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View Full Version : Middle-Earth: a land of magic or a land of magicians?



Shas'o Gavner'Elan
26-11-2010, 19:24
I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit and, although I have not read any other Middle-Earth books, I have some knowledge in its interesting and very detailed history.

However, what I can't figure out is whether or not recent LOTR games (Conquest, War in the North, Online etc.) are accurate in the fact thast they suggest wizards and mages are common across the world. I got the impression from the books and movies that wizards are rare and idolized figures, while games and certain stories make them seem relatively common, like magic-wielders in the Warhammer World.

I like to think that Gandalf, Radagast and Saruman were not the only major wizards in Middle-Earth at the end of the Third Age, but at the same time am not keen on the idea of magicians everywhere!

So what does everyone think?

lotrchampion
26-11-2010, 22:45
Tolkien's idea of magic is very different to that of WH or other similar fantasy settings. It mostly seems to be simply a use of skills beyond the knowledge of other men - for example, Gandalf's Fireworks. I can imagine that there is an element of mysticism to them, but a lot of it is simply a knowledge of explosives. The "healing hands of a king" can be explained simply by the education of the Royal House in the use of certain plants and herbs in healing, as discovered by the Elves. However, there are times when we see more obvious magic unleashed - the main example being Gandalf vs the Balrog. The Istari were forbidden from showing off their powers more obviously except in dire circumstances -fighting a demon of the ancient world just about makes it.

In my view of Middle-earth, there are people with knowledge that may be seen by the unknowledgeable as "mages". Beyond that, the only true "magic" is that of the Valar and the Maiar, and since they were involved in the shaping of the world, it makes sense that they can manipulate it pretty well.

Chrombar
27-11-2010, 06:12
more of that is in the Silmarillion. yet manny magical effects come from created items, like the magical rings.

Iracundus
27-11-2010, 12:08
Even apparent magical effects like the Rings or the Silmarils come instead from a high level of mystic craftsmanship and knowledge of the world rather than the notion of magic as used in other fantasy settings.

One example in the Silmarillion has Sauron and an Elf singing against each other. Their songs themselves have power to alter the world, in much the way as a spell would. The Elf sang to try and conceal his disguise from Sauron, while Sauron sang a song about secrets being revealed. Sauron won so he saw through the Elf's disguise. This is also shown in the LOTR movie, when Saruman and Gandalf compete over influencing the mountain Caradhras. If you dig up the translations of what they are actually saying, they really amount to little songs or verses. Saruman's telling the mountain to awaken and be angry, while Gandalf's tries to lull the mountain back to sleep.

If you go back really far back, Ea and Arda are created from song, or at least song as a metaphor. What all this boils down to is that in Tolkien's Middle Earth paradigm, beings of sufficient power and knowledge can alter the world through acts of will expressed through such media as songs and crafting trinkets.

Shas'o Gavner'Elan
27-11-2010, 17:32
That's interesting. So basically there are lots of minor wizards in Middle-Earth, but many different ways of expressing magic (singing, nature etc.) so they are not often noticed?

Hehe, now I can't the image of Sauron singing Lady Gaga or something to a mountain out of my head. :D

Chrombar
27-11-2010, 23:58
well as far as I've seen in the books there aren't that manny wizzards, and I think most of the elven wizzards stayed in Valinor

Melvaius
29-11-2010, 08:12
There were two other Wizards I believe, known as the blue Wizards, Allatar and Pallando I believe they were called but other than them being the blue Wizards nothing else is mentioned. Wizards in Middle Earth are another kind of Maiar spirit. So in many respects they are a essentially Angelic beings in the form of men, think Castiel from Supernatural for example. They were sent by the Valar to Middle Earth as messengers to aid in the battle against Sauron. Each was given a specific task and it is said that only Gandalf succeeded. The others basically got distracted by lesser callings. In many ways Tolkiens Istari have much more in common with the concept of Angels in Christian lore than wizards and seers mentioned in folklore i.e. Merlin. Wizards are usually set apart from society by being outsiders who can channel 'supernatural' energy by way of unexplained means, science, magic etc, most of the time these kind of wizards are still mortal men. In Tolkiens work Wizards are supernatural beings to begin with. The look of Gandalf for example is what we would class as the stereotypical wizard, however this look is directly influenced by the Norse God Odin who often went about in the guise of a tramp like old man with a brimmed hat.

Chaplain of Chaos
29-11-2010, 16:43
It seems more like tolkiens societies tie into more ancient concepts of mytho poeic worlds where the magic of the world is intrinsic with it's nature. Where as in our modern society we see magic as more cause and effect. I want light so "poof" light appears. This concept of ex nihilo magic does not exist at all in Tolkiens world.

Every case of magic in Tolkiens society can be seen as one exerting ones own will or power over something that already exists and changing it. "Magic" as we understand it then is manifested as a dark and cruel science that twists the natural order. Thus Sauron the sorcerer or Sauron the necromancer. Morgoth, Sauron and Saruman are good examples of "magic" not power ex nihilo but the will to corrupt and change things to suite ones own ends.

Gandalf needs to work with the flow of the natural world, work perhaps within the song of fate that was extolled at the beginning of all creation. When he creates fire he needs fire to work with, when he merely extolls words of power he is using his own intrinsic power as a Maia.

Mortals cannot do what an Istari could do.

Nuada
29-11-2010, 20:17
... whether or not recent LOTR games (Conquest, War in the North, Online etc.) are accurate in the fact that they suggest wizards and mages are common across the world.

I'm same as you, i haven't read many extra LotR books (and haven't read LotR for 25 yrs, must read it again) But i did get the impression magic was very rare and it's only the Maia that are spell casters (the Istari, Sauron, Balrogs, *Tom Bombadil (i think he's Maia as well) Tom's water nymph etc)

Also, wasn't the Witch King called the sorcerer lord or king? or a similar title? .. so maybe the other Ulairi also had minor magical powers? i do vaguely remember some reference to the black breath.



*unless of course you think he's actually Eru. I personally go for first Ainu created

Chrombar
30-11-2010, 17:07
I think the witch king and the other nazgul got theire powers from sauron, before they where just human kings. as far as I know the humans didn't have anny magics at all, couse the istar aren't really human. maybe it has something to do with the ring they got from sauron I don't know I didn't read all the books so far

ForgottenLore
30-11-2010, 18:37
The men of numenor had powers and abilities beyond those of normal men. That was more a racial thing from blessings by the Valar and the little bit of Elven blood in their line.

If your looking for ways to put more "magic" into middle earth that would be the way to do it, claim decent from elves or maia. For the most part magic in ME should be subtle and not at all flashy the various computer games and what not are trying to make it like D&D magic, and it shouldn't be.

Shas'o Gavner'Elan
01-12-2010, 17:39
The men of numenor had powers and abilities beyond those of normal men. That was more a racial thing from blessings by the Valar and the little bit of Elven blood in their line.

If your looking for ways to put more "magic" into middle earth that would be the way to do it, claim decent from elves or maia. For the most part magic in ME should be subtle and not at all flashy the various computer games and what not are trying to make it like D&D magic, and it shouldn't be.

That sounds about right. "Subtle magic" is exactly the message the books seem to be putting across. Even the movie didn't resort to having every second character spouting flames and incinirating any obstacles they came across! If anything, the film's lack of obvious magic-use made ME wizards seem even more mystical.

ForgottenLore
01-12-2010, 19:10
And the movies I thought actually exaggerated the magic more than the books did.

Shas'o Gavner'Elan
01-12-2010, 19:26
Yeh but they kind of had to, otherwise Gandalf would like like a pretty useless wizard. "Oh look, Gandalf sang and things kinda became a bit better" is a bit more boring that "Wow, Gandalf just shot a beam of pure magical light into the Nazgul and saved the remaining Gondorian Knights from their impending doom, before wheeling Shadowfax heroically back towards the towering Gates of Minas Tirith and using his blazing, inspirational staff to lead the exhausted men home!"

ForgottenLore
01-12-2010, 19:38
Oh, I'm not complaining about the magic in the movies, just commenting that they exaggerated it.

In fact I am very happy they didn't make magic more overt in the movies, I was afraid they would make magic all D&D,WOW like.

Shas'o Gavner'Elan
02-12-2010, 18:39
I completely agree. :D

canucklhead
02-12-2010, 22:21
From what I've read of LOTR, and the Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales, magic seems to work this way, IMHO.

Everything has a soul, but not all souls are equal. Imagine the valar and the Maiar as great magnesium flares, bringing the light of day to the deepest darkness. They an perceive everything under that light, and can bring that light to influence things it touches, but only in keeping with their nature. Elves and the Numenorean line of kings were like lighthouses, or great beacon fires, whereas lesser mortals were simple candles.

So Aragorn could bend his will to perceive deeds and thoughts across great distance, as could Legolas and Galadriel. Aragorn unveiled as a true Numenorean was kingly in bearing, and filled the hearts of his fellows with the will to fight on, and an awe and worshipful feeling. Gandalf inspired trust and confidence, and only the darkness under Sauron's power shut out his perception. When aroused, the might of Manwe his (Master?) made the darkest of foes recoil, and he was as a flame, terrible and powerful in his wrath.
Even among lesser mortals, (Theoden, Faramir..etc), there were those bright lights who who saw far, and inspired fellows to their cause.

de Selby
05-12-2010, 20:35
There's a close association in Tolkien's books between 'magic' and divine or infernal authority. Higher beings like Wizards just instruct the natural world to behave as they will it. The Istari also seem to implement a renaissance level of scientific understanding (optics, gunpowder etc) in a pseudo-medieval world. Then there are magical objects that ordinary folk can use (with varying levels of success). An association with the Powers in the west seems to help mortal individuals and races with this sort of thing.

I'm struggling to think of non-magical creatures performing magical acts (ie. learned magic rather than intrinsic powers). I feel it may have been implied once or twice particularly in the case of dark sorcery, but I can't really put my finger on a reference. I think generally it would be necessary to call on some higher (or lower) power to do anything that we would regard as supernatural.

RMacDeezy
08-12-2010, 17:33
de selby, i believe you may be thinking of the mouth of sauron who is described as being a black numenorean who learned black sorcery or something along those lines

brightblade
09-12-2010, 10:37
I think that canucklhead has it right. There is no great well of magic for wizards to draw on to cast spells but the strength of an individual's spirit can be used to exert will on the world. That can be in making objects of power or changing behaviour or encouraging bees or anything else. The hard edge of magic, like fireballs summoned from the palm of the hand just doesn't seem present but raising a storm and drawing lightning from it, is.

More like using one's spirit and will to manipulate what is rather than conjuring magic from somewhere arcane and abstract. How that manifests depends on the character doing the magic, Radagast is different to Beorn who is different to Tom Bombadil who is different to Gandalf, Melian, Sauron, Saruman, Curufin, Feanor and so on....

It is just a reflection of how in tune with the world an individual is. How they use or abuse that connection or understanding is up to them.

Axel
05-02-2012, 08:59
In short to the original question: the way magic is represented and used in most games based on LOTR has not much to do with the background but just with what (the producers assume) sells.

Tupinamba
06-02-2012, 21:14
Great posts that pretty much say it all about magic in Tolkien. Iīd only add a comment about the OP as to the way it is worked out in LOTR/WOTR.

I find that GW made a good job there and magic in these systems is way different from magic in WHFB. Itīs more about affecting morale, subtle effects on movement etc. Nothing like dwellers or comet of cassandora. So, all in all, for a game, I think that rules in both, lotr and wotr, purvey the right atmosphere, while at the same time remaining something playable.

Peregrin
07-02-2012, 12:01
Most of the minor casters are a little off in WotR. I know I've said this in another thread, but, as an example, the goblin shaman's in SBG (core rules) only have Transfix and Fury, which is a lot more subtle than the fireballs they can throw in WotR.

Noobie2k7
08-02-2012, 01:17
Yeah, i really did not understand some of the spells they added to WotR. Like being able to throw fireballs and stuff. Just totally ruins the whole LotR magical thing for me.

Peregrin
08-02-2012, 11:41
Well, it is a New Line Cinema liscence, rather than strictly Tolkien, and PJ did add Saruman casting fire in the extended version. However, it should at the very least be reserved for those who are the top tier of 'loremasters' in Middle Earth.
It's definitely not in the books, though. They use explosives instead.

Stargorger
08-02-2012, 12:17
Hi all!

As stated above, ‘magic’ in Middle Earth is really not ‘magic’ as we think of it nowadays. Consider that technically magic just means ‘an unexplained force’. It doesn’t really have anything to do with concepts like mana or mystical energy. All magic, when people have actually believed in and attempted to use it, as been linked to religion or the spiritual. It’s never really been the kind of utilitarian make-some-fireballs stuff you see in MTG or D&D. And Tolkien, as a staunch Catholic, definitely followed that line of thinking strictly.

While he stated in several places that you won’t find many (or any) overt references to religion in the world of Middle Earth, all the ‘magic’ you see is the inherent, subtle power and order of the world, as others have said. It’s defined by what Is Good and what Is Not Good. Good being ‘in keeping with the plan/fate/design of authority’.

Thus, all ‘magic’ in the LOTR really isn’t magic at all, as described. Rather it’s the inherent authority of the beings wielding it. It’s just command, or knowledge, in a way. That authority manifests in different ways, like song or the ability to craft items that have some of the creator’s will in them, but overall it’s not about ripping some mystical energy force out of the dirt and turning it into fire.

The Istari, as Maiar, have authority in their fashion. But that authority in turn is granted by the Valar, and that in turn by Eru Illuvitar. When the Istari turn against that will (like the wizards who failed), their powers lessen, and eventually, like Saruman, fade. Of course they still have their inherent power/authority, but the ‘energies they were channeling’ if you will, dissipate.
Sauron’s power, besides his own, is gained from Melkor. The powers of the Ringwraiths are gained from Sauron. The ‘dark sorcery’ of the Black Numenoreans like the Mouth of Sauron is simply power/authority granted by those above them (Sauron or the Ringwraiths).

So all this so say: there is no such thing as magicians or wizards in Middle Earth. Tolkien used the term to describe those who have seemingly magical abilities, which simply means authority over the material world. In the games, it’s perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the world to have shamans of the evil races wielding power, since that would simply be authority from Sauron/etc…

Now, of course you could debate whether Sauron would really grant a lowly Orc the ability to shoot fireballs, but it’s theoretically possible. Of course some spells are less in keeping than others (like fireballs…I guess if he’s holding a torch, maybe…) but whatever. The only real disagreement/conflict is in the backstory Games Workshop has invented for some of the characters. For example, Druzahg is described as being banished and going into the wilderness, where he ‘acquired’ his powers. Sorry, but that’s BS. It’s impossible in Middle Earth. Now maybe he met some shadow Balrog who gave him some power, but that kind of magical authority can’t be TAKEN. And certainly not by some lowly Goblin.

I have more of a problem with the Elven Stormcaller. I guess it kinda fits if they’re singing and calling on the storms, but the Wise (Galadriel, etc…) are never going to grant that authority to lessers…it’s not in their character.

Peregrin
09-02-2012, 14:58
I agree with the first two thirds of this, Stargorger. You characterize the nature of Tolkien's 'magic' very nicely. The Valar and Maiar have certain 'magical' abilities by their very nature, much as we would consider angels and fallen angels... you don't think of them as magic users in the D&D sense at all.

As for the elves, that's a little more mystical and obscure. As seen when Frodo is starting to turn into a wraith, elves have a certain spiritual/immortal quality to them that gives them some inherant abilities, and the knowledge to work with those abilities. Elrond, in his healing and in his control of the river that swallows up the wraiths in FotR, is termed a 'Loremaster'. The stormcallers would be in that vein, rather than expressly getting power from the Wise (though they would by nature be working within the heirarchy).

As for goblins, who are most likly corrupted elves, Tolkien mentions that some of the fallen Maiar wander as incorporeal spirits. I could see a rogue goblin like Druzhag being used by one of those to affect the world. Besides, most of the abilities they're talking about have to do with animal control rather than straight up magic.

Still doesn't account for the less subtle abilities, like the fireballs though.

Stargorger
09-02-2012, 15:18
I agree with the first two thirds of this, Stargorger. You characterize the nature of Tolkien's 'magic' very nicely. The Valar and Maiar have certain 'magical' abilities by their very nature, much as we would consider angels and fallen angels... you don't think of them as magic users in the D&D sense at all.

As for the elves, that's a little more mystical and obscure. As seen when Frodo is starting to turn into a wraith, elves have a certain spiritual/immortal quality to them that gives them some inherant abilities, and the knowledge to work with those abilities. Elrond, in his healing and in his control of the river that swallows up the wraiths in FotR, is termed a 'Loremaster'. The stormcallers would be in that vein, rather than expressly getting power from the Wise (though they would by nature be working within the heirarchy).

As for goblins, who are most likly corrupted elves, Tolkien mentions that some of the fallen Maiar wander as incorporeal spirits. I could see a rogue goblin like Druzhag being used by one of those to affect the world. Besides, most of the abilities they're talking about have to do with animal control rather than straight up magic.

Still doesn't account for the less subtle abilities, like the fireballs though.

@Peregrin
That’s true. Good point. So maybe it’s inherent to their natural authority over the natural world too? Hmm. Gotta think on this :-)
And that’s true…if the Stormcallers are in a similar vein as Elrond…although it is worth noting that Elrond, Loremaster or no, has one of the Three Rings. Which were made by Elves, granted. Hmm. I wonder if that authority/ability fades in time? Like with the Numenoreans…although they got it from the Elves I guess. So maybe it just fades as it goes down through the ranks/generations?
Maybe the question is really why aren’t there MORE Stormcaller-type elves?

True, true. Hadn’t thought of that for Druzahg. Although that still isn’t TAKING power, as in, by force. Like, in Star Wars you harness the force through your own will…the Force doesn’t MAKE you use it. Here it’s the reverse. The goblins could not invent these spells on their own…someone or some gene/whatever gave them that ability. The question then is..’who?’

Lol yeah. Good point. At least they don’t have stuff like ‘morph into a gold-skinned god goblin’ lol.

Noobie2k7
10-02-2012, 15:23
What about Kardush the firecaller. He was invented to throw fireballs around. Cannot find any references to him in the books or films so i assume he was invented by games workshop which in my opinion is bad juju, especially when not only inventing a character and saying he was trained to use fire magic by the nazghul but also the fact he uses fire magic at all.

Peregrin
10-02-2012, 15:57
I get a kick out of that, as there are no references to the Nazgul using fire magic.

Stargorger
10-02-2012, 17:08
@Noobie
Lol yeaaaahhh…I…don’t like him. Yeah Peregrin’s right, pretty sure there’s no reference to fire magic at ALL in the books, much less by the Nazgul (which essentially just cast Sunder Spirit and Transfix over and over again).
I seem to remember that Gandalf uses fire magic in the hobbit briefly, but it could be explained-away. It’s very subtle…he lights a fire or something but that’s it.
Yeah I honestly don’t know what their motivation was for Kardush (which, by the way…”Car + douche” does not = a cool name lol) seeing as Mordor already has bags of shamans and other spellcasters, and plenty of named heroes. There was no need for him at all. I can understand needing more named heroes for the Fallen Realms since Tolkien doesn’t mention many, but Kardush???

Tupinamba
10-02-2012, 20:51
Actually the fire magic in The Hobbit is rather explicit and clearly put as magic really, not just fireworks. In the caves of the Misty Mountains itīs like lightning sparks and later against the wargs he puts some tree parts on fire and throwns it at them, but it is a magical fire.

But then, itīs Gandalf we are talking about, the future white wizard. Certainly not something that should be flying around with every minor shaman.

Peregrin
11-02-2012, 01:08
Also, its the equivalent to magical flint and tinder, not fireballs. He has to have something to light (trees ). There is a stronger case for the lightning, but not in regards to Nazgul or goblins.

Stargorger
11-02-2012, 13:05
And I guess we could argue that the lightning is simply him changing the static pressure in the cave, etc... ;-) But that might be pushing it lol.

Good point Tuq....you cool named dude! ;-)
Yeah I'd forgotten that. Gotta go re-read it before the film comes out!

Tupinamba
11-02-2012, 15:19
Yea, I think we all agree about how magic in Tolkien is fundamentally different from other settings, in that itīs not just another form of cause-effect technology, but really something intrinsic to the natural world. That magical world, in the sense that mountains and rivers, beasts and plants all are alive and interlinked with themselves and the powers is something that I really love about his work and that sets it apart from most other fantasy stories, in that it really creates a feeling of being in a different world, not just our current mentality tranported to a medieval/fantasy surrounding.

There were several really good posts explaining it better and I wonīt dwell too much on it again. I only commented because, even so, there is also every so often more explicit magic, particularly when the big guys, like Mayas and Istari, do it. Morgothīs creation of the orcs by twisting the elves and Sauronīs necromancy is pretty "high" magical too.

As to the games, I guess I never perceived the possibility of too explicit magic in lotr/wotr because the way my gaming group plays these systems is quite fluff and background focused. Still, despite some possible exaggerations in WOTR, both systems are clearly different to other "high magic" systems.

PS. Yes, the Tupinamba and the whole history of Brazilian colonizations and its wars are quite interesting and could give good tabletop inspiration. Someday Iīll build my "Bandeirantes" themed Empire force for WHFB, with Tupis as free company and flagellants. ;)

Stargorger
11-02-2012, 18:03
Yea, I think we all agree about how magic in Tolkien is fundamentally different from other settings, in that itīs not just another form of cause-effect technology, but really something intrinsic to the natural world. That magical world, in the sense that mountains and rivers, beasts and plants all are alive and interlinked with themselves and the powers is something that I really love about his work and that sets it apart from most other fantasy stories, in that it really creates a feeling of being in a different world, not just our current mentality tranported to a medieval/fantasy surrounding.

There were several really good posts explaining it better and I wonīt dwell too much on it again. I only commented because, even so, there is also every so often more explicit magic, particularly when the big guys, like Mayas and Istari, do it. Morgothīs creation of the orcs by twisting the elves and Sauronīs necromancy is pretty "high" magical too.

As to the games, I guess I never perceived the possibility of too explicit magic in lotr/wotr because the way my gaming group plays these systems is quite fluff and background focused. Still, despite some possible exaggerations in WOTR, both systems are clearly different to other "high magic" systems.

PS. Yes, the Tupinamba and the whole history of Brazilian colonizations and its wars are quite interesting and could give good tabletop inspiration. Someday Iīll build my "Bandeirantes" themed Empire force for WHFB, with Tupis as free company and flagellants. ;)

Exactly :-)

PS: Gotcha. Makes more sense now. Yes, I'd love to see a large-scale (as in, large selection/range) miniatures game set in the late colonial period. *sigh*. Maybe someday.