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Tolkien at UVM - 2012 summer - week 2 - A Wizard's Staff

bglenney_uvm
The Shire

Jul 14 2012, 2:01am

Post #1 of 9 (435 views)
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Tolkien at UVM - 2012 summer - week 2 - A Wizard's Staff Can't Post

One of my students this past year (I teach high school Latin and English) asked me if Sauron's Ring was like a "horcrux" in the Harry Potter series. We discussed the similarities and differences, and the student decided that the Ring was indeed a form of horcrux: a powerful being partitions his power and stores part of that power in an object that no one once the object had some time to work its addictive magic would be willing to destroy; the body of the entity can be killed or destroyed but its spirit lives on because of this magical reliquary. Destroy the object, however, and the entity is permanently destroyed. The motives Tolkien gives for Sauron's creation of the Ring, as far as I can tell, is singular: to dominate the wearers of the other Rings of Power and, through them, to dominate their peoples. If he conceived of this Ring as a way of preserving his power, or spirit, I'm not aware that Tolkien addressed the issue.

What about a Wizard's staff? When Saruman refuses to accept Gandalf's offer of mercy after the Battle of Helm's Deep, Gandalf reveals himself as the White Wizard and casts his former superior out of the Order of the Istari, using his own power to destroy Saruman's staff. As Frodo and his companions will later learn, this fallen Wizard remains dangerous, but his power as a Wizard is gone.

Question: Where does the power of a Wizard reside and come from? Is the staff a mere symbol? ...or, like the Ring, it stores its master's power? Does a Wizard need his staff in order to work his wizardry, or does the power come from within his own spirit?


Tigero
Rivendell

Jul 14 2012, 3:08pm

Post #2 of 9 (261 views)
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Wizards are maiar spirits in human bodies, that's why they have powers [In reply to] Can't Post

But about their staffs... interesting question, I can't remember any part where wizards would use their powers without a staff. I'd say that the staff is a channeling device, but the power is in the wizards themselves.

Pessimists have no disappointments.


Radagast-Aiwendil
Gondor


Jul 14 2012, 4:48pm

Post #3 of 9 (209 views)
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I think it has various uses [In reply to] Can't Post

Aside from the obvious use as a walking stick for an old man, a staff would have served as both a symbol of the wizard's authority and as a potent talisman. I imagine that a wizard's staff would have had some enchantment laid upon it, which would aided the wizard in displays of power and maybe would have helped them to channel and restore their strength. However, it is important to remember that the exact effect that Tolkien intended will never be known, though it is clear that a wizard did not need a staff. When Saruman's staff (his symbol of authority) is broken, it indicates the loss of his position, but I think the only reason that Saruman lost all of his power (save his voice) was because he was cast from the Order of Wizards.

"A Wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early: he arrives precisely when he means to!"-Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring.

(This post was edited by Radagast-Aiwendil on Jul 14 2012, 4:49pm)


Mim
The Shire

Jul 14 2012, 7:21pm

Post #4 of 9 (220 views)
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The staff is an instrument [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't think the wizards power has a one to one relationship with the wizards staff. I see it more as an instrument which makes wielding their power easier, a short of channeling. I do think they are still powerful without them, though. Saruman is still dangerous without his staff, he still has a certain power but without his staff it is much more difficult for him to channel the more "magical" side of his power. Not because it isn't there anymore, but because he doesn't have the right instrument to use it. Which is different from the ring because the ring holds the power instead of simply channeling it.


Curious
Half-elven


Jul 16 2012, 2:31am

Post #5 of 9 (194 views)
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The story of a magic-user who can't be killed is an old one. [In reply to] Can't Post

Usually they have hidden their heart in some secret location. I'm not aware of any stories like Tolkien's, where the life force is kept in an irresistible object that cannot willingly be destroyed. I don't think Rowling's horcruxes are as seductive as the Ring. Once they are found and the means of destruction is at hand, I don't see any hesitation to destroy them. But you make a good point about their similarities to the Ring.

It is unclear whether Sauron intentionally used the Ring to preserve his life, or whether that was just a byproduct of creating the Ring. It certainly did have that effect, and it also became the means of destroying Sauron, but it is quite possible that Sauron did not anticipate either of those side effects.

Regarding the Wizard's staff, in LotR it was important. Gandalf broke his staff to break the bridge under the Balrog, gets a new one in Lothlorien, apparently. Later he refused to give his new staff to Hama in Rohan because he wanted to use it in Theoden's hall, and did to dramatic effect. And as you note, Gandalf breaks Saruman's staff when he broke his power.

However, one difference between the good guys and the bad in Middle-earth is that the good guys have an ever-renewable source of power in Eru, while the power exerted by Melkor and his followers is not renewable. Thus Melkor is greatly weakened in the War of Wrath, but has used his power to taint all of Arda. Sauron is greatly weakened by the loss of the Ring, but he was also weakened by setting himself up as a second Dark Lord -- Gandalf once commented that at the end of the First Age Sauron was at his strongest, stronger even than Morgoth, because he had not yet spread himself thin like Morgoth.

So when Gandalf was returned from the dead by the Higher Powers as Gandalf the White, he had more power than before, and the power in his staff may not have come from himself, but from the Higher Powers, and ultimately from Eru, whose power does not diminish. On the other hand by the time Gandalf broke Saruman's staff he may already have lost much of his power creating a mini-Mordor in Isengard, a task which the Higher Powers certainly would not help.


bglenney_uvm
The Shire

Jul 16 2012, 3:10am

Post #6 of 9 (195 views)
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a wizard's power (minus the staff) [In reply to] Can't Post

I definitely agree. The power comes from within them, and after Gandalf breaks his own staff on the Bridge of Khazad-dm, he still has plenty of power (and Glamdring) to defeat the Balrog. Thanks for your response!


bglenney_uvm
The Shire

Jul 16 2012, 3:16am

Post #7 of 9 (179 views)
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a wizard's staff [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for your response. I agree that the staff is secondary. Perhaps not solely symbolic, but definitely not the source of a wizard's power.

In the Peter Jackson films, which (for the most part) I viewed with great delight and satisfaction, I was alarmed that he added that scene wherein the Lord of the Nazgul and Gandalf confront one another on some upper level of Minas Tirith (instead of at the main gate) with the Nazgul, after a test of wills, using his power to shatter Gandalf's staff. Alas, if only I had been in that film planning session!!! (Of course, I would have already been kicked out after my violent protests over the rewrite of Faramir's character.)


bglenney_uvm
The Shire

Jul 16 2012, 3:30am

Post #8 of 9 (214 views)
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a wizard's staff - horcruxes - the good guys v. the bad guys [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for your response. I agree that the "storage of power" aspect is about the limit of what horcruxes and the Ring have in common.

I think your comments about the inexhaustible "back-up power" the Good Guys have (from Eru) are right on the mark. Once a Good Guy turns to the Dark Side (my apologies for mixing storylines), that power source is cut off. (You've got me all worked up about that passage about Sauron after Morgoth's final defeat. I need to go find my copy of the Silmarillion!)

This idea of spending one's power on one's work has struck another chord with me, too: I'm thinking of those moments in the Silmarillion when one of the Valar speaks of having worked some wonder that he/she will not be able to duplicate. Feanor picks up on this line and says pretty much the same thing about the Silmarils, as the Teleri will describe their ships.


(This post was edited by bglenney_uvm on Jul 16 2012, 3:31am)


Otaku-sempai
Half-elven


Jul 16 2012, 4:47pm

Post #9 of 9 (300 views)
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The breaking of Gandalf's staff... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
In the Peter Jackson films, which (for the most part) I viewed with great delight and satisfaction, I was alarmed that he added that scene wherein the Lord of the Nazgul and Gandalf confront one another on some upper level of Minas Tirith (instead of at the main gate) with the Nazgul, after a test of wills, using his power to shatter Gandalf's staff. Alas, if only I had been in that film planning session!!! (Of course, I would have already been kicked out after my violent protests over the rewrite of Faramir's character.)



I would have preferred that the Witch-king of the films had not broken Gandalf's staff; however, this seems to have set up the alterations to the scene between Aragorn and the Mouth of Sauron. Sauron's servant presents the company with a token, Frodo's mithril shirt, which leads to the beginnings of dispair. In the book, Gandalf was able to dispell this dispair and send the Mouth of Sauron packing. Here, however, Gandalf has lost his staff, making him more vulnerable. It is Aragorn who sees this and must rally the company with a dramatic gesture--in this case, removing the head of Sauron's messenger. Not an ideal solution, perhaps; but it serves its purpose.

"Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house." - Aragorn

 
 

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