Scrolls of Middle-Earth

I. Remembering Elrond's Library

The next time you visit Elrond's house take a left turn out from the Meeting Hall, go across the courtyard and find the entrance to the scriptorium. It is the place where Master Bilbo could be found when he wished to research particular aspects of Middle-Earth lore. In this place, Elrond's library, I would spend hours reading the stories of the First and Second Ages. Practicing patience until I was old enough to take down the most ancient of the scrolls. I untied the thongs and peeled back the cover. Then with the musty fragrance of aged leather and crinkly paper tickling my attention, I began reading about the ancient heroes and heroines of Beleriand.

It has been over 30 years since I imagined those days in Rivendell reading the scrolls of Gondolin, Beren One-Hand and the Great Jewel, Feanor, and others. I longed to have such stories of the First Age - as hinted at by the appendices in The Return of the King - but they weren't published until many years later. I wanted to create that sense of grandeur, of discover, of my mind rising up above the landscape and looking back across time to experience the magical days of the First Age in Middle-Earth.

In the last couple of years I have achieved that dream. I have created scrolls of two of the ancient tales concerning the hidden city of Gondolin. It is a tale in two parts:

  1. Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin
  2. The Fall of Gondolin
I describe herein the scrolls and their making including the physical structure, the motivating forces, and the sources for the story material. At present I am working on an new scroll about the Tale of Beren and Luthien and the Silmaril Quest.

II. Description of the Scroll

A. The Components

Physically, a scroll is composed of parchment-style paper mounted on wooden dowel rods caps affixed at each end. The scroll is encased in a suede leather sheet of standard paper size. There are several holes punched in the suede to hold a leather thong that ties the scroll shut when stored. The holes in the casing have white grommets to add cache.

The end caps are an acorn shape available from the local hobby or craft store. The 1.5 inch diameter dowel rods are also available there and are cut to 9.25 inch length. The end caps are glued on each end using standard wood glue. The page is attached to a dowel rod using rubber cement and wood glue. The page is glued so one layer of paper is affixed to the dowel rod, using rubber cement, then a seam of wood glue is placed along the length of the dowel rod to create a stronger seal. This strengthens the "joint" of the paper to the dowel rod in case it is dropped and the paper is accidently unrolled too fast. Each page of the scroll is glued to its neighbor pages using standard rubber cement. The page-to-page "joints" need to be flexible and not crack when dry because the paper will be unrolled and rolled repeatedly.

B. The Page Layout

The story is scanned into a word processor, edited, and then formatted for two column, landscape view. The TrueType font is Lucida Calligraphy Italic using Microsoft Word 97 and later, Powerpoint 97. I imported appropriate pictures as bitmapped files scanned from my collection of books and calendars. Other decorative images are from clip-art libraries. I used the clip art images to separate section breaks within a story. For example, I placed a thorn bush image at the end of sections and a stylized fish image just before the section where Ulmo appears to Tuor in Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin.

There are borders on the top and bottom along the length of the scrolls. They serve a dual purpose. First they add "flavor" as a decorative border. The script of the text contained in the borders is a version of the Elvish script from the appendices in The Return of the King. The initial visual effect is of decoration because it is not a generally recognzable font. I created a TrueType font several years ago using CorelDraw 4.0. I named the font Lothlorian. It is a simple letter by letter substitution of an Elvish character for an English equivalent. I formatted the "border stories" so they matched the total number of pages of the main scroll story. Finally, at the beginning and the end I added an additional page that contains the entire alphabet and numbers 0 to 9 in each border - one in Lothlorian and the other in English. The observant reader will figure out how to "decode" the borders given these hints.

Second, the borders provide additional story material enhancing the main text of the scroll. I compiled short story lines from several sections of The Silmarillion that describe ancillary events that pertain to the main characters. The text of the borders adds background by describing certain events prior to the main story and adds some additional depth to the main characters.

A few general comments about the construction of the Lothlorian font:

  • 26 characters for a direct letter-by-letter substitution for the English alphabet.
  • Vowels all have the same "root" of a vertical line resembling a lower case "i". Each vowel has its own additional symbol above the root. These are partially derived from Bilbo's script wherein vowels were diacritical marks made above a line of text composed only of consonants or consonant combinations. I somewhat rationalized specific symbols as follows: connect the three dots in the "a" and you get a sort-of "a" shape; the "i" is one dot; and the curl for the "o" resembles that vowel in English.
  • There are no consonant combinations. All are single sounds as in English. I made the font with typing on a computer in mind and I wished to avoid multiple keystroke combinations.
  • I tried to match up known symbols as already specified in the Tolkien stories. So the symbol for "g" was easy to decide. It was on the fireworks at Bilbo's party as the mark of their manufacturer, Gandalf. Then I tried to match up symbols for single consonant sounds as provided in the appendix to The Return of the King. Finally I made adjustments but tried to stay within the bounds set by Professor J.R.R. Tolkien to use similar symbols for similar sounds as made by the shape of the human mouth and tongue.

The two original scrolls did not have borders. Borders did not occur to me until some months after I made the first versions in late 1999. When I experimented with headers and footers though I could not get the proper effect using Microsoft Word 97. Any header or footer I made on the first page was automatically reproduced on all pages in the document. I may have been able to achieve the desired effect of a unique line of text on each page using the section breaks, but I had already used those to switch between the two column layout of the text and pictures. So rather than edit my original and potentially lose the formatting, I copied the main text and graphics over to Powerpoint 97. I then added separate text boxes for the header and footer on each slide to obtain the borders.

C. The Story Sequence
The sequence of reading the scroll is:
  1. The Alphabet page which is a blank page with borders of the alphabet in Lothlorian and English.
  2. The Title page, with the beginnings of each border story. The border stories continue until the last page of the main text.
  3. An Introduction page with a brief summary of some major event leading up to the present main story of the scroll. In the case of
    1. Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin the opening synopsis describes the final retreat from the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Huor and Hurin (Tuor's father and uncle) and the men of Dor-lomin guarded the Fens of Serech with their lives while Turgon and the Gondothlim retreated back to their hidden city.
    2. The Fall of Gondolin the synopsis is composed of the last 3 paragraphs or so from Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin.
  4. The Main Story begins and continues for about 60 pages. It is composed of text interspaced with pictures from professional artists.
  5. The Alphabet page again.

D. The Storage Chest

To complete the ensemble, my son is decorating a wooden box with "illuminations" similar to the Celtic Book of Kells. The box will hold the scrolls and any other Tolkien "artifacts".

III. Motivation for Making the Scrolls

...The child unties the thong, peels back the enclosing
leather, unrolls the scroll to reveal the story
and a stunning painting of ancient
Middle-Earth all the while
breathlessly sighing

I made the two scrolls, Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin and The Fall of Gondolin in the Fall of 1999. It was the realization of several forces ranging back 20 years or so. I first thought of making scrolls while I was employed as a 6th grade elementary teacher in 1980. Roman history was part of the curriculum and a set of scrolls would greatly enhance the children's learning experience. Unfortunately, I am not an artist nor calligrapher so I could not figure out a way to make scrolls without a lot of monkish copying. I did not have the time nor the patience, though I did have a set of great Latin language primer books for material. I also thought that someday I would make a room in my house for a library and one part would contain scrolls. I imagined the wonder of strolling through the ancient Alexandrian library spending days reading the scrolls in its collections. An experience I might be able to re-create in my own house - someday.

Years later in 1993, the notion of scrolls occurred again to me. I was looking at my copy of Tolkien's World, Paintings of Middle-earth. I saw a picture by Mr. John Howe of the Fall of Gondolin and thought that a scroll of the ancient tales of Gondolin - with great artwork like this - would be "kewl"! Personal computers were available, but the IBM compatibles did not have the desktop publishing features of the Macs. So I placed the idea in storage again.

In 1999 another motivating force brought the scroll idea to the forefront again. My wife's cousin home-schools her children and asked for some curriculum aids for The Hobbit. I had once been a school teacher, so I should be able to drum up some interesting tools to excite the kids.

I perused The Hobbit contemplating the type of learning aids to make. I recalled the scroll idea for the Gondolin tales when I read these lines from Elrond's consultation about the troll swords.

"...Elrond looked at the swords they had brought from the troll's lair,
and he said: 'These are not troll-make. They are old swords, very old
swords of the High Elves of the West, my kin. They were made in Gondolin
for the Goblin-wars...' "

The final whack upside my head was Mr. Ted Nasmith's picture of Tuor Overlooking Gondolin. I was dumbstruck by the grandeur of the scene with the detail of the city and the mountain-scape. That picture captures the sense of looking back through time to relive the epic tale of the hidden city of Gondolin.

By 1999 even the IBM compatible PCs had desktop publishing software, scanners, and decent color printers with near photographic quality. If you can not afford to own these tools then Kinkos or your local copy center provides access for a fee. That is where I scanned the material for the first scroll. Though when I was done, the cost was enough for me to have purchased a scanner outright. So do some cost planning before you plunge into a project like this.

IV. Sources for the Scroll Stories.

The editing of the content for the scroll was a lengthy process. There are multiple versions of the First and Second Age stories. Professor Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien's son, edited his father's papers and published twelve volumes entitled The History of Middle-Earth. It took over 20 years to compile and publish those books. A note of caution for the average reader is warranted here. These books are structured to compare and contrast the development of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth stories. The books contain multiple versions of the stories. They are presented as a study in the development of Middle-Earth rather than a narrative tale like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. They are a rich source of material for making scrolls, but you have to wade through alot of commentary to piece together a complete tale.

Detailed discussions of how I selected and edited the two Gondolin tales and then the Beren and Luthien tale are found in

V. Special Thanks to the Professional Artists.

The "wow" characteristic for me is the combination of the professional art, the story, and the physical scroll form. The scrolls would be less "kewl" without the wonderful work of the professional artists.

I honor the copyright laws by making these scrolls from published works I have purchased and only use the scrolls for private, family consumption. I do not sell or otherwise make any money from them. They are an investment of time and joy. I only give them to family members for holidays, or in the case of my wife's cousin, as a loan of educational learning tools.

Please buy the artwork so the professional artists can make a living and create more paintings. I will never come close to making the images they envision. Without the eye-popping art these scrolls would be just a fancy wish still collecting dust in my imagination. Honor the artists by purchasing their works. Then, they can devote more time to making portraits of Middle-Earth to inspire the rest of us.

VI. Conclusion

If you are so inclined, I encourage you to round out your own collection of Tolkien lore with a scroll or two. I am by no means an artist or even a craftsman, but if I can do this, you can too. There is a sense of pride that accompanies the creation of a scroll - or other artifact of Middle-Earth.

The next time you are in the Meeting Hall at the Last Homely House of Elrond in Rivendell, stroll over to the group gathered around a storyteller. They are listening to the ancient tales of Middle-Earth read to them from a scroll. Bring along your favorite scroll and take a turn sharing the First Age stories you enjoy.


  1. The Hobbit, page 62.


  1. Day, David, Tolkien The Illustrated Encyclopedia, MacMillian, New York, 1991.
  2. Fonstad, Karen Wynn, The Atlas of Middle-Earth, revised edition, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1991.
  3. HarperCollins, Tolkien's World Paintings of Middle-Earth, HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1992.
  4. Nasmith, Ted, Tolkien Calendar 2000, HarperEntertainment, New York, 1999.
  5. Tolkien, JRR, The Hobbit, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1966, third printing, Green boxed hardcover edition.
  6. - , The Return of the King, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1965, Second Edition.
  7. - , The Silmarillion, edited by Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1977.
  8. - , Unfinished Tales, edited by Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1980.
  9. - , The Book of Lost Tales Part 1, edited by Christopher Tolkien, Ballantine Books, New York, 1983.
  10. - , The Book of Lost Tales Part 2, edited by Christopher Tolkien, Ballantine Books, New York, 1984.
  11. - , The Lays of Beleriand, edited by Christopher Tolkien, Ballantine Books, New York, 1985.
  12. - , The Shaping of Middle-Earth, edited by Christopher Tolkien, Ballantine Books, New York, 1986.
  13. - , The Lost Road, edited by Christopher Tolkien, Ballantine Books, New York, 1987.

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