Stuff We Love: Quenya, the most mystical Tolkien language ever

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Aug 22, 2017

I will never forget the first time I saw The Fellowship of the Ring back in high school.

When Galadriel’s eerie voice echoing through the dark theater, proclaiming in whispers of some lost language that the world had changed, and she could feel it in the very earth, water, and air, so could every mortal around me. Even the popcorn stopped crunching. We were spellbound.

I’d previously seen Tolkien’s mysterious Elvish words work their magic across the pages of The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings in both Quenya and the Common Tongue. Not that I actually understood them, let alone heard the mysterious language spoken by any mortal or immortal being. At the time I had enough issues remembering historical dates and chemical formulas for my midterms to bother with translating a tongue that never existed except in the mythical realm of Middle-Earth. What was this sorcery?

Quenya (which is one of several Elvish languages) emerged from the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien around 1910. It has all the grammatical mechanics of a working language, and draws heavily upon elements of Gaelic, Welsh, Old Norse, and Finnish. I can testify to that last one, after years of rocking out to Finnish metal bands. Screaming guitars aside, if there ever were an ideal way for faeries to talk, this would be it. There is an otherworldly fluidity to it, best captured in this scene, which really goes with the atmosphere.

This is why insulting people in Elvish is so much classier.

Blades and battles aren’t exactly what you’d expect from a language that conjures visions of mithril and misty forests, until you realize that the runic Tengwar script which appears on many of the weapons translates to Quenya. This includes the inscription that blazes down the length of Aragorn’s legendary sword, Andúril:

 

Anar
Nányë Andúril i né Narsil i macil Elendilo.
Lercuvanten i móli Mordórëo.
Isil

"Sun.

I am Andúril who once was Narsil, sword of Elendil.

The slaves of Mordor shall flee from me.

Moon."

Of course, there had to be a mystical reference to the sun and moon, because that’s just what Elves do, but it’s still pretty badass. The name Andúril itself is Quenya for “Flame of the West.” However pretty it is, remember this thing decapitated legions of orcs.

Quenya may be no more real than Valinor, but speaking it also seems to invoke a certain kind of power. "Namárië"? It’s almost an incantation. "Goodbye"? Not so much.

To learn more about this fantastical and haunting language that no one understands, start your quest here.