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Old 07-09-2009, 10:47 AM   #1
mormegil
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Source of Magic

I am rereading, or listening to rather, the Fellowship on disc and a question has occurred to me I know not the answer.

What is the source of the magical power that Gandalf, Saruman, Radghast, Galadriel,Durin's Bane, Saruon and other possess? What can they do and how? We know Gandalf worked some lightning or some magic on Weathertop against the wraiths. He performed a sealing or locking spell on the door in the chamber of Marzbul, the lighting of the way by his staff. The balrog does a countr-spell against him at the door and it leaves him weary.

What 'magical' powers do each possess, how do they come across it and what is the power source of this magic?

Another example I just thought of is the girdle of Melian. Obviously most of the beings are maiar but not all, i.e. Galadriel and her mirror.
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Old 07-09-2009, 11:04 AM   #2
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The seemingly supernatural (to those not of their order) abililties of the Valar and the Maia can only be explained by the fact that they are 'divine' beings, and as such have a power over the substance of Arda that allows them to do things that seem to transcend natural laws in ME. The ultimate source of that power could only be their Creator.
The powers they possess appear to be fairly generalized in that they don't seem to be limited to any particular expression. The Istari may be exceptions to this, however. Gandalf does make this interesting comment:

Quote:
Radagast is, of course, a worthy Wizard, a master of shapes and changes of hue.
FOTR The Council of Elrond

That would seem to say that each of the Istari might have a specialty of sorts. This is borne out by the fact that Gandalf's overt uses of his powers seem to mostly involve fire and explosions.
As for the Mirror of Galadriel, I have no idea how it works, or indeed who made it. But Galadriel was one of the Noldor, who made a few marvellous things in their time. Perhaps the Mirrior used some of the same arts as the Palantíri, as its workings appear to be somewhat similar: showing a concentrating viewer visions of persons and events past, present, and possibly the future.
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Old 07-09-2009, 11:20 AM   #3
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Not just the Maia and Wizards and Ringbearers

The Elves were considered by men to be magical beings though the Elves seemed not to understand what men or hobbits meant by 'magic.'

The Elf blades that glowed in the presense of evil would be an example of their power as well as the special powers endowed to some weapons over most arms. Perhaps the Elves who saw the Light of the Trees in Aman were endowed with special powers that seemed magical to others. The Dark Elves seemed not to have this though the Dark Elf Eol must have learned something that allowed him to enpower the two black blades he forged, one of which was Glaurang's Bane.
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Old 07-09-2009, 11:21 AM   #4
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There is of course another source of magic, The Mouth of Sauron was said to have been a Sorcerer and so was The Witch-king in human form, this implies that even mortal men could learn magic. The dwarves seemingly had access to magic:

The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells
.

The source of Magic?
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Old 07-09-2009, 11:27 AM   #5
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This is an old post of mine, speculating on the kinds of magic in Middle-earth...
Quote:
Quote:
Gimli took his arm & helped him down to a seat on the step. 'What happened away up there at the door?' he asked. 'Did you meet the beaterof drums?'
'I do not know,' answered Gandalf. 'But I found myself faced by something that I have not met before.I could think of nothing to do but to try & put a shutting spell on the door. I know many; but to do things of that kind rightly takes time, & even then the door can be broken by strength...
Then something came into the chamber- I felt it through the door, & the orcs themselves were afraid & fell silent.It laid hold of the iron ring, & then it percieved me & my spell.
What it was I cannot guess, but I have never felt such a challenge.The counter spell was terrible. It nearly broke me. For an instant the door left my control & began to open.I had to speak a word of Command. That proved too great a strain. The door broke in pieces.'
This is interesting, as it seems to show two kinds of magic at work - spell-casting, & the word of Command. It seems that casting spells is easier than speaking a word of Command. It appears the latter is reserved for extreme circumstances.

Spellcasting appears to work by a kind of 'hypnosis' - not simply hypnosis of people, but a kind of hypnosis of reality itself. Gandalf seems to have 'hypnotised' the door into being locked, by casting a 'spell' - sort of 'telling it a new story' - in the 'old' story it was unlocked (unlockable). Gandalf tells a new 'story', in which it is locked. Then the Balrog comes, & casts a counter spell, tells a new 'story' in which it is not locked. Gandalf & the Balrog contend - as do Finrod & Sauron, & the most powerful magician (ie the 'best', most convincing storyteller) wins out & takes control of 'reality' - from that point the world story carries on, including the changes the storyteller has made.

This is not original, actually - we find this kind of wizardly conflict in The Mabinogion, The Kalevala, The Eddas, etc.

But we also have something different here - the Word of Command. Here we move away from the 'story' that seeks to convince both other minds & the physical matter of Arda to something else, a different kind of power - one that does not attempt to convince but to coerce. Gandalf attempts to Command the world to change rather than persuade it to.

In effect, in the first kind of magic we have the wizard still 'within' the world, trying to convince reality to alter, in the second kind its as if he steps outside the world, & force it to change into something else. Clearly in this case Gandalf is not up to the task, or not used to this way of working, because the door, rather than obeying his Command, simply explodes.

I think this maybe sheds some light on his two confrontations with Saruman - both begin with 'spellcasting' - both wizards attempt to 'persuade' the other into adopting their particular view of 'reality', but then the confrontations move on - in the first it appears it is Saruman who speaks the word of Command - he commands Gandalf to stay in Orthanc - in the second it is Gandalf who speaks the word of Command - Commanding Saruman to return to the balcony & commanding his staff to break.

http://forum.barrowdowns.com/showpos...79&postcount=7. E]
I seem to remember it led to a thread of its own, but I can't find it at the moment
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Old 07-09-2009, 12:04 PM   #6
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Davem, I had also thought of the word of command issue as Gandalf stated something to the effect at the doors of Moria that he has tried every word of command in every language spoken.

What about dwarf doors as magic. They open on their own accord when the password is spoken. Surely this is 'magical' in context.
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Old 07-09-2009, 01:26 PM   #7
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' I once knew every spell in all the tongue of Elves or Men or Orcs, that was ever used for such a purpose'. Gandalf at The Doors of Durin, (Durin III, that is)
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Old 07-09-2009, 01:33 PM   #8
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I always love threads about magic, simply because there seems to always be so much to say, but everything winds up being inconclusive.

I love Galadriel's words to Sam about 'Elf-Magic' because it's just short, sweet, and straight to the point:
Quote:
"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 you mean; and they seem to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy."~The Mirror of Galadriel
'Magic' is a mortal word, and it's a word that as Jeff points out, seems pretty foreign to Galadriel. To Galadriel it's not magic, it's her own innate ability. She is not drawing from some sort of supernatural power (as in Star Wars with 'the force') she is drawing from her own power.

What's interesting about the Mirror of Galadriel, is after she poors the water, Galadriel breathes on it, and it seems like Galadriel's breath is what activates the mirror to show the visions. To diverge for a bit, Aragorn breathes and 'activates' the healing powers of the athelas:
Quote:
’Then taking two leaves, he laid them on his hands and breathed on them, and he crushed them, and straightaway a living freshness filled the room, as if the air itself awoke and tingled sparkling with joy.’~Houses of Healing
Across many cultures and religions there always seems to be a connection between 'breath' and 'life,' or breath and healing. In Lord of the Rings, I think we actually have both, as the Nazgul have their Black Breath, which you may call the 'breath of death.'

Galadriel also doesn't appear to like what she does, to be compared with 'the Enemy,' since the Enemy is deceiptful. In Letter 155 Tolkien goes a bit further about Galadriel's comment about the 'deceipts of the Enemy' but it's rather muddled, because Tolkien really doesn't define his terms. He talks about magia, and goeteia. 'Magia' is the physical magic, that has a visible effect in the 'real' world...so say Gandalf's shutting spell on the door. 'Goeteia', is psychological magic, take Sauron's use of psychological terror to make his servants sub-ordinate, and dominate their 'will.' Goeteia, seems to be more easily associated with evil, because it attempts to control others' minds, and that was the supremely evil motive in Tolkien's story:
Quote:
The supremely bad motive is (for this tale, since it is specially about it) domination of other ’free’ wills.~Letter 155
Now, Tolkien also says that Gandalf and Galadriel were capable of using goeteia (as well as magia), but their use was more for artistic purposes, and not designed to dominate free will. Gandalf inspires the Gondorian soldiers to hold and fight. I think too the 'voice' of Galadriel that Boromir hears, was Galadriel attempting to use her goetic abilities. She was not physically healing a wound of Boromir's (magia) but she was trying to 'psychologically' heal him, free his mind of the Ring and still show there was hope for Gondor without the Ring.

And I will just leave off with this question, this is always one up to debate. Does a staff play a role, or have something to do, with the Istari's powers?
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Old 07-09-2009, 01:37 PM   #9
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I think much of the magic in M-E has to do with origins and "true names", to some extend or another. Some even speak of it out loud (Treebeard, thinking it very foolish and dangerous when Merry and Pippin give him their own, real names), while at other times it's plain without words (Bilbo, trying to avoid giving his name or any other information about himself to Smaug). Elves especially seem to know the origins or names of things in Middle-Earth and can therefore (I assume) communicate even with trees and such, though they usually don't wish to command or alter them, ie. use their magical powers (one exception might be the magical guard which Elrond had put on Rivendell; he could command the river waters to rise when need be). Their power comes from their language: they were the first to name all things in M-E.

This is also a valid point while considering the magic that involves crafting of various objects, such as the dwarven doors or elvish blades. This is an old, even ancient theme in mythologies. If you knew the origin of things, you could also control those things. This comes close to the aforementioned words of Command: it was possible - or so it was thought - to command things to happen, if you only knew the right words, that is the way things ought to happen or come to being. So maybe the forgers of "magical" objects just blended their knowledge of "origins" into one object? If they knew how to command iron and fire... voilŕ, a blade with fiery substance (Narsil/Anduril? perhaps not...).

Davem's definition/description of magic is interesting in this view also. Spell-casting (the telling of a new story which tries to alter the status quo) involves, in my opinion, the knowledge of how things were, are and should/could be. Only then it's possible for the spell-caster to change the story to his liking. The word of Command is not much different in it's definition: if you know the origin you can either softly persuade (by casting a spell) or command (casting the C-word). Even "friendly" objects can be commanded, if so structured (for example the gates/doors of Moria; it's interesting, btw., that it was the elves who needed to command the doors; the dwarves could push them open from the inside without any further ado).

So, that's my 2 cents on the matter, at least for now (and even that took ages, I might add )
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Old 07-09-2009, 01:40 PM   #10
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I seem to remember it led to a thread of its own, but I can't find it at the moment
I did:
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Old 07-09-2009, 02:26 PM   #11
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I would say that in the case of the Maiar, it is just them sort of "twisting" reality. In each case, they are not doing anything impossible, they are just making it occur then. They are not actually doing anything outside the general "creation" of Arda, but are rather manipulating it in the way they want. Fire happens anyway, and Gandalf is just making the fire come, but it is a natural occurrence, he is just giving it a push. This is probably because, as many people have said, he knows the origin of fire, he sang in the Song. With all of the magic, nothing "impossible" happens, it is just that they are causing it to happen prematurely.

It's probably the same with the elves and their "magical camouflage" cloaks. After all those thousands of years, they probably know trees and other natural features well enough to incorporate their appearance into the cloaks.

And as for the swords and stuff, what about technology? I'm sure Aule taught the Noldor and the Dwarves a lot.
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Old 07-09-2009, 04:59 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by narfforc View Post
There is of course another source of magic, The Mouth of Sauron was said to have been a Sorcerer and so was The Witch-king in human form, this implies that even mortal men could learn magic.
Well you have the perfect example in The Hobbit. Beorn learned how to change his form which is magic. That is a great example of a human learning magic.
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Old 07-09-2009, 05:17 PM   #13
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Well you have the perfect example in The Hobbit. Beorn learned how to change his form which is magic. That is a great example of a human learning magic.
I'm not so sure, myself... for that to be the case, you have to grant a few assumptions.

Firstly and most importantly, you have to assume Beorn is human. All things considered, he could just as well be a bear that changes into human form as a human who changes into bear form, if I may suggest the slightly silly. More seriously, Beorn might not be full-blooded human. Precisely where the non-human strain would come from, I wouldn't know--presumably not a normal bear!--but one could speculate on Bear-incarnate Maia taking human form and a Thingol/Melian type situation... in which case Beorn's "magic" would be analogous to Aragorn's: used by a human but descended from a non-human source.

Secondly, you're assuming that Beorn learned it, which is not something I would assume at all, since I've always assumed it was an inherited trait (from those alleged ancestors driven from the Misty Mountains by the orks), particularly as it became a passed-on trait to his descendants--but notably with less potency in some generations, regardless of usage or character.

Thirdly, you assume shape-shifting is magic. Now, this is actually probably a safe assumption to make, but it doesn't have to be necessarily so. It all depends, really, on how you define "magic" (which, of course, is the whole conundrum of this thread). Personally, although shape-shifting could be the effected outcome of a magic process, I don't see that it need to be magical necessarily--just like my car moving could be the outcome of people pushing it, it doesn't need to be someone pushing it in order for it to move.
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Old 07-09-2009, 05:30 PM   #14
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Beorn was human, we do know that. He could have inherited it but I think he learned it. Earlier in this thread a quote was posted that related to Radagast.

Quote:
Radagast is, of course, a worthy Wizard, a master of shapes and changes of hue.
Based on the way Beorn acted when Gandalf mentioned Radagast in The Hobbit, we can make the assumption that Beorn knew Radagast. I would quote but I do not have my copy of The Hobbit with me since I am on vacation. So we can make the assumption that Beorn possibly learned how to shape shift from Radagast.
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Old 07-09-2009, 09:10 PM   #15
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Eye Would Elves?

Just on magic-y sort of things

remember the Wood elves seem to make Bilbo and the Dwarves fall asleep in a magical fashion.

Were Gandalf's flashes and bangs (eg in Goblin Town) magic or gunpowder or both?
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Old 07-09-2009, 09:14 PM   #16
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Were Gandalf's flashes and bangs (eg in Goblin Town) magic or gunpowder or both?
That depends on whether Gandalf would carry gunpowder in his pockets. Seems a bit dangerous.
I'm inclined to think it was 'magic', as he was clearly able to create fire (as he did on Caradhras) simply by speaking a few well chosen words.
And what of his encounter with the Ringwraiths on Weathertop?
Quote:
I was hard put to it indeed: such light and flame cannot have been seen on Weathertop since the war- beacons of old.
Surely he isn't dependant on gunpowder for such varied displays.
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Old 07-09-2009, 10:20 PM   #17
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Good news Form, is Tolkien did write about many of those Beorn assumptions.
Quote:
Though a skin-changer and no doubt a bit of a magician, Beorn was a Man.~Letter 144
It's sad though that all we have is Tolkien's responses, not the letters that were sent to him. Personally I've always imagined someone asking why Beorn wasn't in LOTR, as Tolkien first said 'Beorn is dead' and references Gloin in Many Meetings. Tolkien who worked and worked to try and fit The Hobbit with LOTR, did not want to pull a Bombadil trick. He just decided...'you know what I'm not going to do this anymore. Beorn's not in LOTR, because he's dead. He's a man, a bear shape-shifter, a magician, and immune to weapons, but the dude was a man and he's now dead. The end.'

Hopefully you don't mind my early morning silliness, but with that aside, it does fit with what Gloin says about Grimbeorn being the 'lord of many sturdy men.' I think Tolkien took from the berskergang stories, and put his own fantasy spin on it. To my knowledge Tolkien never used the word 'berserker,' but with Beorn he was definitely referencing one common meaning of the berserker ('bear-shirt' - the berserkers who would wear bear skins to battle). Plus, berserkers were of course known to work themselves up into this battle-fury, even some were said to be immune to weapons, like Beorn at the Battle of Five Armies :
Quote:
Swiftly he returned and his wrath was redoubled, so that nothing could withstand him, and no weapon seemed to bite upon him.
Quote:
Surely he isn't dependant on gunpower for such varied displays.~Inziladun
Yes, and I think even his fireworks were enhanced by his magic. We meager humans, through all our gunpowder and fireworks evolution over the centuries struggle making some rather simple designs. Gandalf managed to create a mountain scene and a flying dragon with his fireworks. Gandalf and the Elves typically used magic for artistic purposes afterall.

I suspect Saruman enhanced his blasting devices with magic as well. I reference 155 again:
Quote:
The basic motive for magia - quite apart from any philosophic consideration of how it would work - is immediacy: speed, reduction of labour, and reduction also to a minimum (or vanishing point) of the gap in time between the idea or desire and the result or effect.
You want something accomplished, magic's purpose is to speed it up and cut back on labor costs.
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