So in Tolkien’s mythology, there is the physical, visible world, referred to as the “Seen”, and the world of those things and beings that belong to magic, which is called the “Unseen”. Let’s talk about this.

It should probably go without saying, but I’ma have spoilers below. If spoilers for 60-something-year-old books and 20-something-year-old movies are an issue for you, you have been warned.

The Valar exist primarily in the Unseen, although they are also able to exist in the Seen if they wish. Maiar exist in both the Seen and the Unseen, although their forms in the Unseen are different from their corporeal form, and since they exist in the Unseen they can also see and influence those existing in the Unseen.

The same is true of Elves who lived in Aman (the Blessed Realm, Undying Lands, Uttermost West); however, Elves who had never seen the light of the Two Trees of Valinor did NOT exist in the Unseen, and non-elves exist wholly in the Seen as well.

Getting Drawn into the Unseen

So how does one get from the Seen to the Unseen?

We know of several objects in Arda that can draw a being into the Unseen: most of the Great Rings of Power, the One Ring forged in secret by Sauron, and the Morgul-knife that stabbed Frodo.

The ringwraiths are the prime example of this drawing in action. Having worn the nine rings of power given them by Annatar (spoiler alert: it’s SECRET SAURON!), the nine kings of Men were drawn permanently into the Unseen, to exist as wraiths. They had only a partial physical form in the Seen, hence the ratty black robes they were so fond of. (“But what about the Dwarves?” you may ask. The dwarves’ natural hardiness allowed them to withstand Sauron’s influence while wearing the rings.)

When a being wears the One Ring, they are fully removed from the Seen and brought wholly into the Unseen. This is why they are invisible to those who exist only in the Seen, but still visible to those who exist in the Unseen. When Frodo puts the ring on at Weathertop, his companions who exist only in the Seen can no longer see him, but the ringwraiths who are attacking him can, since they exist in the Unseen. 

Still from The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

When Frodo was stabbed by the Morgul blade of the ringwraiths, the tip of the blade that broke off in his body started drawing him into the Unseen. Had he not been healed by Elrond and had the shard of blade had reached his heart, he would have been transformed into a wraith and entered the Unseen permanently. It’s thought that the ringwraiths tortured their servants using Morgul blades.

We also know that elves who stay in Middle Earth for too long start losing their mortal Seen bodies and eventually their Unseen spirits win out and they turn into wraiths. Guess we know why Cirdan had such a secure job as the Shipwright.

See my post about wraiths for more info on wraiths.

One thought on “The Seen and the Unseen”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *