From Tolkien Gateway

The ñaltalma was an Elven device of communication, used for signalling from afar, reflecting the light of the sun or the clear moon.

History[edit | edit source]

Legends said that the device, as many other such inventions, was invented by Fëanor himself, brought to Middle-earth by the exiled Noldor, and adopted by the Sindar. However it is probably far older, as there is no definite record that it was one of the many things the Sindar learned from the Noldor.[1][note 1]

In the later Ages, the history of its origins, as well as details of its form and usage, have been lost from records.[1]

Characteristics[edit | edit source]

Details about the device's form and usage are lost in history. It can be discerned at least that it evidently was portable (could be carried in pocket or pouch) and had a bright surface to use the light of the Sun or the clear Moon, and direct its flashes to an intended watcher; however the flashes it generated/reflected were not visible by Men (at least from distance).[1]

Etymology[edit | edit source]

Ñaltalma is not glossed, but it is clearly Quenya, containing the element ñalta ("radiance, glittering reflection").

Its Sindarin name was glathralvas ("flashing glass/crystal").[1]

Inspiration[edit | edit source]

J.R.R. Tolkien describes the object as a heliograph, a common communication device in the British Army. As Carl F. Hostetter comments, Tolkien had to be well familiarized with the heliograph, as he trained in military signalling and became Battalion Signalling Officer in 1916, although the own manual of his training described the heliograph as not suitable for Great Britain's atmosphere.[1]

See also[edit | edit source]


  1. This seems to suggest that both the Noldor and the Sindar may have adopted it from a time earlier than Fëanor; eg. the latest during the Great March.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 J.R.R. Tolkien, Carl F. Hostetter (ed.), The Nature of Middle-earth, "Part Three. The World, its Lands, and its Inhabitants: XVI. Galadriel and Celeborn", pp. 353-4, note 9