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Thread: Tolkien's Magic World

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It's been a bit light on pure Tolkien stuff lately so I thought I'd start a new thread on the subject of magic in Tolkien's works (I'm thinking mainly here of TH, SiL, LoTR but the conversation is open to any portrayal of magic in any of his published works or letters).

I want this to be both about magic as portrayed within Tolkien's world (questions such as, How much of Gandalf's magic; light, making fire, etc is reliant on the ring he wears?) to external discussions on magic (where does Tolkien get his view of magic from? Are there any particular myths he draws on? Has magic changed between TH and LoTR), that kind of thing.

I know some on this forum and fairly up on their myths and knowledge of Tolkien's sources so share your knowledge.
So to start off I will pose the question I posed about Gandalf above and expand it to these questions;

1. What is the source of Gandalf's magic?

2. Without the Ring of Fire would he still be able to perform the same magic?

3. Could Gandalf also perform the magic displayed by the other wizards (such as Saruman's hypnotic voice?) and could they perform his.
1. Gandalf is an incarnate Angel, so I would imagine much of his magic comes from that source. However, in other cases (i.e., Elf-magic) it's possible that it is merely a highly developed craft that is not truly supernatural, but appears to be to those unaware of its nature.

2. The Three "were not made as weapons of war or conquest, that is not their power. Those who made them did not desire strength or domination or hoarded wealth, but understanding, making, and healing, to preserve all things unstained" (FotR, The Council of Elrond). The Three were no more items for trivial magic than they were weapons of war, and while Gandalf almost certainly used Narya to raise people's spirits and kindle hope (as was its ability - UT, The Istari), his other abilities came from some other source.

3. It depends on how specialized each of the Istari were (both as Maia originally and as incarnate beings), and I don't know enough about that to comment.
I agree broadly with your points in reply to 1. Eldo but not sure I wholly agree with you on 2. You are right about what is said at the Council but Gandalf seems to be associated with fires and smokes. He's famed for fireworks, he can create light, he sets wood ablaze on Caradhras, he uses flame against the wolves and he kindled the spirits of people and his ring is of fire.
That last bit reminded of something so I had a hunt in Letters and found this comment about fireworks;

"They appear in the books...because they are part of the representation of Gandalf, bearer of the Ring of Fire, the Kindler.."

Given this it is curious to wonder what sort of magic Gandalf would have had without the ring as it clearly seems linked to the sort of magic Gandalf uses.
Gandalf is indeed associated with fire, but I'm not certain how that means Narya was the cause/origin of his more 'trivial' magic. It's possible the association with fire stems from multiple sources. Do you remember which letter that quote came from? I'd like to read the whole thing (or at least a longer passage) to hopefully get a clearer picture.
Firstly I'll reply to your current topic of conversation. I believe Gandalf's association with fire comes from him wearing and possessing the Ring of Fire. And, as far as I know, he never uses it for the offensive, only defensive and, as Elrond says, "understanding, making, and healing, to preserve all things unstained." I believe that's what he was getting at when he said this. The Ring is not for offensive use.

1. I believe the source of Gandalf's magic is twofold. His most primary and the undercurrent of everything that he is comes from the Valar, for it is they who have sent him (they themselves are bestowed the power by Iluvatar). The second source of magic is the Ring of Fire, which comes from the elves. But, as I understand it, all good power comes from the Valar, and all power ultimately comes from Iluvatar. He is the ultimate life-giver.

2. He would still be a very powerful wizard without the Ring of Fire. He is the only Istari to have one of the Three elvish rings of power, and so thus it is an addition to his power. But no, he wouldn't have been able to perform [i:1bl268xc]all[/i:1bl268xc] the things he did without the Ring. But he still would have been powerful without it.

3. I don't believe that he could display the magic displayed by other wizards. I believe that each wizard had their own "area of expertise" in a way, and that was why several of them were sent. They were supposed to compliment each other in their respective strengths and weaknesses. In your example of Saruman's voice, I believe that was a characteristic specific only to Saruman, that was a gift given only to him. Indeed, Saruman was given the most powerful gifts, (mainly knowledge), and these turned out to be his downfall. Gandalf was bestowed with much more subtle (but much greater) gifts, and these enabled him to become the greatest of the Istari.
[quote="Beren":2ijg2qw8]And, as far as I know, he never uses it for the offensive, only defensive and, as Elrond says, "understanding, making, and healing, to preserve all things unstained."[/quote:2ijg2qw8]

What are you referring to when you mention the "defensive"? The word has a few different meanings so I'm not sure if I agree or disagree with you, though I personally find the Ring's power more subtle than the word defensive implies.

[quote:2ijg2qw8]His most primary and the undercurrent of everything that he is comes from the Valar, for it is they who have sent him (they themselves are bestowed the power by Iluvatar).[/quote:2ijg2qw8]

I don't think that the Valar gave Gandalf (or as he was known in Valinor, Olorin) any of his powers. He had been given such gifts as he had by Iluvatar himself before Arda even existed.

I more or less agree with you except on the above points. <img src='/images/smileys/smile.gif' border='0' alt='Smile Smilie' />
By defensive, I mean....hm. A good example is when he used the Ring to defeat the Balrog in Moria. He did not go out and attack the Balrog, he used his power as a defensive weapon. He also used it after they left Balin's tomb (in the book), to slow the oncoming of the Balrog. We are not told explicitly what he did, but, again, he did not go out to attack the Balrog. He used his power to defend. In essense, he doesn't go out to the battlefield and use the ring to win the battle. He uses it in more subtle ways.

Ok, I am not very well-versed in the Istari, but my point was that all power comes from Iluvatar. Whether there is a "middle-man" (or elf, or Valar, haha), is irrelevant. All power comes from Him, (good and bad, mind you).
Beren you said you thought that each wizard had his own area of expertise and I agree with you. Saruman's appears to be knowledge as you say, and one of his 'outward' powers seem to be his voice, presumably to help him persuade the good peoples to work together, Radagast seems to have been given the gift of communing with nature and the other two we don't know.
But take the ring of fire away from Gandalf, the other two possess these abilities without a ring, what is Gandalf's sphere of expertise? Was it always fire associated even before he got the ring? Or did the ring make his magic fire associated? And odd it should be fire, something generally associated with the Enemy. A literal case of fight fire with fire.
On the point of when he uses it he is quite 'aggressive' with it when they are attacked by the wolfs and I'm sure Yavanna would not have approved of him burning the trees down. Its done in defence and after a fair warning but its still harsh on the trees given Tolkien's liking for them.
Eldo the quote I gave is from the end of letter 301.
[quote="Beren":33bzp8j5]A good example is when he used the Ring to defeat the Balrog in Moria.[/quote:33bzp8j5]

I don't think that Gandalf used the Ring to defeat the Balrog. I may be missing something, but I don't recall anything suggesting that he had used the Ring, and it would seem to go against the 'not a weapon' quote, even if it was a weapon used for defensive purposes.

[quote:33bzp8j5]Ok, I am not very well-versed in the Istari, but my point was that all power comes from Iluvatar. Whether there is a "middle-man" (or elf, or Valar, haha), is irrelevant. All power comes from Him, (good and bad, mind you).[/quote:33bzp8j5]

In that case we agree. <img src='/images/smileys/smile.gif' border='0' alt='Smile Smilie' />
Thanks for the reference, petty. :ugeek: I'm not sure if Tolkien is making an in-universe comment (i.e., the fireworks are a manifestation of the Ring's power) or an out-of-universe comment (i.e., he the author added the fireworks to symbolize/illustrate Gandalf's role as the Kindler). I lean towards the second interpretation, though I am probably biased. :lol:
[quote="Eldorion":1073q2mr]I don't think that Gandalf used the Ring to defeat the Balrog. I may be missing something, but I don't recall anything suggesting that he had used the Ring, and it would seem to go against the 'not a weapon' quote, even if it was a weapon used for defensive purposes.[/quote:1073q2mr]

I always thought that when white flame flared up, Gandalf was using the Ring. He says to the Balrog, "I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun."
In fact, I'm going to post the whole section:
"The fire in [the balrog] seemed to die, but the darkness grew...From out of the shadow a red sword leaped flaming. Glamdring glittered white in answer. There was a ringing clash and a stab of white fire...The wizard swayed on the bridge, stepped back a pace, and then again stood still...At that moment Gandalf lifted his staff, and crying aloud he smote the bridge before him. The staff broke asunder and fell from his hand. A blinding sheet of white flame sprang up. The bridge cracked. Right at the Balrog's feet it broke..."


[quote="pettytyrant101":1073q2mr]But take the ring of fire away from Gandalf, the other two possess these abilities without a ring, what is Gandalf's sphere of expertise? Was it always fire associated even before he got the ring? Or did the ring make his magic fire associated? And odd it should be fire, something generally associated with the Enemy.[/quote:1073q2mr]
I could explain in my own words, but I believe Tolkien serves us very well in his essay on the Istari, published in [i:1073q2mr]Unfinished Tales[/i:1073q2mr].
"But the last-comer was named among the Elves Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim, for he dwelt in no place, and gathered to himself neither wealth nor followers, but ever went to and fro in the Westlands...befriending all folk in times of need. Warm and eager was his spirit (and it was enhanced by the ring Narya), for he was the Enemy of Sauron, opposing the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles, and succours in wanhope and distress; but his joy, and his swift wrath, were veiled in garments of grey as ash, so that only those that knew him well glimpsed the flame that was within. Merry he could be, and kindly to the young and simple, and yet quick at times to sharp speech and the rebuking of folly; but he was not proud, and sought neither power nor praise, and thus far and wide he was beloved among all those that were not themselves proud....he would at times work wonders among [Men], loving especially the beauty of fire; and yet such marvels he wrought mostly for mirth and delight, and desired not that any should hold him in awe or take his counsels out of fear."

This is the most informational passage about Gandalf that we have. And, after reading this, I think I was wrong. It was not that he had basic powers and Narya [i:1073q2mr]added[/i:1073q2mr] to them. He already had great powers, and Narya [i:1073q2mr]enhanced[/i:1073q2mr] them. Cirdan gave Narya to Gandalf, perceiving that it would be needed by him, Tolkien tells us. But I also believe that he gave it to Gandalf because Gandalf was "versed" in the ways of fire, and Narya is the Ring of Fire. Anyways, Gandalf's area of expertise is fire, but it isn't just fire. It is also encouragement of the weary, kindling of dead hearts, and always giving good counsel.
Thanks for both quotes, Beren. I still don't think that Narya had anything to do with the Balrog or the flash of white fire: I believe it was much more subtle, as illustrated in the following passage: "So it was that Gandalf took command of the last defence of the City of Gondor. Wherever he came men's hearts would lift again, and the winged shadows pass from memory. Tirelessly he strode from Citadel to Gate, from north to south about the wall; and with him went the Prince of Dol Amroth in his shining mail....

"And yet - when they had gone, the shadows closed on men again, and their hearts went cold, and the valour of Gondor withered into ash." (RotK, V, The Siege of Gondor)
I'm not prepared at the moment for a lengthy post on this subject, but in short, I've always understood that the Rings of Power (generally) enhanced the natural traits of the wearer. Therefore an Istari with certain leanings would find their own inherent Powers enhanced. Though that's not to say certain magical abilities may be added that the bearer might not have had, particularly to a Mortal Ring-bearer.

I'll have to think more about some of the other issues raised when I have more time.

[b:1bqix9az]GB[/b:1bqix9az]
[quote="Gandalfs Beard":12g5wy3z]I'll have to think more about some of the other issues raised when I have more time.[/quote:12g5wy3z]

Well, you seem to have had plenty of time for other posts since then!
So True! Unfortunately I've been to busy thinking about other posts. <img src='/images/smileys/wink.gif' border='0' alt='Wink Smilie' />

[b:ov8ebmn8]GB[/b:ov8ebmn8]
:roll:


(A Beardian response, what! <img src='/images/smileys/bigsmile.gif' border='0' alt='Big Smile Smilie' /> )
:roll:

Indeed. <img src='/images/smileys/wink.gif' border='0' alt='Wink Smilie' />

[b:97z33cs1]GB[/b:97z33cs1]
:lol: