39

The elvish gifts to the fellowship are somewhat tailored to each member of the Fellowship they're gifted to, it seems to me. However, hooded cloaks and brooches are also gifted to every member of the Fellowship.

I know the cloaks have a purpose; to shield them from unfriendly eyes. And I know the brooches play a role from a plot perspective, since one of the hobbits purposely drops his to help the rest of the Fellowship find him.

So I was wondering if there's any in-universe significance to the brooches, or if they have any sort of special attributes at all. Or are they just beautiful pieces of Elvish jewelry, used to make sure the cloaks don't fall off their wearers' backs?

46

Probably yes

It's never made clear, as far as I am aware; but there is an implication that many or all elven artefacts contain some level of what we would call 'magic', and that they respond to some extent to their bearer's need and desire.

The elven rope that Sam carried after they left the Fellowship seemed to 'come when called', holding firm as long as they needed it, then unfastening itself when Sam 'called' it; yet it was not called out as having any unusual virtue.

"What are these?" asked Sam, handling one that lay upon the greensward.

"Ropes indeed!" answered an Elf from the boats. "Never travel far without a rope! and one that is long and strong and light. Such are these. They may be a help in many needs."

"You don't need to tell me that!" said Sam. "I came without any, and I've been worried ever since. But I was wondering what these were made of, knowing a bit about rope-making: it's in the family as you might say."

"They are made of hithlain," said the Elf, "but there is no time now to instruct you in the art of their making. Had we known that this craft delighted you, we could have taught you much."

The elven boats were also not seen as particularly enchanted or modified, yet they, too, apparently had some unusual virtue of their own. The funeral boat, for example, was cast off from Parth Galen and sent over a waterfall, but...

in Gondor in after-days it long was said that the elven-boat rode the falls and the foaming pool, and bore him down through Osgiliath, and past the many mouths of Anduin, out into the Great Sea at night under the stars.

The boat was also seen by Faramir; it could have been a vision, but if so it's not explicit. The implication does seem to be that the boat knew the will of its masters, and carried its last cargo in honour.

There is also the case of the beryl-stone, left on the bridge on the road to Rivendell. It sat there for two days unmolested by other travelers or even wild animals, at a time when the Nazgûl were about, and served as a sign to Aragorn that the bridge was safe to cross.

None of these artefacts were called out as being especially magical or having any unusual powers, yet they do seem to establish a pattern - Elven-work seems rather good at following its bearer's wishes.

The brooch was left behind by Pippin as a sign that he, at least, was with the orc party, still alive and still hoping for rescue. It served that purpose, which seems to put it in the same category as other elven artefacts.

So, was it deliberately enchanted? No. But was it magical? By our standards, I would say 'probably'.

  • 21
    To expand a little, much of the magic in Tolkein's books - particularly where the Elves are concerned - is of a very subtle kind; quiet, easily written off or overlooked, little things that might be coincidence, but only at a time when it helps the bearer. In the books in particular, it's strongly implied that there's some power at work in Elven-crafted items. It might not even be deliberate - the Elves seem to take it for granted or otherwise not mention it, and places where Elves live are described as having some unidentifiable quality or air to them that makes people feel better or calmer. – anaximander Nov 9 '16 at 16:30
  • 5
    As an extreme example, the One Ring was heavily imbued with its craftsman's will during its construction. It not hard to imagine that all elven/ainur craft picks up a background intent of "I want this to be useful". – OrangeDog Nov 9 '16 at 16:41
  • 13
    More on the magic from shortly before your quote: "Are these magic cloaks?" asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder. "I do not know what you mean by that," answered the leader of the Elves. "They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land. They are elvish robes certainly, if that is what you mean. Leaf and branch, water and stone: they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lorien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make." – Charles Nov 9 '16 at 19:38
  • 6
    @Charles Is a stainless steel blade magical? It might be the best way to describe it to someone from the stone age. – Yakk Nov 9 '16 at 21:35
  • 4
    @Charles it seems the elves are very aware of the subtle (and not so subtle) differences between stuff which is just made well and augmented by "magic", and stuff which is so strongly magic that it can as well described as cursed, i.e., the rings. – MauganRa Nov 10 '16 at 17:15
14

All of the existing answers talk about magic, but there's also the 'power' of recognition. We are used to an interconnected world with means of authenticating identity using trusted third parties. No such situation in the Tolkienverse.

The brooches (whether or not they possess any particular mystical qualities) along with the cloaks mark the bearers as elf-friends in general and friends of Lorien in particular in a world where discerning whether someone you just met is friend or foe might be difficult.

12

Probably not

The question includes just about all the references to the brooches that appear in The Lord of the Rings.

It might be worth considering Aragorn's words when he returns the brooch that Pippin left as a sign.

‘And here also is your brooch, Pippin,’ said Aragorn. ‘I have kept it safe, for it is a very precious thing.’

The Lord of the Rings Book 3, Chapter 9: Flotsam and Jetsam

It's not much to go on, but Aragorn doesn't say the brooch has any property other than being precious.

Before the battle at the Black Gate, the "Mouth of Sauron" shows the Captains his proof that Frodo was captured, including a cloak and brooch. If he or his master was aware that the brooch had any special power, he might have left it behind.

The Messenger put these aside, and there to the wonder and dismay of all the Captains he held up first the short sword that Sam had carried, and next a grey cloak with an elven-brooch, and last the coat of mithril-mail that Frodo had worn wrapped in his tattered garments.

The Lord of the Rings Book 5, Chapter 10: The Black Gate Opens

When he lists the items he is carrying, the "Mouth of Sauron" doesn't think to mention the brooch, suggesting that it is nothing special.

‘Dwarf-coat, elf-cloak, blade of the downfallen West, and spy from the little rat-land of the Shire – nay, do not start! We know it well – here are the marks of a conspiracy.

The Lord of the Rings Book 5, Chapter 10: The Black Gate Opens

As usual, it is hard to prove a negative. In the absence of any indication to the contrary, I think it likely that the brooches are just brooches.

  • 5
    The Mouth doesn't care about the quality or power of the items; he's just talking about the widely varying sources of Frodo's equipment. – Werrf Nov 9 '16 at 14:57
  • 1
    @Werrf Nor the mithril chainmail shirt... – Dronz Nov 9 '16 at 15:35
  • 1
    @Werrf I believe it is mentioned at another point that mithral was being especially sought by Sauron. Surprising that such a large amount of it was given up so easily. – Michael Richardson Nov 9 '16 at 16:30
  • 1
    @MichaelRichardson I suspect it was only given up because it was assumed it would be retaken in short order. The only purpose of that little exchange at the gate was to upset and dismay the leaders of the force that Sauron expected to overwhelm and annihilate in moments anyway. – Werrf Nov 9 '16 at 16:35
  • 1
    It's not likely that the brooches' magic would have been particularly useful for someone associated with Sauron... – MauganRa Nov 10 '16 at 17:19
7

Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall. - Aragorn

So, in fact, they are just beautiful pieces of Elvish jewelry, used to make sure the cloaks don't fall off their wearers' backs. As you said. But very strong Elvish jewelry.

  • 11
    I always felt that this meant they would not come loose except by intention or force. It always seemed like magic, to me, every time I heard the line. – user31178 Nov 9 '16 at 22:00
  • 3
    I agree with @CreationEdge here; I take Aragorn's statement to actually imply there is some small magic to them, namely, that they will not fall off except by intention. – ScottS Nov 9 '16 at 22:29
  • 3
    It's hard to say whether this speaks to magic in the craft, or just an extremely high level of craftsmanship to the point where the object is never expected to fail. – Samthere Nov 10 '16 at 10:48
  • 7
    @Samthere But in a world that contains forces and powers we today aren't familiar with, where is the dividing line between magic in the craft and an extremely high level of craftsmanship? Wouldn't a high level of craftsmanship imply some level of 'magic'? Tolkien's works rarely speak of magic directly, rather they refer to power, craft, or virtue. The walls of Minas Tirith and Orthanc behave in ways technology can't reproduce, but they're still called "the craft of men". – Werrf Nov 10 '16 at 17:16
  • 3
    @MauganRa I don't disagree with you about the blurred boundary between science and magic, but the Palantiri came from the undying lands, and they certainly weren't made by men - Gandalf said "The palantiri came from beyond Westernesse, from Eldamar. The Noldor made them. Fëanor himself, maybe, wrought them". But he does refer to the abilities of both Saruman and Sauron as their "art" - not power or magic. – Werrf Nov 10 '16 at 17:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.