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I'm talking about the magic that resembles The Force (from star wars) that Saruman and Gandalf use against each other in the wizard duel in Isengard, I'm referring to the one in The Fellowship of the Ring, the fight that culminates in Gandalf's imprisonment.

Now, I am aware that the duel didn't happen in the book, however, did LOTR books contain any magic like the one used in said duel?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I'd like to add another data-point. From The Pyre of Denethor as Gandalf and Pippin approach the House of the Stewards where Pippin had left Beregond to keep the servants from setting fire to Faramir's pyre. Beregond is guarding the door against those servants, but Denethor inside has other ideas.

Thereupon the door which Beregond held shut with his left hand was wrenched open, and there behind him stood the Lord of the City, tall and fell; a light like flame was in his eyes, and he held a drawn sword.

But Gandalf sprang up the steps, and the men fell back from him and covered their eyes; for his coming was like the incoming of a white light into a dark place, and he came with great anger. He lifted up his hand, and in the very stroke, the sword of Denethor flew up and left his grasp and fell behind him in the shadows of the house; and Denethor stepped backward before Gandalf as one amazed.

So I think Gandalf could have given those Jedi a run for their money.

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Well, it's conceivable Denethor lost grasp of the sword due to being in awe of Gandalf. It doesn't have to be literal telekinesis. –  bitmask Jun 11 at 14:33
@bitmask to quote The Great One: "I don't conceive it". Tolkien is careful with his choice of words. The highlighted events happen all at once: Gandalf lifts his hand and the sword flies up and Denethor steps back as one amazed. For the sword to fly up naturally, Denethor would have to react in a manner of throwing his arms up in shock. Denethor does not react in that manner to events and the words "one amazed" mean "one stunned" not "one shocked". This is consistent with the reaction of the servants who cower; while Denethor might not cower, his reaction is similar. –  Loop Space Jun 11 at 19:26

I'm not sure what would qualify as magic similar to that used in the duel in the Fellowship film, or how this relates to the Force. However, I can think of two incidents in The Fellowship of the Ring in which magic exerts a physical force on an object. Both occur during the journey though Moria (The Bridge of Khazad-dum).

I [Gandalf] spoke a word of Command. That proved too great a strain. The door burst in pieces.


At that moment Gandalf lifted his staff, and crying aloud he smote the bridge before him. ... The bridge cracked.

Magic exerted a physical force on a person in The Tower of Cirith Ungol (The Return of the King), when the Watchers try to prevent Sam from entering the tower.

... he felt a shock: as if he had run into some web like Shelob's, only invisible.

and (a little later)

... Sam thrust forward once again, and halted with a jerk, staggering as if from a blow upon his breast and head.

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I found it familiar to the force because the force can push or pull people with something like an invisible punch, or alike, and in the wizard duel in Orthanc, Gandalf and Saruman were basically pushing each other with the staffs, which to me seemed like the Force in Star Wars, another example of this power is Gandalf short fight vs Azog in The Desolation of Smaug, where Azog tries to get close to Gandalf after the first strike and it's pushed away by an invisible force which would seem comes from Gandalf's staff (obviously at his command) –  IamVeryCuriousIndeed Jun 9 at 23:08
OK, but there are other aspects to the Force (e.g. the mind trick used by Obi Wan on the Storm Troopers at Mos Eisley, which is similar to the voice of Saruman). It might be useful to edit your question to confirm that you are asking about magic exerting a physical force on a person, in which case I think the incident at Cirith Ungol is the only example, though of course I may have forgotten something. –  Ian Thompson Jun 9 at 23:12
I thought it was clear which fight I was referring to and since in that fight there is no other magic than the Push one, but I have edited the question to make it clearer –  IamVeryCuriousIndeed Jun 9 at 23:18
@IamVeryCuriousIndeed --- It's clear what fight you are referring to, but as I said, the Force is used for lots of different things in Star Wars. Ultimately, you seem to be asking about magic exerting a physical force on a person, so it's not clear to me why you need to bring the Force into this at all. –  Ian Thompson Jun 9 at 23:21
@IamVeryCuriousIndeed --- Perhaps you could mention a scene from the Star Wars Universe in which the Force is used in a way that is similar to the fight in Orthanc. That would make the question much clearer. –  Ian Thompson Jun 9 at 23:24

There are actually two kinds of magic in Tolkien, but unfortunately he uses the word "magic" for both, which can lead to some confusion. In Letter 155 he distinguishes them:

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

And goes on to provide the following illustrative passage:

The Enemy's operations 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'.

When people speak of magic in Middle-earth being "subtle", "low-key", "artistic", etc, it is actually the goeteia that they are talking about, but magia does exist and is used: Gandalf's lightning bolts and ignition of flammable objects, his "Word of Command", Glorfindel's unveiling at the Ford of Bruinen, and so on, even including the Fellowship's collection of magic items.

There's no evidence to suggest Force-like "action at a distance" that I'm aware of, but based on the above passage one might speculate that if it were possible, Sauron would use it for destruction and as a weapon, whereas the Elves and Gandalf would use it more constructively and positively, or for defence.

The only magical duel that Tolkien described in any real detail was that between Finrod Felagund and Sauron in the Silmarillion, and I'll quote it in full because it's a good example of the way these things work in Tolkien:

Thus befell the contest of Sauron and Felagund which is renowned. For Felagund strove with Sauron in songs of power, and the power of the King was very great; but Sauron had the mastery, as is told in the Lay of Leithian:

He chanted a song of wizardry,
Of piercing, opening, of treachery,
Revealing, uncovering, betraying.
Then sudden Felagund there swaying,
Sang in a song of staying,
Resisting, battling against power,
Of secrets kept, strength like a tower,
And trust unbroken, freedom, escape;
Of changing and shifting shape,
Of snares eluded, broken traps,
The prison opening, the chain that snaps.
Backwards and forwards swayed their song.
Reeling foundering, as ever more strong
The chanting swelled, Felagund fought,
And all the magic and might he brought
Of Elvenesse into his words.
Softly in the gloom they heard the birds
Singing afar in Nargothrond,
The sighing of the Sea beyond,
Beyond the western world, on sand,
On sand of pearls on Elvenland.
Then in the doom gathered; darkness growing
In Valinor, the red blood flowing
Beside the Sea, where the Noldor slew
The Foamriders, and stealing drew
Their white ships with their white sails
From lamplit havens.
The wind wails,
The wolf howls.
The ravens flee.
The ice mutters in the mouths of the Sea.
The captives sad in Angband mourn.
Thunder rumbles, the fires burn-
And Finrod fell before the throne.

This supports the speculation I made above: note that Sauron uses his song offensively whereas Finrod is primarily defensive.

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Let's get down to the brass tax over nyah: Yes or no, if Gandalf finds Boromir's lack of faith disturbing, can he choke him from across the room? –  coburne Jun 10 at 19:20
@coburne it's Sean Bean, so of course he can die from choking. –  jrg Jun 11 at 14:04
That Lay of Lethian quote make me want to re-read the Silmarillion again... –  Olivier Dulac Jun 12 at 6:54
@OlivierDulac - my work here is done :) –  Darth Satan Jun 12 at 7:20

Another passage from The Two Towers that seems of some relevance:

The old man was too quick for him. He sprang to his feet and leaped to the top of a large rock. There he stood, grown suddenly tall, towering above them. His hood and his grey rags were flung away. His white garments shone. He lifted up his staff, and Gimli's axe leaped from his grasp and fell ringing on the ground. The sword of Aragorn, stiff in his motionless hand, blazed with a sudden fire. Legolas gave a great shout and shot an arrow high into the air: it vanished in a flash of flame.

Given the context, which I won't spoil for new readers, this could be interpreted another way, but I've always understood it to be actual power that stopped the attack of the travelers because it immediately follows He lifted up his staff and because of the common thread of fire. (Why else did the arrow vanish in a flash of flame if not magic?)

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There's no specific citation, but in general magic in the Tolkien 'verse is of a deeper, more subtle kind. "Seeing thoughts" is mentioned, as well as an ability to compel others. Fire and light can be conjured and controlled on a smallish scale, and with great power weather can be at least influenced. Places can be set as magical traps, such as the Ford of Branduin and the Pass of Caradras, but from their rarity I suspect it's not an easy thing to set up. Gandalf is probably the flashiest wizard due to his particular study of fire and light, but that in itself doesn't make him any stronger than any other wizard or high elf.

Overall I'd say the answer is a qualified "No".

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In general, the magic in Tolkien's universe is much stronger than "the force" in Star Wars.

In Star Wars, the strongest jedi would have a hard time moving a hill.

In Tolkien, the strongest "mages" in the Silmarillion can break a mountain in two.

In Star Wars, the strongest Sith ever conquered immortality.

In Tolkien, an underling named Sauron merged his soul with a magical object of his creation to make himself immortal even if he were to be vaporized.

In summary, yes most of the "mages" in LOTR can easily pull off stuff like Palpatine or Yoda, but they have better things to do.

For some unclear reason, very little of their magic is used for brute force / simple stuff like the force (although the nine are arguably brutish, strong, and magical) but instead affects the aura of a vast expanse of land (Elrond shrouds Imladris, Galadriel illuminates Lorien, Sauron projects his darkness across the land) or influences major forces of nature, like the mountain Kharadras or the river Bruinen.

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What is that thing with Sauron achieving immortality? That's not true. Sauron is a Maia; all Maiar are immortal spirits. Only their bodies can die, and this is unrelated to any magical artifacts. In fact, at the end of the War of the Ring, Sauron isn't "dead" even with the ring destroyed. He is just rendered harmless forever. –  Andres F. Jun 10 at 12:39

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