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[Guide Home :: Fanzines, Newsletters, Journals :: R :: Rómenna Meeting Report :: This page]  

Rómenna Meeting Report - June 30, 1984

June 30, 1984

Present:Per Hollander (host)
Richard Dotter
Steve Ferrara
Randolph Fritz
Scott Kurtz
Lissanne Lake
Fred Phillips
Margaret Purdy

The June meeting of Rómenna began somewhat later than originally planned, due to the great difficulty of breaking into a Mercedes when the keys have been inadvertently locked inside. Nevertheless the Jersey contingent finally arrived, and the discussion was able to begin.

We started out with a reading by Fred Phillips of a short paper on the Istari, the bulk of which is quoted below:

"As an active student of that part of the History of Religion which deals with the history of magic I have found it enlightening to study some of the ceremonial magic systems used in Northern and Western Europe from about the second century A.D. to the present. ... I claim no eminent knowledge of the history or lore of wizards ... Nevertheless it seems apparent that the historical concept of wizard is somewhat different from Tolkien's description of the 'Heren Istarion,' at least as interpreted by Christopher Tolkien, who put the notes for this chapter into some coherent form, saying that '... it was quite distinct from the "wizards" and "magicians" of later legend...' Here it is likewise unclear whether Tolkien means 'mainstream' legends or the implied 'legends of Middle-earth' ....

"In another sense, also, are the Istari different from the wizards and magicians of Western European folklore: they do not point their staffs at you and mutter arcane formulae and change you into a toad. In this might be something of a lowering of tone, which would tend to conflict with what Tolkien describes (p. 389) as 'their high order.' These men. or mortalized Valar ... are too closely interwoven with the destiny of Middle-earth ... in the chapter 'The Istari' in the Unfinished Tales it says:

'Emissaries they were from the Lords of the West, the Valar, who still took counsel for the governance of Middle-earth....' (p. 389)

We may understand 'emissaries' in another sense than the formal historical one of persons of rank accredited to a foreign government through elaborate scrolls and ribbons and orders. The White Council, or Council of the Wise, represented the Valar ... against individuals and powers inimical to the best interests of those peoples and lands over which the Valar had formerly exercised the function, in some sense, of tutelary dieties. It is understandable that they would not wish the results of Ilúvatar's creation to come to grief through the descendants or former servants of the Vala Melkor, or Morgoth, if we remember that Sauron had apprenticed as the antagonist of LotR as Morgoth's servant. As Sauron is in a way an extension of Morgoth into the Third Age, so Gandalf is an extension of the Valar, both of them using and manipulating both mortal and extramundane peoples and powers for his own ends.

"Wizards, like Heralds, are either hired or enter into an 'arrangement' which they will honor as long as events do not threaten them or the fulfilment of their purposes. They are never vassals on account of the nature of the oaths they have taken as members and upholders of their individual orders or Circles... this could create conflicting loyalties, and a confused wizard can be dangerous, both to himself and to those on whose side he is assumed to be working. Tolkien illustrates the non-vassalary status of Gandalf by showing him doing the same thing for Aragorn outside the walls of Minas Tirith once the Orcs and Sauron have been destroyed as the Archbishop of Canterbury did for Arthur of Avalon after the accompanying nobles were finally satisfied that none of them could pull the Sword from the Stone. We will tentatively assume that Tolkien did not have in mind any significant difference from medieval custom or tradition in the coronations of Kings as he portrayed it in LotR, in the sense that a monarch is never crowned by one of his vassals; in which case, Gandalf, while he may have been one of Aragorn's most valuable allies*, was never explicitly in fee to him. As a wizard he stands outside of the orders and associations both of mortals and of creatures of Faerie. Tolkien demonstrates that wizards may derive from extra-mortal sources as well as from well-trained humans.

"*Note The absence of any overt religious element in the LotR would obviate any attempt at assigning Gandalf, as the actual crowner of Aragorn, a rôle, in terms of his relative social location in the structures of Gondorian society, as a kind of ad hoc prelate, in the sense of, e.g., a pope crowning Charlemagne, or a Cardinal or Archbishop crowning a sovereign of France or England. He is, however, the nearest type of figure to a cleric, of any rank. The chief insignia of a bishop is a ring and a pastoral staff...."

Fred went on to say that he considered Gandalf the "real" hero of The Lord of the Rings, since he is the prime moving force without which none of the story could take place ("Sine Gandalf nihil," as he put it). He is the one who sets Frodo off on his quest, fights the Balrog (which nobody else can do), and so forth. A discussion ensued on the origin of the Balrog, and it was pointed out that the fight between Gandalf and the Balrog was a contest of Maia vs. Maia.

Gandalf is an excellent example of the precept that appearances can be deceiving. The chapter points out that Gandalf was the least impressive in appearance of the five wizards, but Círdan, at least, was able to see past this facade, and hailed the old grey-bearded man as the greatest of the five.

It was noted that the color grey would seem to indicate neutrality, but Gandalf is always portrayed as unswervingly good (as when he rejects the Ring, for instance). Somebody brought up the fact that Gandalf had a ring already (Narya). So did Galadriel, who was also offered it by Frodo. Ive considered for a moment whether all such scenes were cases of "no thanks, I've already got one," until we remembered Frodo's at least implied offering of the Ring to Aragorn at the Council of Elrond ("Then it belongs to you, and not to me at all!"),which Aragorn refuses. Faramir also declined to take the Ring when it lay within his power to do so.

Turning back to the subject of wizards, we considered briefly the point mentioned by Fred that wizards are the equivalent of priestly figures, as in the crowning of Aragorn, in addition to the fact that they form an "order." Tolkien seems a bit unclear as to whether the rive were the only wizards sent or merely the chiefs of a larger group. In any case, Tolkien is careful to distinguish the istari from the usual conception of "wizards." It was noted that the (possible) creation of "magic cults" in the East by the Blue Wizards was implied to be a bad thing.

This led into a discussion of ceremonial magic vs. what might be called "inherent" magic in Middle-earth. Margaret brought up the matter considered in earlier discussions of the lack of the truly "supernatural" in Middle-earth, if "supernatural" is taken to mean that which lies outside of the natural order of things. Most beings who perform what we would call "magic" are using powers natural and inherent to them, not calling on forces outside of themselves or the natural world. There are a few exceptions: Steve brought up the barrow-wight's incantation as one, and the Dead Men of Dunharrow are another. The Noldor were suggested as "ceremonial magicians" or "scientists," but it was pointed out that making was what they were supposed to do, an inherent ability. Fred asked if that predilection wasn't what caused the fall of the Noldor (in particular, the making of the Silmarils). Margaret countered that making was a good thing, it was possessiveness of the thing made that was bad ("Love not too well the work of thy hands and the devices of thy heart."). We also noted the title of the "Witch-king" of Angmar (the Ringwraiths were certainly unnatural). A description of Tom Bombadil more or less exorcising the barrow-wight led off into a digression on that perennial question, "Who is Eldest?"

Getting back to the main topic, we noted that Sauron practiced a form of ceremonial magic in Númenor, with his temple to Morgoth and his human sacrifices. However, it was pointed out that these "ceremonies" did not actually work, at least, they did not accomplish their stated purpose (to draw on the power of Morgoth and give it to the Númenóreans). As a blow to the morale of the FaithfUl and a smoke-screen for Sauron's real purposes they served admirably, of course.

Saruman's resemblance to the Noldor was noted. both in physical appearance (he is described as raven-haired and noble of mein in the essay) and in preoccupation with things and "technology". In the end his downfall was caused by a thing or artifact, the Ring.

It was pointed out that although, as Fred said, the wizards of Middle-earth did not go around turning people into toads, Gandalf at least threatened to do so to Sam Gamgee when he caught him spying, It was then suggested that Radagast might be more likely actually to turn someone into a toad because he'd consider it a better form. Radagast's preoccupation with animals was discussed. In the chapter Tolkien implies that it was a failure of his mission, but on the other hand, he is said to have been sent by Yavanna to take special care of her creations. Margaret pointed out that some of the fauna was sentient (the eagles, the fox who remarked on the queerness of four hobbits asleep under a tree, the wargs in The Hobbit), and suggested that they needed their own wizard to keep them from corruption, too.

Fred expressed doubt that Gandalf had never ventured into the East, despite his statement to that effect, since he seemed to know an awful lot about what was going on there. It was pointed out that Gandalf had a good deal of intuition about such things, and besides that he would exchange information with others of the wise who might have emissaries in the East.

Somebody mentioned the article in an early issue of the D&D magazine The Dragon which stated that Gandalf was only a fifth-level magic user, judging from the actual magic he peeformed. One of the suggestions the article made was that Gandalf had a "tough DM," and we decided that this was essentially correct. Though the Istari had many powers of mind and hand, they were forbidden to throw their weight around, so to speak, and used it very sparingly for the most part--especially Gandalf, who remained true to his mission.

We then started making a list of Gandalf's acts of magic in The Lord of The Rings. We found that they fell into four main categories: fire magic (fireworks, igniting the faggot on Caradhras, smoke-rings, making a light in Moria, ignitinq of Legolas' arrow); weather magic (the magical "demo" during the healing of Theoden, possibly his use of lightning in various battles); magic derived from lore or knowledge (the opening-spells used at the Moria gate, the shutting-spell and "Word of Command" used against the Balrog, the breaking of Saruman's staff); and magic derived from his own inherent nature (the enhancement of the flooding of the Bruinen, the persuasion used on Théoden, his faculty of remembering the right thing at the right time).

All of these categories can be associated with different aspects of Gandalf's nature. Fire-magic is appropriate to the bearer of Narya, the Ring of Fire. Weather-magic is appropriate to a Maia of Manwë, Lord of the Airs and Winds. His lore or knowledge was derived from study, as with conventional wizards, and the powers of persuasion and visions (both having them and making them) are indicated to be part of his nature by his original name: Olórin.

The name Olórin, from a stern olos-, has the multiple meanings of memory, imagination, creativity, fair visions (not used to deceive), and the promptings of wisdom and inspiration from an unknown source. All of these meanings are applicable to Gandalf, who remembers the right thing at the right time, who creates a vision of shining white horses with white riders, who prompts men to wise action. It was decided that the name and the word were made to fit Gandalf and not the other way around.

Saruman also had the gift of persuasion, though he eventually used it in a different (and wrongful) way. Saruman used his inherent skill (remember that poetry was considered the highest skill, the respect for bards) to persuade others to do his will, whereas Gandalf persuaded them to do what was right. Gandalf remained true to his mission. Saruman was head of the White Council basically because he wanted the job and Gandalf didn't, not wanting to be tied down. Wizards were not supposed to be "rooted," but should wander around and help everybody.

Soon after this the discussion came to a close, as our host passed around pictures of the Swedish Tolkien society, and displayed a handsome banner (from the Tolkien Society of Jerusalem) and two fine swords.

Previous: May 12, 1984 - Next: July 22, 1984

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