Again, I'm re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy and am still on book one, so my question is going to refer to the movies.

During the time The Lord of the Rings stories take place, Middle-earth is not bereft of magic (for lack of a better term) or the supernatural. The One Ring exudes tremendous power; the spirit of Sauron survived despite his physical destruction.

Gandalf and Saruman both have staves that can perform magic and presumably both Gandalf and Saruman are very powerful wizards (in fact we see Gandalf get angry with Bilbo at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, saying "I am no conjurer of cheap tricks.").

The elves provide magical items to the fellowship (rope; knives; lembas bread; the Light of Galadriel; the Mirror of Galadriel; the Elven cloaks). As well, it is Galadriel's ring, Nenya, that protects Lothlórien from evil attempting to enter. The elves also show the ability to provide advanced medical treatment. There are the palantíri, which could show visions or intended thoughts of the users (Palantíri at the LoTR Wikia). Arwen summons a flood of water in the shape of galloping horses to defeat the Nazgûl at Rivendell. These are just some examples.

Why then are the weapons used in the War of the Ring so rudimentary if magic and "spiritual" powers exist in Middle-earth? Swords, hand-held shields (some wooden, even), knives, axes, bow and arrow, spears, and morning stars/flails are used in the war(s). Why could magic not be channeled in some way to give those fighting against Sauron a greater advantage? Why just the basic weaponry?

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    The Ford of Bruinen defense was by Elrond (and Gandalf, according to lotr.Wikia).
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 4:15
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    The Elves didn'r really do "magic," at least they wouldn't say so. See this question: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/8864/can-the-elves-do-magic
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 4:25
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    You should also note, that Tolkien's books predate most fantasy novels. D&D and other games and settings did not exist, they came about in part due to Tolkien's work. Sauron was "born" in the First Age, and his power is much greater than that of the weapons and items that came afterwards.
    – user6768
    Commented Jun 10, 2012 at 15:13
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    I remember a couple of men in the background of the Battle of Helm’s Deep with spears plunged into their guts saying “Hah! This weapon — gurgle — is positively rudimentary!” Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 13:14
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    @PaulD.Waite Or more correctly the Battle of the Hornburg. Sorry I’m just in a pedantic mood (well I almost always am but usually I don't even bother here). Don't recall that quote but it could be just the way you word it...Doesn't mean that it's not there of course but ...
    – Pryftan
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:03

7 Answers 7


Magic, in The Lord of the Rings, is actually quite limited in comparison to similar tales. Most magic is of a passive nature, like the protections of Lothlórien from evil, the doors to the Mines of Moria or the glowing of Elven weapons when orcs were around. As such, it wasn't part of most non-Elven people's day to day lives, and Hobbits and Men could go their whole lives without encountering magic.

When it came to relics or items of magical provenance, most date back to the Second Age - created by the Elves or Númenóreans of that age, at a time when crafting was more skillful and magic more common. The Palantiri, Rings of Power and Isengard all date from that age. The Lord of the Rings, however, is set at the end of the Third Age, when the Númenóreans have been destroyed or mingled with "lesser" Men and the Elves are diminishing and passing into the West. This means that no new "magical" artefacts have been created for quite some time, so we only see those that have survived the intervening years.

Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings as a kind of analogy for the development and industrialisation of Britain and the world in general. The unspoilt world was disappearing, and magic with it, being replaced by Men and their machines. You see this reflected in the time period in question. The Silmarillion, set in the earlier Ages, has much more magic and magical items, but alas their time has passed.

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    The palantíri, although claimed as a legal or hereditary right of the Kings of Arnor and Gondor, were (almost certainly) created by Fëanor, which dates them to the First Age of the world.
    – courtlandj
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 23:16
  • @courtlandj Correct. This is in The Unfinished Tales. Fëanor did indeed create the Seeing-stones.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:04
  • “as a kind of analogy”. One might almost consider this – dare I say – allegory. 😉 Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 20:21
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    @DetectiveChimp Probably, from Tolien's view. Personally, I disagree with the premise of magic disappearing, myself being a software developer who writes stuff for small supercomputers with touch screens everyone has in their pocket, which are able to instantly connect you with a person on the other side of the planet or give you access to the latest information and a wealth of human knowledge...
    – Malcolm
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 15:59
  • @Malcolm Don't forget that half the time the computers are most definitely haunted ;-)
    – kutschkem
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 8:25

I don't have an explicit quote to back it up, but basically, the magic in LOTR world is a diminishing thing.

The reason for it is because magic is innate to the magical user - there's no magic to learn, your magic is embedded in your being. And it diminishes with generations, seemingly.

As dlanod's answer noted, all the major magical items date back to Second Age.

A different question is why no advanced non-magical weapons?

The answer is because those require scientific mindset to develop, which was markedly absent from lice-infested feudal societies of Middle-earth. We don't see a single alchemist, inventor, or any other scientist in the Third Age. The only example is Sauron.

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    I would say that Saruman does quiet well in bio-engineering with the Uruk-hai... Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 15:29
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    @Sardathrion - I don't know that he bio-engineered them as much as just bred. That's not exactly a new technology - humans did that since forever. But that's an interesting question. Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 15:35
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    @Sardathrion - also, IIRC, it was implied that Uruks were actually Sauron's creation that Saruman borrowed. Not sure. Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 16:09
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    @Sardathrion: Orcs 2.0? Can't be! I saw no rounded corners, to say nothing of AJAX. ;) Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 17:23
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    Not only are Sauron and Saruman the only "scientists" in LotR, Tolkien explicitly tells us the scientific mindset is wrong: "He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom."
    – Andres F.
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 16:43

I think this is explained by the fact that in the Lord of The Rings events, Elves and Wizards play a "little" role, while most of the focus is on Hobbits and Men, which can't do magic.

About the Elves that avoided participating with huge armies, I think it's useful to remind that most of the them already departed for the Undying Lands when the events of LoTR started and developed (and more were departing). This being the main reason. And even if we do see the participation of Elves, it's not as huge as when Elrond fought side by side with Isildur.

About Gandalf, the main reason is that the Istari were not meant to directly influence and/or affect events, so they "couldn't fight personally" or take a direct/leader role, and although Gandalf kind of breaks this sort of rule sometimes (actually in some cases they are allowed to use magic, such as when Gandalf fights against the Balrog), it's true that he plays a role of aid in the Quest for the Ring, by helping Men to make the right choices and fulfill their destiny. Saruman fails in this assignment, while Gandalf stays true to his original mission.

Another thing I think it's good to add is that The Lord of The Rings is also about the "return to glory" of Men (meant as the race) through Aragorn and the restoration of his crown (he repairs Isildur's mistakes by fighting against Sauron) and not "just" about the destruction of the One Ring.

  • The reason Elves didn't see to participate in force was answered on SFF in another question, ~1 month ago. Look though recent LOTR questions. Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 14:55
  • @DVK You mean what I said is not true or simply not complete? I'll look for the question. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 19:07
  • I found the question, so I missed more or less another reason (they did participate but not in the same place), while the first reason is what I said.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Mar 10, 2012 at 19:10
  • That and the fact that the word wizard has a connexion to wise.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:05

In Middle-earth one can find examples of magical weaponry: elven swords of the Elder Days not only glowed when orcs were near, they also caused them to feel pain. Other objects made by elves also have this power in them; mere touch for a wicked being feels like "burning" or "freezing." Even elvish special food like lembas was suffocating for them, of course lembas are extremely magical, can save life and boost strength of those who eat them.

Also dwarven or Númenórean weapons can be viewed as enchanted. Daggers of Barrow Down had "spells for the bane of Mordor." From the evil side, the Witch-king could make his sword burst into flames. (No idea whether it's inherent ability of the blade or its owner's sorcery.) Also the famous Morgul-knife which with a single wound could turn a living being into a wraith under command of Sauron and the Nazgûl.

Blades made by elves, dwarves and Dúnedain were generally made from better steel. They were super sharp, able to cut other metals; for example like weapons made by the dwarven smith Telchar of Nogrod (who was supposedly one of the best craftsmen of his whole race). We have also the sword Gurthang/Anglachel made by Eöl the Dark Elf from meteoritic iron. It contained much of its creator's malice, had some sort of malevolent sentience and could easily cut through metal armor and "earth iron" like wood.

Of course those weapons also had quality of imperviousness for corrosion and rust, and could survive thousands of years and be like brand new. The case of Narsil/Andúril might seem ambiguous but it is heavily implied it was magical. Narsil could "shine with the light of sun and moon" and evil forces can be harmed by this holy light which came from Two Trees of Valinor.

Varda, Queen of Stars commanded the very essence of light and creatures tainted by dark power fear and often receive damage from light; the power contained in phial of Galadriel used by Frodo allowed him to pass the magic barrier of Silent Watchers in Cirith Ungol. (In the phial was captured light of Eärendil star.)

There is also case of Dragon helm of Dor-Lómin made by Telchar, with "runes of victory" and power to protect from wounds. (How it works exactly we don't know but some magic was applied to it.) Dwarves of Erebor in Third Age made armour from silver which was hard like steel ("power of triple steel"). On a lighter note, Bilbo's song about Eärendil mentions runes on his shield "his shining shield was scored with runes to ward all wounds and harm from him." Of course it might be just poetic language but hey it could happen, it's a fantasy world after all.

  • Another example: the swords of the Númenóreans.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:06

Middle-earth is an attempt at a world with real history, despite its faults. The mindset of the Gygax D&D and its derived works doesn't mesh with it because D&D is incompatible with any kind of society. You can't organize a government when your citizens can take a month off and be able to learn to cast fireballs and magic missiles or put your police to sleep at level 2. Not to mention with a little bit more work you can get "Alter Reality".

Medieval society was hard to control when everyone was armed with sticks and swords. Even low level wizards would beat any army known to man, and then beat themselves because there isn't any defense for these spells.

You can do similar tricks with Rogue's and backstab and the like. D&D throws uber power at the player without requiring much if any effort to attain it. Then the DM throws overpowered monsters at the party, starting from the front door of the tavern, to make things interesting. These beasts would make quick work of a normal caravan or traveller or farmstead, condemning the towns to starvation.

  • I think ressurection would be the biggest disruption to civilisation
    – Scott
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 5:10
  • Real history? No: imagined history or as he often said mythology.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:08

The reason is because the magic and supernatural powers you talk about all come from people that come from Valinor, which is the land the elves wish to return to as the movies progress.

Some of the characters that come from Valinor would include Sauron, the Elves, and Gandalf.

So men, dwarves, and hobbits have no way to create or use magic, unless it is through some object, and even then their usage of it will be extremely limited, such as Frodo's control over the one ring.

  • Elves aren't from Valinor, though some (and only some) have resided there before returning to ME. Good point on the relative "magicness" of the races though.
    – dlanod
    Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 20:40
  • You are correct sir; I looked it up and they were created/awakened in Cuiviénen, and later moved to the shores of Valinor. Many did not move to Valinor, and those Elves spread throughout ME, most notably becoming Silvan Elves. I think it would be safe to say that most of Elrond's brood came from Valinor, and most of Legolas's line came from the elves unwilling to depart. It may be appropriate the note that with that distinction, Silvan elves do not seem to be very magical, while those born of the Valinor line (Elrond/Galdriel) seem to be able to wield magic(use of the elven rings;telepathy)
    – JMD
    Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 21:02
  • Wood Elves of Mirkwood seem pretty magical to me with all their enchantments (for example those which ward off giant spiders from their places or elf-path). Elves, dwarves and some of the humans posess magic abilities which are used in one way or another and to just mention it: swords of the Barrow Downs were made in Third Age Arnor and they had been ,,woven with spells for the bane of Mordor". Commented Aug 19, 2013 at 17:14
  • @dlanod That depends on how you look at it; some Elves were born there if I’m not very much remembering it wrong. But they originally were all born in Middle-earth, yes.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:07

It is possible that the reason why Morgoth, Sauron, Saruman, and their evil hordes don't use cannons, machine guns, tanks airplanes, poison gas atomic bombs, death rays, etc. is that Eru clouds the minds of Morgoth, Sauron, and Saruman and prevents them from putting two and two together and inventing such superior weapons.

It seems likely that Morgoth, Sauron, and Saruman knew enough about real-world science to be able to invent anything which Humans could discover and invent, so an outside force preventing them from getting inventive seems like a good reason why they didn't invent more advanced weapons.

  • It's because the tales predate those things; has nothing to do with Eru. Even so they had battering rams (Grond in honour of the Hammer of the Underworld, for example). And they also had other machinery: catapults and devilry with fire (thinking of the Battles of Pelennor).
    – Pryftan
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:10

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