Early in their history, a large part of the Quendi (Elves) immigrated to Valinor, the Land of the Powers, on the continent of Aman. There they became known as the Eldar, and their knowledge and skill rose to its peak.

Being accomplished linguists, the Eldar must soon have realized the need for a means of preserving their words in writing. So it was that Rúmil, the loremaster and sage of Tirion, invented the first writing system in the world: the Sarati. The script was phonographic, and the abstract letter-forms were drawn with pen or brush, or carved in wood or stone. Most commonly, the script was written top-to-bottom along vertical bars. Vowels were written with diacritic marks to the left and (sometimes) right of the sarati proper. Many aspects of the writing system were however very variable, from the shape and significance of individual letters to writing direction. One might speculate that the pioneering Elven scribes were given very few rules to follow when using Rúmil’s invention, and that they liked the chance to adapt and improve on the system by themselves.

Feanor, in his early career, was deeply interested in writing, and he created a new writing system. This was partly based on Rúmil’s, and was called Tengwar. In the Tengwar, only one writing direction was allowed: left-to-right. The characters had a more uniform appearance, and their significance was more strictly defined based on their position in the system. The Tengwar was actually designed as a number of interrelated signs without inherent sound-values: the phonetic meaning of each character could be tailor-made for each language, according to its visual relationship with other characters. Vowels were in the Tengwar written either as diacritics (above or below a tengwa) or as special tengwar.

The flexibility of Feanor’s system made it highly suitable for adaption to numerous languages, wether related or not with the Eldarin tongues. The Sarati fell out of use, except among the Vanyarin Elves in Aman; it was never used in Middle-earth. It is ironic that the Sarati many times has been called “Rúmil’s Tengwar”. The word “tengwa” in fact did not exist until Feanor invented it.

When the Noldor fled from Aman to Middle-earth, they brought with them the Tengwar. In Beleriand in Middle-earth, the Sindarin elves had constructed their own writing system, a rune-like alphabet called the Cirth. The Tengwar proved easy to adapt for Sindarin, and soon surpassed the Cirth in popularity, although the latter continued to be used — its later forms became quite widely known during the Second and Third Age.

Feanor’s writing system then flourished for more than seven thousand years, as new modes for different languages were constructed. Eventually, however, it must have sunk into oblivion, some time during the Fourth Age of Middle-earth.

The purpose of this web site is to give an introduction to the writing systems of Aman, and to encourage further studies in Tolkien’s works. In the various pages I hope you will find enough to make you appreciate the beauty and elegance of the scripts that Rúmil and Feanor created in the days when the World was young and the Two Trees of Valinor still blossomed.