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Topic: The concept of Magic for Tolkien

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Royal Guard of Menegroth - Rank 5
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Date: Aug 8, 2006
The concept of Magic for Tolkien

I once read a very good article about Magic in Middle-Earth. It was not written by JRR or Chris Tolkien, but it did quote heavily from the letters and all of the canon material. I believe it was written by a guy named Michael (as if that narrows it down).

That said, Im interested in hearing your thoughts on Magic in Middle-Earth, as it appeared that the Elves and Ainur had quite a different concept of magic than the other races in Arda.

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Therefore I say that we will go on, and this doom I add: the deeds that we shall do shall be the matter of song until the last days of Arda
Samwise Gamgee - rank 9
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I cannot contribute to what you actually mean but these quote might help others answer:


"And you? ' she said, turning to Sam. 'For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?"
Fellowship of the Ring



 


"'Are these magic cloaks?' asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder.


`I do not know what you mean by that,' answered the leader of the Elves. `They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land. They are elvish robes certainly, if that is what you mean.'"
Fellowship of the Ring



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Witchking of Angmar - Rank 10
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I believe you mean Michael Martinez, and yes his articles are indeed very well written, always based on the books
about magic...this is one subject I really can't talk about in a simple post such as this
the concept of magic in Tolkien's works is so complex that it does indeed take a large article to explain it and analyse it

all I'll add now is that for example Beorn was considered 'Though a skin-changer and no doubt a bit of a magician, Beorn was a Man'.

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Thank you TM. It is Michael Martinez and yes it is a complex topic.

And your quotes are exactly what I was aiming for MoS.

Galadriel expresses her confusion when talking with Sam because for the Elves it would appear that "magic" is simply something natural, therefore they do not call it magic or see it as something "special".

I guess where Im going with this is... if the "Wizards" in Middle-Earth were the Istari, were there other sorcerers among Men? It would seem that the Nazgul qualify, but I am not clear on whether they were sorcerers before or after gaining the Rings of Power.





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Therefore I say that we will go on, and this doom I add: the deeds that we shall do shall be the matter of song until the last days of Arda
Samwise Gamgee - rank 9
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Magic it seems is inaccurate to the Elves. They seem to posses enhances Powers which are natural to Elves but is named 'Magic' to the lesser beings.

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I was trying to locate a resource that details Michael Martinez's article about Magic in Middle-Earth. Unfortunately all I could find were excepts of his work that were used in an old RPG. I'll share those and see where this goes...

"The source of all magic lies in the Flame Imperishable, which is the voice of Ilúvatar. The Flame Imperishable therefore provides the foundation for all things which have an existence or even a will. It is the power of Ilúvatar, his energy source and apparently the source of all that he creates. The Flame Imperishable, as an aspect of Ilúvatar, is the ultimate power in the world: raw, vital, pure, unsullied, subject wholly to His own Will. Therefore only Ilúvatar is capable of creating from the nothingness. All others sub-create within the framework of what is.

Within Arda, magic is a powerful force. Of its use and knowledge, the children of Ilúvatar are endowed in manners that differ greatly. To the Firstborn goes the largest share of knowledge and resources as they are bound to the world and to Valinor. The magic of the elves is innate and so they require no formal teaching or rigorous study, and their might in the wielding of such power grows slowly over the passage of time.

Dwarves, who are the children of Aulë, greatly dislike sorcery. Their might is bound wholly to the crafts of their hands, and so are the things crafted by the dwarves imbued with much power, and highly valued, and they possess a natural resistance to magic.

Men and hobbits, are least in magic, as such is not in their nature. And so those that would learn the arcane arts, do so only at great peril to themselves, mind, body, and soul. Men, however, are ambitious and seek to master forces of the world even at risk to life and limb.

Elves simply possess the natural ability to engage in sub-creation. All the Ainur could do was "sub-create" -- manipulate the creation of Ilúvatar within those bounds he had set through the creation of Eä itself. The Elves possessed a similar faculty though much diminished by comparison, except perhaps in some rare cases. Fëanor, the greatest of the Eldar, rivaled the deeds of the Ainur in some respects, and even aroused envy in Melkor's heart. And Luthien, being half Elf, half Maia, accomplished a considerable stroke against Melkor himself by singing him and all his servants to sleep inside Angband.

Magic to the Elves is divided into Art and Sorcery. Art is the artistic side of sub-creation: Art when the motive is to enhance, preserve, or heal; Sorcery is when its motive is to dominate, control, or destroy. The Elves were capable of utilizing their abilities in both directions, but more often preferred Art to Sorcery. Sorcery might be useful as in Finrod's confrontation with Sauron on the isle of Tol Sirion during the First Age. It might also be the natural expression of the Elvish will as in Fëanor's chaotic pursuit of Melkor. It was never beyond the reach of the Elves, but seldom within their ****nal of preferences."


That's all I could find. The entire article is much longer and much more indepth, but this should give more than enough to discuss. I hope it meets TM's approval.



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Therefore I say that we will go on, and this doom I add: the deeds that we shall do shall be the matter of song until the last days of Arda
Witchking of Angmar - Rank 10
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well, personally I couldn't agree more...
indeed I also agree with the Flame Imperishable beeing considered the source of all magic, something similar to the "tao" in the taoist religion.
all I could perhaps add is that hobbits are probably in some respects more skilled in magic then Men, as they have a very close link to nature, similar to the Elves, enabling them to also use magic, but clearly at a much smaller level.
on the other hand, unlike Men, hobbits do not wish to learn magic, and are content to remain in their own small world, using what powers were given to them
Men, on the other hand, as Mr. Martinez very well observes, risked "mind, body, and soul" in order to learn to master these powers.

and lastly, there is one observation I would like to make
it seems to me that the "magic" power of a race is in directly related to their relation to nature. The close and the more linked a race is with the natural world, the stronger their natural magic is and the easier it is for this race to learn master the powers of the world.

and, as I said I am reffering only to their "natural" or "innate" magic powers, not the those they afterwards learn to master
so in my opinion the reason why the order in magic power is Elves-Hobbits-Men-Dwarves is because some races such as Elves or Hobbits are in much closer contact to nature, while others such as Men or Dwarves are not.

and this fact can be observed not only between different races, but also between different individuals of the same race
let's take for example theee Men of Gondor and the Beornings
as Tolkien says, Beorn was a magician, so he clearly learned to master magic in order to transform himself and to be able to communicate with other animals
why he was able to do this is in my opinion again the fact he was very close to nature
as we see in the description of his hall in The Hobbit he had many animals that ate together with him and he also had many bees...clearly a very close link to nature
on the other a Man of Gondor, such as for example Faramir, could never hope to reach such a level of understanding, at least not in this way
he could however, as his father did, study in order to get greater powers, but in this way he would be artificially enhancing his innate and natural powers

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Magic is always an interesting topic in Tolkien, and I'm glad it was made into a thread.


The quote mos gives with Galadriel is an interesting one, because it gives us the Elven perspective of magic.  When the 'non-magical' beings see something that can't be explained by logic, it has to be 'magic' it has to be something supernatural.  Where the 'magical' beings think nothing too much about it, they're not familiar with the term 'magic,' because to them it can be explained, it's their own innate power.  Take Galadriel again for example, it's her own innate power, there's nothing unexplainable about it, the power is in herself.


Let's take the Istari for example, another name for them could be 'wizards.'  And 'wizards' is a more humanized term.  The 'non-magical' beings see these old men arrive, see them do some fancy spells and call them 'wizards,' or people who possess a magical quality.


So, it's just interesting seeing the definition of 'magic' from the two different perspectives.  From the 'non-magical' Sam perspective, of seeing something unexplainable happen...therefori t must be magical, it must be 'supernatural.'  And then seeing through Galadriel's eyes, a term she doesn't come to mean, because it's not magical to her, it's her own innate power.


Also, the quote sets up a difference between Galadriel's magic and that of Evil's:


 'For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy.'


Galadriel sets up this different between her 'elf-magic' and the 'deceits of the Enemy.'  Though through Sam's eyes, he thinks they're both the same, both are 'magic.'  Where Galadriel sets up a difference between the two.  And if we think about it there is a difference. 


The magic of Galadriel is very true, and very real.  Let's take for instance the Lembas (originally made by Melian) and Galadriel learns from her.  But, the Lembas I would call 'magical,' one small bite and you're filled up.  But, the Lembas are something real and true.  It's not trying to trick you or put you in this false state of mind.  You truely and actually are 'filled' after only eating one bite.  The Mirror of Galadriel, another 'magical' example.  Now the Mirror isn't always going to show you something 100% bulletproof sure to happen, but it wasn't designed to be false and deceiving.  It shows would could possibly happen, what has happened, or what happening.  Eventhough if Galadriel says that it may not come to pass, what is seen in the Mirror, it is a possibility of what might happen, and it's not made to trick anybody, but to show them that depending upon the choices you make, or what you decide after, what you see in this mirror may come true.


Where if we look at the 'Enemie's magic' is it really magic at all?  I don't think Galadriel thinks so, she calls it 'deceitful' and doesn't understand why Sam considers it to be classified with the 'elf-magic.'  And Galadriel I think is right.  The 'enemie's magic' isn't real at all, it puts everyone into this false mindset, and it's actually not real at all.  I think Saruman's Voice is the best example of this.  If we read through the Voice of Saruman, those that fall under this 'spell,' are completely tricked and deceived.  They actually hear and see things that really aren't happening, but that is an effect of the spell, it puts you into this false state of mind:


Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable...When other's spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell.~The Voice of Saruman


The Riders gazed up at Theoden like men startled out of a dream.  Harsh as an old raven's their master's voice sounded in their ears after the musice of Saruman...~ibid


Those under the spell heard things a different way than what was actually happening.  Theodens' voice seemed to them 'harsh' and full of 'hate,' where everything out of Saruman's mouth was reasonable and wise.  It was the effect of the spell, pulling a cover over everyone's eyes so to say. 


Galadriel thinks that Sam lumps together her magic with that of the enemies, and Galadriel points out the difference.  Her magic is from her own innate power and it is real, it's true.  Where those of the enemies spews out falsehood and lies to gain control.


Tying sorcery into this, I would like to point out the Men were also capable of learning 'sorcery' in the form that Michael Martinez's article explains.  Upon receiving their rings, we are told that some of the nazgul became great 'sorcerers' and we know that the Witch-King was one of these.  Also, the Mouth of Sauron had learned the 'Dark magics' from Sauron.  So, Men were also capable of harnessing magic in the form of 'sorcery.'  A form of magic bent on dominating and controlling.



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good post
just wanted to add one small thing
the name Gandalf means "Wand Elf"
so clearly, people that didn't know exactly what Gandalf was, associated him with Elves, because of the similar powers that they had...so it is clear the powers of Elves were at least comparable to those of the Istari

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I thought people associated Gandalf with the Elves becuase Gandalf spent most of his time with them?

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Witchking of Angmar - Rank 10
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that as well, but it could be that also their common "strange" powers made people make this connection

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Regarding this quote:

'For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?"


I think that Galadriel is trying to explain to Sam that the Elves do not conceptualize "magic" the way the other races do, but she is trying to explain things in words that he can comprehend. Since "magic" is a natural ability of both the Eldar and the Ainur, their concept cannot be clearly translated into the Common Tongue.

As Michael Martinez points out the difference is not so much real vs illusion but rather "Art" vs "Sorcery". I also think that motive plays heavily into the Eldar concept of "magic" as evidenced through Galadriel's use of the word 'deceits', as it would seem that Luthien and Saurman both make use of their voices when using "magic" but the intent is different.



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