Annatar rants

In general, people seem to like my Tengwar Annatar font, because I see it used fairly often — mostly, of course, in the cursive variant mimicing the ring inscription, since there’s really no better alternative to it, but also in the upright version. In a way, this is naturally flattering, but it also irks me somewhat because of what I now see as shortcomings in its design. Except for the bad decisions on my side, these are due primarily to two things: limitations in Dan Smith’s encoding model, and the outcome of automatic transcribers. An example:Shortcomings in Tengwar Annatar So, what is wrong with this picture?

  • The first a-tehta is displaced to the right. As you know, Dan Smith compatible fonts contain four different variants of the tehtar, so that the user can choose the one that fits best. In the original fonts, e.g. Tengwar Quenya, the lambe is not as wide, and the usual transcribers are adapted to that. In Tengwar Annatar (as well as in many other fonts) the widest tehta should be used here.
  • While I am fond of the proportions of the lambe, it is way too big, and in a longer text it causes large holes in the texture of the page. If I remember correctly, I drew it this way so that it would combine nicely with the regular under-the-tengwa tehtar. I don’t know why I was not content with the special tehtar that are intended especially for lambe.
  • Moving on to the next tehta, there are things to say about its position as well. Though not quite as noticeable on the wider tengwar, I would generally prefer to move the tehtar down a bit. Their high placement is a necessary adjustment to avoid collision with the nasalization bar.
  • Ah, silme nuquerna. . . I fear we as a community have grown used to this shape, even though it is actually very uncharacteristic for Tolkien’s writings. As you might know, Dan Smith compatible fonts contain two variants of silme: one that is meant to have the tehta to the left of the ascender, and one that curves around the tehta placed to the right. Shapes similar to both of these are both common in Tolkien’s tengwar texts, e.g. in DTS 19/20. But when Tolkien draws a silme nuquerna, it is virtually always formed like a “9” — the shape seen in this picture is as far as I know not attested. Unfortunately it has by far become the one most commonly used, presumably because it is more natural to write on the keyboard and because it is the default in transcribers.
  • This rómen is going to fall over; it is so unbalanced it is not even funny any more. Of course, it is an adaptation to avoid collisions with tehtar (and specifically to connect smoothly with the under-bar.)
  • An example of the nasalization bar. It fits between the tengwa and the tehta, but it is rather cramped. Ideally, we should have some vertical kerning here.
  • The tinco in itself looks fairly good actually, but the connection with the s-hook could be more smooth. There is a glyph specially suited for this in the alternative font, but in my experience, people very rarely use it.
  • This s-hook is pretty awful I must say, with its quaint curvature. Thankfully, some of the other hooks in the font look better.
  • Going over to the cursive/italic font, we find the same problem with the tehta on lambe, only worse. This is the kind of things people tattoo on their backs, and I can’t help feeling bad about it.
  • I like the lambe, but there is a noticable gap between it and the following silme nuquerna. This is a place where kerning could be used, but it has to be done manually since it can’t be achieved with traditional dumb fonts, because the tehta on lambe intervenes. There is also an alternative shape available that connects to the following tengwa, and it should probably be used instead, to help bridge the gap. The shape used here is really meant for word endings.
  • Silme nuquerna in itself is problematic in the italic font. In the ring inscription, esse nuquerna connects to the preceding tengwa, but there is also the need for a glyph when such a connection can’t be done smoothly, such as here. But I don’t think this glyph works very well; were I to design it today, I would probably draw it with a much smaller opening (cf. DTS 29–32.)
  • The rómen . . . is fine actually. There is nothing I want to change.
  • Here comes one of my pet peeves. Dan Smith provided two sets of nasalizers and consonant doublers: there are the straight bars, and there are the tildes. In the upright Tengwar Annatar, either can favourably be used (though I prefer the tilde), but there is no question that the straight bar is totally out of place in the italic font. Of course, the straight bar is the default in the transcriber I used, but the main fault lies with me, who included the straight glyphs to begin with.
  • The same objection I had about the s-hook in the upright font also applies to the italic font.

To conclude, something like this would be better:

The same text, with other glyphs and manual kerningIdeally, many of the glyphs should be redrawn, but this shows the kind of improvements anyone can achieve by choosing alternative glyphs and applying some manual kerning. For a better result with less fiddling, some kind of smart rendering is needed. The Tengwar Telcontar font was initiated specifically to address these kinds of limitations imposed by the Dan Smith model — ground breaking though as it may have been in the mid ’90s, we can do better today.

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2 Comments »

  1. Melde said

    As a constant but unsophisticated user of Annatar (I would have keyed in the first sentence, except for moving the a-tehta over lambe, and using your -ants group if I was fussy that day), I have to say that the feature that made me an Annatar devotee was the tehtar. Plenty of fonts had nice regular tengwar, and the x-height issues weren’t glaring when mixing with Latin text at the same size was unlikely, but Annatar was the only font with both lovely tengwar and legible tehtar. Parmaite in particular had an e-tehta that vanished into nothingness on the screen at a printing size.

    Thinking of x-height, it’s occurred to me that the same features render Tengwar and Arabic fonts alike illegible at small sizes; low x-heights, reliance on subtle details of opening and closing for letter recognition, and heavy reliance on diacritics. Arabic fonts don’t have to stack quite as many diacritics (no letter can carry more than two, shadda plus one haraka, not counting the diacritical dots integral to the letter), but Tengwar fonts don’t have to cope with the vertical ligatures used for high-quality traditional typography.

    I haven’t seen an Arabic font that handles the resulting small size on the Latin-script-user’s screen and illegibility as well as Tengwar Telcontar does, but you might find some useful features in Arabic fonts like Sakkal Majalla and Arabic Typesetting (non-free fonts that come with Windows 7), SIL’s Arabic fonts under their own license, and the Arabeyes project (especially their efforts to match Arabic and Latin).

  2. I use Annatar constantly for writing in Tengwar. It’s about the only font I use these days (though I just stumbled across Telcontar and am trying to figure it out). I can proudly say that I wouldn’t have made any of those mistakes, except possibly with the s-hook. I like the fancier alternative better, but the former doesn’t bother me too much. Thanks for all the work you’ve done making it possible for guys like me with bad handwriting to still make pretty transcriptions.

    ~Cillendor/Smoore

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