Copied from this answer, as I don't have an English copy of LotR:

Already the writing upon it, which at first was as clear as red flame, fadeth and is now only barely to be read. It is fashioned in an elven-script of Eregion, for they have no letters in Mordor for such subtle work; but the language is unknown to me. I deem it to be a tongue of the Black Land, since it is foul and uncouth. What evil it saith I do not know; but I trace here a copy of it, lest it fade beyond recall.

As the ring was fashioned, at least in the films:

Picture of the One Ring from the LotR films

In the case where somebody does not understand what has been written, it would IMO be rather difficult to transcribe it in the correct order and not begin in the middle. So, did Isildur begin the trace at the start of the sentence or in the middle? If he started in the correct order, how did he do that, are there any indications on the ring on where the phrase begins and ends?

To address Paul D. Waite's comment, I link the image of the text I got from lotr.fandom.com:

Inscription on the ring

On that image, which has no official value (AFAIK), there are two identical size gaps.

For reference, here is a phonetic transcription into Latin characters of the text pictured above:

Ash nazg durbatulûk

Ash nazg gimbatul

Ash nazg thrakatulûk

Agh burzum-ishi krimpatul

The Lord of the Rings, Book II, Chapter 2

  • 2
    I mean, there’s a big-ass gap right there in your picture. That’s probably the start and end. Feb 8, 2022 at 13:12
  • 5
    Isildur did not understand the language, but it was written in an elven script, and may have followed similar rules to writing elven languages. Feb 8, 2022 at 13:13
  • 1
    @PaulD.Waite Added a specification according to your comment. Also, that would've been the wrong gap: static.wikia.nocookie.net/lotr/images/2/23/…
    – Shade
    Feb 8, 2022 at 13:36
  • 1
    Does it matter? As soon as someone who knew the language read it, that would be able to figure out where the correct start and end were from context. Imagine: “them all and in the darkness bind them one ring to rule them all one ring to find them one ring to bring”. The rhyme doesn’t hurt either. Feb 8, 2022 at 14:37
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    @ToddWilcox It doesn't matter in the great scheme of things for LotR, no. But I started wondering and this is for me the go-to site if I start wondering about something SciFi / Fantasy related.
    – Shade
    Feb 8, 2022 at 14:41

2 Answers 2


A drawing made by JRRT himself for the cover of "The Fellowship of the Ring" shows the ring inscription written on a circle, with:

  • a larger space separating the end from the beginning
  • double circles similar to ":" both at the beginning and at the end
  • some wavy lines marking the beginning and the end of the ring verses.

With these features, it's impossible to copy the text starting at an incorrect position, even with no knowledge of the language or the characters.
Note that, while the larger space and the red lines could be considered not being a part of the inscription proper (just like the Three Rings or the eye of Sauron), the dots are clearly an element of the writing, as a single ":" separates the verses.

cover drawing with the ring inscription

The wavy lines are used in most editions of the book too, when the ring inscription is reported in the text (Book 1, Chapter 2, "The Shadow of the Past"), but they are before and after the first half of the inscription, maybe for simmetry.
In that case it would be possible to copy the ring inscription in a wrong way, with the second half before the first. Still, one could argue that the decorative characters denote a part with higher importance, so that section should be considered the first one.

ring inscription in the book

  • I don't have the volume of HOME covering the first part of "The Lord of the Rings", so I cannot say whether it gives any info about how the ring inscription in Book 1, Chapter 2 came into its final form.
    – lfurini
    Feb 8, 2022 at 20:07

In addition to the physical presentation as noted in @Ifurini's answer...

Given that three of the clauses begin with the same sequence of letters, I think one could argue that Isildur simply recognized a common rhetorical device at work even in a language he did not understand. There are many examples in public speaking where the speaker uses an initial (or interior) motif three times in a row to set up, then changes it in the fourth clause.

One simple example in English:

You better watch out,
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why

Or non-initially (with "I did not speak out"), Martin Niemöller's famous quotation:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

One could reasonably guess that the three clauses with the same initial letters and structure were the setup for the remaining clause.

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