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View Full Version : Harry Potter and LotR--how does magic work?



bluejester12
04-11-2005, 08:41 AM
I cant discern clear magic rules for these works. Are there any? Odd, since the workings of magic as a "cardinal" rule for us to establish, or so we are told.

RosettaStone
04-11-2005, 01:51 PM
I don't think you always need to have a clear outline of why magic happens in these books. It's possible to have a world where (all) the characters are born with magic, so magic is a common thing. No one's going to bat an eye at moving pictures (as in Harry Potter).

This link (http://www.dragondogpress.com/unclefiggy/fantasy/4chap1.htm) gives different levels of magic. Depending on your world, types of magic will get different reactions. :)

Nateskate
04-11-2005, 03:59 PM
Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was complex. It was never intended by Tolkien.

Tolkien was a philologist (studied the evolvement of Speech), and as a hobby made up his own language- Language of Elves. He also lamented that England did not have any Mythologies to compare to Norse and Greek Mythologies.

So, he decided to create an elaborate Mythology. He felt it was not publishable. Years later, he made up a bedtime story for his Children, which he wrote down. It was never intended for publication, but was given to a sick friend to read, and through serendipity, came to a publisher. The Hobbit was a hit, and had a fanbase asking for more. The result was a book that took over ten years to write, "Lord of the Rings".

However, instead of making another Children's book. Tolkien decided to tie his new story into his existing mythology of Europe. This was later published as "The Silmarillion" and "Lost Tales".

So, if you want to know about Tolkien's theological Universe, you have to travel back in time to his creation story. He has a god, "Illuvatar", and "The Sacred Fire"- I think akin to the Holy Spirit. Illuvatar created through "Music". And he created several levels of angelic "TYPE" beings. However, they act much more like Norse and Greek gods of mythology.

There is a "Fall". Morgoth, is like a Fallen Angel. But he behaives like a fallen god of mythology. And he creates other malicious creatures, and seduces other "Valar" - higher angels, and some Maiar- Lesser angels. Ungoliant- shelobs ancestor, was one of these.

In Tolkien's world. Wizards are not like Harry Potter Wizards, who learn magic crafts. In Tolkien's worlds, Wizards are actually akin to "weaker angels" who come to earth to help men. They are Istari. (Please forgive spelling errors). So, in one sense, Gandalf was an angel, and he was not allowed to use his powers (fully) because angels were fragile, easily corrupted by their powers. When he became Gandalf "the white"- Illuvatar rewarded him for his faithfulness and sent him back with greater power.

As for "magic". Some was intrinsic, meaning, it was within the nature of the being. Saruman had an innate gift of persuasive speech, to make men do what he desired. But he was a good "mini-angel" Wizard, until he was corrupted by his desire for order, and seduced by the desire to master the ring to impose "His form of order".

It is implied that "magic" is as "magic" is from a mythological perspective where the universe is somewhat magical. By "Craft" Sauron makes a set of rings which enhance people's natural gifts. He gives them to men, elves and dwarves to help them rule more effectively. However, he made a secret master ring, through which he could control the other rings. He used these to enslave men, who became Ringwraiths. However, since the Elves were a part of the creation process, he couldn't do that to the Elves. But when he wore his ring, he could see the Elves, and their plans, and use influence. There were three rings for the Elves. I think one for Fire, Water and Wind??? Gandalf had the ring of Fire, Galadrial the ring of Water. As long as Sauron didn't have his ring, they could still use these rings. Elrond also ended up having a ring.

Harry Potter is more generic, and isn't a "Theological" book. In essense, it's like "Luke Skywalker", in that you are to believe certain people have a "gift". But it doesn't really get "Theological" in the sense of tracing everything to its roots.

If you are into the basic "search" for reason. It's one of those things, where I think people can stay up nights thinking of the meaning of the Universe. Years ago, I had a curiosity about such things. I was an atheist, and my brother had a ton of Pagan literature. But I always asked the "Where's, when's, why's and how's." To me the Universe was scientific. And if there was such a thing as magic, "Which I believed existed at some levels". I was always "Why does it work..." How is it possible to see the future, astral travel, move objects...etc. And I was never satisfied with "magic" as being the answer. In my mind there was always a "cause".

And in my own mind, the theological question of magic always came back to the existence of "more" than what we see here and now. Most people don't care about such things, because all they want to know is "Does it work, or doesn't it work", and are only thinking about the ends, and not the means. But to me, if there was a "more". I always had an assumption, "What is the will of the source?" What does the source get out of this? What does the source want?"

And having read Greek and Norse mythology, the concepts of "gods" was pondered. Are there primary unseen "movers". I always presumed "conjurerers" were never the primary movers, or they would not need craft. And after reading "Search for a soul" and a ton of other books, I became more convinced that there was another "spiritual realm". I call it "spiritual", in the sense that they can exist outside of our awareness, but influence our reality.

And of course, that leads to religious questions in the sense of "Are their good spirits, and evil spirits?" It seemed a fair question since all cultures seemed to have some version of this, and I figured there might be a reason. Whether pantheist, animist, or monotheist, there is good and evil.

So, I was leery of "jumping into" the occult, simply because I wanted to know what the sources were, and what the sources expected. Somehow, I didn't believe the Luke Skywalker, "The force is neither good, nor evil...."

I lived in a world where I believed in evil, before I believed in good. This "search" took place around the time, the movie "The exorcist came out, and the play, "Jesus Christ Superstar"- an agnostic play, came out. I believed the exorcist was based on reality, and was curious.

So, what I did was, I went on a search, to determine if anyone in the world was having first hand supernatural experiences. Did miracles happen today? Do exorcisms happen? Is there actual proof? Are their credible first hand witnesses?-not liars or schizophrenics. Has anyone ever died and come back? What did they see? Who did they speak too?

I went beyond wanting to know what books say, and wanting to know if there was a reality that some religions and beliefs are based on. "Is truth subjective, or is there objective truth?"

fallenangelwriter
04-11-2005, 11:46 PM
Harry Pootyer's world dopesn't explicitly give rules of magic, and it doesn't say where there power comes from, except that it's an inherent gift.


however, the basic workings of magic are mad eclear.

spells are divided up into different sachools or disciplines, like charms, transmogrification, and so on.

most spells, the "academic" spells that all wizards learn, require the use fo a wand and magical words.

other magic involves enchanting things, like creating technology.

finally there are the special gifts like persetongue and shapechanging which are "supernautral" even ot the wizards, difficult to learn and mroe inherent to the wizard's nature than study.

katiemac
04-12-2005, 04:08 AM
I can't speak authoritatively on Tolkien. I only made it through two of the books, but I watched the films. From what I could tell from those, magic requires a tool (staff) and an "inherent" ability. More advanced and specialized magic is given a greater stand in hierarchy. (Gray, white wizards.) Magicked objects (like the ring) gained their power from almost god-like creatures, who have advanced skill that is probably never again seen in Tolkien's world.

As for the Potter novels, those are a little bizarre. Many of their spells are conducted, again with a tool (wand), and spoken language. However, there are times in the novels -- perhaps just an author oversight, or does it really matter? -- when the spell can simply be said and the magic works as if the person were holding a wand. This occurs quite often with both adults and students, Harry included, so I wouldn't mark it down as skill level or spell difficulty. Like fallen said, then there's certain magicked objects (which I would assume would require a wand to do the magicking) and potions. Either way, a wand isn't always necessary for magic in these books -- maybe you have to learn with one first, and then from there it comes more easily?

In essence, though, blue, I think you're right. There really isn't a clear cut set of rules or examples these characters follow with their magic.

preyer
04-12-2005, 11:57 AM
my question is why are these particular children chosen for hogwart's? if i mumble the exact same incantation, would not the result be the same? if so, clearly the spellcaster is calling upon another force, whereas in LOTR, it seems as if the wizards call upon their own reserves more often than not, except in cases where you're trying to, ah, crack someone else's code. even then, it's rather confusing. i'm not sure there is a clear cut answer. obviously, the potter kids have some kind of magickal potential, but without a wand it doesn't seem to be able to manifest itself, and, let's face it, most people should be able to read tea leaves and make potions, so i fail to see the magick involved in that.

i think the first step in understanding how it works is know how it's being used and work backwards. there simply doesn't seem to be much reasoning behind potter's universe... 'it just does' is supposed to be good enough, and this vagueness is, in part, what attracts detractors.

dragonjax
04-12-2005, 06:50 PM
Keep in mind that the intended audience for the Harry Potter series is middle grade. While I'm not sugggesting that 12 - 16 year olds don't deserve a magical system that, you know, is defined, I'm guessing that the bulk of them don't really care.

And Nateskate, wow, that was a fascinating post about Toklien's mythology. The wizards-as-angels makes perfect sense, and it explains why wizards seem to be their own race (separate from Men and Elves and Hobbits).

Christine N.
04-12-2005, 07:51 PM
As for the Potter novels, those are a little bizarre. Many of their spells are conducted, again with a tool (wand), and spoken language. However, there are times in the novels -- perhaps just an author oversight, or does it really matter? -- when the spell can simply be said and the magic works as if the person were holding a wand. This occurs quite often with both adults and students, Harry included, so I wouldn't mark it down as skill level or spell difficulty.


I know I wasn't the only one who noticed that... thank you!
As for the "whose a wizard" question... I always got the impression that it was an inherited, genetic type of thing, like blue eyes or curly hair. Reference to "half blood" or "Full blood" made me think so, I guess. Remember, in the first book, Harry could make things happen when he had a strong emotion.

That's what I always thought.

Jamesaritchie
04-12-2005, 08:07 PM
I cant discern clear magic rules for these works. Are there any? Odd, since the workings of magic as a "cardinal" rule for us to establish, or so we are told.

I don't think the rules means you should tell HOW the magic works, only show that it has limitations. Harry Potter can't simply wave his wand and make all the evil he faces go away. There are limitations to his powers, and it's these limitations you need to show.

katiemac
04-13-2005, 12:07 AM
Christine, right. There's some "genetic" variation among these muggles and wizards. Going back to bio, the gene would have to be recessive and your parents only carriers. As for how they're chosen for their specific houses, that's a different type of magic association with the school itself and the hat, rather than the children.

katiemac
04-13-2005, 12:08 AM
James, as always, good point.

Nateskate
04-13-2005, 12:10 AM
The question of "Craft" vs "Intrinsic" power is implied in most fantasy. Rarely do you see a hero, where it is not implied that they have some special gift, meaning they are supposed to be different than everyone else in their world. That is not the case with "Frodo". In a sense, the hero is every-man, unlikely, not particularly gifted, but having convictions and character. That is far different than Harry Potter. Although Harry is a boy, it is implied he had a gift since birth. But he's not alone. That's the standard for fantasy.

For instance, Luke Skywalker is "supposed" to have been born with some kind of pre-disposition to using "The Force", just as his father had. They give some techno name to explain this.

Intrinisic means it is of your nature. Birds fly by nature. Fish can live underwater. They don't need any external help to fly or breath underwater. However, humans can do neither without a "mechanical device". Technically speaking, in fantasy, magic is having the ability to do what you cannot do by nature.

I'm sure, in "Harry Potter" and "Charmed", the impications are that you have a mixture. These people supposedly have this "Innate" ability. But they are supposed to perfect it through "Craft".

Whenever you look at shows like this, there is always this, "You're special-gifted" quality to the hero. But it's like the discussion regarding "Can a robot develope a soul". In movies and books, the author has the power to infer that anything is possible. People tend to look at these as literal posibilities.

It's important to separate fantasy from reality, (for real life application) but the trick of books is to make it seem that fantasy can be reality. I love conversations that go both ways, in the sense you can either talk about "What did Tolkien" mean, or what is actually possible. Tolkien talked about "secondary creation". In secondary creation, the author is attempting to create a world that is not trying to mirror reality. However, the author is trying to create a world that is so convincing, the reader can look at it, and assume "Even though this isn't true, it has such a tone of reality to it that I can visualize it happening."

preyer
04-13-2005, 10:17 AM
in star wars, the techno-babble term is midi-chlorians. a jedi's force is guaged by how many midis live inside his body. having it described in such a hideous, heavy-handed way thoroughly destroys the fantasy element of it where anyone can believe they can achieve a higher state 'simply' by meditation, concentration, and overall boy scout ethics. (personally, i'd make a lousy jedi. the chicks would love me, though.)

i mention that because sometimes by describing it, its wonder and, ahem, magick is taken away. that's not to say we shouldn't question it, just that from a writing standpoint understand that there's not always a need to explain it. at the same time, that's not necessarily a free license for the author not to have a master plan, even if it goes unwritten for the entire world to ponder (double negative, i know. work with me here :)).

bluejester12
04-13-2005, 06:09 PM
Going from posts here, it seems the magical power is inherent in Harry's World
Kids are chosen if they have it and other factors. Here's what I can figure.

The inherent ability is passed genetically through all wizarding families...usually. Occasionally it doesn't, in which the person is called a Squib (ex. Filch). The trait either appears latent or as an anamoly in Muggles. These Muggles with magic are what Malfoy calls "Mudbloods" (ex. Hermione)

The wand is a focal point for this magic. Any wand will do, but one's personal wand, intuned to their own magic (found by trial and error usually at Ollivanders) provides the best conductor. Magic is done by willpower (Patronus and deadly curses), gestures and incantations.

Nateskate
04-15-2005, 09:37 PM
I think the "intrinsic powers" appeals to us, because for the most part, they always link this with a "down and outer" person who isn't special at all.

Peter Parker, or Luke Skywalker were nothing before they got power. That element appeals to us at some level, "I'm considered a loser, but really, I'm special".

Well, you have the formula for a fantasy hero. Awake the power, and you go from tormented victim to someone who saves mankind.

However, deep down, I loved Frodo- Peter Jackson's Frodo over the book Frodo, because in the movie, you don't have such a long time span. You get the sense of someone with the weight of the world on his shoulders, facing an impossible enemy. He has no magic powers, only determination. The one power available is only a trap.

To me, having an "every man" hero has a deeper appeal. But that's why Star Wars is beloved, it mixes the two. Hans Solo is just as much a hero as Luke Skywalker.

But the appeal of these other stories, is that you root for the underdog. It just so happens, the underdog is supposedly this remarkably gifted person.

Wolverine is always an underdog, but he's a powerful underdog. He's saving the world against it's own self destructive tendencies.

cattywampus
04-16-2005, 08:26 PM
Well, that's the thing about magic - it transcends all laws - including the laws of physics. There's no explaining because by definition, magic is unexplainable.

Catty :Thumbs:

preyer
04-16-2005, 09:05 PM
uh-oh, catty, now you've done it....:)

cattywampus
04-17-2005, 12:29 AM
What? What? Please don't hit me!

Catty :Smack:

Nateskate
04-19-2005, 08:46 PM
Keep in mind that the intended audience for the Harry Potter series is middle grade. While I'm not sugggesting that 12 - 16 year olds don't deserve a magical system that, you know, is defined, I'm guessing that the bulk of them don't really care.

And Nateskate, wow, that was a fascinating post about Toklien's mythology. The wizards-as-angels makes perfect sense, and it explains why wizards seem to be their own race (separate from Men and Elves and Hobbits).

I've delved deeply into Tolkien. Unlike some purists, I don't believe you can quote everything he says at a given moment, because some times (rare) he'll conflict with something he says. For instance, he says he hates "Allegory", and later, says his story is positively filled with Allegory. Yet, some will quote the earlier quote, not necessarily understanding the context. Did someone say his story was an "Allegory of WW2 or the Soviet Union...etc" and it could have been defensive.

But one of the tricks is to realize he often uses words out of their modern day context. For instance, wizards, or gods may be the current translation, but he's referring back to an earlier translation of the word's meanings, such as "Powers", and he's not thinking wizards or gods in the current day tense, but "powers" in the ancient tense. His mind was so unlike our own. You're constantly peeling layers of an onion. Technically, he renounces (later in life) that there are any "gods" in his novel. Yet, the Ainur and other forms, behaive exactly like gods of mythology. In fact, he gets rather emphatic they are patterned after higherarchies of angels. But again, I take even that with a grain of salt. His thinking on certain parts of his story evolved over time.

cattywampus
04-19-2005, 09:24 PM
Say, Nateskate, could I ask, where did he say his "story" is filled with allegory, and what story was that? Of course that "hate allegory" statement was aimed at C.S. Lewis for his "Narnia" books - can't believe Tolkein ever allowed allegory into his work.

Catty :Huh:

MadScientistMatt
04-19-2005, 09:40 PM
Say, Nateskate, could I ask, where did he say his "story" is filled with allegory, and what story was that? Of course that "hate allegory" statement was aimed at C.S. Lewis for his "Narnia" books - can't believe Tolkein ever allowed allegory into his work.

Catty :Huh:

There are quite a few religious allegories in Lord of the Rings, some of which may take a little searching for. One example is that if you examine the calendar at the end of the book, you will see that the characters departed from Rivendell on Christmas, and the ring was destroyed on Easter.

cattywampus
04-19-2005, 11:53 PM
Well, MadScientist, I think you are thinking of some other word than "allegory." Dictionary.com defines it as:

"The representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form.

A story, picture, or play employing such representation. John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and Herman Melville's Moby Dick are allegories.
A symbolic representation: The blindfolded figure with scales is an allegory of justice."
Starting out on Christmas day doesn't constitute an allegory in Tolkein or anywhere else. A ring is not an allegory of Easter. The Easter Bunny is an allegory of Easter. Tolkein rejected C.S. Lewis's Narnia books because Aslan was an allegory for Christian principles as embodied in Christ. In Pilgrim's Progress the Pilgrim represents Everyman making his spiritual way toward Heaven. It seems a bit of a stretch to call Moby Dick an allegory. The bearded figure pointing accusingly in the poster seen everywhere during the 2nd World War - "Uncle Sam wants you!" is an allegory of America. Another word for allegory is a symbol. A picture of our flag may be called an allegory for patriotism.

Catty :banana: (who loves these smilies)

Lindsay
04-20-2005, 01:32 PM
Okay, there really isn't an explaination to how magic works in some books. In one book called "Here be Dragons", magic was hidden threads that blessed characters could see and pull on. They used them to cast spells.

In the story I'm working on I've tried to give magic some logic. Here's my opinon: Magic is the ability to cast a spell using a form of energy called Mana. Mages have the ability to gather and change this energy using triggers (spells that can convert it into fireballs or whatever). Mana energy is everywhere, you just can't see it. Some places have massive amounts of it and become enchanted lands where races such as elves and orcs grow and live.

Mana can naturally harden into 2 main forms. It can become a solid rock (often used in things such as wands and artifacts) and can also form an unstable liquid state. Creatures and people who fall/bathe in these mana pools can form the most horrible monsters (Beholders, hydras, dragons and so on.), however, if a magic user strong enough to control a mana pool bathes in it, (s)he can gain unspeakable powers.

So, that's basically what I think. Want to learn more? Wait until I get somewhere with my story. :P

cattywampus
04-20-2005, 08:42 PM
You've made some good points, Lindsay, but if there is any "logic" in your magic I don't see it. The only kind of logic/magic that makes sense to humans is the kind we see every day. Take electricity, for example. We know where it comes from, how to make it and what to do with it. Those who lived in Biblical times surely would have called this magic, had they seen it operating. Indeed, it might well have been Edison we ended up calling the Son of God!

If you wish to attempt to "explain" your magic" it's best to explain it in terms of Earth logic. The magic in one of my books consists of a grid of energy lines covering the entire planet, just under the surface, at sea level, originating, one assumes, from the Earth's core. The characters absorb this energy simply by walking on it (a reversal of "step on the crack, break your mother's back" of youth fame) and when they've absorbed enough (their "load") they can expend enough to work a spell - kind of like a bank account. So it connects to at least two well-known systems here. A bit of work is involved as all the implications must be taken into account, and many authors may decide to follow in the Master's steps and explain nothing, relying on the reader's "suspension of belief."

Catty :Thumbs:

firehorse
04-20-2005, 08:50 PM
if i mumble the exact same incantation, would not the result be the same?If only that were true!! (dreaming for a moment)

In high school - a prep school not unlike Hogwarts, except without the magic <sigh> - my best friend and I wrote secret notes to each other in Elvish.

Can you say geekettes? :D

I think magic realism - tangent, I know; I'm having a Gemini moment - is one of the most difficult genres to write, because you do have to create rules (that may or may not be in line with common experience) - it's like founding your own country.

Gregory Maguire's novel Wicked does this well; I can only imagine the amount of time he spent developing his world. Helps that he's an eloquent writer, too.