~ by MorganLaFay

The two scripts that Tolkein created for Middle-earth are well suited to being written with a quill or ink pen. This is a basic guide to get people started in writing the Cirth and Tengwar scripts.

To begin with you will need:

– inks
– calligraphy pen + nibs
– ruler
– pencil
– paper


Drawing and calligraphy inks can be bought at most art supply shops, alternatively use diluted watercolour or gouche paints (not oils).
There is also an article in the LHH on how to make your own inks and pens.

Pens and Nibs

A confusing array of pens, nibs and quills are available. I recommend you start with a pen holder which uses interchangeable nibs. To start with, a no.3 and no.5 roundhouse nib and a copperplate nib allow you to attempt a range of scripts and styles.


Watercolour and layout paper are most appropriate for calligraphy but always test the paper before starting. If the paper is too absorbant the ink will ‘bleed’ creating an indistinct line.

Calligraphy requires structure and regularity of letterforms and slope. It is always important to plan and rule up in pencil before you start. If you are hesitant you can also write out the letters in pencil, it really helps in avoiding spelling mistakes and getting spacing correct.

Terms you need to know:

the x-height is the body height of a letter (ie. height without ascenders or descenders), ascender refers to the stroke of a letter which rises above the body of the letter, descender refers to the stroke of a letter that falls below the body of the letter.

The Tengwar
(see appendix E of RotK)

This script can be written as a squared upright script, as seen in the appendicies, or as a free-flowing italic script like that which is used on the one ring. Once you master the letterforms you can alter the slant, height and width.

Writing in Tengwar

I recommend a roundhouse nib no.3 or higher. The nib you decide on depends on how large/thick you want your lettering to be. If writing on a small scale,use a narrower nib.

x-height=4 nib widths
ascenders and descenders= an additional 3 nib widths
Pen is held at an angle of 30 degrees and the slope of the letters is upright. All strokes are pulled down and across with many pen lifts making writing slow and deliberate.

Tengwar Italic

x-height=5 nib widths
ascenders and descenders= an additional 3 nib widths
Pen is held at an angle of 40 degrees and the slope of the letters is 5 degrees off vertical.

The Cirth

The Cirth is a very geometric script with no curves (used on Balin’s tomb in FotR). For this script you can use a narrow roundhouse nib (eg. No.5) or a copperplate nib.
Copperplate nibs are useful for very fine lettering as the thickness of the line produces is controlled by pressure. Even lettering is difficult to attain and requires practice.

You can use any height or width for this script, depending on the mood you want your work to convey. If using a roundhouse nib, 7 nibwidths is the height I recommend.

Once you’ve mastered these scripts start designing borders and illustrations for you calligraphy. Translate your favorite poems into elven script and pin them on your wall to give your room a touch of Tolkein. Well executed work also make great gifts for other LotR-obsessed friends. So happy writing!