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In the Mountains in Chapter four of the Hobbit, the Goblins actually seem able to re-shape rock magically as a fissure or crack just appears in the cave in which the dwarven party is resting. Of course it could be a very large door with some sort of hinge and it only appears as though it is magic because of Bilbo's sleepy state at the time of viewing it. Since the Goblins are associated with Machine Craft, I always thought of them as more clever and crafty than actually "magical."

Are there any other sources that would demonstrate Goblin abilities as being more in line with that of men (mechanics and chemistry) or that show a more magical nature posessed by goblins within the Tolkien Canon? If there are magical abilities, what are they?

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  • don't know enough to make an answer, but I do recall that it's mentioned goblins are better miners and masons than the dwarves, but they're too undisciplined to accomplish anything great
    – childcat15
    Commented Dec 1, 2013 at 19:39
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    I always assumed it was just a clever mechanism for concealing a door rather than magic. Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 9:33
  • @childcat15 they dig faster, but are not better masons.
    – user46509
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 6:07

2 Answers 2

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In his later conceptions Tolkien experimented back and forth between different origins for the Orcs, and had he lived longer he would likely have continued to do so, so we mustn't assume that the last, or even any, of these should be considered definitive. That these later conceptions were never integrated into the main stories reinforces this point.

Nonetheless, there is one item in them that has bearing on this question: some of the Orcs, in particular the greater Orc chieftains, could be corrupted lesser spirits from before the world was made. HoME X, in the "Orcs" section of Myths Transformed, contains perhaps the clearest elaboration of this:

Most of them plainly (and biologically) were corruptions of Elves (and probably later also of Men). But always among them (as special servants and spies of Melkor, and as leaders) there must have been numerous corrupted minor spirits who assumed similar bodily shapes. (These would exhibit terrifying and demonic characters.)

This, if accepted, would explain a magical nature that the likes of the Goblin King, Azog, or other great Orcs would possess.

Regarding specific "powers", it's incorrect to think along these lines when it comes to Tolkien. Beings in Tolkien don't have lists of "powers" that resemble D&D spell lists; rather they have some measure of Authority (capitalization deliberate) over part of the world that comes from their innate nature, greater understanding, or a granting of such from some other greater being.

So here the likes of the Goblin King wouldn't have any specific "Open Cracks In Rock" power, but instead would have Authority over the parts of the Mountains over which his domain extends, perhaps from a past as a Maia of Aule (who always seems to get the shortest straw when it comes to his servants going rogue).

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  • Thanks, this was the sense I had originally had about the matter. Tolkien's sense of Magic seems to more closely match the day's of old than a more modern conception of it. Commented Dec 1, 2013 at 23:48
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    There's a reason that Aule's Maia are more likely to go rogue; Tolkien was keen to distinguish between Creation, which only Iluvatar could do, and sub-creation, which others could do. Being a maker of any kind always carries the moral risk that one will think too much of one's sub-creations, and start to covet them. It's a good thing when the Elves make jewels and find pearls, and scatter them all over the beach for everyone to enjoy. But Feanor's jealous hoarding of his jewels is the foreshadowing of his refusing to share them to save the trees, with all the attendant consequences
    – swbarnes2
    Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 19:33
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I would say no; orcs/goblins are a thoroughly debased life form, with a low cunning but little appreciation for subtlety or sophistication--which magic would presumably require. However, there is one odd reference in the book (which is repeated in the movie) that would lead you to wonder. When he's trying to figure out how to open the west gate of Morîa, Gandalf says:

I once knew every spell in all the tongues of Elves or Men or Orcs, that was ever used for such a purpose.

And yet it seems very out of place--I don't recall any other indications in any of Tolkien's writings that indicate orcs had any magical ability. (Or men, for that matter.) I've often wondered if that was something he wrote early on and never got around to editing later to bring it in line with how his world turned out.

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    The ring wraiths where great kings of men and considered sorcerers. The Necromancer was also thought to have been possibly a human sorcerer until the truth was revealed. Neon is a man and a shape-changer.
    – user46509
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 9:05
  • Oh yeah--good references! So there are indications in JRR's writings that some Men did have some command of magic. +1 (The word you're looking for though is "were", not "where great kings of men".)
    – peyre
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 3:40
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    I also meant Beorn, not neon
    – user46509
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 7:08
  • I figured that was an elaborate typo or misremembering, not a real error. ;)
    – peyre
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 3:36

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