Tolkiens Magic

It was not an easy decision for me, what to begin this topic with, therefore I have chosen to use Tolkien's own words as an introduction for this little essay and quote three passages from the book "TheLetters":

Anyway all this stuff is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine. With Fall inevitably, and that motive occurs in several modes. With Mortality, especially as it affects art and the creative (or as I should say, sub-creative) desire which seems to have no biological function, and to be apart from the satisfactions of plain ordinary biological life, with which, in our world, it is indeed usually at strife. This desire is at once wedded to a passionate love of the real primary world, and hence filled with the sense of mortality, and yet unsatisfied by it. It has various opportunities of 'Fall'. It may become possessive, clinging to the things made as 'its own', the sub-creator wishes to be the Lord and God of his private creation. He will rebel against the laws of the Creator - especially against mortality. Both of these (alone or together) will lead to the desire for Power, for making the will more quickly effective, - and so to the Machine (or Magic). By the last I intend all use of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents - or even the use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills. The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic than is usually recognised.

I have not used 'magic' consistently, and indeed the Elven-queen Galadriel is obliged to remonstrate with the Hobbits on their confused use of the word both for the devices and operations of the Enemy, and for those of the Elves. I have not, because there is not a word for the latter (since all human stories have suffered the same confusion). But the Elves are there (in my tales) to demonstrate the difference. Their 'magic' is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more effortless, more quick, more complete (product, and vision in unflawed correspondence). And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation. The 'Elves' are 'immortal', at least as far as this world goes: and hence are concerned rather with the griefs and burdens of deathlessness in time and change, than with death. The Enemy in successive forms is always 'naturally' concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines; but the problem : that this frightful evil can and does arise from an apparently good root, the desire to benefit the world and others - speedily and according to the benefactor's own plans - is a recurrent motive.

From: Letter #131 to Milton Waldman

Anyway, a difference in the use of 'magic' in this story is that it is not to be come by by 'lore' or spells; but is in an inherent power not possessed or attainable by Men as such. Aragorn's 'healing' might be regarded as 'magical', or at least a blend of magic with pharmacy and 'hypnotic' processes.
From: Letter #155 to Naomi Mitchison (draft)

Their magia the Elves and Gandalf use (sparingly): a magia, producing real results (like fire in a wet faggot) for specific beneficent purposes. Their goetic effects are entirely artistic and not intended to deceive: they never deceive Elves (but may deceive or bewilder unaware Men) since the difference is to them as clear as the difference to us between fiction, painting, and sculpture, and 'life'.


So, the essence of this essay is, that Tolkien does not use 'magic' just in form of spells - like many other epi of the genres "Fiction and Fanatasy" - but has a rather sophisticated and distinctive standpoint about this issue. Gandalf seems the only one to use spells occasionally, and in most other cases it is left to the reader to decide whether something is 'magic' or not.

It seems to me, that most races have their - inherent - skills, which appear to many of the other races as magic. But for themselves, it are just a skills, used more or less naturally and without much ado.

Furthermore, another form of Tolkien's use of the term 'magic' - which in his own terms seems to be the evil form of it - is closely connected to machines as he clearly explains in his letter above.


First of all the most important item in the LotR:

This ring has the possibility to control people, read their mind and make them invisible. If the ring is worn by a 'higher' creature, it also means power and dominance.

Other items found in Middle-earth: The rings of water, fire and air, which were kept secret, but they also were subject to the One. They could ward off the decays of time and postpone the weariness of the world.

With these rings, many good things were made and they IMHO have to be magical. Because which item can ward of decays of time in our world?? Also every ring which shows the mind of the one who wears it, is magical.

And from his other works of mythology:

Now the races:

The elves have many interesting skills. Their rings also play a big role in it.

The mirror of Galadriel:

A 'bowl' of water which shows things that:"

were and things that are and things that yet may be.But which it is that he sees, even the wisest cannot always tell."
Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter: The Mirror of Galadriel

And after Frodo didn't answer the question if he wants to look into the mirror, Galadriel asks Sam to look into it:

'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 they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic? ''I did,' said Sam, trembling a little between fear and curiosity. `I'll have a peep, Lady, if you're willing.'
Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter7: The Mirror of Galadriel

So also the elves don't see there 'Art' as magic. Also this is one proof that also the hobbits think that there exists magic. We can find another proof in an dialog between Frodo and Sam:

I'd dearly love to see some Elf-magic, Mr. Frodo! ''I wouldn't,' said Frodo. `I am content. And I don't miss Gandalf's fireworks, but his bushy eyebrows, and his quick temper, and his voice.'`You're right,' said Sam. `And don't think I'm finding fault. I've often wanted to see a bit of magic like what it tells of in old tales, but I've never heard of a better land than this. It's like being at home and on a holiday at the same time, if you understand me. I don't want to leave. All the same, I'm beginning to feel that if we've got to go on, then we'd best get it over. 'It's the job that's never started as takes longest to finish_, as my old gaffer used to say. And I don't reckon that these folk can do much more to help us, magic or no. It's when we leave this land that we shall miss Gandalf worse, I'm thinking.' 'I am afraid that's only too true, Sam,' said Frodo. `Yet I hope very much that before we leave we shall see the Lady of the Elves again.
Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter7: The Mirror of Galadriel

The light of Galadriel:

After the whole party got their presents from Galadriel, Frodo gets as a present a small crystal phial. Galadrial says:"

'In this phial,' she said, `is caught the light of Eärendil's star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out. Remember Galadriel and her Mirror!
Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter: The Mirror of Galadriel

So is it magic if you catch the light of a star mixed with some fountain water in a phiol? It can also be a chemical reaction of a crystal or somethin else.

The cloaks of Galadriel:

Are these magic cloaks? ' asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder. `I do not know what you mean by that,' answered the leader of the Elves. `They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land. They are elvish robes certainly, if that is what you mean. Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lórien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make. Yet they are garments, not armour, and they will not turn shaft or blade. But they should serve you well: they are light to wear, and warm enough or cool enough at need. And you will find them a great aid in keeping out of the sight of unfriendly eyes, whether you walk among the stones or the trees.
Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter8: Farewell to Lórien

So this also prooves that elves don't believe in magic. She says that it's just produced the right way. (Could be kind of function wear, huh?)

The Door in Moria

A door which is opened with the right password "friend". It reminds me a bit on Ali Baba?! Ok, in the times of speach recognition etc. it it is not hard to build such a door. If you want to find out more about the door click on the link. I put it to the elves, cause the magic belongs to the elves and this is what this essay is about.


The skill of walking silently

They possessed from the first the art of disappearing swiftly and silently, when large folk whom they do not wish to meet come blundering by; and this an they have developed until to Men it may seem magical.
So the hobbits don't see there skill as magical. The decision if this is magical, depends - like all the others - on you.


I didn't find anything for the human by now, the only one I thought about - Aragorn - is not a 100%human. He is related to the Children of Ilúvatar


The 5 Wizards. Tolkien himself says that Wizards definetly sometimes use magic. Humans think that they have magic, but there are other - more or less - possible explanations. But I think Gandalfs Magic belongs often to his staff. Their magic is also often based on their wisdom and their knowledge.


The Magic of speaking with animals

  1. Shadowfax: Gandalf took this horse from the King of Rohan. He and the King himself were the only ones who could ride Shadowfax.
  2. Gwaihir the Windlord: Gwaihir helped Gandalf in Isengard. He helped him to escape.
His staff

  1. Light: I think light mustn't be magic, there are many other possible explanations.
  2. Fireworks: I think this is partly magic. If it would be just magic, he wouldn't have to prepare it before. It could be also a good knowledge of chemistry.

Ok, Radagast is not a very active wizard in LOTR but he has the possibility to speak with beasts and birds.


His Voice

Tolkien himself says that Sarumans voice is not magic or hypnotic.

(Quote not found by now)

Dwarves are not very magical. I didn't find out something bigger which belonged to the category of magic

Mithril This mineral prevents Frodo from getting killed by a troll with a spear. I think that this mineral is also a bit magical.

by ChrisC

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