The Runes are fascinating because there are two stories of their origin, one in etymology and one in mythology. While I will cover them both eventually, I'd like to write about the latter first, because the origin of the Runes is a fascinating story in Norse mythology.
You see, Odin, the chief of the Norse gods, is responsible for getting the Runes. This story is part of the Poetic Edda, thus occurs in the form of a poem originally. The beginning of the poem has Odin hanging from Yggdrasil, which is Norse mythology's world tree. He hangs there for nine days and nights without food or drink, pierced by a spear, a sacrifice to Odin, himself to himself.
Looking downwards, he spies the Runes. He seizes them, then falls to the ground. This is where the short version of this story usually ends, but there are two points I'd like to make here. First, although Odin grabs the Runes, I have found no consistency in where they were sitting before he grabbed them. This may be due to my own shortcoming from having to rely on English translations of the story, but certainly something I will continue to research to get a definitive answer. Second, what happens next, after Odin has the Runes, strikes me as being equally noteworthy to his time hanging in sacrifice on the tree. I consider this the long or complete version of the story. Here again, there is no consistency in the translations.
What is clear in this long version, however, is that the Runes are more than letters. Two verses after Odin grabs the Runes, he grows in wisdom and insight. In the next verse, there is a suggestions that you must find the right Rune for you, that Runes are great, powerful magic.
I wish I understood these verses better than I do, but I promise to research it more and let you know what I find out. If you know this story and have something to share, please add a comment to this post and, if possible, please reference your source of knowledge. Otherwise, look for more "Runes 101" posts soon.