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The nature of the magic of dwarves

Entwife Wandlimb
Lorien


May 15 2017, 3:19pm

Post #1 of 20 (3361 views)
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The nature of the magic of dwarves Can't Post

I was rereading Thorin's Lonely Mountain song and was struck by:
The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells

After the song, Tolkien writes:
As they sang the hobbit felt ... by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves.

Which got me thinking about the magic of the dwarves. Were they magical or just extraordinarily skilled craftsmen? Was the magic in "An Unexpected Party" figurative or literal?

Later, we read that the dwarves created the Moon-letters, which seem magical but could be brilliant craftsmanship.

In FotR, Gimli says of the maker of the Doors of Durin: "Narvi and his craft and all his kindred have vanished from the earth."

Which gets me wondering, did the ancient dwarves have a magic that was lost to the modern generation? Or was it just lost resources and skills?

For example, the mithril coat seems almost magical but it's clear from Gandalf's explanation that its strength comes from the skill of the dwarves at smithing mithril. I seem to recall that the moon letters in The Hobbit may have been made of mithril, too. In which case, the dwarves are just using something that seems magical.

Was the craftsmanship of the dwarves a sign that they had minds of metal and wheels?

Did Tolkein flesh out the magic of the dwarves in The Silm. or elsewhere or was it something suggested at to create an atmosphere, along the lines of Biblo's fireworks being "like a locomotive"? Was it a part of the theme that modern man traded science and industry for wonder and spirituality?


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


May 15 2017, 4:20pm

Post #2 of 20 (3303 views)
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Dwqrf-magic [In reply to] Can't Post

From The Hobbit, Chapter II "Roast Mutton"

Quote
...[The Dwarves] brought up their ponies, and carried away the pots of gold, and buried them secretly not far from the track by the river, putting a great many spells over them, just in case they ever had the chance to come back and recover them.


So the Dwarves of Thorin and Company possessed some magic, or at least believed that they did.

More to the point was the Dwarf-forged sword Narsil that cut the Ring from the hand of Sauron. Do we have any doubt at all that Narsil should be considered to be a magical blade?

"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes


FarFromHome
Valinor


May 15 2017, 6:24pm

Post #3 of 20 (3293 views)
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What are spells though? [In reply to] Can't Post

The word 'spell' didn't originally mean magic - it just meant forms of spoken words. From the Online Etymological Dictionary:
Old English spell "story, saying, tale, history, narrative, fable; discourse, command," .... Compare Old Saxon spel, Old Norse spjall, Old High German spel, Gothic spill "report, discourse, tale, fable, myth"
Only later did the element of magic become uppermost:
"set of words with supposed magical or occult powers, incantation, charm" first recorded 1570s; hence any means or cause of enchantment. [From the same source]
The word seems to have evolved its 'magical' meaning from the way secret or specialist knowledge would be passed down the generations in forms of words that had to be memorised and repeated (or sometimes, written down, which had a kind of magic of its own, and also led to the modern word 'spelling'). That would make perfect sense for the secret skills of the Dwarves - no need for magic as such, although the Dwarves may have thought of their hoarded knowledge as a kind of magic anyway.

There's a story I heard about the magical incantations that were used in the forging of some ancient Japanese weapons. It seems that by reciting exactly the correct incantation at each moment of the forging process, the timings were perfect to produce the highest quality blade! No magic required, but believing it was magic, and therefore sticking faithfully to the ritual, made it possible to pass this special skill from generation to generation.

So I think you could say that 'spell' doesn't necessarily equal 'magic'. Tolkien rarely seems to give definitive answers to questions like these. He leaves it up to the reader, who is then in the same position as the hobbits when they wonder about 'elf-magic', which to the Elves themselves isn't magic at all, just skill.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



Entwife Wandlimb
Lorien


May 15 2017, 7:10pm

Post #4 of 20 (3281 views)
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like the daggars from the Barrow Downs [In reply to] Can't Post

Good point about concealing the trolls' treasure, Otaku-sempai. But I wonder why didn't they use more magic to conceal themselves, for example, on the rest of their journey? And why doesn't Gimli ever seem to use magic? I guess his immunity to Saruman's voice might be magical.

Also a good point that the dwarves forged Narsil, which reminds me that men forged the daggers of the Westernese from the Barrow Downs. Merry's harmed the Witch King. Did those men use magic to forge them, or did they use things like mithril? But it seems like none of the other daggers would have done the job "No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will.
Really seems magical.


Elarie
Grey Havens

May 15 2017, 7:16pm

Post #5 of 20 (3291 views)
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North European craftsmanship [In reply to] Can't Post

Knowing that Tolkien was very familiar with English and North European folklore and traditions, here are a couple of quotes from "Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition: Customs, Rites and Ceremonies" by Nigel Pennick that might be relevant:

"In traditional handicrafts there is no distinction between magic, religion, and artistry, for the craftsperson has a subtle rapport with the material world much more than mere manipulative skill. In traditional society, people who made things were seen as transformers of the world performing magical acts for the benefit of all members of the family, clan, tribe, or nation. The smith, predominantly seen as a worker of iron, but also a maker in general, had a mythical status."

"The strap work of doors and heavy oak chests frequently bears magical sigils hammered into the iron when it was hot. The act of striking the pattern into the metal is in itself a magical act of will."
(Chapter 7, Materials and Crafts)

The book has hundreds of examples of "magic" intertwined with everyday work and craftsmanship, and quite of few examples of these traditions being continued into the 20th century in England. Perhaps the reason that Tolkien never clearly differentiated between magic and craftsmanship is because they were inseparable in the pre-industrial world and to come right out and say, "this is magic and that is craftsmanship" would have been a wholly modern attitude that would have been out of place in Middle-earth.

__________________

Gold is the strife of kinsmen,
and fire of the flood-tide,
and the path of the serpent.



Entwife Wandlimb
Lorien


May 15 2017, 7:19pm

Post #6 of 20 (3273 views)
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// Very interesting! [In reply to] Can't Post

 


Entwife Wandlimb
Lorien


May 15 2017, 9:49pm

Post #7 of 20 (3269 views)
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Gimli's lack of magic [In reply to] Can't Post

That's very interesting and makes sense to me. Overall, much of the magic of the good seems to be closely related to wisdom.

On the other hand, I do think it's odd how the dwarves don't use magic again other than to hide their treasure early on -- surely they could have used it again on their journey. I also can't think of Gimli have any magic other than to be immune to Saruman, which also seems much like wisdom.


Elarie
Grey Havens

May 15 2017, 10:14pm

Post #8 of 20 (3269 views)
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Samurai sword ritual [In reply to] Can't Post

The wonderful PBS NOVA show "Secrets of the Samurai Sword" mentions the rituals that accompany the sword making and how they ensure that the process is followed in exactly the same way every time. One of my favorite documentaries which I re-watch every once in awhile just because the sword-making is so cool. Smile (Psst - It's also on YouTube)

__________________

Gold is the strife of kinsmen,
and fire of the flood-tide,
and the path of the serpent.



FarFromHome
Valinor


May 16 2017, 7:07am

Post #9 of 20 (3241 views)
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Neat, thanks! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks too for all the detail in your other post, so much better than my vague recollections!

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings



noWizardme
Valinor


May 17 2017, 9:12am

Post #10 of 20 (3206 views)
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Some thoughts [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien seems to me to use magic more playfully in TH than in LOTR (for example, Gandalf blows coloured smoke rings and moves them around; there's the infamous talking purse and Beorn's dogs). So one possibility is that dwarves magic doesn't appear in LOTR because Tolkien had quietly dumped the idea.

What magic is, and how it works, is something Tolkien doesn't tell us much in LOTR. In a letter he went further, and explained that LOTR was largely a story about moral choices, in which he felt a long description of magic would be out of place (I wrote a detailed post about this once- here's a link if you're interested http://newboards.theonering.net/...i?post=821722#821722 )

I think it works well in LOTR that we don't know the rules and limitations of magic. we're then in the same position as the hobbits - pushed into a strange and wonderous world, where the unexpected might happen. Did the rope magically come when Sam called, or was it a bad knot? Tolkien gets away with it because he doesn't use magic in a contrived way to solve problems.

I agree with everyone else that magic is anyway an imprecise term - easily confused with extreme skill, advanced technology, or an innate ability. It would make sense to me that the magic that dwarves have (if any) is bound up in their craftsmanship, and the things they make.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Morthoron
Gondor


May 20 2017, 5:32pm

Post #11 of 20 (3037 views)
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Some other thoughts on Dwarven magic... [In reply to] Can't Post

In TH, Thorin makes mention of "marvellous and magical toys, the like of which is not to be found in the world now-a-days." Again, referring to abilities long lost by the Dwarves (a recurrent theme in both TH and FotR).

Another interesting thought is that El the Dark Elf learned his smithcraft from the ancient Dwarves, and created Anglachel, the black blade that eventually was reforged as Gurthang by the Elves of Nargothrond and talked to Trin before his suicide.

The question is, though, like the West Gate of Khazad-dm, which was made by Narvi the Dwarf in league with Celebrimbor, were the magic propensities of the items enhanced by the Elves who assisted in their manufacture?

Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.



(This post was edited by Morthoron on May 20 2017, 5:33pm)


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


May 20 2017, 9:41pm

Post #12 of 20 (3010 views)
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Dwarven Doors [In reply to] Can't Post

There is the matter of outer doors to dwarven cities and delvings in general: almost impossible to find when closed, special conditions to be met sometimes before they can be opened, and magically resistant to damage. Surely this was the magic of the Dwarves themselves at work. I doubt that any Elf took part in the crafting of the Secret Door in Erebor.

"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes


Morthoron
Gondor


May 21 2017, 1:55am

Post #13 of 20 (2990 views)
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True, I had not considered that. [In reply to] Can't Post

Interesting though that Celebrimbor inlaid the Moria Gates with ithildin, when the use of this material was supposed to be a Dwarvish craft.

Please visit my blog...The Dark Elf File...a slighty skewed journal of music and literary comment, fan-fiction and interminable essays.



Yngwulff
Gondor


May 21 2017, 9:51pm

Post #14 of 20 (2913 views)
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ithildin [In reply to] Can't Post

It was made out of mithril (ultimately supplied by the dwarves of Moria), but then again when the door was made, elves and dwarves were on friendly terms. So the making of the western door of Moria was in all likelihood a joint effort.

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.



Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

May 27 2017, 8:31am

Post #15 of 20 (2749 views)
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Magic, Science or Craft? [In reply to] Can't Post

And was the talking purse in the Hobbit originally of Dwarven origin? Do you know, I think we could possibly design something like a talking purse nowadays. A mobile phone with an ajutomatic alarm, perhaps?


Ithilisa
Rivendell

Jun 16 2017, 3:04am

Post #16 of 20 (2399 views)
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Where is the talking purse in The Hobbit? [In reply to] Can't Post

You've got me curious. I'm not as familiar with The Hobbit as I am with LOTR and my copy at least has no index. Where in the story does the talking purse come in? My Complete Guide to Middle Ear doesn't list it.

"I name you Elf-friend; and may the stars shine upon the end of your road!" - Gildor

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."- Thorin


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Jun 16 2017, 6:47am

Post #17 of 20 (2380 views)
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In the possession of a Troll [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
You've got me curious. I'm not as familiar with The Hobbit as I am with LOTR and my copy at least has no index. Where in the story does the talking purse come in? My Complete Guide to Middle Ear doesn't list it.


The Talking Purse comes into play when Bilbo attempts to pick-pocket one of the three Trolls.

"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes


Ithilisa
Rivendell

Jun 17 2017, 3:01am

Post #18 of 20 (2298 views)
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Thanks! [In reply to] Can't Post

 

"I name you Elf-friend; and may the stars shine upon the end of your road!" - Gildor

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."- Thorin


Omnigeek
Lorien


Jun 20 2017, 6:53pm

Post #19 of 20 (2214 views)
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The nature of magic [In reply to] Can't Post

I always felt that magic in Middle-Earth was very Scandanavian in nature. That is to say, it was based on enhancing the nature of things (doors are stronger and/or more welcoming, swords are sharper or stronger, etc.) and it was activated by spoken or sung words. Magic in M-E does not appear to be the kind of Harry Potter-esque conjuring where stuff could be pulled out of thin air or just made to happen. Secret letters are crafted and enhanced by spells to be more secret.

Unfortunately, the secrets of this craftsmanship and perhaps the spoken spells that activate these properties was lost over time -- not a whole lot different from other crafts where we've lost the details in how certain things were done (e.g., Stradivarius and his violins, how to build a Saturn V, etc.).


Entwife Wandlimb
Lorien


Jun 21 2017, 12:13pm

Post #20 of 20 (2195 views)
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enhancing the nature of things [In reply to] Can't Post

This is really interesting and new to me:
"enhancing the nature of things (doors are stronger and/or more welcoming, swords are sharper or stronger, etc.) and it was activated by spoken or sung words"

That seems spot on. Thanks for the insight!

 
 

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