I consider the magic that takes place in The Lord of the Rings to be very unique. In many of the current crop of fantasy stories, a human finds out that he or she has a special gift that is construed as magic. He or she uses this newly-found gift to solve some problem, and there is your story.
The magic in The Lord of the Rings is interesting to me because, even if magic might be used for the occasional good intention, it actually causes more problems than it solves. Furthermore, none of the beings performing magic are human, or even mortal.
Gandalf the Gray/White is not human. He’s part of the Istari, a group of five Maiar sent from the Undying Lands to assist the mortals of Middle-earth against the problems that Sauron was causing during the Third Age. Their job was to act as counsel only, using magic only when absolutely necessary.
But really, the two important Istari, Gandalf and Saruman, did not avoid sticking their hands in the cookie jar. Gandalf chose to continue to help the free mortals of Middle-earth, but Saruman was corrupted into using his magic to create armies of Uruk-hai for Sauron, and he gave vital information to the Great Eye about the movements of the opposing side as well.
The most important use of magic is Sauron creating the Rings of Power, enslaving the kings of men and making the One Ring in an attempt to crush all free-thinking mortals to his whim.
This is all basic knowledge for anyone who has read or watched The Lord of the Rings, but it’s surprising when you look at all the other magic-centered plotlines. Except for Aragorn’s amazing healing ability—which some argue is magic but I think is just based around a great knowledge of kingfoil’s healing properties—most of the mortal men avoid performing any magic.
Elves have their magic based in nature, and seemingly use magic only in the rare occurrence. According to some, Elves know of magic from the Ainur, but most avoid using magic. Galadriel is one of the Elves’ last great sorceresses, and she rarely uses her magic outside of Lothlorien. The last known usage of Galadriel’s magic occurred when she wiped Dol Guldur off the face of Middle-earth with a tornado. Elrond uses magic too, but only for foresight. Nearly all Elven warriors use physical weapons.
Dwarven magic is never used in battle. All magical properties manifest in their construction, such as the Doors of Durin.
And Sauron’s use of dark magic is both a help and a hindrance to him. It made him immortal and all-poweful while he had the ring, but also gave the enemies of a powerful Maiar a somewhat simple way to destroy him.
Really, when you look at it, magic started the War of the Rings. It made the War worse and worse until eventually two hobbits had to destroy Sauron’s most magical weapon, the One Ring, to defeat him. No amount of magic could keep Sauron from dying once that happened.
There is a multitude of reasons why magic is frowned upon by most of the “good guys” of The Lord of the Rings. For the Elves, the memory of what happened when the Noldor Elves crossed into Middle-earth to hunt for the stolen Silmarils (powerful jewels of pure light created from the light of the Trees of Valinor) would be enough to avoid attempting to create anything with magic again. For men, the concept of corruption would keep any intelligent leader away from magic. Men throughout Tolkien’s stories seem to fall quickly when offered any power, magical or otherwise. Examples of this include the Nine Kings who took rings from Sauron and became Ringwraiths. And Dwarves care for jewels and riches more than magic.
It just seems that, after getting burned over three separate Ages, men, Elves and Dwarves all just would rather avoid using magic unless absolutely necessary. It’s obviously more trouble than it is worth.