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Magic in Tolkien Mythology

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Magic in Tolkien Mythology is defined as mystical, paranormal, or supernatural activity, and appears in various forms throughout J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional realm of Middle-earth.

Creation mythEdit

See entry under The Silmarillion.

Laws of natureEdit

In Middle-earth there is a wraith-world or Unseen world where the creatures such as the Ringwraiths have a distinctly different presence than that observable in the normal world. This can be seen in the descriptions of Frodo Baggins while wearing the One Ring of the appearance of both the Ringwraiths and the High Elf Glorfindel in that world. Related creatures which may or may not have a connection to that realm are Barrow-wights and the Dead Men of Dunharrow.

Prophecy is well documented in Middle-earth: Boromir and Faramir have "true dreams" about the One Ring and the Halfling, Glorfindel prophesies the nature of the Witch-king's doom, and both the Maia Melian and her descendant Elrond are known to possess the "gift of foresight", allowing them to sense and see what is yet to come. Mandos declared the Prophecy of the North to the Noldor. Any oath sworn by Ilúvatar and the Valar also invokes magic of a kind, as did Fëanor's terrible oath:

"or so sworn, good or evil, an oath may not be broken, and it shall pursue oathkeeper and oathbreaker to the world's end."
-Quenta Silmarillion

In the index of The Return of the King, "wizardry" is described as "magic of kind popularly ascribed to the Wizards (Istari)."

Magic can also be seen having an effect on the world itself: in Eregion the stones speak about the Elves who once lived there (animism).

Supernatural beingsEdit

The Ainur possess vast supernatural abilities that are seen by some as a form of magic; they are essentially seen as "gods" on the scale of the Greek or Norse deities, or as parallels to angels, and analogues thereof, of some present day monotheistic mythologies. Such power might be classified more as "divine power" instead of "magic", yet the lines between both are somewhat vague, with Gandalf himself, called a "Wizard", one of the Maiar.

Magic items and constructionsEdit

Durin's Door of Khazad-dûm is a prime example of a magic construction: the door itself is physical and exists in the primary world, but the ithildin and its response to a password are supernatural and thereby magical. Moon-letters were also discovered by Elrond on Thorin's map of the Lonely Mountain, which revealed the method of opening the secret entrance:

"Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks," read Elrond, "and the setting sun with the last light of Durin's Day will shine upon the key-hole." - The Hobbit

This special combination of spatial and temporal circumstances can be considered a form of magic too. In The Hobbit, the Elvenking of Mirkwood, Thranduil, uses "magic doors" to guard his palace, making it almost impossible for anyone to enter or exit against his will. Also, the trolls Tom, Bert, and William lived in a cavern with blocked by a large rock that contains so powerful magic that even Gandalf (a Maiar whose power at the time was enough to rival that of a Balrog) failed to open, despite using several spells on it.

The tower of Orthanc is said to contain wizardry "older and stronger than Saruman's", and thus the Ents were unable to damage it.

Likewise Elven and Númenórean swords are not just masterfully created weapons, but they also frequently possess magical powers, such as the sword Sting which glows blue when orcs are nearby. The Lembas the Fellowship were given by the Elves of Lórien is capable of keeping a "traveller on his feet for a day of long labour", and the hithlain rope are described as strong, tough, light, long, soft to the hand, packs close and, at Sam's spoken command, unknotted itself when Sam failed to do so. The elven-cloaks the Fellowship receive from the Elves were thought to be "magic cloaks" by Pippin, and although the Elves neither confirmed nor denied this, they said that the cloaks are "a great aid in keeping out of the sight of unfriendly eyes". As proven, the cloaks conceal Frodo and Sam so well that even Gollum could not detect them (functioning similarly to the cloak of invisibility often used in works of fiction). Some of the gifts Galadriel gives to the Fellowship, such as Frodo's Phial and Sam's box of earth from the gardens of Galadriel, also seem to possess magical properties.

Saruman's voice is also clearly magical. In The Hobbit, it is revealed that Gandalf gave the Old Took "a pair of magic diamond studs that fastened themselves and never came undone till ordered." The palantíri are similar to divining spheres used by soothsayers. Not least of all, the Rings of Power and the Silmarils themselves are magical.

The Use of Magic and SorceryEdit

Blessing, Spells, and Natural Power Edit

"Actual" magic as seen in fairy tales is rare outside of The Hobbit, which was written in a more childish style than the other stories concerned. In The Hobbit there are speaking purses, magical fireworks, shapeshifting, and speaking animals. While this light-handed use of magic occurs less in the other works, in The Fellowship of the Ring Tolkien still writes about how Gandalf would use spells to conjure fire, create light, read Frodo's "mind and memory" after his fall at Rivendell's Ford, add "a few touches" of his own to Elrond's calling of the river by causing some of the waves to take the form of "great white horses with shining white riders", open the doors to Moria, "bless" Sam's pony Bill with "words of guard and guiding", hold the door in the Chamber of Mazarbul (which the Balrog then bears a counter-spell against), and to break the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Gandalf also says to Frodo that "it has not been hard for me to read your mind and memory", and both Aragorn and Glorfindel are able to tell the severity of Frodo's injury, and to a certain degree heal it by mere touch.

In The Two Towers, Gandalf first used magic in Fangorn Forest to disarm Aragorn and Gimli and destroy the arrow Legolas fired at him - and later, in the book, after causing "a flash as if lightning had cloven the roof" to knock Wormtongue to the floor, briefly unconscious at Rohan, he uses his voice to prevent Saruman from retreating to Orthanc, break Saruman's staff, and dismiss him after doing so, setting firmly his supremacy in power and status in the order of the Five Wizards. Gandalf also tells Gimli that Saruman could "look like me in your eyes, if it suited his purpose with you", implying that Saruman can create illusions with his magic.

In The Return of the King, Gandalf uses "a shaft of white light" to drive off the flying Nazgûl assaulting him. The Witch-king of Angmar is known as a dark sorcerer (and hence many failed to destroy him; even Gandalf the White was wary of his power and was unsure if he could prevail against him), using something resembling a "blasting spell" to force open the gates of Minas Tirith combined with the force of a battering ram.

All Elves themselves have greater spiritual powers than humans, as well as being immortal unless through murder or loss of will to live. They possess many gifts that humans would not have: High Elves had the ability to see creatures of shadow. Like the Nazgûl, and they (especially the Noldor) also are considerably more powerful than any other Elf-kind because the light of Valinor is within them. Legolas is said to have far greater senses than most non-elven living beings, capable of seeing and hearing at far greater scales than men could, while capable of resting his mind (equivalent to human sleeping) even while physically walking, while Glorfindel was able to ease the severity of Frodo's cursed wound through mere physical contact and urge his white elf-horse on at high speed with words in his tongue (Noro lim, noro lim, Asfalof!). There are even more significant instances of innate magic among Elven lords and ladies: In the Second Age, the High King Gil-galad's power had grown great, and because of that he was able to protect lands as far as Greenwood and his power continued to grow, forcing the spirit of Sauron to stay in Mordor out of fear of Gil-galad discovering that he had survived the fall of Numenor. In Lothlorien, Galadriel uses her mirror to show scenes from the past, present, and future, as well as being apparently able to see any within the borders of her realm. Elrond, though called "a master of healing" and capable of greatly mending even near-fatal cursed injuries, displays less passive use of what would be called "magic" in desperate situations by calling forth the river to repel the Nine Riders, as Gandalf explains, "Elrond commanded it. The river of this valley is under his power, and it will rise in anger when he has great need to bar the Ford."

All sentient inhabitants of Middle-earth have the ability of sanwe-latya, literally meaning "thought-opening". This ability is much like telepathy, allowing a "guest" mind to enter a "host" mind for the exchange of thought. It was also possible through the application of "Unwill" to close off the mind from outside influence. These abilities were unknown to most of Middle-earth, although they are not wholly forgotten. Gandalf reads Frodo's mind and memory in Rivendell, and later communicates with Elrond and Galadriel speaking aloud.

A lot of what could be called magic is intrinsic to Middle-earth and is therefore not specifically recognized as magic in the stories themselves. Other types are hard to combine in a satisfying fashion: while it is clear that they are magical, this magic does not come from a single source and is very dissimilar. This difference is voiced in The Lord of the Rings by Galadriel:

"And you?" she said, turning to Sam. "For this is what you folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same word for 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?"

Anthropomorphism and Sorcery Edit

Likewise, in the stories of The Silmarillion Finrod used wizardry to change the shape of Beren himself and his followers in order to infiltrate Angband, and Lúthien uses magic to lull Carcharoth, Melkor and everyone in Melkor's fortress into a deep slumber. Finrod sings spells to hide his identity from Sauron and to do battle with him, Melian uses magic to create a barrier around her land of Doriath which is for a time seemingly impenetrable to all (though the power of fate and the Silmaril was able to pierce it), and Sauron uses wizardry to create a phantom of Eilinel to deceive Gorlim. In The Hobbit, Beorn is described as "a skin-changer. Sometimes he had the hame of "a huge black bear", other times a "great strong black-haired man with huge arms and a great beard". Also, Bilbo, Gandalf and the Dwarves are said to have put "a great many spells" over the buried pots of gold from the cache of the trolls, though this may have been merely superstitious.

"Sorcery" is a term sometimes used that implies the use of magic by Evil beings; and the prime figure of sorcery's use, throughout the ages of Middle-earth, is Sauron. During the First Age Sauron possessed anthropomorphic powers, as told in the story of Beren and Luthien, and is there told to have changed into a "vampire" and a werewolf in two different instances. Radagast, a knowledgable Istar like all other Istari, states two Ages later during the time of The Hobbit that "...a human sorcerer could not summon such evil", referring to the dark magic within Dol Guldur of the inhuman Necromancer, who was Sauron. Additionally, in The Return of the King, it is written that the Mouth of Sauron had practiced "sorcery" under Sauron himself - implying that the Mouth, being merely a Man, could only learn such arts from him.

"Magic" in the LOTR FilmsEdit

In The Lord of the Rings fantasy movies, there is also great demonstration of supernatural elements illustrated, arguably even more than in the novels.

External linksEdit

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