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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Galadriel and semantics

CuriousG
Valinor


Dec 20 2012, 7:37pm


Views: 378
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Galadriel and semantics [In reply to] Can't Post

Excellent post, noWizardme!

I'm having trouble finding a large block of time to reply, so I'll have to do it in chunks, and in random order.

Galadriel's line about the word "magic." I must have 10,000 favorite lines from Tolkien, and this is one of them because it's rich in meaning. There's a tendency in all fantasy stories for authors to invent races, then gradually forget the differences between them so eventually they all act and talk the same, they just have pointy ears or not. This was a great reminder of the difference between Elves and mortals. It's repeated and augmented a little later by the Elf who's also confused by the word "magic" when asked about the cloaks. These immortal beings don't share the same perspective that mortals do, down to their word choice in everyday speech, and there's a profound conceptual misunderstanding between the races.

We grow up with fairy tales where magic means turning invisible (check!) and involves reciting spells and ugly witches brewing up nasty things in a pot. I doubt it was intentional, but think how Tolkien reversed the whole witch-and-pot image with the ethereal Galadriel and her wondrous Mirror. For her there is no conjuring and no tricks, which is what magic is to Sam and hobbits. It's more of a manifestation of the spirit. I'm not aware of a concrete explanation for the mechanics of the Mirror, but it seems like it represents the intuitive part of your mind that's buried beneath the rational part, hence the part that dreams and makes creative connections, which is also a little wild and uncontrollable. ("Do not touch the water.")

It's revealing that she says that the Mirror is more helpful when left to its own will, rather than obeying her commands. Creativity works the same way. Try telling an artist to paint a rainbow in a field of daisies with two kids playing with a dog vs. asking them to paint whatever landscape is on their mind. The latter would almost always be more beautiful and more satisfying.

The boats, cloaks, and ropes of Lorien seem to work the same way: there is no recipe of spells that the Elves use, but rather they spontaneously put their love into all that they make, again letting creativity flow naturally without command. So the Elves are mystified that this creative flow is equated in the same word for Wargs of Sauron that don't leave corpses behind or Sauron's emissaries appearing fair (but feeling foul).

I think there's more than expert craftsmanship or better technology that goes into the works of the Elves. I think that they impart a portion of their souls into their works, and that results in things like ropes that untie themselves when the suggestion or need is put to them not by a spell, but by a person's will. I would also guess that there's selectivity involved and that Elvish magic is not neutral. By that I mean that conventional magic works for everyone; spells in Harry Potter work for whoever recites them. But I don't think that if an orc tugged on an Elvish rope that it would untie itself. And if a Nazgul looked into Galadriel's Mirror, I doubt it would be compliant in any fashion. These Elvish things don't have on/off switches.

Another thought about how magic does/doesn't work is that the Phial of Galadriel is no ordinary flashlight. If it was, it would have worked in Orodruin. And when the hobbits confronted Shelob, its intensity wouldn't have increased as their wills grew bolder. There's an organic nature to all these Elvish things that doesn't translate as technological devices. Given that JRR didn't like technology very much, he probably came up with these alternatives to it quite intentionally.

Subject User Time
'The problem of magic' in Tolkien noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Dec 18 2012, 11:53am
    A thought about games noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Dec 18 2012, 1:33pm
    Galadriel and semantics CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Dec 20 2012, 7:37pm
        Magic vs Blessed Cyberia Send a private message to Cyberia Dec 21 2012, 12:22am
            Elvish magic (a helpful/distracting thought from "On Fairy Stories" noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Dec 21 2012, 4:12pm
    Palantiri vs Skype CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Dec 20 2012, 10:14pm
        Or the palantir as YouTube? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Dec 21 2012, 6:59pm
    Gandalf's magic: a wizard's must CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Dec 21 2012, 2:51am
        Compare & Contrast: Terry Pratchett's witches noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Dec 27 2012, 12:55pm
            Magic and knowledge to Medieval witch hunters CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Dec 28 2012, 2:06am
    A problem of terminology Mim Send a private message to Mim Dec 23 2012, 6:41pm
        Magic & Grace of Valar/Aman/Undying Lands Nolofinwe Send a private message to Nolofinwe Dec 24 2012, 3:38pm
            You can add to that sador Send a private message to sador Dec 24 2012, 4:33pm
            The dark side of magic: Nazgul CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Dec 24 2012, 7:56pm
                passive elven magic Cyberia Send a private message to Cyberia Dec 24 2012, 10:10pm
                Light vs. Dark.. Nolofinwe Send a private message to Nolofinwe Dec 25 2012, 4:56am
                    Perception of Lorien (and Imladris for that matter) Nolofinwe Send a private message to Nolofinwe Dec 25 2012, 4:09pm
                        Good comparisons CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Dec 25 2012, 4:24pm
                            Yes Nolofinwe Send a private message to Nolofinwe Dec 25 2012, 4:31pm
                Evidence of anger? Otaku-sempai Send a private message to Otaku-sempai Dec 26 2012, 2:37pm
                    Read Gandalf's explanation to Frodo CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Dec 28 2012, 1:55am
                        Well, to be fair... Otaku-sempai Send a private message to Otaku-sempai Dec 28 2012, 9:26pm
        Please do! noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Dec 27 2012, 12:45pm
        Hobbit magic (to add to the pot!) noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Dec 27 2012, 6:21pm
    Elves/Rivendell Nolofinwe Send a private message to Nolofinwe Dec 31 2012, 3:05pm

 
 
 

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