Gandalf says to Frodo:

'You have talked long in your sleep, Frodo,' said Gandalf gently, 'and it has not been hard for me to read your mind and memory.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings : The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 1 : Many Meetings

Is there any further information regarding this ability - either through Gandalf or other Istari?

  • @sumelic I could understand the artistic license to say that it hasn't been hard to read your thoughts without a supernatural ability. But memory? That seems a little beyond just making an educated assumption. Thanks for the reply! Jan 4, 2017 at 17:12

1 Answer 1


There's actually quite a bit written about "thought transmission", including its limitations, in an essay titled "Ósanwe-kenta", dated by Christopher Tolkien to 1959-1960 and first published in 2000.

The essay is far too long to quote all the relevant passages, so I'll limit myself to some of the restrictions:

  • The "receiving" mind must be "open":

    If we call one mind G (for guest or comer) and the other H (for host or receiver), then G must have full intention to inspect H or to inform it. But knowledge may be gained or imparted by G, even when H is not seeking or intending to impart or to learn: the act of G will be effective, if H is simply "open" (láta; látie “openness”). This distinction, he says, is of the greatest importance.

    "Openness" is the natural or simple state (indo) of a mind that is not otherwise engaged

  • For incarnates, transmission requires additional strengthening:

    The Incarnates have by the nature of sáma [mind] the same faculties; but their perception is dimmed by the hröa [body], for their fëa [spirit/soul] is united to their hröa and its normal procedure is through the hröa, which is in itself part of Eä, without thought. The dimming is indeed double; for thought has to pass one mantle of hröa and penetrate another. For this reason in Incarnates transmission of thought requires strengthening to be effective.

    This strengthening can come from affinity between sender and receiver, or from urgency or authority on the part of the sender

  • Symbolic communication (tengwesta) makes this more difficult:

    Lastly, tengwesta has also become an impediment. It is in Incarnates clearer and more precise than their direct reception of thought. By it also they can communicate easily with others, when no strength is added to their thought: as, for example, when strangers first meet. And, as we have seen, the use of "language" soon becomes habitual, so that the practice of ósanwe (interchange of thought) is neglected and becomes more difficult.

  • Both of the above are true even of the Valar (and thus presumably the Maiar), though not to the same degree, when they assume a bodily form:

    The hröa and tengwesta have inevitably some like effect upon the Valar, if they assume bodily raiment. The hröa will to some degree dim in force and precision the sending of the thought, and if the other be also embodied the reception of it. If they have acquired the habit of tengwesta, as some may who have acquired the custom of being arrayed, then this will reduce the practice of ósanwe. But these effects are far less than in the case of the Incarnate.

  • This is great information, thank you! Are there any more examples of this ability being used in canon works that you may recall? It's rather mind blowing just how thorough Tolkein was when building his work. Thanks again. Jan 4, 2017 at 17:25
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    @Withywindle All communication with Eru, especially by the Valar, is this. Another example would be between Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Celeborn at the end of Return of the King: "For they did not move or speak with mouth, looking from mind to mind; and only their shining eyes stirred and kindled as their thoughts went to and fro." VI.6 Jan 4, 2017 at 17:28
  • @Withywindle Bear in mind that much of this fleshing-out was written later. This essay, for instance, is believed to have been written in 1959 or 1960, some years after the books were published Jan 4, 2017 at 17:30
  • no matter how many times I read through Lord of the Rings or anything by Tolkein, it always seems like there is an extra layer to peel away. I've read or listened to Return of the King so many times that I can't count, yet I never noticed this little bit of information. Much appreciated! Jan 4, 2017 at 17:32
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    @Withywindle "Incarnate" refers to beings whose bodies and souls are fundamentally interrelated: humans, Elves, dwarves, and the like. Valar and Maiar are not incarnates, because they can shed physical bodies the way incarnates shed clothing; the Istari are an interesting mid-point, because they're like Incarnates in most respects, but have maia souls. To your second question, the essay notes in other places that it's the prerogative of all minds to be able to "close" themselves, and forcing through that closing is (1) difficult and (2) immoral Jan 4, 2017 at 18:36

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