Robin Smallburrow wrote: ↑
Wed Nov 29, 2017 12:35 am
A 'spell' is really just a special type of skill, and 'wizards' or 'conjurors' are specialists in doing 'spells', just as warriors are specialists in fighting (which is why I prefer a magic-user to be a class).
Let me note something about this that is important in Tolkien's writing.
When Tolkien uses the word spell,
he is hearkening back to its origins meaning "tale." A spell
is literally an incantation, words used to produce an effect. When Frodo is in Shelob's lair and he holds up the Phial of Galadriel and says "Aiya Earendil Elenion Ancalima," that is a spell. Frodo cast a spell. Some other power was working through him, making him say it, but it is nevertheless a spell cast by a hobbit. When Shelob is bearing down on him and calls out the name of Galadriel, that's a spell. These things have potency when you can give them power.
When something is "under a spell," it is under an enchantment. Tolkien gives a particular definition of enchantment
in his essay "On Fairy Stories;" the short version is that anyone who can make a Secondary World real is an enchanter. When you read Tolkien's stories, and when you believe
in them, even when you simultaneously know they're just fiction, you are enchanted, you are under Tolkien's spell. He told a tale so well, he "cast a spell" so well, that you believe his Art is the real thing. There IS a place called Middle-earth, and you can see it, you can feel it. That is enchantment; that is a spell.
Elves have much more ability to do this than men. When Finrod meets men for the first time and plays music for them, his music is so enchanting that the men actually see visions, even though they do not share a language in common. When the hobbits hear the music of Gildor's party in the Shire, the music is so enchanting that the hobbits can understand the meaning of the song, even though they don't understand the words. When Tom Bombadil (not an elf!) stops telling his stories to the hobbits and sits in silence, the hobbits remain in an enchanted state, continuing to see visions. Finrod and Sauron have an epic song-battle. Luthien's singing destroys the tower of Sauron. All of this is "spell," "tale," "Art." Just as a tale well told becomes real to you, a tale REALLY well told can have real effects in the Primary World.
When adapting Tolkien's magic to a role-playing game, have a care that you don't casually think of the word spell
as the D&D formula of hidden energies that you memorize and expend at need.
(Just want to add one final example that occurred to me, and believe it or not it comes from Peter Jackson. Remember in the first film at the unexpected party when Bilbo is telling his adventure with the trolls to hobbit-children? Remember how they're staring at him agape, and he suddenly jumps and pops, and the children jump, startled? They were totally into it. They were enchanted. In the moment Bilbo makes his pop sound, the children are THERE. They're under a spell. If they weren't enchanted, they wouldn't jump at the surprise, because "it's just a story." But it shows that "spells" and "enchantment" are, to Tolkien, not things that only elves or wizards can do, and it shows why the elves don't understand the distinction between magic and art that hobbits and men make. ANYONE can cast a spell and put people and things under an enchantment. Elves are just way better at it than men and hobbits.)