The history of Tengwar-Gandalf

The classic font Tengwar-Gandalf by Michael S. Elliott has no official web site – being originally released through BBS! It is however available all over the web, on various Tolkien fan sites (here, here, and here, to name just a few), as well as on most generic font sites. At all of these places, the font has been repacked: sometimes the archive contains only the TrueType font file, sometimes the original plain text documentation is included but not the illustrated one, and sometimes other files are added as well: for example, this archive contains converted font files in Type1 format. Thankfully, the original TTF file seems to be byte for byte identical in all distributions.

Example of Tengwar-Gandalf v. 1In my quest for a more original release, the closest I have come is this SIT-archive, which in addition to the same old TrueType font file also contains the illustrated documentation file and a Type1 version of the font, containing an extra glyph (the s-hook) – in other words, it is not a mere conversion of the TrueType file. The files in this archive are dated May 1993. Now, because SIT-archives are cumbersome to open, and because old Mac fonts need to be extracted to be usable on other operating systems, I have prepared an updated package of the font:

This version of the font is well known for its reversed lambe. The simple explanation for this somewhat curious shape is that it is a copy of the “T” in the public domain font Black Chancery. (In the same way, the rómen is a slightly modified “y”.) What is less known is that Mr. Elliott shortly after the original publication released an updated second version which features many improvements, such as refined u and o-curls, an extended character set including all the tengwar in the Appendix table, and a corrected lambe. This updated version can still be found to this date on various obscure sites and archives, but unfortunately it seems like it has never managed to reach a larger audience. (I for one had never heard about it.)

Example of Tengwar-Gandalf v. 2Now, more than 16 years after the original release, Mr. Elliott has generously provided me with the original archives, as published on a “BBS on CD” disc, and I have then extracted the font files and converted the illustrated documentation to PDF, to make it easier to read on modern computers:

There are still some characters missing compared to contemporary fonts, but version 2 is a huge improvement from the original and most common version, and it certainly deserves to be better known.

The tale could end here, but it turns out that there is yet another version of Tengwar-Gandalf. Supposedly around 1995 a certain Mr. Salamandir updated Tengwar-Gandalf version 1, in effect duplicating much of Elliott’s later additions, but also making further improvements not found in Tengwar-Gandalf v. 2. It can be noted that in the documentation for the font, Salamandir acknowledges that he had seen Tengwar-Gandalf, but claims that he worked from scratch when developing his font, despite the fact that many of the characters are obviously identical to those of Tengwar-Gandalf. Anyhow, this updated font, originally called Tengwar Medium, later Tengwar Sindarinwa, was published in 2002 and was available for a couple of years as downloadable shareware at Hybrid Elephant. (As from 2006, the font files are not possible to download, but offered for sale only; however, the old version of the site, as well as the font files, are stored at the Internet Archive. Update Feb. 2, 2010: The archived site has been blocked, at the request of Mr. Salamandir.)

The picture below shows the development of the two characters that originated in Black Chancery, lambe and rómen. The tengwar alda and arda were not included in the first version of Tengwar-Gandalf, and hence those in Tengwar-Gandalf v. 2 and Tengwar Sindarinwa were created independently from each other.

Comparision of Black Chancery, Tengwar-Gandalf, and Tengwar Sindarinwa

Then, in a bizarre turn of events, Salamandir is now accusing Elliott of plagiarizing his work. Tengwar Sindarinwa, he says, was originally designed in the 1970s and digitized in the mid ′80s (though not finished until 1995). Elliott must evidently have seen a preliminary version, and then copied it and released it as his own font. Or so Mr. Salamandir claims. For the full story, see the comments to one of my previous posts, as well as a blog post of his and its follow-up. From all that I have seen, he has no foundation at all for his allegations, which are inconsistent in several aspects and demonstrably false in others. Nevertheless, I want to thank Mr. Salamandir for bringing up this issue: If it weren’t for his attempt at muddying the waters, I would not have gotten in touch with Mr. Elliott, and would consequently not have found out about Tengwar-Gandalf version 2.



  1. Måns said

    Johan, thanks! A very interesting post as always. Looking at the different versions of <rómen>/<lambe>/<arda>/<alda>, it strikes me that no one font looks best: all the fonts has some glyph that is better drawn than the corresponding glyphs in the others. To me, Sindarinwa has the best <lambe>, whereas <arda> and <alda> look best in Gandalf v.2. And for <rómen> I actually prefer the original shape in Black Chancery.

    • Johan Winge said

      Yes, I tend to agree: an ideal version of the font would probably need elements from all the extant variants.

      PS. I edited your original post, fixing the problems with < and >. You can use html in the comments, but that makes it cumbersome to write actual less than/greater than signs, of course: &lt; and &gt;

  2. Actually, the only reason that I changed the romen to the longer shape was so that it would nest into other characters as it was written, sort of like a ligature. So if you type romen and then, say, tinco or parma, the glyphs combine into one glyph.

  3. Referring to version 2, of course 🙂

  4. MiMaS said

    Mr. Salamandir is mailing my host provider claiming that keeping the font on is illegal. In fact I can read in the readme.txt that “You are free to redistribute this font as long as you let me know, and as long as you include this notice.”, but he claims “I have changed my mind”… :-/
    Tengwar Sindarinwa font is not worth fighting for it, so… will be probably soon removed from my site.

    • Michael said

      No, it’s not 😉

  5. Your Tengwar Gandalf files are giving 404-Errors.

    • Johan Winge said

      Oh, yes, you are right! I have updated the links to the zip archives now. Thank you!

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