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Did Wormtongue cast a spell on Theoden, or administer potions from Saruman, or was it just his (deliberately) bad counsel that caused Theoden to sink into dotage before Gandalf healed him?

In the movie, it's explicitly a spell. Is it the same in the book?

  • 6
    Don't have the book with me so I'll leave this as a comment with no quotes to back it up, but in the book it was his words that ruined Theoden. Mind you Tolkien always placed a lot of emphasis on the power of words, and they did have an almost magical effect on Theoden. So it wasn't simply "bad advice" but rather he used them to the extent that Theoden was "enchanted" by them. – NominSim Mar 19 '12 at 12:26
  • NominSim, you should make that an answer. – BBlake Mar 19 '12 at 19:04
  • @NominSim: I had a review of the books and I think you're right. Couldn't find any evidence of there being an actual spell. – dlanod Mar 19 '12 at 20:07
  • What's the difference? – Junuxx Jan 16 '13 at 11:02
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According to Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers, under "The Kings of the Mark", Théoden "fell into a decline under the spells of Saruman":

2948-3019 17. Théoden. He is called Théoden Ednew in the lore of Rohan, for he fell into a decline under the spells of Saruman, but was healed by Gandalf, and in the last year of his life arose and led his men to victory at the Hornburg, and soon after to the Fields of Pelennor, the greatest battle of the Age. He fell before the gates of Mundburg. For a while he rested in the land of his birth, among the dead Kings of Gondor, but was brought back and laid in the eighth mound of his line at Edoras. Then a new line was begun.

In the chapter called the "The Voice of Saruman", Pippin asks Gandalf about Saruman:

Will he shoot at us, and pour fire out of the windows; or can he put a spell on us from a distance?

To which Gandalf replies:

The last is most likely, if you ride to his door with a light heart. But there is no knowing what he can do, or may choose to try. A wild beast cornered is not safe to approach. And Saruman has powers you do not guess. Beware of his voice!

So Théoden fell under Saruman's spell, and Saruman's spell was his Voice. Wormtongue was at most an agent.

In the movie, it's explicitly a spell. Is it the same in the book?

The movie shows magic as a visible and unnatural power.

In the book, the world is in a state of perpetual decline, and older is better. Today, many people have a gift that allows them to persuade with words. You could say Saruman was one of the oldest and most powerful users of the Voice. To us in the Later Days, that would seem like magic.

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It is quite possible that Saruman put a spell on Théoden to make him open to the suggestions of Gríma (who advised the king according to the will of Saruman). So it's a combination of both the words of Wormtongue and Saruman's magic. We can also assume that the weak physical condition of Theoden prior to Gandalf's encouragement was due to the influence of Saruman, who definitely could cloud the mind so as to make him constantly weary, tired both in heart and partly in body:

“We shall not turn back here. Yet I am weary.” He gazed back along the way that they had come towards the night gathering in the East. “There is something strange at work in this land. I distrust the silence. I distrust even the pale Moon. The stars are faint; and I am weary as I have seldom been before, weary as no Ranger should be with a clear trail to follow. There is some will that lends speed to our foes and sets an unseen barrier before us: a weariness that is in the heart more than in limb.”

“Truly!” said Legolas. “That I have known since first we came down from the Emyn Muil. For the will is not behind us but before us.” He pointed away over the land of Rohan into the darkling West under the sickle moon.

“Saruman!” muttered Aragorn.

It is also known that Saruman could make illusions (for example to change his appearance and fool the perception of others):

“I will come,” said Gimli. “I wish to see him and learn if he really looks like you.”

“And how will you learn that, Master Dwarf?” said Gandalf. “Saruman could look like me in your eyes, if it suited his purpose with you. And are you yet wise enough to detect all his counterfeits?”

The Two Towers.

So, having such “power over minds of others”, Saruman was perfectly capable of exerting subtle (or direct) control over individuals.

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I don't have the book with me so I don't have the quotes to back it up, but in the book it was his words that ruined Theoden. Mind you Tolkien always placed a lot of emphasis on the power of words, and they did have an almost magical effect on Theoden. So it wasn't simply "bad advice" but rather he used them to the extent that Theoden was "enchanted" by them.

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