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In an unsent draft of a letter in 1954, Tolkien argues that both magia and goeteia are used for both good and bad purposes but neither is good or bad in itself.
Prophecy is real in Middle-earth: Boromir and Faramir have "true dreams" about the One Ring and the Halfling. Glorfindel prophesies the nature of the Witch-king's doom, and both the Maia Melian and her descendant Elrond are known to possess the "gift of foresight", allowing them to sense and see what is yet to come. Mandos declared the Prophecy of the North to the Noldor. Any oath sworn by Ilúvatar and the Valar also invokes magic of a kind, as did Fëanor's terrible oath:
|“||For so sworn, good or evil, an oath may not be broken, and it shall pursue oathkeeper and oathbreaker to the world's end. – Quenta Silmarillion||”|
In Middle-earth there is a shadow realm where the creatures such as the Ringwraiths have a distinctly different presence than that observable in the normal world. High Elves exist simultaneously in both worlds. Tolkien writes "...for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power." Mortals can see this world whilst wearing a Ring of Power; both Frodo and Sam experience this. The effect is also caused by the wound Frodo receives from the Morgul Blade. This wound is an attempt to transform him into a wraith and allows him to see the shadow world more clearly, including seeing Glorfindel as he appears "on the other side".
The Ainur possess vast supernatural abilities that are seen by some as a form of magic.
In The Hobbit, it is revealed that Gandalf gave the Old Took "a pair of magic diamond studs that fastened themselves and never came undone till ordered." The palantíri are similar to modern videophones, but are in Middle-earth clearly magical and more similar to divining spheres used by soothsayers. Not least of all are the Rings of Power and the Silmarils themselves.
Durin's Door of Khazad-dûm is a prime example: the door itself is physical and could also exist in the primary world, but the moon-runes and its response to a password are supernatural and thereby magical. Moon-letters were also discovered by Elrond on Thorin's map of the Lonely Mountain, which revealed the method of opening the secret entrance:
|“||"Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks," read Elrond, "and the setting sun with the last light of Durin's Day will shine upon the key-hole." – The Hobbit||”|
This special combination of spatial and temporal circumstances can be considered a form of magic too. In The Hobbit, the Elvenking of Mirkwood, Thranduil, uses "magic doors" to guard his palace, making it almost impossible for anyone to enter or exit against his will.
The Staves of the Five Wizards, the Istari, also seem to be objects of magic, as it appears to be a primary part of their own power and the Wizards frequently use them to help them in their labours.
Likewise Elven and Númenórean swords are not just masterfully created weapons, but they also frequently possess magical powers such as the sword Sting which glows blue when Orcs are nearby. The lembas the Fellowship were given by the Elves of Lórien is capable of keeping a "traveller on his feet for a day of long labour", and the hithlain rope are described as strong, tough, light, long, soft to the hand, packs close and, at Sam's spoken command, un-knotted itself when Sam failed to do so. The elven-cloaks the Fellowship receive from the Elves were thought to be "magic cloaks" by Pippin, and although the Elves neither confirmed nor denied this (Galadriel herself seemed confused about Sam's use of the word when explaining about her mirror) they said that the cloaks are "a great aid in keeping out of the sight of unfriendly eyes", as proven the cloaks conceal Frodo and Sam so well that even Gollum could not detect them (functioning similarly to the Cloak of invisibility often used in works of fiction). Some of the gifts Galadriel gives to the Fellowship, such as Frodo's Phial and Sam's box of earth from the gardens of Galadriel, also seem to possess magical properties.
The Elves' craftsmanship displays their subtle, instinctive control of magic. They are able to create blades and items of great power, such as the Black Sword, wielded by Túrin Turambar. The Black Sword was crafted by a Sylvan or Sindarin Elf, who poured his hatred into the weapon. Crafted from a fallen star, it could pierce any earthly metal; even the scales of Glaurung. However, it hated its wielder. It was indeed cursed, and led to the death of Beleg. Túrin, before killing himself with it, seems to hear it speak to him, declaring revenge on him for the death of its master and Brandir.
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Magic as seen in fairy tales is rarely found in Tolkien's writing outside of The Hobbit, which was stylistically directed toward children. Here we find talking purses, magical fireworks, shapeshifting, and talking animals. This light-hearted use of magic occurs less often in the other Tolkien works.
In the The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf uses spells to conjure fire, create light, open the doors of Moria, "bless" Sam's pony (Bill) with "words of guard and guiding," hold the door in the Chamber of Mazarbul (the Balrog tries to open the door with its own counterspell), and break the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Gandalf also tells Frodo that "it has not been hard for me to read your mind and memory," and both Aragorn and Glorfindel are able to tell the severity of Frodo's injury and, to a certain degree, heal it by mere touch. Also in The Fellowship of the Ring, as the Nazgûl attempt to follow Glorfindel, Elrond (the Lord of Rivendell) commands a giant wave to sweep the Nazgûl away.
In The Two Towers, Gandalf first uses magic to disarm Aragorn and Gimli and destroy an arrow Legolas fires at him. Later in the book, he uses his voice to prevent Saruman from retreating to Orthanc, break Saruman's staff, and dismiss him after doing so. Gandalf also tells Gimli that Saruman could "look like me in your eyes, if it suited his purpose with you;" in other words, Saruman can use magic to create illusions.
In The Return of the King, Gandalf uses "a shaft of white light" to drive off the Nazgûl assaulting him. The Witch-king of Angmar is known as a dark sorcerer (and hence many failed to destroy him), and Galadriel uses her mirror to show scenes from the past, present, and future.
In the stories of The Silmarillion, Lúthien and Beren change shape to infiltrate Angband, and Lúthien uses magic to lull Carcharoth, Morgoth, and everyone in Morgoth's castle into a deep slumber. Finrod sings spells to hide his identity from Sauron, Melian uses magic to create a barrier around her land of Doriath – which is, for a time, seemingly impenetrable – and Sauron uses wizardry to create a phantom of Eilinel to deceive Gorlim before killing him.
In The Hobbit, Beorn is described as "a skin-changer. He changes his skin: sometimes he is a huge black bear, sometimes he is a great strong black-haired man with huge arms and a great beard", and Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves put "a great many spells" over the buried pots of gold from the cache of the trolls, though these spells may merely be superstition.
There are talking and sapient Eagles of immense size found in Middle-earth.
The first two categories are intrinsic to Middle-earth and are therefore not specifically recognised as magic in the stories themselves. The two final groups are hard to combine in a satisfying fashion: while it is clear that they are magical, this magic does not come from a single source and is very dissimilar. This difference is voiced in The Lord of the Rings by Galadriel:
|“||"And you?" she said, turning to Sam. "For this is what you folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same word for the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?"||”|
Apparently, Tolkien felt the need for a magical cosmology made up of polytheism and animism and combined with Christian values like compassion and humility, to counter modernity's "war against mystery and magic".
It has been observed that Tolkien considered 'magic' as something negative, associated with modern science and machinery, as he stated in his essay On Fairy-Stories. Instead he used 'enchantment' to describe the magic that occurs in early drafts of his fictional elvish lands. This enchanted magic was seen by Tolkien as a form of pure art and an appreciation of the wonders of the world, while he saw 'magic' as a means of "power,... [and] domination of things and wills" that corrupts those who use it. E.g. it is this latter kind of 'magic' that trapped Saruman in his desire for ultimate knowledge and order. In a drafted letter, Tolkien distinguished these two kinds of magic as magia and goeteia, the Greek words for 'magic' and 'sorcery'. While the elves use goeteia, sorcery, only for artistic purposes and are always aware of the difference between reality and deception, the Enemy employs it "to deceive and terrify". Tolkien wrote also that neither kinds of magice were good or evil per se in his tales, but using them to control free wills was the "supremely bad motive" of his fiction.
- Works cited
- Magic in Middle-earth by Steuard Jensen
- Principles of Tolkien's Magic by John H. Kim
- ,  – Other webpages that address the issue
- Magic (Middle-earth) -LOTR Database Project