Hey, everyone! This is Kiri Liz, Christian and homeschooled bloggeress at Lianne Taimenlore, consumer of gingerbread, avid reader of Dickens, and an ultimate fan of all things Tolkien! When Eowyn asked me to guest post about magic in Lord of the Rings for this party, my immediate response was “YES!!” And that was followed immediately by, “Great bow of the Galadhrim, I don’t know enough about the magic to guest post!” But I promise I’ll do my best.
First off, I realize that many people stay away from Lord of the Rings because of the fact that there is magic within the stories, and I respect that. I don’t want to contradict your beliefs, opinions, or convictions. I am only writing down what I have researched and what God has led me to believe. These are my honest opinions, and why I can truly enjoy reading and watching LOTR.
When looking at magic, one of the first things you need to consider is the source of the magic. Where does it come from? You never exactly find that out in LOTR, I’m sorry to say, but there’s much to be found on that topic in another of Tolkien’s books, The Silmarillion. If you haven’t already read that, I highly recommend it for all Middle-Earth fans.
The magic in LOTR (and The Hobbit, for that matter) comes from a higher being, a god figure, named Iluvatar, meaning “Father of All.” Whether Tolkien meant this or not, he modeled Middle-Earth muchly after our own world, with a higher being that is mighty and amazing, a lord who is without description. Iluvatar is the one God and creator of Middle-Earth, and he is the one who gives the magic to his servants, namely Gandalf and Saruman.
With this magic, the wizards are instructed to do good and help people, and the consequences of neglecting that charge and using the magic for their own good are horrible. For example, Gandalf uses his power to aid Frodo, and later Theoden and Aragorn, to accomplish goals that are for the good of all men, dwarves, elves, hobbits, etc. The Grey Pilgrim’s staff helps keep the Moria orcs and the Balrog at bay while the Fellowship flees the mountain, and then the White Wizard breaks the spell that keeps Theoden in its dark hold. In the end, Gandalf is rewarded with passage on the last ship sailing out of the Grey Havens.
In contrast, Saruman uses his power to contact Sauron and form an alliance with him. His keen mind of metal soon aids him to build a strong force of Uruk-Hai with which he plans to destroy the people of Rohan. However, he did not foresee his losing the fight, and the Ents becoming another ally against him. His denouement is ultimately death, and all at his own hand, because he misused the magic that Iluvatar gave him, intending for him to use it for good, rather than for personal gain.
So, who uses magic in LOTR? Mainly, we’re looking at Gandalf and Saruman. These two wizards are part of an elite group known as the Istari, bluntly meaning messengers. The Istari were given power from Iluvatar, again, to benefit others, but even while men call them wizards, they do not call themselves by that name. When the Istari first appeared in Middle-Earth, the people were so confused by their existence, as the power these messengers had was not something they could comprehend. It was unlike anything they had ever seen before. And it was these men who, in their ignorance, gave the Istari the name of wizards.
At this point, you may be madly jumping up and down and waving your hand, yelling, “Kiri! Kiri! What about the Elves? Don’t they use magic?” Well, let me tell you. The Elves, in fact, do not use magic. Now that’s a little dumbfounding, but it’s true. What we would describe as “magic” Tolkien described as the Elves’ natural ability. A talent, if you will, not connected to anything supernatural at all. Tolkien himself disliked using the word magic as a definition, but there was nothing else that would have been close enough to even begin describing that talent. They build amazing structures and dwellings, craft beautiful weaponry and paraphernalia, can see long distances, and are gifted with incredible hearing, yet that is all just their natural ability. Again, we fall back on the blunt understanding of men. They could not describe it, so they dubbed it magic.
One thing that I greatly admire about the magic in LOTR is that it is distinctly set apart as magic of a fantasy world. You have to realize, folks, that magic is real, and it’s a dangerous thing. We should not allow ourselves to partake in it, and we must understand that sorcery and witchcraft are evil. Yet, the magic in LOTR, I already explained, is not some dark power that people use whenever they wish. The ones gifted with the talent of being able to wield it are given specific instructions on how to use it, and it is clearly not their own power, but the power of a supreme being who is set up as the one true god figure. The Creator gave them that magic, and they, in turn, can only use it for its intended purpose.
And how does this tie in with my post? Well, you see when readers get their hands on a book that they absolutely enjoy, they want to do everything exactly as the characters do it. When reading books that contain witchcraft, that becomes a dangerous desire as the lead characters promote the use of such sorceries. However, when a thick line is drawn between our world and the world inside a storybook, readers better understand that some things cannot be copied, and thus the magic that happens in Middle-Earth cannot be conjured up by some avid fan. No, the power there, my friends, can only be granted by a higher being, and nothing we can do by ourselves can alter that.
Now I realize that was perhaps a lot to digest all in one post, but I thank you all for reading. This topic has long been of great interest to myself, and it’s one that I did rather a lot of research on it in the summer of 2012 (you can read my original post here, also in which I contrast the magic in LOTR with the magick in Harry Potter).
Thank you so much, Eowyn, for inviting me to guest post! I had a lot of fun!
Kiri Liz is the rambling author of Lianne Taimenlore and a couple other blogs which she does her best to remember that she has. A homeschool graduate of 2011, she likes to spend her days madly typing at random stories on her laptop (which her family has kindly dubbed “Precious”), pounding away HTTYD and Pirates of the Caribbean songs on the piano, singing as many Disney songs as she can recall as loudly as she can, sewing medieval costumes from her own design and people’s old T-shirts, and spending time with her wonderful parents and siblings, the latter of which she happens to be number two of six. She currently lives under a maple tree, hoping one day to be a real, published author, and waiting anxiously for the release of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.