Writing systems

Runes in The Hobbit film

Bethany writes to ask:

I have a question about the dwarf-runes used in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I have noticed that in some instances (e.g. Thorin’s key) Anglo-Saxon futhark runes are used, and in others Tolkien’s own Angerthas runes are used. Is there a reason that both kinds are used alongside each other?


This is a problem peculiar to the film, and results from different people working on different aspects of the film at the same time without necessarily being aware of what the others were doing. Although only the Anglo-Saxon runes are used in the book of The Hobbit, I recommended, at an early stage (with what I thought were plausible arguments) that the Angerthas runes should be used throughout the film of The Hobbit, to maintain continuity with the previous filmed The Lord of the Rings and avoid questions of this kind being raised! I even, for instance, retransliterated the text of Thror’s map out of the English fuþorc and into the Angerthas of Erebor (still using English, but different rune forms). At some point, without my being aware of it, the decision was made to go back to the fuþorc in some instances.But where there was something entirely original to the film, like Dwalin’s axes (to which I gave neo-Khuzdul names and corresponding inscriptions in Angerthas) there was no original to go back to, and so there the Angerthas remain.

The result is precisely the mixture which I was trying to avoid! But now that it’s part of the film universe, I think we can at least guess at an in-universe interpretation — where the original inscription is in Khuzdul, the Angerthas are used, but where it was in Westron or another non-Khuzdul (most likely Mannish) language, we see the fuþorc used instead. In which case we have to suppose that, even on such “secret” items as the map and key, the Dwarves preferred not to use Khuzdul in writing. The use of Khuzdul writing on Dwalin’s axes might be seen (and this is just a guess that I came up with while writing this) as a sort of charm, if Khuzdul (which is a language made by a Vala, after all) is thought to have greater magical potency than other languages.

But in general I don’t expect there will be any way of telling which artifacts are going to bear inscriptions in Angerthas and which will use fuþorc; it depends on decisions that I didn’t take part in.