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Tolkien's runes of power (was Re: Digest Number 632)

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  • Michael Martinez
    ... I don t believe Tolkien would have tried to follow any historical examples of magic runes . His magic was not magic , which would have offended his
    Message 1 of 19 , Jul 11, 2001
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      --- In mythsoc@y..., "David J. Finnamore" <daeron@b...> wrote:
      > --- In mythsoc@y..., Steve Schaper <sschaper@U...> wrote:
      > > Ok, so like what would he have inlaid?
      >
      > Daeron wuz here?
      >
      > But seriously, folks... To be "of power," runes would be arranged
      > in such a way as to have some magical significance. Likely they
      > would have at least a double meaning, maybe more. They might have
      > said something seemingly benign, hiding some special arrangement,
      > such as every third Cirth of the alphabet, or every prime numbered
      > Cirth, or some such. Or taking every other letter would reveal a
      > deeper meaning, sort of like the alleged Bible code phenomenon. It
      > would take some serious thought to come up with something that
      > involved, though. Anyone like word puzzles?

      I don't believe Tolkien would have tried to follow any historical
      examples of "magic runes". His magic was not "magic", which would
      have offended his Christian values. Instead, his magic was something
      natural, a native talent. The runes of power would not NECESSARILY
      have to rely upon special arrangements or symbology. In fact, there
      is very little evidence or any sort of symbology or sympathy in
      Tolkien's magic (I believe there is one Elvish incantation from
      Gandalf on Caradhras which implies a sympathetic magic may be at
      work).

      That is, if Tolkien were to have given the matter some thought, he
      would not have felt compelled to impose rules of magic which followed
      any occultic traditions. He might have given a semblance of
      similarity (in terms of effects). For example, when the Fellowship
      stays in Lorien for a month, they seem to experience only 1 or 2
      weeks' worth of time. That is a very traditional "mortal visits
      Fairyland" effect, but Tolkien provides an explanation for the
      discrepancy in the time experiences (there is a Ring of Power at work
      in Lorien).

      His runes of power may have been nothing more than a passing idea
      thrown in to a couple of passages for effect. That is, they would
      have been there, a part of Middle-earth, but there would have been no
      real explanation for them (WHY are they there, HOW do they work?).
      They provided a sense of completeness, so to speak. But there would
      be no occultic associations because Tolkien was telling a story, not
      describing the occult.

      Later on he might have come back and said, "Well, if they are runes
      of power, what are they used for, and why would runes be used?"

      He seems to have questioned many things in his stories, but not
      everything. I've never found any explanation (by Tolkien) of the
      runes' magical associations. They are a black box, a concept without
      a detailed design showing how they work.

      >
      > Think of later inscriptions of power, such as the one on the inside
      > of the One Ring, or "SPEAK FRIEND AND ENTER" over the West Gates of
      > Moria.

      [snip]

      There is nothing in the text which indicates that these are
      inscriptions of power. Sauron's words in the One Ring MAY be part of
      his "spell", but Tolkien never says so (not in any writing I can
      recall). The words on the west-gate may simply be a message, an
      instruction sign as it were: "Turn knob and push while holding knob
      in turned position" would be equivalent for a modern door. The Ring
      inscription may simply be commemorative.

      We know from his various essays, written ex post facto, that Tolkien
      often went back and tried to explain elements he included in the
      stories. Hence, it's constructive to assume NOTHING when looking at
      any particular element. He may have written something with one
      intention and then applied another, but we have no way of knowing so.

      The Valar, Maiar, and Eldar were supposed to be very sophisticated.
      They understood nature much better than man. They would not be
      superstitious (as Tolkien put it). Superstition is the product of
      Men's misunderstanding nature, and trying to explain it or utilitize
      it on the basis of that misunderstanding. Hence, when Tolkien tried
      to reconcile the Silmarillion's gross inaccuracies regarding cosmic
      and natural history, Tolkien decided (or nearly decided) that Men
      must have altered the traditions, added their own mythology, or
      somehow garbled the legends in transmission.
    • Kati Hallenbeck
      Hi All, When I was studying Old English, I came across many passages that seemed to imply that in a time when Runes were used, only a select few knew their
      Message 2 of 19 , Jul 11, 2001
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        Hi All,

        When I was studying Old English, I came across many passages that seemed to
        imply that in a time when Runes were used, only a select few knew their
        meanings. Being able to read became a magical thing, not in the way we
        percieve magic, but as a child percieves a trick... knowledge was magic in
        the middle ages. That is the essence of fate, or "wierd" in Old English...
        more specifically "word." Those who had knowlege had control over their's
        and other's fate... as we can see throughout The Lord of The Rings. :)

        Kati Hallenbeck
        (A reader who rarely speaks up.) :)
        _________________________________________________________________
        Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com
      • Michael Martinez
        ... Maybe it s just too early in the morning for me to be thinking, but I don t see the connection between knowledge and power in THE LORD OF THE RINGS. And I
        Message 3 of 19 , Jul 12, 2001
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          --- In mythsoc@y..., "Kati Hallenbeck" <k_hallenbeck@h...> wrote:
          > Hi All,
          >
          > When I was studying Old English, I came across many passages that
          > seemed to imply that in a time when Runes were used, only a select
          > few knew their meanings. Being able to read became a magical thing,
          > not in the way we percieve magic, but as a child percieves a
          > trick... knowledge was magic in the middle ages. That is the
          > essence of fate, or "wierd" in Old English...
          > more specifically "word." Those who had knowlege had control over
          > their's and other's fate... as we can see throughout The Lord of
          > The Rings. :)

          Maybe it's just too early in the morning for me to be thinking, but I
          don't see the connection between knowledge and power in THE LORD OF
          THE RINGS.

          And I doubt there is any association between writing systems and
          magic in Tolkien in the way you seem to be suggesting. The magical
          writing on the west-gate of Moria, for example, appears to have been
          magical because of the substance used to create it (a sort of
          invisible Elvish paint that would appear when it treated with the
          proper enchantment).

          The closest thing I can think of to a magical writing system would be
          the moon-runes on Thror's map in THE HOBBIT. And that seems to have
          been an idea Tolkien did not wish to pursue further. With THE
          HOBBIT, he really didn't care if he had to explain things, so you had
          all sorts of stuff from Celtic folklore and Anglo-Saxon literature
          cropping up across the landscape (heck, he even brought in a German
          mountain spirit, and a few other odds and ends).

          With LoTR, Tolkien seems to have felt compelled to explain as much as
          possible (for his own sake), and to make it all work. So, it is
          probably reading too much into the book to assume that his runes were
          in and of themselves associated with magic.
        • Kati Hallenbeck
          ... You misunderstood me completely. I was not implying that the runes were associated with magic at all, but the opposite. That they were representations of
          Message 4 of 19 , Jul 12, 2001
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            >From: "Michael Martinez" <michael@...>
            >Reply-To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
            >To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
            >Subject: [mythsoc] Tolkien's runes of power (was Re: Digest Number 632)
            >Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2001 13:35:22 -0000
            >
            >--- In mythsoc@y..., "Kati Hallenbeck" <k_hallenbeck@h...> wrote:
            > > Hi All,
            > >
            > > When I was studying Old English, I came across many passages that
            > > seemed to imply that in a time when Runes were used, only a select
            > > few knew their meanings. Being able to read became a magical thing,
            > > not in the way we percieve magic, but as a child percieves a
            > > trick... knowledge was magic in the middle ages. That is the
            > > essence of fate, or "wierd" in Old English...
            > > more specifically "word." Those who had knowlege had control over
            > > their's and other's fate... as we can see throughout The Lord of
            > > The Rings. :)
            >
            >Maybe it's just too early in the morning for me to be thinking, but I
            >don't see the connection between knowledge and power in THE LORD OF
            >THE RINGS.
            >
            >And I doubt there is any association between writing systems and
            >magic in Tolkien in the way you seem to be suggesting. The magical
            >writing on the west-gate of Moria, for example, appears to have been
            >magical because of the substance used to create it (a sort of
            >invisible Elvish paint that would appear when it treated with the
            >proper enchantment).
            >
            >The closest thing I can think of to a magical writing system would be
            >the moon-runes on Thror's map in THE HOBBIT. And that seems to have
            >been an idea Tolkien did not wish to pursue further. With THE
            >HOBBIT, he really didn't care if he had to explain things, so you had
            >all sorts of stuff from Celtic folklore and Anglo-Saxon literature
            >cropping up across the landscape (heck, he even brought in a German
            >mountain spirit, and a few other odds and ends).
            >
            >With LoTR, Tolkien seems to have felt compelled to explain as much as
            >possible (for his own sake), and to make it all work. So, it is
            >probably reading too much into the book to assume that his runes were
            >in and of themselves associated with magic.
            >
            >
            >


            You misunderstood me completely. I was not implying that the runes were
            associated with magic at all, but the opposite. That they were
            representations of knowledge and power. When we don't understand the source
            of knowlege and power (science for example), those who wield it seem
            mystical.

            I do not profess to know what Tolkien did or did not have in mind, so I will
            not venture there; even having read much of what there is on the subject.
            What I was implying was that my "reader's response" to the novels has given
            birth (in my mind) to the theme of knowlege and fate being intertwined.
            Gandalf's knowlege of both the world and "magic" seemed to have a direct
            effect on the fates of those around him... as did Sauron. That's all I was
            saying, sorry if I caught the conversation mid stream.

            Cheers all,

            Kati Hallenbeck

            _________________________________________________________________
            Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com
          • Michael Martinez
            ... It s been a very long, exhausting week for me. Thanks for clarifying that. ... No need to apologize to me. I probably should have waited until the fog
            Message 5 of 19 , Jul 12, 2001
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              --- In mythsoc@y..., "Kati Hallenbeck" <k_hallenbeck@h...> wrote:
              > You misunderstood me completely. I was not implying that the runes
              > were associated with magic at all, but the opposite. That they
              > were representations of knowledge and power. When we don't
              > understand the source of knowlege and power (science for example),
              > those who wield it seem mystical.

              It's been a very long, exhausting week for me. Thanks for clarifying
              that.

              > I do not profess to know what Tolkien did or did not have in mind,
              > so I will not venture there; even having read much of what there is
              > on the subject. What I was implying was that my "reader's
              > response" to the novels has given birth (in my mind) to the theme
              > of knowlege and fate being intertwined.
              > Gandalf's knowlege of both the world and "magic" seemed to have a
              > direct effect on the fates of those around him... as did Sauron.
              > That's all I was saying, sorry if I caught the conversation mid
              > stream.

              No need to apologize to me. I probably should have waited until the
              fog cleared, but I had just gotten to work and was quickly checking
              the list archive to see if anything which interested me had been
              posted.
            • David J. Finnamore
              ... something ... Good point. I don t know about native talent, though. I see it more as learned skill, the mastery of lore. Elvish magic was chiefly,
              Message 6 of 19 , Jul 17, 2001
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                --- In mythsoc@y..., "Michael Martinez" <michael@x> wrote:
                > I don't believe Tolkien would have tried to follow any historical
                > examples of "magic runes". His magic was not "magic", which would
                > have offended his Christian values. Instead, his magic was
                something
                > natural, a native talent.

                Good point. I don't know about "native talent," though. I see it
                more as learned skill, the mastery of lore. Elvish "magic" was
                chiefly, in the words of Aurthur C. Clark, "sufficiently advanced
                technology." Not technology as we think of it in the post-modern era,
                but in the most general sense. But it was also just a little bit
                more. (See below.)


                > The runes of power would not NECESSARILY
                > have to rely upon special arrangements or symbology.

                But they might involve those sometimes. More importantly, word play,
                layered meanings in names, and such, are important facets of Tolkien's
                work.


                > His runes of power may have been nothing more than a passing idea
                > thrown in to a couple of passages for effect. That is, they would
                > have been there, a part of Middle-earth, but there would have been
                no
                > real explanation for them (WHY are they there, HOW do they work?).
                > They provided a sense of completeness, so to speak. But there would
                > be no occultic associations because Tolkien was telling a story, not
                > describing the occult.

                I didn't mean to imply occult, more like Cabal or something. But
                anyway, the man wants ideas about what to inscribe in his instrument;
                the point here is to encourage creative thought, to raise
                possibilities. Getting too technical in the creative stage can shut
                down the juices.


                > Sauron's words in the One Ring MAY be part of
                > his "spell", but Tolkien never says so (not in any writing I can
                > recall).

                Consider Elrond's reaction, and Frodo's perception, when Gandalf
                quoted them in the original Black Tongue at Rivendell.


                > The words on the west-gate may simply be a message, an
                > instruction sign as it were: "Turn knob and push while holding knob
                > in turned position" would be equivalent for a modern door.

                This claim leaves my head spinning. Was the gate not opened by, and
                only by, the speaking of the appropriate word in the appropriate
                language? Yes, it certainly was an instruction sign: the instruction
                was to say the magic word!

                In Middle-earth, words have a magnified power. There is nothing
                anti-Christian about the idea that words have power of/over matter.
                Genisis 1. John 1. The idea that even individual letters contain
                some vestige of that power is very old in the Judeo-Christian
                tradition. It was submerged for a while by the so-called
                Enlightenment but we're getting over it, finally.

                And there was great rejoicing. (Yea!)

                David
              • Michael Martinez
                ... Tolkien wrote a great deal about magic in Middle-earth (and he changed his mind on occasion). He envisioned a sub-creational faculty (his words) which
                Message 7 of 19 , Jul 18, 2001
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                  --- In mythsoc@y..., "David J. Finnamore" <daeron@b...> wrote:
                  > --- In mythsoc@y..., "Michael Martinez" <michael@x> wrote:
                  > > I don't believe Tolkien would have tried to follow any historical
                  > > examples of "magic runes". His magic was not "magic", which
                  > > would have offended his Christian values. Instead, his magic was
                  > > something natural, a native talent.
                  >
                  > Good point. I don't know about "native talent," though. I see it
                  > more as learned skill, the mastery of lore. Elvish "magic" was
                  > chiefly, in the words of Aurthur C. Clark, "sufficiently advanced
                  > technology." Not technology as we think of it in the post-modern
                  > era, but in the most general sense. But it was also just a little
                  > bit more. (See below.)

                  Tolkien wrote a great deal about "magic" in Middle-earth (and he
                  changed his mind on occasion). He envisioned a sub-creational
                  faculty (his words) which diminished from order of being to order of
                  being.

                  That is, only Iluvatar (God) could truly create anything (bring it
                  into existence from nothing, through an act of will). The Ainur
                  (angels) entered into Ea (It is, let it be -- all of Creation, or the
                  universe as measured by Time and Space) and they had the power to
                  shape all of Ea according to their whims and desires. That is, they
                  made the stars, worlds, plants, animals, etc. Of course, the Ainur
                  were the literary successors of Tolkien's Anglo-Saxon gods (from THE
                  BOOK OF LOST TALES, which was his mythology for England). So the
                  Ainur inherited the mythical labors of shaping the universe and
                  giving its creatures function, even if they did not actually create
                  the primal universe.

                  The Elves could also give shape to their thoughts, but not to the
                  extent that the Ainur could. That is, the Elves could alter Time and
                  Space to a limited extent, and this ability was perceived as magical
                  by Men.

                  The Dwarves had a similar sub-creational ability, but Tolkien wrote
                  very little about the Dwarves (in any published writings to which I
                  have had access), so it's impossible to tell what their limitations
                  were.

                  Men (and Hobbits) are a confusing issue. They lack the sub-
                  creational talents of the Elves and Dwarves, but Tolkien ultimately
                  conceded that they had to work some kind of magic. He wrote a
                  lengthy reply to one reader (Letter 156, I believe -- I'm at work and
                  cannot check my books) in which he denied any magical abilities among
                  men, but then he noted in the margin that the Numenoreans made
                  enchanted swords, so he didn't send the draft.

                  In Letter 211, I think, he admits that Beorn (from THE HOBBIT) was "a
                  bit of a magician". And in some essays which Christopher Tolkien
                  published in MORGOTH'S RING, Tolkien stipulates that men were able to
                  practice necromancy by communicating with the spirits of faded
                  Elves. The Elven spirits could impart some ability to the men, I
                  think, but the men were at great risk of losing their bodies to
                  possession.

                  Tolkien really did not follow traditional elements of magic. Hence,
                  he has no witches flying on broomsticks or dancing naked under the
                  moon. He doesn't have pseudo-Druidic priests trying to sacrifice
                  prisoners and sacred groves, etc.

                  Where his magic has the appearance of something out of traditional
                  folklore, he seems determined to try and explain how it should work
                  within the rules of his sub-creational diarama, or at least to
                  provide it with a rational framework. So it really serves no purpose
                  to look at traditional interpretations of magic and apply them to
                  Tolkien. He may be using the facade, but he is not using the
                  substance.

                  Occult, cabal, Irish mysticism, whatever. There seems to be no place
                  for them in Tolkien's Middle-earth. The closest he seems to come to
                  such things is the very terse description of the Morgothian cult
                  in "Akallabeth", in which men were sacrificed on alters dedicated to
                  Morgoth (although it was Sauron who initiated the cult in the Second
                  Age, after Morgoth had been killed by the Valar).

                  There is also a hint of some sort of forbidden worship in the story
                  concerning the Dead Men of Dunharrow, as I believe there is a passage
                  which says they worshipped Sauron in the Second Age (which
                  contradicts what "Akallabeth" says of who men were worshipping).

                  Perhaps this discussion is getting too technical, but I think it's
                  best to apply the creative juices in less traditional directions
                  where Tolkien is concerned. Which is not to say he eschewed
                  traditional motifs. There are plenty in Middle-earth. It's just
                  that he was very innovative, and I don't believe his ingenuity has
                  been very well documented (although I have not read all the Mythlores
                  and similar journals, so I can't say for sure what innovations have
                  been documented through the years).

                  In general, most people don't look for Tolkien's innovations, and
                  therefore I believe they go largely unnoticed. But that might be the
                  way he preferred it. Perhaps he would have felt we would be too much
                  like Saruman, leaving the path of wisdom by breaking a thing (his
                  story) in order to learn of what it is made.

                  Tom Shippey might say that admonition from Gandalf was a subtle jibe
                  at Tolkien's fellow scholars (perhaps he did -- I suppose I'll need
                  to reread Shippey before the end of the year).

                  > > Sauron's words in the One Ring MAY be part of
                  > > his "spell", but Tolkien never says so (not in any writing I can
                  > > recall).
                  >
                  > Consider Elrond's reaction, and Frodo's perception, when Gandalf
                  > quoted them in the original Black Tongue at Rivendell.

                  There could be other explanations for what happened at the Council of
                  Elrond. We don't have enough information to rule out any possible
                  explanation, or to conclude that one is more likely than the others.

                  > > The words on the west-gate may simply be a message, an
                  > > instruction sign as it were: "Turn knob and push while holding
                  > > knob in turned position" would be equivalent for a modern door.
                  >
                  > This claim leaves my head spinning. Was the gate not opened by,
                  > and only by, the speaking of the appropriate word in the
                  > appropriate language? Yes, it certainly was an instruction sign:
                  > the instruction was to say the magic word!

                  There is no indication that there was anything magical about the
                  word. Gandalf refers to a "word of command" in his encounter with
                  the Balrog, so we know there are indeed "magical words", but I don't
                  believe that "mellon" ("friend" in Sindarin) is magical. People
                  would be triggering magical effects all over the place if it were.
                  Sindarin was at one time the common language of western Middle-earth,
                  spoken by Elves, Dwarves, and Men from Lindon to the Vales of
                  Anduin. It was only gradually replaced in that capacity by
                  Adunaic/Westron toward the end of the Second Age.

                  I would say it is not the spoken word which has power, but the being
                  who speaks it. The word may be given a special association through
                  special usage, but it could still be very much like an electric lamp
                  sitting in a cave without an electrical outlet to power it when
                  spoken by most people.
                • Trudy Shaw
                  ... From: David J. Finnamore To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Sent: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 11:40 PM Subject: [mythsoc] Tolkien s runes of power (was Re: Digest
                  Message 8 of 19 , Jul 19, 2001
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                    ----- Original Message -----
                    From: David J. Finnamore
                    To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                    Sent: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 11:40 PM
                    Subject: [mythsoc] Tolkien's runes of power (was Re: Digest Number 632)


                    --- In mythsoc@y..., "Michael Martinez" <michael@x> wrote:
                    > I don't believe Tolkien would have tried to follow any historical
                    > examples of "magic runes". His magic was not "magic", which would
                    > have offended his Christian values. Instead, his magic was
                    something
                    > natural, a native talent.

                    Good point. I don't know about "native talent," though. I see it
                    more as learned skill, the mastery of lore. Elvish "magic" was
                    chiefly, in the words of Aurthur C. Clark, "sufficiently advanced
                    technology." Not technology as we think of it in the post-modern era,
                    but in the most general sense. But it was also just a little bit
                    more.


                    David




                    The "native talent" description is supported by Tolkien at the end of letter #155, where he says, "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. Aragorn's 'healing' might be regarded as 'magical', or at least a blend of magic with pharmacy and 'hypnotic' processes. But it is (in theory) reported by hobbits who have very little notions of philosophy and science; while A. is not a pure 'Man', but at long remove one of the 'children of Luthien'."

                    (BTW, this is the paragraph that has the written-in note reading, "But the Numenoreans used 'spells' in the making of swords?" Interesting that he has the word "spells" in quotes and has a question mark at the end of the statement--perhaps a note to himself to think more about this seeming contradiction?)

                    I can't lay my hands on an actual quote right now, but my impression has been that the power of "Elf magic" lies in the Elves' direct connection to and strong bonding with the created world, which Mortals don't have because of their destiny to pass beyond it.

                    Two questions on earlier posts--
                    In the quotation about technology (above), is Arthur C. Clarke referring specifically to Tolkien's Elves or to the (pardon the expression ) garden variety?
                    Does Gandalf's "library research" really come under the heading of magic? The knowledge helps him track down what happened to the Ring, but he doesn't seem to use it in any magical way.

                    -- Trudy



                    [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                  • Michael Martinez
                    ... I cited Letter 155/156 in my essay Understanding Magic in J.R.R. Tolkien s Middle-earth , the original version of which was published on the Vault s
                    Message 9 of 19 , Jul 19, 2001
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                      --- In mythsoc@y..., "Trudy Shaw" <tgshaw@e...> wrote:
                      > I can't lay my hands on an actual quote right now, but my
                      > impression has been that the power of "Elf magic" lies in the
                      > Elves' direct connection to and strong bonding with the created
                      > world, which Mortals don't have because of their destiny to pass
                      > beyond it.

                      I cited Letter 155/156 in my essay "Understanding Magic in J.R.R.
                      Tolkien's Middle-earth", the original version of which was published
                      on the Vault's Middle-earth site (set up for Sierra's now-defunct
                      Middle-earth Online game) and republished in Visualizing Middle-
                      earth. I'm at work and don't have the URL or time to dig it up. But
                      I may have included a few other citations (such as the Beorn-magician
                      one) showing how Tolkien changed his mind on Men's ability to use
                      magic. It was a 40-page paper and I can't remember all the details.

                      >
                      > Two questions on earlier posts--
                      > In the quotation about technology (above), is Arthur C. Clarke
                      > referring specifically to Tolkien's Elves or to the (pardon the
                      > expression ) garden variety?

                      Clarke's statement, so far as I know, is a classic: "Any sufficiently
                      advanced technology seems like magic." I have never seen it
                      specifically associated with Tolkien.

                      > Does Gandalf's "library research" really come under the heading
                      > of magic? The knowledge helps him track down what happened to the
                      > Ring, but he doesn't seem to use it in any magical way.

                      Although I agree that "knowledge is power", I don't equate "power"
                      with "magic".

                      Tolkien does not associate reading and writing with magic in his
                      Middle-earth stories. I think it's going beyond his intentions to
                      argue that a writing system or the use of written language is a
                      magical application.
                    • Sweet & Tender Hooligan
                      ... _________________________________________________________ Do You Yahoo!? Get your free @yahoo.com address at http://mail.yahoo.com
                      Message 10 of 19 , Jul 19, 2001
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                        > I cited Letter 155/156 in my essay "Understanding Magic in J.R.R.
                        > Tolkien's Middle-earth", the original version of which was published
                        > on the Vault's Middle-earth site (set up for Sierra's now-defunct
                        > Middle-earth Online game) and republished in Visualizing Middle-
                        > earth. I'm at work and don't have the URL or time to dig it up.

                        It's at:

                        http://mevault.ign.com/features/editorials/understandingmagic.shtml

                        paul christian glenn | pcg@...

                        "And then I lost it. I kinda lost it all,
                        you know? Faith, dignity, about
                        fifteen pounds..."


















                        .


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                      • Michael Martinez
                        ... That s it, thanks. And I see the Beorn reference is in Letter 144, not Letter 211, which I believe I attributed it to previously.
                        Message 11 of 19 , Jul 19, 2001
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                          --- In mythsoc@y..., "Sweet & Tender Hooligan" <cirhsein@y...> wrote:
                          >
                          > It's at:
                          >
                          > http://mevault.ign.com/features/editorials/understandingmagic.shtml

                          That's it, thanks. And I see the Beorn reference is in Letter 144,
                          not Letter 211, which I believe I attributed it to previously.
                        • dianejoy@earthlink.net
                          ... From: Michael Martinez michael@xenite.org Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2001 18:27:12 -0000 To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com Subject: [mythsoc] Tolkien s runes of power
                          Message 12 of 19 , Jul 20, 2001
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                            Original Message:
                            -----------------
                            From: Michael Martinez michael@...
                            Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2001 18:27:12 -0000
                            To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
                            Subject: [mythsoc] Tolkien's runes of power (was Re: Digest Number 632)


                            --- In mythsoc@y..., "Sweet & Tender Hooligan" <cirhsein@y...> wrote:
                            >>
                            >> It's at:
                            >>
                            >> http://mevault.ign.com/features/editorials/understandingmagic.shtml

                            >That's it, thanks. And I see the Beorn reference is in Letter 144,
                            >not Letter 211, which I believe I attributed it to previously.

                            I must congratulate you on a very detailed and perceptive piece. Haven't read it all; I have trouble reading long articles on screen; I've bookmarked it and hope to read it once I print it off. It may be a while.
                            Have you considered sending it off to a print publication---like *Mythlore* for instance, or are there legal rammifications? ---djb

                            The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org

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                          • Michael Martinez
                            ... Haven t read it all; I have trouble reading long articles on screen; I ve bookmarked it and hope to read it once I print it off. It may be a while. ...
                            Message 13 of 19 , Jul 20, 2001
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                              --- In mythsoc@y..., "dianejoy@e..." <dianejoy@e...> wrote:

                              > I must congratulate you on a very detailed and perceptive piece.
                              Haven't read it all; I have trouble reading long articles on
                              screen; I've bookmarked it and hope to read it once I print it off.
                              It may be a while.
                              > Have you considered sending it off to a print publication---like
                              *Mythlore* for instance, or are there legal rammifications? ---djb

                              Thank you. I included the essay in Visualizing Middle-earth. Right
                              now I have such a backlog of writing projects that I'm not going to
                              submit anything to anyone. I've been approving reprint requests
                              since no one ever asks for a rewrite with those. :)
                            • David J. Finnamore
                              ... of letter #155, where he says, 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
                              Message 14 of 19 , Jul 22, 2001
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                                --- In mythsoc@y..., "Trudy Shaw" <tgshaw@e...> wrote:
                                > The "native talent" description is supported by Tolkien at the end
                                of letter #155, where he says, "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. Aragorn's 'healing' might be regarded as 'magical', or at
                                least a blend of magic with pharmacy and 'hypnotic' processes. But it
                                is (in theory) reported by hobbits who have very little notions of
                                philosophy and science; while A. is not a pure 'Man', but at long
                                remove one of the 'children of Luthien'."

                                It seems to me, then, that there is a clear distinction between what
                                he, as an "outside observer" believed about what was behind his tale,
                                and what those who (in theory) reported the tale believed. The story
                                itself, unless my memory is failing, makes numerous references to a
                                relationship between magical power and the learning of lore.


                                > In the quotation about technology (above), is Arthur C. Clarke
                                referring specifically to Tolkien's Elves or to the (pardon the
                                expression ) garden variety?

                                Niether. He was not referring to Tolkien but to the fact that people
                                with advanced technology can appear to be magical to those without it.
                                Which seems to have happened in the case of Elves and Hobbits.

                                David
                              • Michael Martinez
                                ... I cannot think of any such references. However, the paragraph cited above is the same one against which Tolkien wrote the marginal note pointing out that
                                Message 15 of 19 , Jul 22, 2001
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                                  --- In mythsoc@y..., "David J. Finnamore" <daeron@b...> wrote:
                                  > --- In mythsoc@y..., "Trudy Shaw" <tgshaw@e...> wrote:
                                  > > The "native talent" description is supported by Tolkien at the
                                  > > end of letter #155, where he says, "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. Aragorn's 'healing' might be regarded
                                  > > as 'magical', or at least a blend of magic with pharmacy
                                  > > and 'hypnotic' processes. But it is (in theory) reported by
                                  > > hobbits who have very little notions of philosophy and science;
                                  > > while A. is not a pure 'Man', but at long remove one of
                                  > > the 'children of Luthien'."
                                  >
                                  > It seems to me, then, that there is a clear distinction between
                                  > what he, as an "outside observer" believed about what was behind
                                  > his tale, and what those who (in theory) reported the tale
                                  > believed. The story itself, unless my memory is failing, makes
                                  > numerous references to a relationship between magical power and the
                                  > learning of lore.

                                  I cannot think of any such references. However, the paragraph cited
                                  above is the same one against which Tolkien wrote the marginal note
                                  pointing out that Numenoreans used spells in making swords.

                                  I was sure it wouldn't be long before an Anglo-Saxon-centric argument
                                  was made about Tolkien's magic, but it can be shown that his magic
                                  closely resembles nothing and vaguely resembles everything. I am
                                  sure that was his intent, but I doubt he ever confessed to doing
                                  things that way in writing.

                                  Gandalf and the wizards, for example, exhibit powers which are found
                                  in Greek mythology, from Zeus hurtling thunderbolts at people to
                                  various gods changing into animals and trees (Radagast being a master
                                  of shapes and hues, although there are people who argue endlessly
                                  and, in my opinion, pointlessly about how Gandalf's comment cannot
                                  possibly refer to anything like Radagast changing his own shape).

                                  And Tolkien made a point of calling the Rohirrim "Homeric horsemen",
                                  although there were no such horsemen in Homer (that I recall). On
                                  the other hand, Tolkien exhibited a fondness for Alexander the Great,
                                  at least to the extent that Alexander is mentioned more than once in
                                  Tolkien's letters.

                                  The Rohirrim thus appear to be loosely based on the Goths as they
                                  were perceived to be in the 1940s (at the time of their entries into
                                  the Roman Empire) as far as culture goes; their "translated" language
                                  and nomenclature are taken directly from Anglo-Saxon (Mercian,
                                  according to some people, but I don't know enough to distinguish such
                                  features of language); their ideas and values are "Homeric", even
                                  down to men forseeing their deaths and taking oaths which carry them
                                  to the far ends of the world; and they are very close to being a
                                  rewrite of the Third House of the Edain, the Marachians.

                                  Helm Hammerhand resembles Hurin in some ways, and Eorl the Young
                                  might be modelled on Hador. At the time he wrote THE LORD OF THE
                                  RINGS, Tolkien knew far more about those earlier characters than he
                                  was revealing to his Hobbit readership, so he seems to have had no
                                  qualms about borrowing from himself. And both Helm and Hurin owe a
                                  little something to Herakles, being men of great strength with
                                  tempers that get them into trouble. And they both lose their
                                  families because of their actions.
                                • Michael Martinez
                                  ... I meant to add something about the two famous charges of the Rohirrim: Eorl s arrival at the Battle of the Field of Celebrant and Theoden s charge in the
                                  Message 16 of 19 , Jul 22, 2001
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                                    --- In mythsoc@y..., "Michael Martinez" <michael@x> wrote:
                                    > --- In mythsoc@y..., "David J. Finnamore" <daeron@b...> wrote:
                                    > The Rohirrim thus appear to be loosely based on the Goths as they
                                    > were perceived to be in the 1940s (at the time of their entries
                                    > into the Roman Empire) as far as culture goes; their "translated"
                                    > language and nomenclature are taken directly from Anglo-Saxon
                                    > (Mercian, according to some people, but I don't know enough to
                                    > distinguish such features of language); their ideas and values
                                    > are "Homeric", even down to men forseeing their deaths and taking
                                    > oaths which carry them to the far ends of the world; and they are
                                    > very close to being a rewrite of the Third House of the Edain, the
                                    > Marachians.

                                    I meant to add something about the two famous charges of the
                                    Rohirrim: Eorl's arrival at the Battle of the Field of Celebrant and
                                    Theoden's charge in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Both charges
                                    owe a little something to Alexander, who more than once led his
                                    Companion cavalry in charges against the center of enemy lines (an
                                    unusual cavalry tactic for a time centuries before the stirrup came
                                    along -- and I don't believe the high saddles used by Roman Cibinarii
                                    for similar tactics had been developed yet, either).

                                    Anyway, I was starting to get ahead of myself as I typed, as the
                                    Helm/Hurin/Herakles comparison was one I hadn't made in a long time,
                                    and it suddenly reoccurred to me.
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