Re: [mythsoc] Magic in M.e. (was Tolkien's runes of power)
- 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
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.
--On Sunday, July 22, 2001, 2:40 PM -0500 "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 redundant.
> 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
> 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.
>> 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
> "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/
- --- In mythsoc@y..., "Ginger L. Zabel" <glzabel@u...> wrote:
> The mystical is much more a part of the Catholic church than mostI'm not intimately familiar with Catholicism's teachings, but I don't
> 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.
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, andThe Biblical analogies are real and most likely intentional, since
> 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.
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.
- In a message dated 7/27/01 8:06:46 AM Central Daylight Time,
>EXCELLENT post, Ginger! Keep 'em coming!
> 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.