I just caught my housemates watching The Lord of The Rings. At the scene where the Fellowship enters the Mines of Moria, the writing on the entrance is in Elvish, despite this being a Dwarvish city.

Why is that? I know my housemate said somewhere it's mentioned that the Elves and Dwarves were friends, but why not make your own door?

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    Lol, "caught my housemates watching..." I like to imagine they quickly shut the computer, and when you asked what they're watching, they said it's porn! – Möoz Sep 19 '16 at 22:58
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    Well the Dwarves did indeed make the doors, just not the writing on them. Part of the writing on the doors says "I, Narvi, made them. Celebrimbor of Hollin drew these signs." – Blackwood Sep 20 '16 at 2:22
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    @Mooz Apparently the Dwarves are as bad as the rest of us at changing regularly passwords. – Blackwood Sep 20 '16 at 2:23
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    @Blackwood unfortunately they relied on a hard-coded encryption algorithm that had a backdoor, on which the passphrase was visible. – Ber Nov 24 '16 at 4:03
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    Duplicate on movies: movies.stackexchange.com/q/1442/574 – Liath Nov 14 '17 at 16:46

I don't know if Tolkien ever explicitly answers this question, but it's actually a lot more reasonable than it sounds. When they were made, the doors marked the boundary between the dwarvish settlement of Khazad-dûm (Moria) and the elvish settlement of Eregion, so it'd be just as natural for it to be in either language. Additionally:

  • Though the doors were constructed by a dwarf (Narvi), the inscriptions on them were written by an elf (Celebrimbor).
  • The dwarven language is secret, so they wouldn't be inclined to write it in a public place. When the dwarves and elves interacted, they would have done so in the elves' language.
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    Celebrimbor was also mad gifted at crafting and inscribing, it makes sense that he'd do it in a language he understands (if that IS the only language he does) – Premier Bromanov Jan 28 '15 at 21:31

@StuWilson and @Micah gave you the in-universe explanation, but I wanted to add an external, narrative reason. One of Tolkien's main themes in LotR and the Third Age was the estrangement of peoples from each other.

With the Last Alliance, the united front of Men and Elves in the end of the Second Age, marking the beginning of the Third Age, the age of suspicion. Elves retreated into their forests and strongholds, Dwarves into their mountains, and Men became suspicious of all the strange folk.

Thus, the friendship of the Dwarves of Moria and the Elves of Eregion, and especially the cooperation between the smiths and crafters of both kingdoms, was a major feature of the pre-Third Age (relative) bliss and harmony between the races.

Incidentally, one of the most vilified elements introduced by Peter Jackson in the LotR movies, the coming of the Elves to the aid of Helm's Deep, is actually a lovely homage, in my opinion, to Tolkien's underlying themes. The plot of LotR and the closing of the Third Age depict a reversal of the policies of isolationism and estrangement. Aragorn, taught by and living with the Elves for decades, becomes King of Gondor and takes an (humanized) Elf for a wife, thus bringing the two races closer together - or at least what remains of the Elves in Middle Earth. Gimli and Legolas also become fast friends, with Legolas appreciating the beauty of the Glittering Caves of Aglarond, and Gimli willing to concede the beauty of Fangorn. This is also symbolic of the bringing together that Tolkien tried to express. This is why I do not object to Jackson's creative liberty with the forces of Lorien coming to the aid of the Rohirrim: it's there to express exactly that sentiment.

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    Love this answer :) – Andres F. May 21 '12 at 0:39
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    Should be on a Best Of list somewhere – New Alexandria May 24 '19 at 13:57

If I remember my Silmarillion correctly, the history of Moria has both Elves and Dwarves living in there prior to events taking place in the Fellowship of the Ring.

The gate that they pass through was originally created for the Elves living in Moria to pass outside to the Elven lands close by. Although the Dwarves manufactured the gate, since it was primarily used by the Elves, the spell was cast upon it by the Elves.

Hence the words to open the gates were in Elvish.

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During the Second Age, the Dwarves of Moria and the Elves of Eregion were close friends.

‘Well, here we are at last!’ said Gandalf. ‘Here the Elvenway from Hollin ended. Holly was the token of the people of that land, and they planted it here to mark the end of their domain; for the West-door was made chiefly for their use in their traffic with the Lords of Moria. Those were happier days, when there was still close friendship at times between folk of different race, even between Dwarves and Elves.’

The Lord of the Rings: Book II, Chapter 4 - A Journey in the Dark

The riddle in of itself was symbolizing the friendship that the Dwarves and Elves of that area had at the time.

On a further note, the doors (at the times where Eregion and Moria prospered and were inhabited) were open and merely a guard would be stationed. As Gandalf stated in the book when they were at the gates of Moria:

These doors have no key. In the days of Durin they were not secret. They usually stood open and doorwards sat here. But if they were shut, any who knew the opening word could speak it and pass in.

The Lord of the Rings: Book II, Chapter 4 - A Journey in the Dark

At the time of its creation I doubt that any Dwarves would think that they would need a defense against the Elves, but if the doors were closed for times of war, then a true friend, as the Elves were at that time, would be able to enter.

The riddle would have been extremely easy for the quick mind of an Elf of that time to figure out if they hadn't have known already.

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  • I like this answer, and took the liberty of adding a couple of quotes from the book. I you don't like the change, please feel free to roll back the edit. – Blackwood Sep 20 '16 at 2:13

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