71
votes

A cousin of mine recently died in a disastrous accident. Her family discovered a tattoo on her arm, which was completed shortly before. It appears to be written in Elvish (from Lord of the Rings) and they're naturally curious as to what it says.

I've found services to translate English to Elvish, but nothing that can reverse the operation. Is there anyone in the community that could help us to understand what it means, or point me in the right direction? It would mean a lot to the family. Elvish tattoo on forearm

locked by Ana Aug 4 '15 at 19:36

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. See the help center for guidance on writing a good question.

Read more about locked posts here.

  • 2
    Tengwar is not my speciality, but I think the third word from the right is "mother" – Jason Baker Jul 30 '15 at 22:47
  • 10
    @JasonBaker The fact that you even know that much makes you substantially awesome. – Nerrolken Jul 30 '15 at 22:47
  • 33
    On another note: I'm sorry for your loss. – Möoz Jul 31 '15 at 1:15
  • 7
    Indeed - my condolences to you and your family. – Wad Cheber Jul 31 '15 at 1:17
  • 3
    Discussions within the stack exchange community team are ongoing, to determine how to eventually leave this post. They've been engaging and helpful so far and I'll support whatever they eventually decide regardless of my personal preferences. – ExStackChanger Aug 1 '15 at 17:09
119
votes

What is seen in the image means "The world is ahead". The first part is hidden, but it is likely a variation of "Home is behind".1

"Home is behind, the world is ahead in the Tengwar script"

In The Lord of the Rings books

The quote Home is behind, the world ahead was first written in the Lord of the Rings as part of a poem titled A Walking Song. It is sung by Frodo shortly after leaving Hobbiton and encountering the first Black Rider:

They began to hum softly, as hobbits have a way of doing as they walk along, especially when they are drawing near to home at night. With most hobbits it is a supper-song or a bed-song; but these hobbits hummed a walking-song (though not, of course, without any mention of supper and bed). Bilbo Baggins had made the words, to a tune that was as old as the hills, and taught it to Frodo as they walked in the lanes of the Water-valley and talked about Adventure.

  Upon the hearth the fire is red,
  Beneath the roof there is a bed;
  But not yet weary are our feet,
  Still round the corner we may meet
  A sudden tree or standing stone
  That none have seen but we alone.
   Tree and flower and leaf and grass,
   Let them pass! Let them pass!
   Hill and water under sky,
   Pass them by! Pass them by!

  Still round the corner there may wait
  A new road or a secret gate,
  And though we pass them by today,
  Tomorrow we may come this way
  And take the hidden paths that run
  Towards the Moon or to the Sun.
   Apple, thorn, and nut and sloe,
   Let them go! Let them go!
   Sand and stone and pool and dell,
   Fare you well! Fare you well!

  Home is behind, the world ahead,
  And there are many paths to tread
  Through shadows to the edge of night,
  Until the stars are all alight.
  Then world behind and home ahead,
  We’ll wander back to home and bed.
   Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
   Away shall fade! Away shall fade!
   Fire and lamp, and meat and bread,
   And then to bed! And then to bed!

In The Lord of the Rings movies

In the movie adaptation, a notably darker version of the poem titled The Edge of Night is sung by Pippin (played by Billy Boyd) while Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, is eating. It is intercut with scenes of his son Faramir launching a desperate attack on Osgiliath. Boyd wrote the melody and adapted some of the lyrics:

  Home is behind, the world ahead
  And there are many paths to tread
  Through shadow, to the edge of night
  Until the stars are all alight
  
  Mist and shadow
  Cloud and shade
  All shall fade
  All shall fade

In The Hobbit movies

It was also spoken by Gandalf in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first movie of Peter Jackson's trilogy.

You’ll have to manage without pocket-handkerchiefs and a good many other things, Bilbo Baggins, before we reach our journey’s end. You were born to the rolling hills and little rivers of the Shire, but home is now behind you; the world is ahead.

In music

The song heard while Gandalf speaks in The Hobbit is titled The World is Ahead by Howard Shore. It is part of the soundtrack of the film series.

Earlier drafts

These are two other versions of the poem, as found in The History of Middle-Earth (volume 6, The Return of the Shadow). The first draft had this:

After a mile or two they began to hum softly, as hobbits have a way of doing when twilight closes in and the stars come out. With most hobbits it is a bed-song or a supper-song (though not, of course, without any mention of bed and supper). Bilbo Baggins had made the words (the tune was as old as the hills), and taught it to Bingo2 as they walked in the lanes of the Water-valley and talked about Adventure.

  Upon the hearth the fire is red,
  Beneath the roof there is a bed;
  But not yet weary are our feet,
  Still round the corner we may meet
  A sudden tree or standing stone
  That none have seen, but we alone.
  Tree and flower and leaf and grass,
   Let them pass! Let them pass!
  Hill and mater under sky,
   Pass them by! Pass them by!

  Home is behind, the world ahead,
  And there are many paths to tread;
  And round the corner there may wait
  A new road or a secret gate,
  And hidden pathways there may run
  Towards the Moon or to the Sun.
  Apple, thorn, and nut and sloe,
   Let them go! Let them go!
  Sand and stone and pool and dell,
   Fare you well! Fare you well!

  Down hill, up hill walks the way
  From sunrise to the falling day,
  Through shadow to the edge of night,
  Until the stars are all alight;
  Then world behind and home ahead,
  We'll wander back to fire and bed.
  Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
   Away shall fade! Away shall fade!
  Fire and lamp and meat and bread,
   And then to bed! And then to bed!

The second draft changed parts of the last two verses:

  Still round the corner there may wait
  A new road or a secret gate,
  And even if we pass them by,
  We still shall know which way they lie,
  And whether hidden pathways run
  Towards the Moon or to the Sun.
   [Apple, ...]
  
  Home is behind, the world ahead,
  And there are many paths to tread
  Through shadow to the edge of night,
  Until the stars are all alight. [...]

1. Strictly speaking, this is a transcription (writing down the sounds of a language into a script, in this case English to Tengwar), as opposed to a transliteration (converting from one script to another, such as Latin to Tengwar) or a translation (converting the meaning from one language to another). If a native speaker of, let's say, Quenya were to speak this phrase, it would sound like an approximation of English and would be incomprehensible to them.

2. Frodo is named Bingo in early drafts.

(Image from Tengwar Transcriber)

  • 17
    Astounding. Thank you so much to isanae & @JasonBaker for your efforts and answers - so quick too, what a community! I've passed on a link to this page to her brother. This information and story will be interesting to a lot of people that knew and loved her. I will still post a complete image when possible, as verification. Thanks again – ExStackChanger Jul 31 '15 at 6:40
  • Great answer and +1. Could the complete phrase be "The History of Middle-earth is behind you, the world is ahead"? – Wad Cheber Aug 1 '15 at 18:00
  • @isanae - no, I just can't work out what the word before "the world is ahead" is. You know better than I do, so I was wondering if you see any reason to believe that the full quote includes the word "you". – Wad Cheber Aug 1 '15 at 20:57
  • 2
    @WadCheber The last tengwar is a blob, which gives me the impression that it's an ando (looks like an "m"), not an úrë (looks like an "o"). There also seems to be a stem above, but it's too far left to be a tehtar on the úrë (for the "ou" sound of "you"). I'd say it's the italic hyarmen instead (the "h" of "behind"). But hey, I'm not exactly CSI here. However, the only instance of "the world is ahead" is preceded by "home is now behind you", so who knows. That's why I said "a variation of". – isanae Aug 1 '15 at 21:27
  • 1
    @WadCheber Also, I don't know better than you do. I'm mostly googling this stuff. – isanae Aug 1 '15 at 21:29
37
votes

The best I've been able to do is "- the world is -d".

There are five separate words visible in the image, but only four of them are distinct enough to make out the characters.

I'm 100% confident that the second and fourth words are, respectively, "the" and "is". "The" has a special character in Tengwar1:

Tengwar "the"

And "is", phonetically "iz", is fairly easy to determine; it's just the "z" consonant with an "i" tehtar2:

Tengwar "is"

The other words are more of a challenge. I'm about 90% certain the third word is "world":

"World"

Part of what throws me off is that I can't quite make out the first character of the word, so the "w" character is only my best guess. The other thing that throws me is that the tehtar above the word is more stylized than you usually see in Tengwar; the closed loop, in particular, is unusual.

The fifth word I can barely make out at all; the first character doesn't look like any Tengwar character I can find. Is almost looks like an "s" character, but it has some very unusual tehtar if that's the case:

"s"

The last character of the fifth word, however, I'm very confident is a "d":

"d"


1 Images are provided by Tolkien fan Arno Gourdol's Tengwar Transcriber

2 Traditional Tengwar only has characters for consonants; vowels are represented with diacritics, called tehtar, above the next consonant

  • 1
    I'm scratching my head and trying to figure out if "the world is" is part of a phrase from the books. Any idea? – Wad Cheber Jul 31 '15 at 0:32
  • 3
    @WadCheber It's such a generic phrase that it's hard to say, but it doesn't turn up in many particularly quotable excerpts. "The world is changed" or "till the world is mended" (from one of Bombadil's songs) I could perhaps see being tattooed, but the last word doesn't fit either of "changed" or "mended" – Jason Baker Jul 31 '15 at 0:38
  • If it's a consonant modification on top (indicating a preceding nasal) of an "s", that would make the word "-ns-d"... inside? – Random832 Jul 31 '15 at 3:41
  • @IwillnotexistIdonotexist It's definitely not "old"; that would be written as an "ld" character with an "o" tehtar above. The consonant modification theory is interesting, but the modifier is in the wrong place for that to make sense; a nasal preceding an "s" should be represented as two separate characters rather than a modifier, and it's too far left to be modifying the "d" – Jason Baker Jul 31 '15 at 3:49
  • 1
    @JasonBaker I've replaced the image in my answer with one using an italic variant. It seems to match perfectly and has a semi-closed tehtar over the óre. – isanae Jul 31 '15 at 15:41

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.