In The Lord of the Rings, is there an explanation for where magic comes from? How is it possible in a world of otherwise predictable physical consequences? For example, is it energy or something ethereal that allows Gandalf to work his spells? Something different?

  • possible duplicate of Can the Elves do magic?
    – The Fallen
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 3:31
  • 4
    I've always thought of "where does magic come from" as being on the same level as "where does the motion of your arm come from" in LOTR. "Magic" is just what you call the things elves and such do in the same way that thinking is what your brain does. Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 3:36
  • 12
    I believe Gandalf has to meditate at least once every 24 hours or he runs out of magic points. Though since he's level 99, he may be able to throw Lesser Firebolt for free.
    – John O
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 3:48
  • 3
    Is It Midichlorians?
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 14:15
  • "Smeagol was seduced by the Dark Side of the Ring...he was a good friend"
    – Oldcat
    Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 23:34

3 Answers 3


Magic is inherent in the actions of all creatures in Middle-Earth. This comes up a few times in LoTR, especially when the Hobbits are out and about meeting new people. They see "magic" in the everyday actions of the Elves, while overlooking their own "magic" (being able to pass silently, for example).

I found an excerpt online that covers this pretty well: http://ocw.nd.edu/philosophy/ancient-wisdom-and-modern-love/selections-from-the-lord-of-the-rings

“What do you think of Elves now, Sam?” he said. “I asked you the same question once before –it seems a very long while ago; but you have seen more of them since then.”

“I have indeed!” said Sam. “And I reckon there’s Elves and Elves. They’re all elvish enough, but they’re not all the same. Now these folks aren’t wanderers or homeless, and seem a bit nearer to the likes of us: they seem to belong here, even more than Hobbits do in the Shire. Whether they’ve made the land, or the land’s made them, it’s hard to say, if you take my meaning. It’s wonderfully quiet here. Nothing seems to be going on, nobody seems to want it to. If there’s any magic about, it’s right down deep, where I can’t lay my hands on it, in a manner of speaking.”

“You can see and feel it everywhere,” said Frodo.

“Well,” said Sam, “you can’t see nobody working it. No fireworks like poor Gandalf used to show. I wonder we don’t see nothing of the Lord and Lady in all these days. I fancy now that she could do some wonderful things, if she had a mind. I’d dearly love to see some Elf-magic, Mr. Frodo!”

This part of the book leads into Frodo and Sam looking into the Mirror of Galadriel

“And you?’ she said, turning to Sam. “For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?”

The Elves don't really "do" magic. They simply are magical. In a similar way, all of the creatures of Middle-Earth have their extraordinary talents. Magic is everywhere, and so goes unremarked in everyday life.

Gandalf is a kind of special case, in that he's a Maiar, so his magic is a bit more obvious, though he tries not to apply explicit magic to a problem where the right word in the right ear would suffice.

  • 2
    +1 for this, but there are also spells cast by Men (e.g on the Barrow-blades) and Dwarves (e.g on the Trolls' treasure and the secret door to Erebor). Tolkien himself (Letter 131) stated "I have not used 'magic' consistently" so looking for a consistent explanation for magic in Middle-earth seems doomed to failure from the outset. Despite all that, this still seems the best answer to me (esp. "they don't do magic, they are magical").
    – user8719
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 9:04
  • We never see any of that magic "performed" on the page either (at least I don't think so), which makes me wonder if perhaps the Dwarven magic looks something like the Elven magic. They do their thing - working stone & metal in the case of the Dwarves, and maybe they sing a little song, but the "magic" in their creations is just because they were in fact made by Dwarves. Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 23:45
  • In the Hobbit we have two occurances of "The Dwarves of yore made mighty spells" in their songs, but we also have "putting a great many spells over them" with the Troll hoard and "they spoke fragments of broken spells of opening" at the secret door. So at least some Dwarf magic involves traditional spell-casting (and seems widely known/widely used: none of Thorin's followers is explicitly a "magician").
    – user8719
    Commented Feb 27, 2014 at 6:07
  • @MarkBessey Wow, "the right word in the right ear" is a great phrase. Is that Tolkien's or yours?
    – zipquincy
    Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 23:53
  • I'm sure I didn't invent it, but it's not from Tolkien, as far as I remember. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 2:29

Magic, as one can understand it, comes from The Song.

When Eru Ilúvatar created all things, he did so by making the Ainur sing a song with some themes he gave. The so called first theme contained the Elves, and the second theme the Men. Morgoth was trying to subvert the themes and made some Ainur sing his own compasses instead of those of Ilúvatar.

So everything that happens in Middle Earth is a consequence of the Song, from its start to its end, since the end of the time were in the song as well.


Gandalf is a Maiar -- essentially a divine being. So the magic could be called divine, moreso than magic.


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