"The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision." - J.R.R. Tolkien.
As a gigantic Tolkien fan and a Christian, I was inevitably confronted by the issue of magic in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, which have been rendered as motion pictures ever since the early 2000s, and ever since have been some of the most famous and highest-grossing films in the world.
Some Christians wonder whether the Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit are fit for the viewing of one who adheres to Christianity on account of the “magic” that is used by Wizards (Istari), powerful Elves, and the like; for it is well known that the Bible itself condemns magic and it's practice (1 Samuel 15:23, Deuteronomy 18:10-12 etc.).
Somewhat troubled by this, but knowing that their must be some satisfactory answer, I committed myself to consideration of this issue, and research. This is what I came up with, in it's most plain brevity:
Although magic is considered evil in God's eyes, and is certainly evil in this world, it may not be in all worlds. That is, if the "magic" in that world were only a term used for a mysterious power wielded by an extraordinary being.
Tolkien was careful with his manifestation of “magic” to characters.
Now, allow me to explain what I mean: Tolkien gave the power of “magic” only to characters from outside of the normal world – that is, he only granted the power to “people” who were “angelic”, “demonic” or to those who were immortal (Gandalf, Saruman, Lady Galadriel, Sauron). Now, you may be thinking: “How is this important?” Well, I believe it can be well-agreed that God and all Angels have possession of powers that we, on earth may not understand – and this is the case with Tolkien's “magical characters” - normal people from Middle-Earth would look on Gandalf's mysterious powers with fire, and for lack of anything better to call it, would dub his powers with the term “magic.”
Besides this, I do not believe that what magic is on this earth can necessarily be what magic is on another world, like Middle-Earth. In Tolkien's World, there are the forces of evil (black magic) and the forces of good (powers possessed by extraordinary and good beings). Magic in Tolkien's world, is in fact, not magic as it is known here in our world, but an extraordinary power preexisting within an extraordinary being, and which is, in turn, called “magic” by normal folk of Middle-Earth. These powers, I believe, can be well compared with the powers that God and his Angelic hosts possess – powers that we on earth cannot understand.
And this is, I believe, the difference between Harry Potter and the Lord of The Rings - whereas Tolkien uses the word “magic” as a way to express the powers of Light and Darkness in another world, J.K. Rowling has magic in her stories that is... well, magic. Magic wielded by ordinary human beings, in our world, no less. The magic that the Bible condemns as an abomination, expounded by the imagination of the author. This is what I believe the Harry Potter series to be.
Therefore, I will conclude this writing in the hope that I have made all things clear – and that you are now left with a clearer understanding of Tolkien's Middle-Earth Magic. I hope I have made all things quite clear.
- J.S. Clingman