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How much magic did the elves have?

Tol Eressea

Nov 20 2018, 10:43pm

Post #1 of 15 (2784 views)
How much magic did the elves have? Can't Post

Hello all!

Wow, it's been a while...life has really thrown me for a loop medically :(

Anyway, I was watching TTT the other day, and a thought struck me- what is an elf actually capable of doing? Obviously given their immortality, they can achieve a very high mastery in weapons, arts, lore, etc.

But they also clearly have the ability to do things that mortal men can only ascribe to as magic. Gandalf and Frodo's swords, for example, and their ability to walk over snow, the Mirror of Galadriel (though in all fairness she's of a class all her own), etc.

So that led me to wonder- what exactly can an elf do? It's rather obvious that they can't raise the dead or anything like that, and that some, like Elrond, can heal even grievous wounds. But could they, for example, make a dead plant come back to life? Do they actually have a mastery over animals? I know they taught the trees in Fangorn how to speak- but do they understand the speech? Would they have mastery over the trees like Treebeard does?

This question does exclude elves that have extra unelven power by lineage- Luthien, Arwen, etc- because they also have Maia in them from Melian as an ancestor. Technically, this would exclude Elrond and even Aragorn, who are both descended in some capacity from Melian as well.

So realistically, what would a Noldorin elf, a Sindarin elf, and a Silvan elf be capable of doing simply because they are elves?

Sorry if this question seems rather fractured. I'm facing a hysterectomy (fighting to get insurance to pay for it now) and am in a lot of pain today so my brain is a bit foggy.

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Happy reading everyone!


Nov 21 2018, 1:43pm

Post #2 of 15 (2688 views)
Really great questions! [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm so SO sorry you're having so many medical challenges and scares. Especially with the upcoming surgery. Hopefully once all of this is done and you're recovered, you'll find you're feeling better and your days are pain free *hugs*

I right away contemplate that the Elves don't think of themselves as having magical abilities since their gifts are so much a part of them. And I'm woefully challenged at keeping each of their kins' abilities sorted out. I would think that where and how they live would focus on abilities that support that... like the Woodland elves would influence the birds, beasts, forests in their realm. Rivendell would focus on elements of their world... like Elrond calling up the Bruinen to attach/protect them against the enemy.

I hope someone comes along that can give you a worthwhile response to a great question... and I hope all goes well for you and your treatments. *more hugs*


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Nov 21 2018, 4:16pm

Post #3 of 15 (2684 views)
Elven magic [In reply to] Can't Post

What is tricky about Elven magic is that when mortals ask them about, they get evasive and almost deny they have it, explaining it away as "that's just how we are."

The Elven gifts to the Fellowship as they left Lorien:

The Elves next unwrapped and gave to each of the Company the clothes they had brought. For each they had provided a hood and cloak, made according to his size, of the light but warm silken stuff that the Galadhrim wove. It was hard to say of what colour they were: grey with the hue of twilight under the trees they seemed to be; and yet if they were moved, or set in another light, they were green as shadowed leaves, or brown as fallow fields by night, dusk-silver as water under the stars. Each cloak was fastened about the neck with a brooch like a green leaf veined with silver.

Are these magic cloaks? asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder.

I do not know what you mean by that, answered the leader of the Elves. They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land. They are Elvish robes certainly, if that is what you mean. Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lrien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make.

The Elven rope also was magical, untying itself in the Emyn Muir when Sam needed it to. The lembas they provided, unless it was full of steroids and supervitamins, had the quality of providing energy and vitality far beyond regular food.

But unlike the Rings of Power, which Celebrimbor specifically made to contain and wield magic, these other Elvish manufactured goods seem almost accidentally magical by conveying the makers' natural love of things into a magical result but without casting spells or brewing potions with eye of newt, etc. And these are Silvan Elves, not Noldor, who could accomplish a whole lot more.

To your specific question about mastery over plants and animals: book-Legolas bonded instantly with his Rohan horse, and it followed his instructions--he clearly needed no spurs or riding crop to motivate it the rougher human way. And he mentioned in Minas Tirith that after the war was over, he'd like to enrich it by planting trees that do not die. So, I would say they have some mastery. But I have trouble imagining them commanding an army of Huorns. Maybe a great Elf like Galadriel could do that, but it seems their magic is more small-scale.

Maybe to put it another way in a contrast: Legolas instantly tamed his horse, but he didn't stand on the Pelennor Fields and say to the Southron cavalry: "Good horses, throw off the evil Men who ride you and join the forces against Sauron!" That's what makes me think things stay on a small scale.

And sorry to hear you're not feeling well. I hope you get coverage for your surgery and that it goes well!


Nov 21 2018, 4:40pm

Post #4 of 15 (2679 views)
Hope you feel better [In reply to] Can't Post

So sorry to hear about the medical woes and the pain. Wishing you the very best and that you get the care you need as soon as possible.

To Curious's excellent list we could add another from the Hobbit:

No sooner had the first [Dwarf] stepped into the cleaning than all the lights went out as if by magic. Somebody kicked the fire and it went up in rockets of glittering sparks and vanished.

That doesn't seem any normal way of extinguishing a fire. Plus, the second time the company tried to approach the Mirkwood elves, the ones who first disturbed the circle (first Bilbo, then Thorin) instantly fell asleep. Whether the elves also put the power of sleep into the Forest River, I'm not sure.

Tol Eressea

Nov 21 2018, 5:12pm

Post #5 of 15 (2672 views)
That is a great point! [In reply to] Can't Post

And thank you all for your responses! I figured elves do have a more natural connection to the world; I just wasn't sure exactly how far that connection could extend beyond normal abilities :)

Anyone else want to chime in?

My writing and novels:

My Hobbit Fanfiction

My historical novel print and kindle version

My historical novels ebook version compatible with all ereaders

You can also find my novel at most major book retailers online (and for those outside the US who prefer a print book, you can find the print version at Book Depository). Search "Amazing Grace Amanda Longpre'" to find it.

Happy reading everyone!

Thor 'n' Oakenshield

Nov 21 2018, 5:20pm

Post #6 of 15 (2668 views)
The creation of the Silmarils [In reply to] Can't Post

has to have been "magic" of an incredible sort. The Palantiri, too. And the light of the Two Trees was somehow able to be enmeshed in Galadriel's hair - making her hair something like the opposite of Ungoliant's dark webs.

"Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight to the Dark Lord."


Nov 21 2018, 5:25pm

Post #7 of 15 (2667 views)
Perception and balance [In reply to] Can't Post

As has been pointed out, perception is a huge factor here. Did the elves see themselves as magical is a good question to ponder, while it seems apparent that other races did see them that way.

Were the reasons for this the fact that elves were simply more knowledgeable about how to harness the natural powers around them, or did they have some innate ability within themselves to manipulate nature specifically to their will? What was the balance that existed between the innate powers within nature, and the elves ability to draw out and harness that power? Was it more the elves driving and controlling the process, or were they merely attuned to the natural flow of those powers and able to unleash them naturally and allow them to operate to their maximum natural efficiency?

I love considering things like this, and how it reminds me that in our own lives, perception can be so significant. How we view things can dramatically impact our understanding of them--what is the paradigm we view those around us with? As equals in a human family, all broken, and trying our best? Or we could view them much differently.

There's another recent thread (can't remember exactly where) that connects to the idea of nature being endowed with power far greater than what our own natural world is. It was discussing if Cardhras had a degree of sentience. It ties broadly to the idea discussed here of nature itself containing powers and abilities, and the elves simply being the race that learned best how to harness and use those powers.

I may be a little biased, as I love nature myself and live in the western U.S. near a beautiful mountain range, the Wasatch Front in Utah which is an extension of the Rocky Mountains. I have always felt a strong connection when in nature to higher powers and close to our own creation, and at one point I believe Tolkien himself spoke favorably of the western U.S. as a region that contained enough beauty and diversity to stand in visually for Middle-earth. I may be remembering wrong, but I believe it was from one of his letters, and someone on here shared it a couple years ago.

(This post was edited by jlj93byu on Nov 21 2018, 5:28pm)


Nov 21 2018, 9:18pm

Post #8 of 15 (2646 views)
To add to the mix: how did Nimrodel become musical? [In reply to] Can't Post

Did the Elves put the song into the river, or did the river acquire the music on its own? Or did Ulmo put it there? Was Nimrodel just so connected to the river that her story remained in the river after her death?

At length a silence fell, and they heard the music of the waterfall running sweetly in the shadows. Almost Frodo fancied that he could hear a voice singing, mingled with the sound of the water.

Do you hear the voice of Nimrodel? asked Legolas. I will sing you a song of the maiden Nimrodel, who bore the same name as the stream beside which she lived long ago."

Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Lord of the Rings: One Volume (p. 339). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.


Nov 25 2018, 7:55pm

Post #9 of 15 (2592 views)
Magic according to ones understanding of the Music of the Ainur [In reply to] Can't Post

I seem to remember this from somewhere in History of Middle Earth
The Music is like a blueprint of the world.

"Don't take life seriously, it ain't nohow permanent!" Pogo


Nov 25 2018, 11:41pm

Post #10 of 15 (2590 views)
None at all, in my opinion... [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't think the elves had any magic, which is why they're confused when asked about it.

Yes, they could craft objects with extraordinary capabilities, but so could the dwarves and even some men. The magic is in the world its self. Races with longer lives, or those more in touch with nature, are able to use magical materials such as mithril steel and mellyrn wood to produce remarkable creations, but this is through skill alone. The only truely magical creatures are the maiar.

This is why Thranduil's face scar bugs me so much. It's just not consistent with how I view elves or magic in Middle-earth.


Nov 26 2018, 12:09am

Post #11 of 15 (2580 views)
Elven magic [In reply to] Can't Post

A few points there. First of all, as most of us are aware, Tolkien's writings are poetic and not very concrete about a lot of things. I think he himself didn't have everything about Middle-Earth figured out. Remember, Christopher Tolkien had to wade through multiple timelines and versions of events while writing his works, such as the Silmarillion.

Second, the theme seems to be that all races have magic except for men, because men are not truly part of this world, but live here for a time and then depart to another realm. Illuvatar's gift of men. Though the Elves don't like the term magic, they certainly have it from a human perspective anyways, and some more than others.


Nov 26 2018, 1:21am

Post #12 of 15 (2576 views)
That's not how I see it... [In reply to] Can't Post

As you say, it is poetic and therefore open to interpretation. But in my opinion 'magic' is a natural energy, one that fades from the world over time.

The only examples of magical abilities (shooting lightning, shape shifting, prophecies etc.) are from the maiar or their descendants. We don't see Legolas or the dwarves do magic. Why would they need Gandalf if they could?

Magical crafting, however is seen in all races "The dwarves of yore made mighty spells" made spells, like one might make a potion out of magical materials, not by being magic themselves. The elves were best at this, having the most time and being closer to nature and being less seperated from their magical ancestors, they could craft all sorts of fantastic objects, but through workmanship, not by breathing on it or zapping it like a wizard might. They aren't magical creatures, they just better understand how to harness the magic around them.

Men could certainly create magic if they worked at it. The Necromancer was believed to be a man. The Nazgul were men. And the barrow blades, forged by the men of Westernesse, were imbued with powerful spells. Some men are more sensitive to magic than others, again this is to do with their bloodline, both Aragorn and Faramir have visions. And Bard is able to speak to Thrushes.

The closest we see of magical abilities in men is Beorn's shape-shifting and Tom Bombadil's... whatever that is. These are both very mysterious characters.

Of course you're welcome to read it how you like. But that's how I personally view it.

(This post was edited by AshNazg on Nov 26 2018, 1:30am)


Nov 26 2018, 2:41am

Post #13 of 15 (2571 views)
T-Elves patterned on Xian angels? [In reply to] Can't Post

Sorry to hear about your medical issues. Humans weren't made for suffering, we were made for a Lothlorien-like place and existence.

Personally, as a writer (Marenmark at Amazon), I know how hard it is to imagine a "greater" race. As I believe Shippey says, Tolkien's Elves (T-Elves) were a clean-up of the general idea of the elf and fairy, which had corkscrewed down into diminutive imps from the original Old Germanic legendspace. IMHO, he wanted them to be "exalted beings of light," which is an expression of our human fascination and obsession with higher planes. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien says Men strive, wish beyond their boundaries; and the Numenoreans got it a lot of trouble with their Elf-wannabe antics.

In my fiction, magic is simply a part of the legendspace, i.e., it isn't like technology that is separate. You can't just make it happen like pushing a button. So T-Elf magic is simply what accompanies them as they inhabit their higher legendspace. What we think of as impossible logically, scientifically is simply woven into their higher plane. We who know "amazing" technology think logically about all the individual objects we've managed to come up with by mastering and applying science. Then this technology is at our disposal, for our use whenever we see fit. But we in the modern world are not part of any sort of legend. We have -- as we imagine -- freedom of mind and choice. This is totally at odds with life in a legendspace, where the individual is subservient to the legend. For example, Galadriel and her Lothlorien were a legendspace built on her vision and Nenya, her ring. Legends are out of time, and lives fulfill parts of the legend. So what is a legend? For another post, perhaps.

Elven immortality is probably due to their Fa or soul being so intense that it kept the Hra (body) whole. I think Tolkien is extending the desire to rise above the human condition and to strive for a higher plane with his demi-angelic Elves. However, this sort of thinking is completely out of favor today. The dominant paradigm is post-belief, post-magic, hyper-individualistic egocentrism. And as a result so many of us completely miserable and lost and grasping at straws. So no, I don't think it makes any sense to list "Elf tech" (rope, swords, lembas, cloaks, drink) and speculate on what makes it work. Elf magic is simply part and parcel of their higher plane.

The Shire

Dec 31 2018, 11:06am

Post #14 of 15 (943 views)
Nature spirits [In reply to] Can't Post

Over the years I've become more and more frustrated by the ways "elves" are used in modern fantasy fiction - as little more than humans in fancy clothing.
As I understand it, Tolkien basically Christianized - baptized if you like - the nature spirits of European mythology and folklore. And nature spirits in any culture that has them, are neither cute nor cuddly. They have certain functions, they have definite attitudes. One bad way to involve oneself with nature spirits is to intrude on their territory without paying some tribute to them, of some form or other.
Tolkien's elves have that function, except as incarnate spirits they are just as likely to use their bodies as their spirits; in the case of elvish weapons and magical tools such as the rings, they combine both.
So yes, Tolkien's elves could do things on their own powers, not like Michael Moorcock's Melniboneans, who owe their magical abilities to a bargain made with the Arch-Dukes of Chaos. And dwarves are also European nature spirits, of the underworld, so Tolkien naturally made use of them - and as nature spirits, they have certain native powers as well.
Best wishes for your medical problems; I hope they get sorted out soon.

(This post was edited by CMackintosh on Dec 31 2018, 11:08am)

Tol Eressea

Jan 1, 2:09am

Post #15 of 15 (898 views)
Thanks :) [In reply to] Can't Post

And those were good insights! I do think we have to keep in mind Tolkien's hierarchy too- Eru (Creator), then the Valar (as what I would deem "higher" angels), then Maia (lesser angels but still angels, with the Istari/wizards a specific subset, and finally elves and men.

So naturally, elves would have lesser powers than all of the above, save for men (and other free peoples of ME). Thus, we can assume that they can certainly surpass men, but when it comes to powers specifically attributed to higher beings, we need to narrow our focus to solely those elves- Noldor, or the Sindar that learned from Melian- who might have learned some of these powers. Galadriel comes to mind as being one who, as Tolkien puts it, is a "student who has surpassed her teachers", but she is still limited.

Yavanna, for example (Vala) could create the Two trees of Valinor, but she couldn't replicate them because she'd spent so much of her power to fulfill the task Eru gave her/used all the power Eru granted her for that task. Galadriel certainly could not hope to achieve that kind of feat, but perhaps she might be able (at least with the ring, not sure if without) help coax a half-dead flower back to life, for example. Or possibly help a plucked flower take root again.

So yes, there is definitely an element of elvish fea/spirit that is higher/more able than Men, but we do have to remember that they're far closer to Men (so much so that they can interbreed with them) than to the higher beings. Even Melian, who wedded Thingol, specifically took the bodily form of an elvish woman so she could mate with him (hence Luthien) in their marriage. And Melian was a Maia. I highly doubt it would even be remotely possible for any being higher than a Maia (or conversely, lower than a Man (racially speaking)) to be able to produce children with an elf, which implies that elves could possibly achieve some of what a Maia could, but not all, and could not replicate anything the Valar could do without their direct aid.

My writing and novels:

My Hobbit Fanfiction

My historical novel print and kindle version

My historical novels ebook version compatible with all ereaders

You can also find my novel at most major book retailers online (and for those outside the US who prefer a print book, you can find the print version at Book Depository). Search "Amazing Grace Amanda Longpre'" to find it.

Happy reading everyone!


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