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Magic in M.e. (was Tolkien's runes of power)

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  • David J. Finnamore
    Having finally caught up, I m sending a response typed earlier to a post from a couple of days ago. Sorry for disordering the thread but I didn t want to be
    Message 1 of 7 , Jul 22 12:40 PM
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      Having finally caught up, I'm sending a response typed earlier to a post from a
      couple of days ago. Sorry for disordering the thread but I didn't want to be
      redundant.

      Michael,

      Good points about subcreational abilities and all. Very thorough. Thanks. I
      especially found helpful:

      > 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.

      Nicely said.

      Michael Martinez wrote:

      > > > 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).
      > > [I wrote:]
      > > Consider Elrond's reaction, and Frodo's perception, when Gandalf
      > > quoted them in the original Black Tongue at Rivendell.
      > [MM:]
      > 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.

      It made the porch dark for a moment. If he meant for us to think that was
      coincidence he should have given some indication of it. Seems apparent that he
      meant for the reader to infer that the apparent shadow over the sun was caused
      by the speaking of the words. Whether or not the ring's inscription was
      intended by Sauron to be a specific spell, speaking it, especially in the Black
      tongue, exercised some degree of power over nature, or at the least over the
      listener's perceptions.

      I suspect this would not likely have been true apart from the presence of the
      ring. That is, speaking those words in the hearing of the ring brought out its
      evil power. But I admit that part is pure speculation, fueled only by memory
      of other things that the ring caused in its uncomfortable history.

      But if only perception was affected, it would seem more like Tolkien (to me) to
      say something like, "the porch seemed darker" rather than "the porch for a
      moment grew dark." The way it's written implies actual reduction of ambient
      light, to put it perhaps excessively technically but at least clearly.


      > > > 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.

      After some thought and checking the passage, I see that is a correct
      distinction. So what caused the door to open? It was not that the word
      "mellon" contained general powers of opening, but the gate itself was magical
      and responded to that specific word.


      > I would say it is not the spoken word which has power, but the being
      > who speaks it.

      "Some dwarf-gates will open only at special times, or for particular persons;
      and some have locks and keys that are still needed when all necessary times and
      words are known. These doors have no key. In the days of Durin they were not
      secret. They usually stood open and doorwards sat here. But if they were
      shut, any who knew the opening word could speak it and pass in. At least so it
      is recorded, is it not," Michael? :)

      This indicates that the power was in the gate (or in some sense, in the
      maker(s) of the gate, thus ultimately in Eru), neither in the word, nor the
      speaker. That is to say, the word "mellon" did not have general powers of
      opening; the gate makers could have chosen any password they desired. You
      could say, in modern Western speak, that it was a voice activated gate. But
      that conjures up images of Star Trek, not M.e. Unless Tolkien said something
      explicitly to the contrary, I prefer to say that Elves and Dwarves understood
      how to harness the mythic power of words. Saying it that way keeps me in a
      M.e. state of mind, a state filled with wonder and delight, a state in which
      lab coats are replaced by wizards' cloaks.

      --
      David J. Finnamore
      Nashville, TN, USA
      http://www.elvenminstrel.com
      --
      "Always take skeptics with a grain of salt." - Kris Peck
    • Michael Martinez
      ... I just cited this passage and lost my connection as I tried to post, so here it is again, even more terse than before. I apologize, but I m running out of
      Message 2 of 7 , Jul 22 10:01 PM
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        --- In mythsoc@y..., "David J. Finnamore" <daeron@b...> wrote:
        > > [MM:]
        > > 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.
        >
        > It made the porch dark for a moment. If he meant for us to think
        > that was coincidence he should have given some indication of it.

        I just cited this passage and lost my connection as I tried to post,
        so here it is again, even more terse than before. I apologize, but
        I'm running out of time.

        "'And if that is not proof enough, Galdor, there is the other test
        that I spoke of. Upon this very ring which you have here seen held
        aloft, round and unadorned, the letters that Isildur reported may
        still be read, if one has the strength of will to set the golden
        thing in the fire a while. That I have done, and this I have read:

        "Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh
        burzum-ishi krimpatul.'

        "The change in the wizard's voice was astounding. Suddenly it became
        menacing, powerful, harsh as stone. A shadow seemed to pass over the
        high sun, and the porch for a moment grew dark. All trembled, and the
        Elves stopped their ears.

        "'Never before has any voice dared to utter the words of that tongue
        in Imladris, Gandalf the Grey,' said Elrond, as the shadow passed and
        the company breathed once more.


        There is no indication in this text of what causes the apparent
        darkening. Gandalf could have been adding some of his own special
        effects, or the Ring could have done it, etc.

        > > 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.
        >
        > After some thought and checking the passage, I see that is a correct
        > distinction. So what caused the door to open? It was not that the
        > word "mellon" contained general powers of opening, but the gate
        > itself was magical and responded to that specific word.

        I agree that the gate was magical. However,...

        > > I would say it is not the spoken word which has power, but the
        > > being who speaks it.

        This was directed at the more general idea of words themselves having
        power, and not intended to address the Moria-gate word (although it
        seems to have come out that way). I believe that if someone like
        Frodo or Sam had spoken Gandalf's Word of Command, nothing would have
        happened.

        In the case of the gate, the magic had been put into the doors of
        Moria (by Narvi, Celebrimbor, or both).
      • Juliet Blosser
        ... I ve always assumed in reading this passage and others like it that Tolkien was drawing on the many cultures and myth systems in the world that associate
        Message 3 of 7 , Jul 23 12:14 AM
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          On Mon, Jul 23, 2001 at 05:01:45AM -0000, Michael Martinez wrote:
          > --- In mythsoc@y..., "David J. Finnamore" <daeron@b...> wrote:
          > > > [MM:]
          > > > 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.
          > >
          > > It made the porch dark for a moment. If he meant for us to think
          > > that was coincidence he should have given some indication of it.
          >
          > I just cited this passage and lost my connection as I tried to post,
          > so here it is again, even more terse than before. I apologize, but
          > I'm running out of time.
          >
          > "'And if that is not proof enough, Galdor, there is the other test
          > that I spoke of. Upon this very ring which you have here seen held
          > aloft, round and unadorned, the letters that Isildur reported may
          > still be read, if one has the strength of will to set the golden
          > thing in the fire a while. That I have done, and this I have read:
          >
          > "Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh
          > burzum-ishi krimpatul.'
          >
          > "The change in the wizard's voice was astounding. Suddenly it became
          > menacing, powerful, harsh as stone. A shadow seemed to pass over the
          > high sun, and the porch for a moment grew dark. All trembled, and the
          > Elves stopped their ears.
          >
          > "'Never before has any voice dared to utter the words of that tongue
          > in Imladris, Gandalf the Grey,' said Elrond, as the shadow passed and
          > the company breathed once more.
          >
          >
          > There is no indication in this text of what causes the apparent
          > darkening. Gandalf could have been adding some of his own special
          > effects, or the Ring could have done it, etc.

          I've always assumed in reading this passage and others like it that
          Tolkien was drawing on the many cultures and myth systems in the world
          that associate power with certain words and languages. Those that
          come immediately to mind are the Buddhists and the power of the syllable
          'ohm', the Muslims who believe that the Koran in Arabic is the only true
          Koran, and a naming ritual in Stephen Lawhead's Endless Knot, which is
          based on Celtic tradition. Someone has already mentioned John 1
          and Genesis 1, but Christ also renamed several of his apostles, and
          other people throughout the Bible were directed to give specific names
          to their children, or renamed at key points in their lives. It seems
          fairly obvious to me that many cultures regard words as potent in and
          of themselves, without necessarily being spells or magic in any
          formulaic sense. Perhaps someone else can come up with more pertinent
          examples than I can at this hour.
        • David J. Finnamore
          ... I agree that it s not an open and shut case. I think no indication is a little strong - no direct attribution is a phrasing I would feel more
          Message 4 of 7 , Jul 23 4:52 PM
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            --- In mythsoc@y..., "Michael Martinez" <michael@x> wrote:
            > There is no indication in this text of what causes the apparent
            > darkening. Gandalf could have been adding some of his own special
            > effects, or the Ring could have done it, etc.

            I agree that it's not an open and shut case. I think "no indication"
            is a little strong - "no direct attribution" is a phrasing I would
            feel more comfortable with. Perhaps the sense of mystery is part of
            the appeal.


            > > > I would say it is not the spoken word which has power, but the
            > > > being who speaks it.
            >
            > This was directed at the more general idea of words themselves
            having
            > power, and not intended to address the Moria-gate word (although it
            > seems to have come out that way). I believe that if someone like
            > Frodo or Sam had spoken Gandalf's Word of Command, nothing would
            have
            > happened.

            How do you reconcile that belief with the statement, agreed to by both
            Gandalf and Gimli, that it was "recorded" that anyone who knew the
            password could open the gate with it? Going only on a guess based on
            the absense (or great sparseness) of hobbit population in Eriador at
            the time the gate was built? It seems unlikely that the gate could
            have aquired anti-hobbitic views in the intervening years. :-)

            This has been a fun topic. Glad Steve S. brought it up. 8-)>

            David
          • Ginger L. Zabel
            Hello all, Perhaps I should apologize in advance, since I haven t been a part of this list for very long. It s more than possible that these ideas have been
            Message 5 of 7 , Jul 27 6:05 AM
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              Hello all,

              Perhaps I should apologize in advance, since I haven't been a part of this
              list for very long. It's more than possible that these ideas have been
              brought up and discussed many times, but the wonderful discussion of magic
              in middle earth spawned a follow up thought or two I wanted to bounce off
              people.

              It seems to me that Tolkien's "magic" is Christian in general, but more
              specifically Catholic in nature. The discussion of the words spoken at the
              Council which made the room darken seemed to remind me of arguments that I
              have heard between Catholics and Protestants regarding whether the
              Eucharist is actually transformed by the speaking of the words of
              Institution, or if it is symbolic of Christ's presence only.

              The mystical is much more a part of the Catholic church than most
              protestant churches. Indeed, the Catholic Church itself is the only
              Christian church that I can think of that declares itself as a
              "sacramental" faith. That is, the reality of Christianity and God can be
              seen in God's presence in the world itself. Perhaps "incarnation of God in
              the world" makes more sense than "sacramental."

              The point I'm making is not about the Catholic church, which I've only just
              begun to study, but rather about Tolkien's ideas of the mystical. I have
              never heard transubstantiation described as "magic" by anyone in the
              church, yet it would have been a weekly reminder of God's power, to Tolkien
              himself. It would also have been an instance wherein "words" themselves
              have a power and transforming effect when put with the proper physical
              element, at least to those who believed.

              I would not want to carry the analogy too far. Middle Earth, and more
              specifically The Lord of the Rings is not an allegory of the gospels. Yet
              there is something very Christian about all of the "magical" occurrances in
              Middle Earth. Glorfindel being revealed in all his glory at the fords to
              Rivendell seems to mirror the transfiguration. Gandalf's return from death
              is followed by the fact that he is not recognized by Aragorn or Gimli, much
              like Mary asking the "gardener" where they had taken her lord, only to find
              that it was the resurrected Jesus himself she was talking to. Much is
              expected of those to whom much is given, yet it is the weak and humble who
              are raised up and chosen to continue the quest.

              The magical aspects of Middle Earth seem to have an authenticity because
              they have been seen in our own world by those who confess a Christian
              faith. Tolkien's idea of subcreation seems to have enveloped all that he
              saw as "real" in the world. He took from his reality and extrapolated the
              realities of the miraculous to another time and culture in his own story.

              I'm still a youngster in the study and reading of Tolkien and the other
              inklings, but I'd be interested in any non-violent hobbit-safe responses.

              -Ginger


              --On Sunday, July 22, 2001, 2:40 PM -0500 "David J. Finnamore"
              <daeron@...> wrote:

              > Having finally caught up, I'm sending a response typed earlier to a post
              > from a couple of days ago. Sorry for disordering the thread but I didn't
              > want to be redundant.
              >
              > Michael,
              >
              > Good points about subcreational abilities and all. Very thorough.
              > Thanks. I especially found helpful:
              >
              >> 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.
              >
              > Nicely said.
              >
              > Michael Martinez wrote:
              >
              >> > > 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).
              >> > [I wrote:]
              >> > Consider Elrond's reaction, and Frodo's perception, when Gandalf
              >> > quoted them in the original Black Tongue at Rivendell.
              >> [MM:]
              >> 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.
              >
              > It made the porch dark for a moment. If he meant for us to think that was
              > coincidence he should have given some indication of it. Seems apparent
              > that he meant for the reader to infer that the apparent shadow over the
              > sun was caused by the speaking of the words. Whether or not the ring's
              > inscription was intended by Sauron to be a specific spell, speaking it,
              > especially in the Black tongue, exercised some degree of power over
              > nature, or at the least over the listener's perceptions.
              >
              > I suspect this would not likely have been true apart from the presence of
              > the ring. That is, speaking those words in the hearing of the ring
              > brought out its evil power. But I admit that part is pure speculation,
              > fueled only by memory of other things that the ring caused in its
              > uncomfortable history.
              >
              > But if only perception was affected, it would seem more like Tolkien (to
              > me) to say something like, "the porch seemed darker" rather than "the
              > porch for a moment grew dark." The way it's written implies actual
              > reduction of ambient light, to put it perhaps excessively technically but
              > at least clearly.
              >
              >
              >> > > 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.
              >
              > After some thought and checking the passage, I see that is a correct
              > distinction. So what caused the door to open? It was not that the word
              > "mellon" contained general powers of opening, but the gate itself was
              > magical and responded to that specific word.
              >
              >
              >> I would say it is not the spoken word which has power, but the being
              >> who speaks it.
              >
              > "Some dwarf-gates will open only at special times, or for particular
              > persons; and some have locks and keys that are still needed when all
              > necessary times and words are known. These doors have no key. In the
              > days of Durin they were not secret. They usually stood open and
              > doorwards sat here. But if they were shut, any who knew the opening word
              > could speak it and pass in. At least so it is recorded, is it not,"
              > Michael? :)
              >
              > This indicates that the power was in the gate (or in some sense, in the
              > maker(s) of the gate, thus ultimately in Eru), neither in the word, nor
              > the speaker. That is to say, the word "mellon" did not have general
              > powers of opening; the gate makers could have chosen any password they
              > desired. You could say, in modern Western speak, that it was a voice
              > activated gate. But that conjures up images of Star Trek, not M.e.
              > Unless Tolkien said something explicitly to the contrary, I prefer to say
              > that Elves and Dwarves understood how to harness the mythic power of
              > words. Saying it that way keeps me in a M.e. state of mind, a state
              > filled with wonder and delight, a state in which lab coats are replaced
              > by wizards' cloaks.
              >
              > --
              > David J. Finnamore
              > Nashville, TN, USA
              > http://www.elvenminstrel.com
              > --
              > "Always take skeptics with a grain of salt." - Kris Peck
              >
              >
              >
              > The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org
              >
              > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
              >
            • Michael Martinez
              ... I m not intimately familiar with Catholicism s teachings, but I don t believe any manifestation of God s power would be a sub-creational exposition in
              Message 6 of 7 , Jul 27 10:06 AM
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                --- In mythsoc@y..., "Ginger L. Zabel" <glzabel@u...> wrote:
                > The mystical is much more a part of the Catholic church than most
                > protestant churches. Indeed, the Catholic Church itself is the only
                > Christian church that I can think of that declares itself as a
                > "sacramental" faith. That is, the reality of Christianity and God
                > can be seen in God's presence in the world itself.
                > Perhaps "incarnation of God in the world" makes more sense
                > than "sacramental."
                >
                > The point I'm making is not about the Catholic church, which I've
                > only just begun to study, but rather about Tolkien's ideas of the
                > mystical. I have never heard transubstantiation described
                > as "magic" by anyone in the church, yet it would have been a weekly
                > reminder of God's power, to Tolkien himself. It would also have
                > been an instance wherein "words" themselves have a power and
                > transforming effect when put with the proper physical
                > element, at least to those who believed.

                I'm not intimately familiar with Catholicism's teachings, but I don't
                believe any manifestation of God's power would be a sub-creational
                exposition in Tolkien's view. Sub-creation is what created creatures
                such as angels, elves, and men engage in within the boundaries set
                for them by God's will.

                Tolkien's own creation of the idea of Middle-earth is an act of sub-
                creation. Sub-creation encompasses more than what we are referring
                to as "magic". It is an extension of Creator's act of giving
                substance to his thought, an extension which is limited by our
                inability to bring something into existence from nothing.

                Tolkien's use the word "incarnate" with respect to Middle-earth is
                limited to the manifestation of a will or spirit in a physical body.
                That is, he speaks of the Self-Incarnated (Ainur) and the Rational
                Incarnates (Elves, Men, Dwarves, Ents, Eagles, Orcs). He does not
                exclude an incarnation of God, except to say in one letter there is
                none (that the mythology is set before the time of Christ). I don't
                know how Tolkien's framework fits with Catholic principles.

                > I would not want to carry the analogy too far. Middle Earth, and
                > more specifically The Lord of the Rings is not an allegory of the
                > gospels. Yet there is something very Christian about all of
                > the "magical" occurrances in Middle Earth. Glorfindel being
                > revealed in all his glory at the fords to Rivendell seems to mirror
                > the transfiguration. Gandalf's return from death is followed by
                > the fact that he is not recognized by Aragorn or Gimli, much
                > like Mary asking the "gardener" where they had taken her lord, only
                > to find that it was the resurrected Jesus himself she was talking
                > to. Much is expected of those to whom much is given, yet it is the
                > weak and humble who are raised up and chosen to continue the quest.

                The Biblical analogies are real and most likely intentional, since
                Tolkien said that the book was a Catholic work. That is, he meant it
                should be recognizable to someone who understands what Catholicism
                teaches, and the symbology it recognizes.

                Which is not to say that Gandalf should be viewed as a Christ
                figure. There are no Christ figures in the story. Rather, as Christ
                sets the precedent for all of us, so Tolkien used him as a precedent-
                setter for some of his characters. To follow in Christ's footsteps
                is not to become Christ, but to become Christ-like. So Gandalf and
                Frodo (and Aragorn to a certain extent) are Christ-like. i.e., They
                represent Christian ideals within the context of a Catholic
                perspective. There is indeed some allegory in the book. It is just
                not an allegorical story. Tolkien's use of allegory is limited to
                where he felt the story demanded it.

                The allegory enables us to identify the Christian perspective without
                encumbering the story.
              • Stolzi@aol.com
                In a message dated 7/27/01 8:06:46 AM Central Daylight Time, ... EXCELLENT post, Ginger! Keep em coming! Mary S
                Message 7 of 7 , Jul 27 11:44 AM
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                  In a message dated 7/27/01 8:06:46 AM Central Daylight Time,
                  glzabel@... writes:

                  >
                  > I'm still a youngster in the study and reading of Tolkien and the other
                  > inklings, but I'd be interested in any non-violent hobbit-safe responses.

                  EXCELLENT post, Ginger! Keep 'em coming!

                  Mary S
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