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 Post subject: Letter 155: On Magic
PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 6:09 am 
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This is from a passage from a draft of a letter to Naomi Mitchison that was not included in the version sent to her (the sent version is letter 154, which itself has some very interesting ideas). Tolkien begins by stating that he is worried that he has been "far too casual about 'magic' and especially the uses 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." He then goes on to state:

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I suppose that, for the purposes of the tale, some would say that there is a latent distinction such as once was called the distinction between magia and goeteia [this is defined in the O.E.D. as 'witchcraft or magic performed by the invocation and employment of evil spirits; necromancy'] Galadriel speaks of the 'deceits of the Enemy'. Well enough but magia could be, was, held good (per se), and goetia bad. Neither is, in this tale, good or bad (per se), but only by motive or purpose or use. Both sides use both, but with different motives. The supremely bad motive is (for this tale, since it specifically about it) domination of other 'free' wills. The Enemy's operation are by no means all goetic deceits, but 'magic' that produces real effects in the physical world. But his magia he uses to bulldoze both people and things, and his goeteia to terrify and subjugate. Their magia the Elves and Gandalf use (sparingly): a magia, producing real results (like fire in a wet faggot) for specific beneficent purposes. Their goetic effects are entirely artistic and not intended to deceive: they never deceive Elves (but may deceive or bewilder unaware Men) since the difference is to them as clear as the difference to us between fiction, painting, and sculpture, and 'life'.


Lot's of interesting stuff here. Sauron, of course, as a long history of "goetic effects" going back to the First Age and into manifestation as the Necromancer of Dol Guldur. It is worth noting that there are two occasions where arguably the two greatest Elves (both female) use magia to "bulldoze" dwellings that Sauron has used: Galadriel throwing down the walls of Dol Guldur after the War of the Ring is over (as described in Appendix B), and (very similarly), Lúthien using her power to throw down the gates and walls of the tower of Minas Tirith that Finrod had built on Tol Sirion and had been occupied by Sauron after the fall of Fingolfin. But since these actions, as "destructive" as they were, were for the purpose of freeing wills from domination, they are examples of magic used for good.

But what is Tolkien talking about when he discusses the Elves using goetic effects in an artistic way, that is not meant to deceive? I am at a loss to think of any specific event in his writings that he is referring to. Is he simply describing a truism that is not actually reflected in the Tale? The only thing that I can think of is the Wood Elves fires in The Hobbit (which really do seem to be intended to deceive, but maybe Tolkien is saying here that they were not. Better examples, I suppose (though they don't really contain specific examples) is the reference to the deceits of the Lady of the Wood by Boromir and Éomer (and, for that matter, Eorl). I'd be very curious to hear what others have to say about this.

Tolkien then goes on to discuss how both sides live mainly by "ordinary means" with the Enemy and those who served him going in for "machinery". He points out that the main advantage of magia is immediacy speed and reduction of labour, but that if like the Enemy you have at your command abundant slave-labour as well as machines, the need for magia becomes greatly reduced. He then makes this important point:

Quote:
Of course another factor then comes in, a moral or pathological one: the tyrants lose sight of objects, become cruel, and like smashing, hurting, and defiling as such. It would no doubt be possible to defend poor Lotho's introduction of more efficient mills; but not of Sharkey and Sandyman's use of them


I think this statement does a good job of clarifying Tolkien's objection to "progress". It is not the technological advances that he objects to per se; it is the virtually inevitable misuse of that technology that is the problem.

Finally, he points out the "magic" that is used in his Tale is not of the kind that can be developed through "lore" or spells, but rather is an "inherent power not possessed or attainable by Men as such." He adds that Aragorn's "'healing' might be regarded as 'magical', or at least a blend of magic with pharmacy and 'hypnotic' processes." But he points out that Aragorn was not really a pure "Man" but "at long remove one of the 'children of Lúthien'. (He adds in a note to this paragraph that the Numenorians used "spells" in making swords, but they also have Elvish blood, of course.)

I am particularly interested in his comment about Aragorn using "hypnotic' processes" in his healing. How very interesting. That is not something that I would have ever considered, but after reading that, it seems rather obvious.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 18, 2008 5:57 am 
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Wow, I am so sorry. I have had a very busy week and missed this. I'll post back tomorrow on this.

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1. " . . . (we are ) too engrossed in thinking of everything as a preparation or training or making one fit -- for what? At any minute it is what we are and are doing, not what we plan to be and do that counts."

J.R.R. Tolkien in his 6 October 1940 letter to his son Michael Tolkien.

2. We have many ways using technology to be in touch, yet the larger question is are we really connected or are we simply more in touch? There is a difference.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 20, 2008 3:32 pm 
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I wrote:
But what is Tolkien talking about when he discusses the Elves using goetic effects in an artistic way, that is not meant to deceive? I am at a loss to think of any specific event in his writings that he is referring to


My friend N.E. Brigand provided a good example of this in another venue. He stated:

Quote:
My guess is something like what Tolkien decribes in App. A.I.v, which says that Aragorn, seeing Arwen for the first time:

"halted amazed, thinking that he had strayed into a dream, or else
that he had received the gift of the Elf-minstrels, who can make the
things of which they sing appear before the eyes of those that
listen. For Aragorn had been singing a part of the Lay of Lúthien
which tells of the meeting of Lúthien and Beren in the forest of
Neldoreth."

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 5:48 am 
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I haven't forgotten, and I will post, but the first week back is always very busy. Reality tells me that it will probably be Friday or Saturday before I get time to post on this . . . . and another subject.

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1. " . . . (we are ) too engrossed in thinking of everything as a preparation or training or making one fit -- for what? At any minute it is what we are and are doing, not what we plan to be and do that counts."

J.R.R. Tolkien in his 6 October 1940 letter to his son Michael Tolkien.

2. We have many ways using technology to be in touch, yet the larger question is are we really connected or are we simply more in touch? There is a difference.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 1:19 pm 
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It's not going anywhere. ;)

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 10:08 pm 
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Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
It's not going anywhere. ;)


Well, Voronwë you might want to be careful what your saying . . . one never knows in cyberspace or on the board where a thread may go.

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1. " . . . (we are ) too engrossed in thinking of everything as a preparation or training or making one fit -- for what? At any minute it is what we are and are doing, not what we plan to be and do that counts."

J.R.R. Tolkien in his 6 October 1940 letter to his son Michael Tolkien.

2. We have many ways using technology to be in touch, yet the larger question is are we really connected or are we simply more in touch? There is a difference.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 25, 2008 3:16 am 
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One of the things I find interesting is that the Mouth of Sauron learned black sorcery. so evidently men could learn sorcery.

I also think of the sword from the Barrow that Merry used to strike the Witch-King.

Quote:
So passed the sword of the Barrow-downs, work of Westernesse. But glad would he have been to know its fate who wrought it slowly long ago in the North-kingdom when the Dúnedain were young, and chief among their foes was the dread realm of Angmar and its sorcerer king. 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.


For me there is some power that was put into the sword that Merry used. So I would have to almost assume that the men of Númenor and their descendants had some degree of magia within them.

This is from Michael Martinez's essay on Magic in Middle Earth.

Quote:
"Items, such as the lamps used by the Elves which give light without the benefit of flame; the magical harps of the Dwarves in Erebor; the enchanted West-gate of Moria which opens when the Sindarin word for friend is spoken; and so on. The goetic magic is the artistic side of sub-creation: Art when the motive is to enhance, preserve, or heal; Sorcery when its motive is to dominate, control, or destroy. The Elves were capable of utilizing their abilities in both directions, but more often preferred Art to Sorcery. Sorcery might be useful as in Finrod's confrontation with Sauron on the isle of Tol Sirion during the First Age. It might also be the natural expression of the Elvish will as in Fëanor's chaotic pursuit of Melkor. It was never beyond the reach of the Elves, but seldom within their arsenal of preferences. And yet sorcery is practiced by Men throughout Middle-earth: the nine Men who accepted Rings of Power from Sauron (only three of whom were Numenoreans) became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerors, and warriors of old before they finally succumbed to the Rings and faded; the hill-men who seized control of Rhudaur (or the evil Men the Witch-king sent to replace them) appear to have practiced sorcery; and the Mouth of Sauron was a sorceror (although he was a Númenórean). The sorcery of Men must be diverse."

The essay published first for free and then included in his 2000 book is an interesting read. It is online here; though I think that is a weird place to see it. I find some of this thoughts interesting, especially on contrasting the elves with men and with dwarves and their use of magic.

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1. " . . . (we are ) too engrossed in thinking of everything as a preparation or training or making one fit -- for what? At any minute it is what we are and are doing, not what we plan to be and do that counts."

J.R.R. Tolkien in his 6 October 1940 letter to his son Michael Tolkien.

2. We have many ways using technology to be in touch, yet the larger question is are we really connected or are we simply more in touch? There is a difference.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 21, 2013 4:48 pm 
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For myself I have no great problem calling Tolkien's Elves and wizards magical, or saying that Tolkien's Elves used magic.

Not that anyone here said they did :)

I would say the Elves are inherently magical; and their art can be 'real' not mere trickery, even though we mortals might use the same word to also refer to the sleight of hand deceptions practiced in the primary world, for example. Tolkien wanted to make his distinctions, yes, but in my opinion these are, when boiled down, about 'kinds' of magic (given that the English word can be fairly broad in application), or about the intent of magic users, for instance.


Or am I wrong?

I mean it's simplified, yes, but can we not use the word 'magic' as easily as we use, say the word Elves, despite that Tolkien himself actually had problems with the English translation 'Elves', for instance.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 21, 2013 5:24 pm 
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Interesting that you say that now, because there is a little addition in the EE of An Unexpected Journey as the party is entering Rivendell where Gandalf says words very to that effect that to Bilbo. My reaction to it was "it's simplified, yes, but lovely, and very much on the mark."

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 21, 2013 6:52 pm 
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Oh, thanks Voronwë!

I recently saw AUJ on HBO but not the extended version. Sometimes the EE clips end up on the web too, so maybe I'll catch this scene somewhere.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 21, 2013 7:03 pm 
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The exchange goes something like this:

Bilbo: "Gandalf. Where are we?"
Gandalf: "You can feel it?"
Bilbo: "Yes. It feels like... Well, like magic."
Gandalf: "That's exactly what it is. A very powerful magic."

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 23, 2013 3:59 pm 
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Thanks again Voronwë. There are some EE clips on the web already, but I couldn't find this bit so far.

By the way, does anyone agree Tolkien has a little bit of a problem here when he notes this bit about the Numenoreans? Shirley he cannot simply say there is Elvish blood involved here too; I mean, so generally.

I thought JRRT was sort of saying here: hmm, but what about this? I can say Aragorn wasn't fully 'Man', but... and then he never really explains about the Numenoreans using spells in making swords...

... if I recall correctly anyway.


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 23, 2013 5:23 pm 
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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
The exchange goes something like this:

Bilbo: "Gandalf. Where are we?"
Gandalf: "You can feel it?"
Bilbo: "Yes. It feels like... Well, like magic."
Gandalf: "That's exactly what it is. A very powerful magic."


I also thought this was generally consistent with Tolkien. And a small hint that Elrond wields a ring of power.


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