PDA

View Full Version : On the Capabilites of Middle-Earth Magic



Shadowdweller
2008-05-15, 08:09 AM
I've recently been re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Given the plethora of 'versus' threads in this forum involving Tolkien characters, I thought it might be interesting to point out and discuss instances of magic in the books and/or films. DANGER: Possible spoilers to follow, of course :smallbiggrin:

There is some question, in many cases, where a classic fantasy concept of spellcraft is being used as opposed to more science-based concepts of craft. Gandalf, shown at various times as being adept with flame, nevertheless uses fireworks for display in the Shire during Bilbo's party. Saruman's stronghold of Orthanc is implied to be filled with various devices and machines. The elves of Lothlorien when asked are confused about whether the strange grey cloaks they provide to the fellowship are magic. In other cases, magic seems to be very artifact-based. Is Gandalf's skill with flame based on personal knowledge and expertise, or is it the result of his bearing the ring of fire? Or both?

For Sourcing purposes:
FOTR: Fellowship of the Ring
TT: The Two Towers
ROTK: Return of the King

On a character by character basis:
Gandalf:

* Is able to imbue weapons and other items with magical flame. In The Hobbit, chapter 6 "Out of the Frying-Pan and Into the Fire" he does this with pinecones against wargs. Moreover, the chapter seems to imply that the flame is somehow supernaturally effective at igniting the beasts. In FOTR, Book 2 chapter 4: A Journey in the Dark, he does something similar against the warg attack which occurs before the fellowship enters Moria: After speaking some words, he ignites a number of trees as well as an arrow shot by Legolas. In FOTR Book 2 chapter 3: "The Ring Goes South", Gandalf is able to ignite wood in heavy snow using his staff and some words of command. He notes that this act can be detected by those who know how from far off. Shortly after, he also explains to Legolas that he can't simply create magical fire out of thin air; he needs something to burn.

* Has some sort of supernatural defense against flame or possibly just balrog-fire. In FOTR book 2 chapter 5: The Bridge of Khazad-Dum while facing the balrog, Gandalf exclaims that "The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udun." In consequence the balrog's flaming aura seems to diminish although whether this is a result of Gandalf himself or whether the balrog simply is choosing another tactic is unclear.

* Spells of opening / closing portals. In FOTR book 2 chapter 4: A Journey in the Dark he is described straight out as using spells to open the door to the mines. In FOTR book 2 chapter 5: The Bridge of Khazad-Dum, he attempts some sort of sealing spell as the rest of the party flee from the chamber where Balin's tomb was found.

* Uses some sort of spell to break Saruman's staff in TT, chapter 10: "The Voice of Saruman". In FOTR book 2 chapter 5: The Bridge of Khazad-Dum, he somehow breaks the balrog's flaming sword. Although this latter may be a result of interaction with Gandalf's own magical blade, Glamdring, rather than an actual spell.

* Is able to force Saruman to obey his spoken commands in TT, chapter 10: "The Voice of Saruman".

Radegast the Brown:
* Is described by Gandalf in FOTR book 2 chapter 2: "The Council of Elrond" as being "a master of shapes and changes of hue". Most probably has shape-changing abilities much like Beorn

* Is described at various points as being able to speak with animals.

Saruman the White:
* Has the ability to magically compel others to do things with his voice. In TT, chapter 10: "The Voice of Saruman" he attempts to use this on Theoden, Gandalf, and entourage while besieged in his tower. He is thwarted and in turn forced to obey Gandalf.

* Is described as having made what is probably an attempt at a ring of power by Gandalf in FOTR book 2 chapter 2: "The Council of Elrond". Given later revelations regarding his contact by palantir with Sauron, it may well in fact be an actual ring of power.

The Nazgul:
* Weapons that strike them dissolve. Or at least I seem to recall a statement to that effect somewhere. But cannot find the reference right now.

Anyway....more to come when I've time and interest. I'll try to update this post with any instances anyone else comes up with.

kamikasei
2008-05-15, 09:21 AM
Others with more knowledge than I can give you extensive discussions of the role and nature of "magic" in Tolkien's works: suffice to say that when you look beyond The Lord of the Rings and into The Silmarillion and other sources, there's a lot of nuance revealed. The wizards, the balrog, Sauron, and indeed I believe the Ents and Eagles and others, are not magicians but in fact more-or-less incarnate spirits of the sort that created the entire world, which was sung into being and then made real by an act of God. Their magic is effectively a direct act of will on the world, which usually means they influence something already there. Spells and incantations are really just saying what you want to do or achieve, with the caveat that some languages are more "powerful" than others, or just preferred by the powerful.

So magic has little in the way of set limits, but is usually subtle. "Good" magic tends towards enhancing some existing aspect of a thing or making it exemplary for some purpose; Lorien-cloaks are made to hide you from sight, lembas is made to sustain you, etc. "Bad" magic tends towards a more vulgar imposition of will on the world in opposition to the nature of the object: Sauron, a Maia of Aule (which is like being an angel of the earth god) tortures the land, rears mountain ranges and builds huge fortresses; the Nazgul can demoralize and choke people with despair; Melkor (Sauron's superior) cursed Hurin's family by, basically, hating them really hard.

As far as adding to your catalogue, I believe Gandalf took credit for making the flood that sweeps away the Nazgul near Rivendell in FOTR resemble charging horses. I forget whether Elrond was supposed to have used magic to cause or strengthen the flood or if he just opened a dam.


In FOTR Book 2 chapter 3: "The Ring Goes South", Gandalf is able to ignite wood in heavy snow using his staff and some words of command. He notes that this act can be detected by those who know how from far off.

A nit: this is not how I read that scene. As I recall, what was said was something like "if there are any watching, I at least am now revealed to them. I have written Gandalf is here in letters all can read from <somewhere> to <somewhere else>." The reading I took from that is that anyone who saw the act would recognize it as Gandalf's signature, and that it was known as such throughout the area he describes - not that people throughout that area would somehow sense that it had happened.

WalkingTarget
2008-05-15, 09:53 AM
Oooo, fun topic for me.

I totally encourage people who want a better understanding of this stuff in particular to read Tolkien's collected Letters. I don't have the book handy (in a box due to moving) so I can't give exact quotes right now, but I'll try to summarize a bit along with my general observations.

In Tolkien's mind, the "magic" done by Elves and the "magic" done by the servants of the Enemy was totally different (and in theory, I guess, the "magic" done by the Valar and Maiar was something else again).

The Elves' "magic" is their Art. They are gifted (as in, it's an intrinsic part of their nature, being completely tied to Arda and to last as long as it does) with the capacity to fully realize their intention through their craftsmanship. Fighting a war against myriads of orcs? Then make a sword that not only cuts things exceedingly well, but gives off a light when orcs are near that not only warns you of their presence but is also painful for them to even look at. Need to travel in possibly hostile territory? Make a cloak that's not too heavy or light but also provides excellent camouflage no matter the terrain. Taking a long journey? Take some of these rations that are lightweight, filling, nourishing, absolutely delicious, and also go so far as to bolster one's resolve to continue. Writing a lullaby? If you're good enough you might sing the source of all that is evil and wrong in the world to sleep. Like jewelry? Then cut some gems that are so beautiful that the gods themselves can't see how it was done. Was the world re-made while you weren't paying attention and now you're favorite vacation spot isn't even in the world anymore? Then make some boats that can sail there anyway. The Exiled Numenoreans (having had instruction from the Elves) managed to approach this level of skill eventually with the Barrow Blades. They're not as good at cutting random stuff as Elvish gear (see comparison with Sting when cutting Shelob's web) but especially effective against the one enemy they were fighting at the time (Merry hamstringing the Witch-king). The Dwarves get honorable mention here as well under the provision that they are given excellent starting materials (mithril is naturally occurring, they're just the ones who can wrest the most use out of it, for example).

The adversaries' "magic" was generally referred to as Sorcery. Unfortunately, we have fewer examples of what this actually means or is capable, but it's generally grasping for/attaining "power" that is beyond one's nature. This probably includes the mechanism by which the Rings of Power operate as artificially preserving things that degrade with time isn't "natural" (the main power that all of the Rings have, so this one is built into the hardware, as it were). The secondary effect of "boosting" the wielder's natural abilities obviously fits into that category too. After Sauron claimed the 16 Rings he eventually gave to Men and Dwarves, he added in the whole invisibility->fading->wraith thing. The Three Rings have other benevolent powers, but whether they'd count as being due to Elvish Art or Ring-style Sorcery is not well-defined (see more a few paragraphs down). Characters like the Witch-king and the Mouth of Sauron (along with other unnamed "evil men") are noted as being Sorcerers too. The WK does a ranged Sunder against Frodo's Barrow Blade once, has some sort of effect around him that will destroy any weapon that "pierces" him, got a "flames ran down the blade" effect in RotK during his brief showdown with Gandalf, and it's probable that he's got some sort of protective spell (it's debatable what the "spell" that Merry's blow removed actually did). Add in the Black Breath, the general Fear Aura the Nazgul seem to have, and the ability to make Morgul Blades (now with Automatic Wraithification TechnomancyTM) and I think that's about all of the Sorcery we can define. There might be more I'm forgetting, though.

Then there's the Powers of the Maiar and Valar. Being quasi-angelic beings that also seem to fit the niche of traditional polytheistic pantheons, they're kind of difficult to quantify. The "pantheon" type influence comes into play frequently. Aule is the Smith (stand-in for Hephaestus), has an affinity to the earth and things in it (gems, metal, etc) as well as for working with them (jewelry, smithing in general, etc). Sauron and Saruman were both originally Maiar subordinate to him and both of them are clever with machines and devices. Ulmo and Manwe are Lord of the Waters and Air respectively and fill the molds of Poseidon and Zeus, complete with the latter's position of authority. In general, each of them has an area of expertise (most pronounced with the Valar as they are the Big Concepts) that they have a fair amount of control over. Then you start spilling over into the "angelic" side of their makeup. Since the setting is one in which "good" and "evil" are quite definite states that one can be in, and there is an Omniscient/Omnipotent Creator Deity who is presented as also Omnibenevolent, the Forces of Good seem to get bonus abilities (Gandalf's Shining Hand of Wraith-Scaring, the Valar "hallowed" things occasionally so as to be harmful to Evil beings). Other things might just be seen as a character exerting his will on the world until it gives in. Gandalf's shutting spell and the Balrog's counter-spell can be viewed as a battle of wills. Sauron's influence at Mt. Doom is great enough that other "magical" things cease to function (the Phial of Galadriel stops shining there).

Gandalf's fire-related feats are due to his possession of the Ring of Fire (the fireworks are just the "most childish" aspect and is what he used around the hobbits); this is explicitly noted in a Letter. Galadriel's possession of the Ring of Water is possibly what allows her to use a small pool to scry (her Mirror) and to let a small container of it contain the light of Earendil's Star (a Silmaril). Elrond's Ring doesn't present an obvious tie to its element (Air), but it's possible that the protection afforded to Rivendell (the flooding river) is due to the Ring (enemies don't make their way into Lothlorien either, despite both of them being adjacent to enemy territory).

Not everything fits neatly into these categories, unfortunately. Tolkien seemed perplexed when talking about the Elves' Art when he remembered what he'd done with the Barrow Blades as they didn't fit neatly into his Elves-only conception of how "magic" things were made. Some hold-overs from The Hobbit also throw a wrench in the works (the Troll's talking purse, Beorn's shapechanging isn't explained, Dwarven Doorways, etc). The most egregious example to me, however, is Finrod Felagund. In the tale of Beren and Luthien he manages to disguise himself and Beren as orcs in order to infiltrate Sauron's stronghold. Unless, Art can be applied to fast-talking ("Yup, we're orcs alright. What, you don't believe me? I want to talk to your supervisor.") there's little to account for this other than an actual spell of some sort (he and Sauron get into a duel over whether Sauron sees through the disguise or not, using the same music metaphor as the creation myth in the setting).

That's all for now, I guess. I might add more if I think of it and/or get access to my books.

Edit to respond to some of kami's stuff -


The wizards, the balrog, Sauron, and indeed I believe the Ents and Eagles and others, are not magicians but in fact more-or-less incarnate spirits of the sort that created the entire world, which was sung into being and then made real by an act of God. Their magic is effectively a direct act of will on the world, which usually means they influence something already there. Spells and incantations are really just saying what you want to do or achieve, with the caveat that some languages are more "powerful" than others, or just preferred by the powerful.

The Ents were Yavanna's response to her husband's creation, the Dwarves, and the Eagles were similarly treated by Manwe. Whether they were "adopted" Children of Illuvatar like the Dwarves, Maiar in tree/bird forms, or something else entirely isn't fully developed, unfortunately. In any event, this is a good rundown. Thanks, kami.


Melkor (Sauron's superior) cursed Hurin's family by, basically, hating them really hard.

And for this line alone, sir, you win.

SolkaTruesilver
2008-05-15, 10:40 AM
Personnally, I think many people who judge LotR's magic (either from the book or the movie) and think of it as "weak" are simply looking at the whole thing too much like a munchkin, and not ennough like Elan.

In classic fantasy tales, the Magician is not supposed to be the hero. His power is not supposed to beat the ennemy, except when the hero faces other magician, or supernatural ennemies (like Dragons... or Nazgul).

There is nothing heroic in having Merlin blast Mordred with lightning bolts now, isn't it? Well, to those who wonder why Gandalf doesn't use more magic, it's because magic is NEVER heroic.

Artemician
2008-05-15, 10:53 AM
In classic fantasy tales, the Magician is not supposed to be the hero. His power is not supposed to beat the ennemy, except when the hero faces other magician, or supernatural ennemies (like Dragons... or Nazgul).

There is nothing heroic in having Merlin blast Mordred with lightning bolts now, isn't it? Well, to those who wonder why Gandalf doesn't use more magic, it's because magic is NEVER heroic.

I beg to differ. Muchly.

Magic is simply an alternative means of achieving whatever goal you have in mind. It is not innately superior or inferior to force of arms in any moral sense.

SolkaTruesilver
2008-05-15, 11:09 AM
I beg to differ. Muchly.

Magic is simply an alternative means of achieving whatever goal you have in mind. It is not innately superior or inferior to force of arms in any moral sense.

That's because you have a modern (probably D&D-tainted) view of things

Look at it this way: until very recently in occidental history, magic was not a good thing. Magic was a thing to be wary of, something that lied and manipulated.

In most fantasy tales around (before TSR), the heroes didn't trusted magic or wizards. They were known liars, and used the heroes to their own ends. Even Gandalf and Elves were viewed with suspicion by Middle-Earth Men. Merlin himself was more of a manipulator, who guided Arthur to his fate rather than do anything.

Look at it this way: when you delve in magic, you are using forces that the common man does not understand, and you don't know what it might do to you. That's why the common people won'T trust you. As opposed to the guy on your side who goes ahead swinging a sword. The commoners can understand a sword. They can't understand a fireball.

kamikasei
2008-05-15, 11:50 AM
Even Gandalf and Elves were viewed with suspicion by Middle-Earth Men.

This example has less to do with magic being heroic or not and more to do with Men being, in Tolkien's setting, ignorant and tainted by a sort of "original sin" that makes them wary of the forces of good due to ancestral bad-mouthing. That, and the fact that Elves and such are simply strange and powerful, always a good basis for fear, and that associating with them too closely can have detrimental effects on Men because of the differences between them (that is, it's generally not good for a Man to try to live as if he was an Elf).

Revlid
2008-05-15, 03:28 PM
Okay, so I'm saving WalkingTarget's post into a word document. That was great.

So, the 'Art' enhances the nature of things, whilst 'Sorcery' forcibly alters the nature of things? Interesting.

lordofthe_wog
2008-05-15, 04:05 PM
As far as adding to your catalogue, I believe Gandalf took credit for making the flood that sweeps away the Nazgul near Rivendell in FOTR resemble charging horses. I forget whether Elrond was supposed to have used magic to cause or strengthen the flood or if he just opened a dam.

I believe Elrond used magic to start the flood, and Gandalf just threw in some interesting horse-related visuals, but its been a hell of a long time since I read LotR (about 3 years).

EvilElitest
2008-05-15, 08:11 PM
1) Gandalf

Can also shoot lightening and possible turn some sort of invisible, considering the scene in the hobbit
Breaks the bridge
Super holy light that drives back the nazgul
Fireworks
magics smoke rings
can make explosions (fight against the nazgul on weather top)

When he is the white he is able to shoot more light, destroy weapons, and says he is immune to non magical weapons at some point

Saurman
Presomable everything gandalf the grey can do and more

Can boast the power of his men and weaken his foes as can be seen from the Uruk-hai search

Nazgul

Normal can use fear, shadows, Black Shadow, Black breath, knock people out from long range, see in the dark, scare people into working for them, despair, and poison

The WK is immune to non anti undead weapons and can use fire and frost powers
from
EE

The_Snark
2008-05-16, 02:18 AM
Intriguing, WalkingTarget; I like the summary. Tolkien's magic is a tricky thing to try to quantify, but I think that's a nice way to capture the essential differences between elf-magic, sorcery, and Vala/Maia magic. Even the latter isn't completely outside the other two: there's a difference between how it was used that corresponds to the differences between elf-magic and sorcery. Gandalf, for example, prefers to work indirectly, inspiring hope and such, whereas Sauron enforces his will directly, trying to change things. It is, I think, a logical extension of Tolkien's original creation-myth for Middle-Earth: the Ainur sang with the creation, enhancing it, whereas Melkor tried to impose his own will on the song. Which was, essentially, the first evil act.

Simply for the sake of extending discussion, however, let's bring up some of the later (that is, less likely to be a product of Tolkien not having thought of all of this when he wrote it) inconsistencies, such as Grond. The second one, that is, the battering ram. I can't recall the quote, but it was something to the effect that spells of ruin had been worked into it while it was being forged. Sort of blending the lines between the two magics, there; on the one hand, it's destructive, which is more typical of black magic, but on the other hand, it's simply enhancing what the battering ram was meant to do in the first place.

poleboy
2008-05-16, 02:59 AM
Gandalf, for example, prefers to work indirectly, inspiring hope and such, whereas Sauron enforces his will directly, trying to change things. It is, I think, a logical extension of Tolkien's original creation-myth for Middle-Earth: the Ainur sang with the creation, enhancing it, whereas Melkor tried to impose his own will on the song. Which was, essentially, the first evil act.

I think that's an excellent way to sum it up.

In general, there seems to be two kinds of magic present in ME: Actual magic and artifacts. In general, the mortal races (and the elves) seem limited to artifact magic. Most of elven magic comes from them using magical items that they have created or which were gifts from the gods, rather than actually casting spells. I don't recall anyone in the books creating magical effects simply by willing it other than maiar and valar. Some maia seem to display no obvious magical talent at all, such as the ents.

One could argue that creating a magical item is an act of magic in itself, but it might as well simply have been willed by the gods, who imbued the item with magic in its creation and not a magical act by the creator himself. So to me it seems that magic is generally restricted to gods and "angels".

kamikasei
2008-05-16, 04:36 AM
I don't recall anyone in the books creating magical effects simply by willing it other than maiar and valar.

Luthien was able to sing Morgoth himself to sleep, and destroyed the first Minas Tirith on Tol Sirion by "declaring her power" if I recall correctly. Finrod as WalkingTarget has pointed out was apparently able to disguise himself and Beren using magic.

Further, it's debatable just what the various sorcerers among Men were capable of on their own. Was the Witch-King a mighty magician before receiving his ring? If so, what sort of power did he have? To what extent are the things he is shown to do as a Ringwraith derived from Sauron's power through the ring versus his own power enhanced by the ring? The Mouth also is described as a sorcerer, and bears no ring, though we never see him do anything magical.

Shadowdweller
2008-05-16, 10:29 AM
I actually think there are plenty of examples of mortals using magic in the books, although a number of them are quite subtle. Old man willow is able to sing the hobbits to sleep. As noted previously, Beorn, and his more obviously human descendants are able to shapechange. Frodo invokes the name of Elbereth to defend himself against the nazgul. Aragorn is able to hide/display his kingliness in a way that seems likely supernatural. Wormtongue is able to convince Theoden of his weakness in a manner that may well be supernatural as well, although this might also be reasoned as either wielding the power of Saruman by proxy or entirely being the nature of his council. Bard and various others are able to speak with birds. While not a race of mortals, the elves are held in high esteem by the ents for waking them (the ents) up and "curing [them] of dumbness".

Anyway, with respect to "willing", etc: For the sake of historical context and possible influences upon Tolkien, it should be noted that magic in early fantasy literature frequently involved persuading supernatural beings to do one's bidding rather than a mortal shaping some external nonliving force. Thus we have saints working miracles on behalf of gods, clever individuals manipulating faeries or ancestor spirits, or witch/warlock archtypes invoking more sinister forces. For those who have read Howard (Conan the Barbarian, etc), note that basically ALL of his sorcerers are either priests or inhuman creatures merely posing as humans.

WalkingTarget
2008-05-16, 11:58 AM
I actually think there are plenty of examples of mortals using magic in the books, although a number of them are quite subtle. Old man willow is able to sing the hobbits to sleep. As noted previously, Beorn, and his more obviously human descendants are able to shapechange. Frodo invokes the name of Elbereth to defend himself against the nazgul. Aragorn is able to hide/display his kingliness in a way that seems likely supernatural. Wormtongue is able to convince Theoden of his weakness in a manner that may well be supernatural as well, although this might also be reasoned as either wielding the power of Saruman by proxy or entirely being the nature of his council. Bard and various others are able to speak with birds. While not a race of mortals, the elves are held in high esteem by the ents for waking them (the ents) up and "curing [them] of dumbness".

Well, Old Man Willow is probably a Huorn (tree-ish Ent or maybe an Ent-ish tree), and a particularly mean-spirited one at that. What exactly the Ents are isn't exactly defined so their exact capabilities is even harder to say with any certainty (drinks that look like water, but can be as filling as food and/or cause exaggerated growth is another example). I'll grant that my initial rundown has a gap where they're concerned, but it's due more to a lack of knowledge in general than anything else. Unless it's elaborated on in the History of Middle-earth series that Chris Tolkien published, I'm not aware of discussions on the Ents' and Eagles' (and not much on the Dwarves') "magical" abilities/affinities. The whole Elvish "Art" bit was gleaned from Tolkien's Letters.

Beorn and his kin I take as a holdover from the not-originally-in-Arda Hobbit story and so I won't even try to justify his presence in the framework that Tolkien sets up otherwise. There was a lot more conversing-with-animals going on in that story than in any of the more "serious" tales. You're right that they don't fit into the 3 categories I broke stuff into earlier.

Hmm, it never occurred to me to think of Frodo invoking Elbereth as similar to a "spell", but I guess that's more or less what Turn Undead is with a little added flavor, isn't it? With that in mind, one might extend the categories to include invocations of this type (similar to intercessionary prayers, I suppose). The "deity" (in this case Varda, the maker of stars) is called upon and may have pulled some long-range mojo (although that's still similar to the Forces of Good powers that have been mentioned, we're just extending it to include listening to mortals and helping out occasionally if asked).

Things like Aragorn's "kingliness" and the influence of Grima on Theoden never seemed "magical" to me. This is totally dependent on one's reading of the books though and I can easily see the alternate point of view. Since we're dealing with a "heroic romance" story where lineage actually does confer tangible benefits, Nobility is a quality that is as perceivable as hair color. Aragorn is just skilled at concealing it (as one could wear a hat to conceal hair color). He can simply "take off the hat" to let his actual nature assert itself. As for Grima, one thing that sort of bugged me about the films is that Bernard Hill (while I actually loved his performance) is too young to play the part. Theoden is 71 at the time (Hill wasn't even 60 yet when filming took place). All Grima did is slowly make him take it as granted that he was too old to do anything by taking responsibilities from him one at a time until he got used to it (or, that's my interpretation).


Anyway, with respect to "willing", etc: For the sake of historical context, it should be noted that magic in early fantasy literature frequently involved persuading supernatural beings to do one's bidding rather than a mortal shaping some external nonliving force. Thus we have saints working miracles on behalf of gods, or witches invoking more sinister forces. For those who have read Howard (Conan the Barbarian, etc), note that basically ALL of his sorcerers are either priests or inhuman creatures merely posing as humans.

Right, that's actually a good point to bring up. The Elves (for the most part, dang Finrod) are doing something that they are simply able to do naturally. Making nifty stuff isn't an invocation of powers outside what Eru has seen fit to give them. Another term Tolkien used for what made all of the Children of Illuvatar (Elves, Humans, and the Ainur themselves with the "adopted" addition of Dwarves and possibly the Ents and Eagles) special was "subcreation" seeing as nothing came from anything but Eru when it came down to it. The ability of the Children to "make" new things (possession of a soul, or "fea" within the setting's vocabulary) is what sets them apart from animals. Aule's "creation" of the Dwarves was just as bad as Melkor messing about with Trolls, Dragons (and maybe Orcs) until he repented as it was an attempt to match Eru (and is therefore Prideful).

The Power wielded by the Valar/Maiar is just something they're able to do normally. Sorcery is probably closer to the "traditional" idea of magic (and is similarly looked upon as shady practices). While "good" invocations are closer to "miracles". Fine distinctions, maybe, but I think we're still working in a decent framework here.


Gandalf, for example, prefers to work indirectly, inspiring hope and such, whereas Sauron enforces his will directly, trying to change things. It is, I think, a logical extension of Tolkien's original creation-myth for Middle-Earth: the Ainur sang with the creation, enhancing it, whereas Melkor tried to impose his own will on the song. Which was, essentially, the first evil act.

Well put. I had trouble articulating that point concisely.


Simply for the sake of extending discussion, however, let's bring up some of the later... inconsistencies, such as Grond. The second one, that is, the battering ram. I can't recall the quote, but it was something to the effect that spells of ruin had been worked into it while it was being forged. Sort of blending the lines between the two magics, there; on the one hand, it's destructive, which is more typical of black magic, but on the other hand, it's simply enhancing what the battering ram was meant to do in the first place.

I can't believe I forgot Grond. I agree entirely that it seems to straddle the line between categories. Seeing as how Sauron was a Maia of Aule and that (one interpretation/version implies that) Orcs are simply corrupted Elves it might make sense that they can develop a battering-ram that can break down city gates better than any other (a twisted version of Art in that their intentions are completely focussed on pain and destruction maybe?).


(that is, less likely to be a product of Tolkien not having thought of all of this when he wrote it)

Unfortunately, as much as I like the setting and whatnot, I have a feeling this is the most likely explanation for a lot of the inconsistencies in the books.

pendell
2008-05-16, 01:06 PM
Some other things:

1) Cause disease. In the appendix, it speaks of a fortuitous plague that left Mordor unguarded, allowing the bad guys to sneak back in. I think it likely the plague was a result of Sauron's ill-wishing. It's also a standard of mythological witchcraft.

2) Curse the barrow downs. Tom's story in Fellowship of the Ring talks of an 'evil wind' coming out of Angmar and stirring the bones in their crypts, and ever after barrow wights walk amongst the downs. Although the wights did not seem to be in communication with the Witch King and were not underneath his control, it seems likely that he sent them into the barrow downs/made it possible for the wights to inhabit it. Sort of like throwing an angry dog into someone's back yard. You can't control it once thrown, but you are responsible for starting the mischief.

3) Domination/compulsion. Frodo threatens to use this power on Gollum in TT, threatening to command him to choke on the bones of the fish he's eating using the ring.

4) Creation/gathering of wealth. Also discussed in the appendices, the Seven Rings of the Dwarf-lords make them more capable of wealth generation. The foundation of each of the seven dwarf treasures was a golden ring, or so it is said.

5) Put someone to sleep/bewilder people in the woods. Old Man WIllow does both those things in 'THe Old Forest', using his singing first to bewilder the hobbits into coming to him, then putting them to sleep.

6) Summoning spirits and communing with them for purposes of information. The Silmarillion 'Of the Rings of Power' speaks of the nazgul communing with the unseen world 'but too often they beheld only the cheats and phantasms of Sauron'.


7) Turning living beings into wraiths and binding them to service. Shagrat and Gorbag in TT talk about how the Nazgul are difficult to serve, because they'll 'freeze the flesh off you as soon as look at you and leave you all cold and dark on the other side'.

8) General ill luck. The orcs who captured Merry and Pippin threw away their swords 'as if they burned them'. As they should. The weapons were enspelled for the bane of Mordor, and would bring ill-fortune to any servant of Mordor who bore them. Think of it as a superstitious person would think of smashing a mirror every day.

9) Reading/shifting fate. Wound up with the idea of prophecy (reading one's fate) is the idea of setting that fate. Melkor is said to have set a 'doom' upon Hurin. Which means that he altered the man's fate/destiny for the worse. In addiiton, the people of Gondor/Arnor had at least one full-human seer: Malbeth.

Respectfully,

Brian P.

pendell
2008-05-16, 01:09 PM
Another thought:

Tom gives Frodo a song to sing to summon him .. if Frodo sings it within the borders of his land, Tom will come and help him.

Would it be fair to describe this rhyming chant as a spell? In D&D-speak, it might be 'Summon Deus Ex Machina I"

Respectfully,

Brian P.

EvilElitest
2008-05-16, 02:15 PM
What, no comments on what i had to say?

1) Invisibility doesn't seem to be a greater ring only power it is worth noting, lesser rings are said to have had it (other wise Gandalf would have instantly knew it was the One
2) On Skin Changers, i think it works as part of the natural magic thing
3) Dragons can instantly know if they were stolen from
4) Talking Wallet from the trolls
5) I think the hobbits sword actually burned the orcs, or at least hurt
from
EE