Name: Alcarin Tengwar
Type: Open source font
Release year: 2022
Alcarin Tengwar is a Tengwar typeface that is designed to match Brill, the typeface by Tiro Typeworks that is known for scholarly tone, strong OpenType capabilities, the unique way of availability and the resulting popularity among scholars. Sure enough, Édouard Kloczko, a linguist and the client who asked me to make the typeface, was also using Brill in his text materials.
Tengwar is wonderfully sophisticated for a fictional script, unlike Aurebesh in Star Wars or Klingon in Star Trek which tend to be heavily inspired by Latin, if not identical. It was designed to write multiple Middle Earthen and real languages, using advanced diacritical systems; depending on the writing mode, it can behave like more like an alphabet or abjad, and sometimes with lots of diacritics. And even though there is no native speaker/designer to consult, the community around Tolkien’s languages and scripts is pretty large and things are documented well. My most valued volume for this project was Parma Eldalamberon issue 20.
Tengwar is not on Unicode but has an unofficial codepage that is generally agreed upon. However, the script hasn’t been thoroughly studied; Tolkien has left a ton of notes and the estate keeps discovering new materials, meaning that the character set and OpenType support is still a moving target. Mr. Kloczko’s in-depth knowledge on the subject and passionate feedback helped me immensely. One notable omission is the capital letters though.
Perhaps what attracts the regular population to the Tengwar may be its aesthetics; the standard style looks similar to Mediaeval Latin styles like Insular or Carolingian Minuscule, and the famous ring inscription is like Renaissance italic. It resembles what we know (some letters look like Greek or Arabic too), and also looks quite easy to write with a quill. Tolkien was a calligrapher, and left many different styles in all of his scripts, starting with his first Sarati script in the late 1910s. I think it is worth noting that Edward Johnston’s Writing & Illuminating, & Lettering was published in 1906; I cannot help but think that the book had an effect on how Tolkien’s scripts look. The aforementioned Palma Eldalamberon #20 has a ton of his calligraphy works.
There were digital Tengwar typefaces available, but they were either too calligraphic for Brill, or too mechanical and stiff to capture the script’s aesthetics. As with any project for a new script, I practiced calligraphy first. I said the script looks mediaeval and easy to write, especially because of a particular style that looks like Foundational Hand, similar to Telcontar. Using this as a start, set the same ‘x-height’ and stroke thickness, and constructed the letters in a similar drawing style to Brill (not by copying & pasting the elements; that’s not how it works).
It's also the first Tengwar variable font, because why not. It's only in weight axis between Regular and Bold though.
Depending on the language and writing mode, Tengwar can be heavily reliant on diacritics, ligatures, and contextual alternates. So much so that OpenType had been considered incapable of handling the script and SIL’s Graphite was the only realistic option. I wanted to challenge the notion, which is more or less why I agreed to work on it. Here’s some of the unique features:
- Any number or diacritics per letter
- hyarmen (the one that looks like Greek lambda) leans more to the left when it has diacritics above to give enough space.
- romen and arda (the ones that look like lowercase y) similarly alters its shape to accommodate bottom diacritics.
- Lots of special ligatures
- Correct shaping of number notations (dot method, bar method, dot+bar method, duodecimal, and Rumilian)
(As much as I am proud of what the font can do, I wished OpenType could allow setting of fictional typesetting language and script tags.)
Alcarin means brilliant in Quenya, the high-Elvish language. That's a subtle hint at the Brill connection.
In case you missed it, Alcarin Tengwar is available as open source under Open Font License from my Github repository, together with my custom Mac keyboard layout and the manual.
Alcarin Tengwar is not in any official way associated with either Koninklijke Brill NV or Tolkien Estate. It also does not contain any graphical elements of Brill.