runes is in Bilbo‟s formal dining room where Gandalf presents Thorin with the Map of Thror. While these cirth in appearance seem like Angerthas cirth, at closer inspection when deciphered, are in fact Anglo-Saxon Futhark runes and when translated read phonetic English. Compare the table below taken from The Annotated Hobbit, Appendix B “On Runes” with any table above on the Angerthas. The symbols are the same. The language values are quite different.





Why the sudden change of language? Our answer lies in the original 1937 publication of The Hobbit:

There and Back Again. Professor Tolkien used runes in illustrations on the cover, dust jacket and Thror‟s Map. Being an expert in Old English as well as many other languages, and loving runes, he felt their symbols would apply easily in the context of the Dwarvish language in Middle Earth.

It is important to understand that each rune has a phonetic representation similar to our own alphabet, meaning if we translate the runes, it would read English and not Angerthas. For example the following

runes read:

–  –  –

By making the runes easy to translate, Professor Tolkien was appealing to the young audiences by encouraging them to decipher runes in an understandable form, and allowing young (and forever young) readers to become detectives of the language of the dwarves. Sir Peter Jackson, in the interest in keeping with the book, and knowing that readers were familiar with the original map both in the book and The Fellowship of the Ring movie did little alterations. The image of the map is from the The Annotated Hobbit, Chapter 1 “An Unexpected Party”. Try translating the map yourself. It can be quite fun.

The runes viewed in the left margin, just under a left hand pointed to the Lonely Mountain, read „five fet high the dor and three may wolk abreast. T. T.‟ The T.T. are presumed to mean Thror and Thrain, who both escaped the Sack of Erebor in 2770 through a secret door, which is marked with an Anglo-Saxon rune ] „D‟. In the top right corner is our compass, bearing East, \ at the top, West or P pointing down, North or l to the left and South or y to the right. You may ask why Dwarvish maps have an Eastern orientation instead of North? I think the answer lies in the fact that Dwarves spend much of their time submerged in caves, stone halls, and subterranean environs. Stellar constellations are of little importance and for that matter is a rather Elvish behavior. The rising and setting of both sun and moon are more noteworthy, and therefore Dwarvish maps most likely orientate to their east/west bearing. Another interpretation could be that Professor Tolkien had extensive knowledge of medieval studies, when maps had an eastern orientation due to Jerusalem‟s eastern orientation from Europe.

In addition to the map, Thorin is presented with the Key of Erebor. Though the runes are not legible in the movie, a close up from the vastly talented folks at Weta reveals additional runes. When these runes are translated using Futhark they read ]abi (Durin) \ib (Heir).

The next example of cirth can be seen in the Battle of Azanulbizar, at the Dimrill Gate, west of Moria.

In the gruesome battle scene Azog the Pale Orc defiles the body of Thror by decapitation and writing AZOG in Angerthas Erebor across the face. The scene is fleeting, but a close up example can be seen in a shot of makeup artist Tami Lane holding up a prop of Thror‟s head. Though the writing is crude, it is clearly Ereborian. The cross stich pattern written across Thror‟s nose is an example of the A. Ereborian certh for “Z”. We know that „Azog‟ is written on Thror‟s head from The Return of the King Appendix A, Section III, Durin‟s Folk: “Then Nár turned the head and saw branded on the brow in Dwarfrunes…the name AZOG”. How odd that our first glimpse of Angerthas Erebor is found at the very gates of Moria!

As our Journey continues, the next time cirth can be found is after our heroes, escaping the trolls, discover the troll‟s treasure trove. Thorin‟s keen eyes select some exemplary swords, Orcrist and Glamdring, made by the high elves of long lost Gondolin. This is where rune interpretation becomes both fascinating and challenging. Let‟s look at Orcrist first.

Close examination of the sword, provided again by Weta, reveal a new language but the same familiar cirth. Cast on the cross guard, the cirth reads Or7rist (Orkhrist), “Orc clever” while on the prima section of the blade, another set reads Ragol.elug (Nagol Elug), “Tooth of Dragon” (Look at the hilt of Orcrist. Do you see the dragon tooth? Hence the nickname „Biter‟).

The cirth on the accompanying scabbard of Orcrist are just as interesting. O[?]eR.o.goew.ifluig ui.Ri.madWeg.a.suig “Born from the maws of Dragons I am Always Hungry and Thirsty”. What a fantastic sword and scabbard, well suited for the leader of our Company!

What is so fascinating is that while the cirth are Angerthian, they represent the language of Sindarin, a language of the Grey-Elves of the First Age. The revised written form of this language was Angerthas Daeron. Since the swords were made by Elves, the writing reflects their language.

The question is how can Angerthian cirth represent both Khuzdul and Sindarin? After all, dwarves have high contempt for anything elven as demonstrated by Thorin and Company as they enter the Valley of Imladris. The answer lies in The Silmarillion, during the First Age, when Daeron the Grey-Elf reworked and formed a new writing system creating the Angerthas Daeron. Daeron had a friendly relationship with the Dwarves of the Ered Luin of that time, and the Dwarves found this runic system quite favorable and adopted and adapted the cirth to their liking, creating Angerthas Moria and Angerthas Erebor. (This is the same Ered Luin that Thorin leads his exiled people to after the Sack of Erebor and the Battle of Azanulbizar.) Now let us turn to Glamdring and read the deciphered Angerthas Daeron. The inscriptions here is more narrative but complex to translate. At the center of the cross guard above the sapphire the name is revealed GlamdriN (Glamdring) while on the flanking quillons the cirth read: Turgo (Turgon) ra (aran) ]oli (Gondolin) tar2a(tortha) gar(gar) a(a) Ma2a(matha) I(i) 1egiL(vegil) GLamdri (Glamdring) g[?]d(gûd) dae[3e]lo[2] (dae[dhe]lo[th]) dam(dam) a (an) [?]o2(Glamhoth). „Glamdring. Turgon king [of] Gondolin wields, has and holds [the] sword Glamdring, Foe [of] Morgoth‟s realm, hammer to [the] Din-hord‟. (Author saying „phew‟) Back to our Journey. Also in the troll cave we see fleeting glimpses of Dwalin‟s hands with runic tattoos. These are Angerthas Moria. The translation on his right hand is BARuk Ka’ (?) “Baruk Khazâd‟, part of the famous battle cry that Gimli cries in The Two Towers, Chapter 7, “Helm‟s Deep”. The rest of the translation is not evident as we lack great photos of Dwalin‟s left hand. Graham McTavish has a comedic take on their meaning: “If you can read this I must be punching you in the face.” Considering Dwalin‟s charming disposition, the translation rings true.

As our heroes Journey on to Rivendell and are greeted by Lindir, a close up of Dwalin‟s battle axes reveals cirth cast into the cheeks of the axe heads. Recall that the Angerthas Daeron, Angerthas Moria and Angerthas Erebor have slightly different phonic sounds for certain runes, but the English translation is “Grasper” and “Keeper”. The runes read uk.lat (Ukhlat – “grasper, holder”) and um (Umraz – “keeper”).

A couple notes on these axes. The names “Grasper” and “Keeper” were Graham McTavish‟s suggestion based on the names of two hounds Emily Bronte owned. Mr. McTavish‟s take is that Dwalin “grasps your soul with one axe and keeps it with the other”. Initially Sir Peter Jackson loved the idea and was quoted as saying “we could get it in Elvish and the fans will love it”.

Considering the amount of research and detailed analysis that David Salo did on Khuzdul, Dwarvish outstanding smithing abilities, the crudeness of the weapons, and Dwarvish resentment of Elves, it can be most likely ruled out that the translation is A. Daeron.



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