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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Does Legolas know "magic"?

Darkstone
Immortal


Oct 9 2017, 2:29pm

Post #1 of 17 (1934 views)
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Does Legolas know "magic"? Can't Post

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.
-Letter #155

******************************************
Queen Beruthiel, Queen Beruthiel, there's no one like Queen Beruthiel,
She's broken every Gondor law, she breaks the law of Earendil.
Her powers of feline-ation would make Aiwendil stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime - Queen Beruthiel's not there!
You may seek her in the Hallows, you may search throughout the square –
But I tell you once and once again, Queen Beruthiel's not there!

- Old Tollers' Book of Fat Cats on the Mat



noWizardme
Valinor


Oct 10 2017, 9:05am

Post #2 of 17 (1860 views)
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"it is a v. large question, and difficult" [In reply to] Can't Post


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"I am afraid I have been far too casual about ‘magic’ and especially the use of the word; though Galadriel and others show by the criticism of the ‘mortal’ use of the word, that the thought about it is not altogether casual. But it is a v. large question, and difficult; and a story which, as you so rightly say, is largely about motives (choice, temptations etc.) and the intentions for using whatever is found in the world, could hardly be burdened with a pseudo-philosophic disquisition! I do not intend to involve myself in any debate whether ‘magic’ in any sense is real or really possible in the world."

start of letter #155


Although the passage starts with what sounds like an apology, I think Tolkien is not really castigating himself for sloppy writing. Instead, I think he's justifying a choice. He's chosen to have what Brandon Sanderson calls 'soft magic' - that is, in LOTR magic is poorly explained to the reader, allowing a sense of mystery and uncertainty, but limiting the opportunities to use magic as a plot device by which characters cause or solve problems.
(Here is a link to Sanderson's essay on a fantasy writer's options about magic http://brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-first-law/ )

So I don't think our author is going to help us, but nor do I think that forbids any enquiry.

What do we think Legolas might say if a mortal companion asked him to teach them the very useful abilities of seeing very far, or of being able to walk lightly ontop of thick snow? My guess is that these things are to do with being an elf, and no more teachable to mortals than a human could learn echolocation from a dolphin.

If that's the case, then it might be better to say 'Legolas has magic' rather than 'Legolas knows magic'.

~~~~~~
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


CuriousG
Half-elven


Oct 10 2017, 2:54pm

Post #3 of 17 (1856 views)
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Magic, only on Tuesdays [In reply to] Can't Post

To answer your question, I think Legolas would be like the ordinary Elves of Lorien who explain to the hobbits that they put their love into the crafts they make, hence the elven cloaks are not magical as in imbued with pixie dust, but they have a neat camouflage effect.

But this is an odd comment from JRR:

Quote
but is in an inherent power not possessed or attainable by Men as such.

I recall that the Nine Rings of Power were given to mighty men, both rulers and sorcerers, so how can you be a sorcerer before you get a magic ring and when magic isn't attainable by your race???

There's also the problem of the Barrow swords wrought with magic to kill the Witch-king. Someone could argue that it wasn't specified that a Man made them, but I think it's heavily implied that it was, so again, how did he get that magic if he wasn't supposed to be capable of it?

Just pointing out contradictions, which are nothing new in Tolkien. Smile


CuriousG
Half-elven


Oct 10 2017, 2:57pm

Post #4 of 17 (1848 views)
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It does seem to be more about "knowing" than "having" [In reply to] Can't Post

At least for Elves. Gandalf muddies the water by saying in Moria that he put a shutting spell on the door, and the counterspell by the Balrog was equally strong. Then he had to speak a word of Command, whatever that is, but it sounds spell-like, and spells are things you learn and know. Quite different from Lorien Elves putting their loves into the things they make. And different again from the "deceits of the Enemy" that Galadriel comments on. So, how many types of magic do we have coexisting in LOTR?


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Oct 10 2017, 3:10pm

Post #5 of 17 (1846 views)
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Different Magics? [In reply to] Can't Post

We may be seeing 'magic' in more than one form in Middle-earth. We have the inherent magic of the Elves (and Ents and Dwarves?) that is not able to be taught or learned but just 'is'. Then we have magic that comes from being able to perceive and manipulate the echoes of the Music of of the Ainur. This at least some Men are able to do or be taught to do, and would have been the basis for the folklore concerning the power of sorcerers, seers, witches, shaman, etc.

The Rings of Power might represent something different from either of what is described above. The Rings allow their bearers to channel the power placed within them in accordance with the abilities and limitations of the bearers. With the exception of the Three Elven Rings, that power comes from a corrupt place and so corrupts the bearers of the Rings.

"Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.” -- The Doctor

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Oct 10 2017, 3:18pm)


noWizardme
Valinor


Oct 10 2017, 6:13pm

Post #6 of 17 (1819 views)
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To muddy the waters further [In reply to] Can't Post

In 'Concerning Hobbits' Tolkien says that they


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"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 art they have developed until to Men it may seem magical. But Hobbits have never, in fact, studied magic of any kind, and their elusiveness is due solely to a professional skill that heredity and practice, and a close friendship with the earth, have rendered inimitable by bigger and clumsier races."

(my bolds)


The statement that hobbits 'never...studied magic of any kind' implies to me at least that other folks did study it. Which would make some kinds of magic something a person could study and therefore come to 'know'. Or at least that's what Tolkien in his role as translator thins. Buy, hey - what does he know - he just found an old manuscript somewhere....Wink

~~~~~~
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


CuriousG
Half-elven


Oct 10 2017, 8:21pm

Post #7 of 17 (1801 views)
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And muddier [In reply to] Can't Post

Weren't the Rings of Power created by the lore Sauron shared with Celebrimbor? So that was a magic that was taught/studied.


Lissuin
Tol Eressea


Oct 10 2017, 9:59pm

Post #8 of 17 (1799 views)
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Perhaps it is a similar magic "inherent" to that magical creature, the cat. [In reply to] Can't Post

Why do mine always know when they are about to be seized and placed in a cage to be transported to another location? No matter how clever I think I am being by quietly packing things the night before behind closed doors when they are asleep in other rooms or on the day while they are out in the garden, they always sense that something is going on. I wear my usual slippers rather than outdoor shoes when I come towards the bed to get them; I casually recline on the sofa with the tv on and my laptop in lap while they snooze at the other end; I let them into the house when all is ready and just before I plan to nab them. It is all to no avail. Zoom! under the sofa they go.

Concerning the seemingly magical behaviour of Hobbits: "their elusiveness is due solely to a professional skill that heredity and practice, and a close friendship with the earth, have rendered inimitable by bigger and clumsier races." I must admit to being a member of a clumsier race and no match for a cat, so probably not for a Hobbit - or an Elf - either.


FarFromHome
Valinor


Oct 11 2017, 2:26pm

Post #9 of 17 (1723 views)
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Mud, mud, glorious mud! [In reply to] Can't Post


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The statement that hobbits 'never...studied magic of any kind' implies to me at least that other folks did study it. Which would make some kinds of magic something a person could study and therefore come to 'know'. Or at least that's what Tolkien in his role as translator thinks

Well, "translator" Tolkien might be muddying the waters here a bit, but I think he's talking as modern translator to modern reader, and addressing our expectations that Little People (leprechauns, cobbler elves etc) in tales are supposed to be "magical". Well, he says, that's not true of hobbits. They don't need actual magic to seem magical to us modern humans - they just have to blend in with nature in ways that we have forgotten how to do. We belong to the "bigger and clumsier races" ourselves, I think is the implication. So he's not really addressing the issue of 'magic' within the story - he's addressing the issue of our expectations about magic because of the stories and fairytales we have previously read. And, therefore, he's kind of telling us that his story is different. Magic isn't going to be the sort we see in Cinderella or Jack and the Beanstalk, it's going to be something much more subtle and hard to pin down.

In the Letter that Darkstone quotes from, Tolkien seems to be saying that most 'elf magic', as experienced by hobbits, is similar to the way 'hobbit magic' seems to us - just the result of people seeing someone else with a skill they can't conceive of themselves. That's how I think of Legolas' apparently magical skills of walking on snow and seeing great distances.

One amusing but maybe quite telling scene in LotR is when Legolas suggests that Gandalf can melt the snow on Caradhras to make a path, and Gandalf gets quite testy as he has to admit he can't burn snow! Some of Gandalf's 'magic', in fact, seems to be based on understanding nature rather than doing something magically "unnatural" - his knowledge of fireworks (which we know to be the result of burning chemicals in controlled ways) leads him to be able to start fires when others couldn't, but that doesn't mean he's magicking fire out of nothing - he still needs fuel. It's just ordinary fire, enhanced by Gandalf's advanced knowledge of fire's natural properties. It seems like magic to the hobbits, though, and even Legolas, who himself seems magical to the hobbits, doesn't understand how Gandalf's magic works. Gandalf never actually does the kind of "classic" magic that naive characters expect - he doesn't turn Sam into a spotted toad, or Butterbur into a block of wood. They just think he might, and that's enough!

There's another whole kind of magic though, which Tolkien also talks about in that Letter, which is more mythical and supernatural. That's also pretty hard to pin down, as we've noticed when trying to understand how the Ring works, for example. But this Letter, and the one before it (they were originally intended as one letter, but the second part wasn't sent), make it pretty clear that Tolkien has no intention of defining magic in any hard-edged way, and even suggest that he wants to leave open the idea that at least some of the 'magic' is in the eye of the beholder. He suggests that Aragorn's 'healing' ability, for example, might include "pharmacy and 'hypnotic' processes", and points out that "it is (in theory) reported by hobbits who have very little notions of philosophy and science..." So, like Legolas' skills, Aragorn's healing skills are magical to the hobbits through whose eyes we are seeing the story. Is it "really" magic? Well, as Galadriel might have said (but didn't) "What does that even mean?"

Tongue

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


Oct 11 2017, 3:42pm

Post #10 of 17 (1705 views)
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Moreover - Middle-earth mud, or Primary world mud? [In reply to] Can't Post

I think you're right - Tolkien has carried over to Middle-earth the ambiguity with which the word 'magic' is used in English. Magic seems to fit into a poorly -explained area of astounding events and abilities, bounded by technology, extreme craft skill and religion. Perhaps a lot of 'magical' things would succumb to a scientific explanation, if the appropriate research were done. So, for example it is easy to imagine that athelas contains some potent and useful pharmaceuticals, or that Gandalf's fireworks contain some fairly conventional chemical explosives. A scientific expedition to Middle-earth would then eventually be able to explain how these things fitted into the systems of Primary world science.

But such ideas assume that Middle-earth conforms to the conventions of Primary world science. That assumption isn't necessarily safe. I wonder sometimes whether Middle-earth isn't animist. By this I mean that animals, plants and what would be 'inanimate' objects in the Primary world are some way a bit more conscious and alive. Perhaps then, the snow holds Legolas up because it wants to, rather than an explanation that would work in the primary world (e.g. he knows how to step on it to avoid causing collapse, or that elven feet exude some exotic chemical or particle that temporarily affects the behaviour of water.) Perhaps, similarly, Gandalf's bundles of wood want to be fire at least a little bit, and what he has to do is to persuade them to be fire right now.

~~~~~~
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


FarFromHome
Valinor


Oct 11 2017, 6:04pm

Post #11 of 17 (1695 views)
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I like your animist idea [In reply to] Can't Post

However, I'm not so sure that you can distinguish between the Primary world and Middle-earth - after all, Tolkien says each time he's asked that they are the same world.

So maybe it's more that the inhabitants of Middle-earth, with their animist viewpoint, are able to relate to the natural world in ways that we in our industrial and technological bubble can no longer do. It's not so much that the world is different, as that the people living in it see it differently, and understand that nature is much more alive and responsive than we give it credit for. Legolas walking on the snow almost feels like a metaphor for how lightly the Elves live in nature, cooperating with it and respecting it in such a way that it seems to respond to their needs. So I'm not imagining the technical kinds of explanations for his abilities (no chemicals or particles that have to be discovered and then deployed to force nature to do what we want). I think it's more that he senses the structure and nature of the snow, and is agile and responsive enough to keep his balance without disturbing it. Or something like that!

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


Oct 11 2017, 6:56pm

Post #12 of 17 (1684 views)
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I prefer your idea about Legolas on the snow as a metaphor [In reply to] Can't Post

 

In Reply To
Legolas walking on the snow almost feels like a metaphor for how lightly the Elves live in nature, cooperating with it and respecting it in such a way that it seems to respond to their needs. So I'm not imagining the technical kinds of explanations for his abilities (no chemicals or particles that have to be discovered and then deployed to force nature to do what we want). I think it's more that he senses the structure and nature of the snow, and is agile and responsive enough to keep his balance without disturbing it. Or something like that!


~~~~~~
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


enanito
Lorien

Oct 13 2017, 6:52pm

Post #13 of 17 (1569 views)
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Could little 'enanito' make a Ring of Power? [In reply to] Can't Post

We know that Saruman had long studied the lore on the Rings of Power, their making and such. Indeed, when Gandalf encounters him in Orthanc, Saruman is said to be wearing a ring on his finger -- and then of course he declares "For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!"

So how much of this "Ring Power" of Saruman's was learned, and how much was innate? Would anyone trying to make a Ring be bounded by their own traits (race, intellect, desire), meaning that they could learn all they wanted but there would only be a 'finite' amount of internal power they could learn to unleash? Or could any old hobbit, human, or wizard tap into power beyond their own, if they just learned enough by studying long-lost-lore?

And of course what aspect of all of this would be considered magic in Tolkien's world, if any?

Not that little enanito is considering a career in Ring-making, but I might just be wondering what a simple being in Middle Earth might be capable of... Wink


Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Oct 13 2017, 8:50pm

Post #14 of 17 (1560 views)
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But Hobbits do become invisible whilst wearing the One Ring [In reply to] Can't Post

i dunno if that counts as magic!


CuriousG
Half-elven


Oct 13 2017, 8:54pm

Post #15 of 17 (1553 views)
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Clearly we need a new team of Istari to take out enanito, who has become a world threat. [In reply to] Can't Post

This time, they'd better get the mission right, or a new Dark Lord is upon us, alas. (Or is it already too late?)


noWizardme
Valinor


Oct 14 2017, 8:21am

Post #16 of 17 (1540 views)
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Yes, what would we mean by “inherent” in real life? [In reply to] Can't Post

I think you’re asking: Is a wizard something you can *become*, or something you just *are* or are not? Or maybe it’s a bit of both?

I’m struggling to think of any human skill that can’t usually be improved by practice and tuition. So maybe not much is truly inherent. Then again, it’s common enough to find that some people get further on their practice and tuition than others, so maybe there is something inherent about how quickly people learn and when their improvement slows down.

It all becomes philosophical and then political - some people like to think that anyone could potentially do anything, given the opportunity and the right teaching. Others like the idea that there’s no point in trying to teach someone from this or that marginalised group, because they inherently can’t succeed.

~~~~~~
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


InTheChair
Lorien

Oct 23 2017, 11:29am

Post #17 of 17 (1315 views)
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There's something said about the Mouth of Sauron that he was deep into his Masters magic, and he was not even a Nazgul [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
I recall that the Nine Rings of Power were given to mighty men, both rulers and sorcerers, so how can you be a sorcerer before you get a magic ring and when magic isn't attainable by your race???


At a guess, something like Aragorn curing Faramir, Eowyn and Merry with the help of Athelas. might be seen as magic by those who knew nothing about the powers of that herb. I don't think we need to wonder at some men beeing called sorcerers in a dark age, beeing capable of using such materials of earth as exists though they had no magic in themselves. In a way it's a miracle Aragorn wasn't burned at the stake for a witch, though Tolkien does keep overt religion out of the story.

Sorcerer might also be a term you confer upon your enemies without much proof in order to cast suspicion on them, becuse they are wearing black, or have otherwise poor sense of fashion.

Though interestingly Tolkien somewhere describes that there is real sorcery and necromancy in Middle Earth. This was about controlling the houseless fea of former incarnates, and was Saurons area of expertise. Not sure if this is something that could be taught on to Men?

The witch-king makes a couple of interesting threats to Eowyn at the Pelennor that might be dug into, but I will not do so here.

Then there are the Istari, who were allowed to go to Middle Earth on condition that they were housed like the children of Eru. It's not entirely clear what that means since they appear to live forever, and are not trouble by old age and sickness as Men are.

 
 

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