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I have a Kindle edition of The Hobbit. In the beginning of the book, there's author's notes saying that English in ancient times wasn't perfect. That's fine, then I saw the corrections made on Runes in the book.

Runes certainly weren't created by Tolkien. AFAIK, Runes have been in existence since ancient times and often attached to paranormal things. Looks to me that Tolkien's Middle-Earth series is using the same Runes.

Do I need to learn Runes first in order to fully understand Tolkien's Middle-Earth series (I've emphasized fully)?

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    Runes aren't intrinsically paranormal: they're a writing script for early Germanic languages (Like Anglo-Saxon, one of the many forebears of English). In Tolkein's legendarium, dwarves use runes as their writing script. Although the occasional rune appears in the text, it's always well-explained, so you don't need to learn to read them any more than you need to learn one of Tolkein's elf-scripts Oct 25 '14 at 23:31
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    @JasonBaker This is a good answer. Why don't you post it as an answer? Oct 26 '14 at 6:56
  • @Avner No particular reason, but I have now Oct 26 '14 at 8:15
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    I am so tempted to make up a BS answer in the affirmative and imperative in order to send you and others scurrying for the rune books plus Tolkien on a wild goose chase... but I won't because I am kind and not feeling especially bratty today. ;)
    – Lexible
    Dec 15 '14 at 2:45
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    Now I'm wondering how much Latin I need to learn in order to understand Harry Potter.
    – user14111
    Jun 1 '15 at 4:08
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No. Let's go through them, and prove it1

  • Most printings of all books have tengwar and/or angerthas runes in the header and footer of the inside cover. I find tengwar hard to translate, so I'm not going to try. This fellow did, and according to him they read:

    The Lord of the Rings translated from the Red Book of Westmarch by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Herein is set forth the history of the War of the Ring and the Return of the King as seen by the Hobbits.

The Silmarillion

  • My copy (1999 Harper-Collins paperback) has angerthas runes lining the top of the front and back cover. A quick Google search indicates that not many covers have this, but they're not remotely mission-critical anyway; they translate to:

    kwenta sylmaryllyon dh hystory ov dh sylmaryls

    Or,

    Quenta Silmarillion: The History of the Silmarils

The Children of Húrin

No runes here. Move along.

Unfinished Tales

  • My copy of Unfinished Tales (1999 Harper-Collins paperback) has a line of angerthas runes along the top of the front cover. They translate to:

    unfynysht tales ov nūmenor and myddle earth

    Or:

    Unfinished Tales of Nùmenor and Middle-Earth

    It appears that some other editions have runes that translate to:

    The Lord of the Rings, Translated From the Red Book

    Which is similar to some editions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The Hobbit

  • My copy of "The Hobbit (1995 Harper-Collins paperback) has an arc of what appear to be angerthas Moria runes. Thanks to a translation table I found here, I managed to translate this arc into:

    The Hobbit Or There and Back Again

    • A common cover for The Hobbit (Conversation with Smaug) includes some runes on the jar in the foreground. They're too faint to translate reliably, but they're likely not remarkably important, if they say anything coherent at all. (Thanks to Darth Satan for that one).
  • The inside front cover of my copy has some more Angerthas Moria, reading:

    The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. Being the Record of a Year's Journey Made by Bilbo Baggins of Hobbiton. Compiled from his Memoirs by J.R.R. Tolkien, and Published by George Allen and Unwin Ltd.

    This one might be the key to unravelling the entire mystery of Tolkien's mythology2

  • The reproduction of Thorin's Map has two sections of text:

    • The first, which would have been visible to Thorin & Co, reads:

      Five Feet High the Door and Three May Walk Abreast

      and is initialled "þ. þ.", which may be a reference to Thrór, Thrain, or both. This passage is translated in Chapter 1: "An Unexpected Party"

    • The second are the moon runes read by Elrond. They have horrible grammar (and spelling), but they read:

      Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks and the setting sun with the last light of Durin's Day will shine upon the keyhole

      This is translated (much better) in-text in Chapter 3: "A Short Rest"

  • The foreword has a few runes, including the title ("The Hobbit or There and Back Again"), as well as two short passages, which just repeat the sections from the map

Fellowship of the Ring

  • My copy of all three Lord of the Rings books (1995 Harper-Collins paperback) have an arc of angerthas runes above the title. They translate to:

    dh lord ov dh ryŋs translap3d from dh redbök

    Or,

    The Lord of the Rings, Translated from the Red Book

  • In Book I Chapter 1: "A Long-Expected Party", Gandalf's fireworks are described as being labelled with a G rune, and two examples of G runes from different runic scripts are included in the text

  • In Book I Chapter 2: "The Shadow of the Past", the inscription on the Ring is written in Tengwar characters. I'm not going to bother translating the Tengwar, since Gandalf helpfully does so immediately thereafter:

    One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them
    One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

  • In Book I Chapter 10: "Strider", the letter Gandalf leaves for the Hobbits in Bree is replete with G runes, but they were helpfully explained earlier

  • Book II Chapter 4: "A Journey in the Dark" include a sketch of the inscription on the Door to Moria, including some Tengwar runes. The drawing itself translates these runes into Sindarin:

    Ennyn Durin Atan Moria: pedo mellon a minno. Im Narvi hain echant: Celebrimboro o Eregion teithant i thiw hin

    Gandalf translates in the text as:

    The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria: Speak, friend, and enter. I, Narvi, made them. Celebrimbor of Hollin drew these signs.

  • Chapter 4 also provides a reproduction of the runes on Balin's tomb in Moria. They read:

    Balin
    Fundinul
    Uzbadkazadumu Balinsonovfundinlordovmoria

    The first three lines seem to be Khuzdul, while the last is one run-on sentence reading:

    Balin, son of Fundin, Lord of Moria

    The Khuzdul likely means the same, considering the "Balin", "Fundin", and "Khazaddum" we can make out. In any case, Gandalf translates this in-text

The Two Towers

  • My copy has the same arc of angerthas runes along the top as Fellowship of the Ring, meaning the same

The Return of the King

  • As with Fellowship ad Towers, my copy has the same arc of angerthas along the top

  • Tables of angerthas and tengwar runes are included in Appendix D, but they're just alphabets; no hidden messages

So no, it's not necessary for you to be able to read runes. If you wanted to learn, however, Tolkien helpfully provided a phonetic alphabet: Appendix E.

As a side note, I want to correct your misconception that runes are paranormal. They're not, although in popular culture they're often used to represent Norse (Read: Viking) magic. Runes are an alphabet4 used to represent ancient Germanic languages like Anglo-Saxon. They're no more paranormal than English or Cyrillic, except they're not used any more by anybody except fantasy authors and historians, so they feel mystical.


1 I'm going to assume that you're only wanting to read the more narrative entries in Tolkien's Legendarium, so I'm going to exclude History of Middle-earth

2 Okay, I'm a little bitter that I just spend twenty minutes translated a copyright notice

3 Anyone following along at home, the rune appears to be angerthas rune number 1 in Appendix E, which maps to the Latin character "p". If I've mistranslated, please correct me.

4 Actually many alphabets; there's more than one kind of runes, and the ones Tolkien uses don't fit neatly into any of the categories (Although I'm not an expert on Germanic languages, so I may be wrong)

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    Theres also the Runes on Balins Tomb "Here Lies Balin son of Fundin,Lord of Moria" Oct 26 '14 at 12:58
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    In Conversation with Smaug (frequently used as a cover to the Hobbit) the pot of gold in the foreground has both runes and Feanorian script, but they're hardly essential to the plot.
    – user8719
    Oct 26 '14 at 13:41
  • Regarding ², I think Tolkien invented them from scratch (just as Tengwar), so I don't see how it should fit any category at all. Oct 26 '14 at 17:35
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    @Arturo He may have invented the script, but there are a lot of similarities to existing runic scripts (Granted, that was probably the point). Compare the Moria runes to the various runic alphabets here Oct 26 '14 at 17:45
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No, you don't.

There is no information written in "runes", Elvish, or anything else in The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, or the History of Middle Earth that is not explained or translated in the story.

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No, you don't. The cover designs of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings use runes as written by Tolkien. But they are simple transliterations of modern english words into runic characters

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