View Full Version : Magic in arda?

02-02-2009, 05:09
Now I don't mean how magic is used but how can someone in arda learn to use it.
The ones I know who can use magic are the 5 istari, The elves, The nazgul and Sauron but can other races i.e men or goblins learn how to wield magic.


Dr Death
02-02-2009, 10:18
Magic in middle-earth is a very ephemeral thing- in fact you could almost argue it doesnt exist. It seems that rather than casting 'spells' with their related pyrotechnics as in the case of other fantasy worlds, all races and peoples within Arda have some otherworldly power, an intangible grasp of the unseen. Galadriel famously mentions to a naive Samwise that her mirror is what he might call 'elvish magic', suggesting that 'magic' is more a term applied to things out of the experience of the person concerned. Galadriel would not consider her mirror magical, no more than we might regard electricity as magical in our enlightened age- it is simply an unseen force that we have come to understand.

Tolkien does seem very keen on the power of words though and their relation to curses and enchantments. There are many cases (particularly in the first age) where a curse or simply a prophesy is pronounced. Take the Doom of Mandos declared to the Noldor on their return to Middle-earth: was it cursing the Noldor to ill-fortune as punishment for their disobedience or merely fortelling it? Or Morgoth's curse on the Children of Hurin- was Morgoth working a magical curse that would pursue them even if he did nothing about it or was the curse simply a threat, a promise to Hurin based upon Morgoth's planned actions? In the same story we hear Mim, the petty dwarf curse a member of Turin's outlaws to be struck down if ever he took up a bow again, and sure enough said outlaw does get wounded (though it is healed by Beleg and the curse is broken). It seems that word and deed go hand in hand.

There's also what we call 'magic weapons'. The barrow blades are the famous example. Many people have assumed that Merry's blade was specifically enchanted to fight the forces of Angmar and certainly the text implies there was something in that. However Tolkien does leave the door open to other interpretations.

This is why i raise issue with 'Shamen' and the like, since it implies that magic in middle-earth is a commodity as in so many other fantasy worlds. I prefer rather the way it's been handled with the elves- suggesting some grasp of the otherworldly even in the hands of people who otherwise would not be 'defined' by magical ability.

Dr Death

02-02-2009, 11:21
Yes i agree with Dr Death, Tolkien uses the idea of power in words. When Gandalf casts a spell in Moria he speaks a word of command to add to its power. So if a single word can be powerful, a song would be more powerfull.

We know that Tolkien has given a great significance to music. The Music of the Ainur shaped the world. The music of Luthien brings Sauron forth from his tower, and puts Morgoth to sleep.

I remember Sam talking about elf-magic when he looks into the mirror of Galadriel. She refers to the "deceits of the enemy", so you get the impression that magic is frowned upon. Only used when necessary.

The nazgul are sometimes referred to as "sorcerers," and it's possible that their Rings granted them additional powers as well. Also, before the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Sauron is believed to have infused the Witch-King with greater power so as to challenge Gandalf.

02-02-2009, 13:46
It's pretty much like Dr Death said, yes, and I think the electricity example is one of the best ones you could give.

Another pretty powerful example of the 'words' is the curse laid upon the Army of the Dead.

02-02-2009, 13:49
one thing to be noted in the game though, is in Shadow and Flame, shamans of the orcs may or may not be inately magical; Fury for example could simply be the shaman extorting his comrades into a battle-mad rage and not any sort of real magical forcce at work.

Transfix is a bit of a wierd one. You could argue it is the shaman holding the enemy immobile, or that they mastered the art of the uncomfortable stare.

Phoenix Blaze
03-02-2009, 19:02
It's Luthien's cloak not her song that puts Morgoth to sleep, or maybe a combination of both, but the cloak was also used to put her guards and Carcaroth to sleep, not her song.

I think if you take words to be enough to place a curse on someone, then it's telling of the power of Morgoth that it was by his will, rather than a curse itself that Hurin and his family were cursed. And for Mim's curse, the gift to men, that they are not bound by fate is shown as Beleg manages to heal the man (who's name I forget now, but it was the same man who killed one of Mim's sons).

I think any sort of magic used by the forces of evil could come from Morgoth and Sauron directly. Arda does seem to contain this unseen force that can be manipulated by the Ainur (possibly the Flame Imperishable) and it's through that that "magic" can be created, the magic seen to be used by the Ulairi (Nazgul, I'm trying to get into the habit of using Quenya names).

As for shamans and the like....I guess it could just be like amazing motivational speakers who can get a crowd going, and just have a natural ability to mess with people minds through talking and small gestures, like Derren Brown!

03-02-2009, 19:43
As far as i remember i think it's her song that puts Morgoth to sleep, and then she puts her cloak over his eyes..... might be to stop her and Beren looking at him?
Not sure they put Carcaroth to sleep, doesn't he bite off Beren's hand still holding the Silmaril, then the wolf runs around in pain?
But might be wrong not read it for ages

Phoenix Blaze
03-02-2009, 20:40
He's put to sleep when they appear at the gates of Angband, as he sees Beren dressed as Draugluin and is suspicious of them. When they are escaping, Luthien is too weak to put him to sleep a second time, so Beren holds out the Silmaril infront of Carcaroth and that's where he has his hand bitten off, Silmaril and all.

03-02-2009, 23:11
Can't find the bit where Lúthien's cloak puts Carcharoth to sleep, i think she just uses enchantments to put him to sleep.

Phoenix Blaze
04-02-2009, 17:23
Yeah, it seems that it's by her enchantments that Caracaroth and Morgoth is put the sleep. Re-reading the chapter, he guards are not put to sleep, it's just that her cloak makes her invisible, effectively.

I think I might be getting confused with the longer, older Ley of Leithian in Unfinished Tales (or Lost Tales).

Dragon Prince of Caledor
04-02-2009, 20:24
Nuada and Dr Death have said it. But what about when Gandalf calls upon the forces of nature to roast some goblins in the hobbit?
I think that magic is alltogether a different force. I think tolkiens ambiguities make for interesting conversations like this one. Its dandy.

04-02-2009, 20:35
There is also a bit where the fellowship is attacked by wargs and Gandalf seems to grow, he throws a blazing fire brand into the air and shouts "Naur an edraith ammen! Naur dan i ngaurhoth!"

Which translates as "Fire be for saving of us! Fire against the werewolf-host!" and a tree bursts into flame, leaping from tree to tree. Then the wargs flee

Phoenix Blaze
04-02-2009, 23:09
Well, seeing as Gandalf is a Maiar, I imagine that he'll have abilities beyond magical trickery. The ability to manipulate the element of Arda in a similar way to what the Valar did in the Ainulindale.