A Tolkien Paper in Runes

It is a true blessing that I have the freedom to have a rather varied career.

Many of you reading this know me due to my forthcoming novel, The Shards of Heaven. Others know my historical casebooks, like the one just now being published on the Battle of Crécy. Or some of you simply know me as your current or former professor of medieval literature at The Citadel.

A smaller number of you know that in the nexus of all these interests is the figure of J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve published a number of essays on Professor Tolkien and his works (one of which, “The Shellshocked Hobbit,” was this year blatantly ripped off by the BBC). And every few years — for a single blessed term — I get to teach a course on Tolkien, which is all kinds of magnificent.

I’m teaching just such a class right now, and we just had our mid-term papers come due.

The final copies were turned in online (and written in English), but after all was said and done this is what one of my students showed me:

A paper on dwarves in runes.

A paper on dwarves, written in dwarven runes.

That’s right. My student took the rough draft of his paper and transliterated it using Tolkien’s dwarven runes (the Angerthas Moria script, to be exact).

He did this … well, just because. The little exercise will grant him no extra points or honors. He knew this. He wasn’t kissing up. He was just enthralled with the subject material, he was spurned to do something fun and joyous, and he wanted to share that excitement.

This is — even aside from the aesthetics of this terrific work — beautiful. As teachers we yearn to connect with our students to the point that they are inspired. And here it is, in a nutshell: inspiration and excitement and learning.

Learning, you say? Why yes. As it happens, Tolkien’s dwarven runes are based on Anglo-Saxon and Norse runic scripts.

This confluence of history, language, and literature is why I love teaching (and writing about) the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. His works are a staggering treasure-trove of thought, and for all that I’ve written about them, for all that I’ve read and studied them, I continue to find new discoveries in these pages. That makes each time I teach them an exciting chance for discovery — for all of us.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again:

I love my job.

(All of them.)


  1. As someone who can still write his name in dwarven runes, and is still using my Sindarin name (gilmoure == “star dark” or Dark Star) I came up with in late ’70s: hat-tip to student!

    Prof. T influenced me so much as a child. I became a cartographer, am an avid fan of digging up word meanings and seeing how languages have evolved (attempting to learn ancient Greek this year, to read Iliad, and then Anglo-Saxon for Beowulf), and even met wife through discussion on movement of proto-Celtic people out of India (I brought up language artifacts and she had woven clothe archaeological info). Professor Tolkien also taught me to pay attention to details and gave me motivation to study and learn on my own; something the school system never seemed able to instill.

  2. It’s a remarkable thing how works of literature can inspire us and change our lives in the most extraordinary ways. (Also: learning Greek to read the Iliad … go you!)

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