The Orc Problem

Timdalf

Active Member
Prof Corey summed up the Orc Problem at the beginning of Session 182 by quoting two statements in Tolkien about the nature of evil in Middle-earth that appear to cause a contradiction in his ever-developing legendarium. Talking about the superficial comment by some (who obviously have not read the work) that all things are black and white in LotR. This, Prof Corey notes is ironic, because Tolkien, never got the Orcs to fit into the overall "landscape" of his world. On the one hand Tolkien implies at one point, that if they were Elves corrupted by Morgoth, then what is their eternal destiny? If they are children of Iluvatar, however badly corrupted, then it is not right to treat them as they are in LotR, as merely to be destroyed in a game of scoring points by the number of them killed. It is not really possible for Morgoth to so overrule the intent of Iluvatar and create beings of no free will, mere constructs of Morgoth's evil, whom it is right to annihilate, the more the better. They were originally thought of in the "Book of Lost Tales" as not really living beings. But then in LotR he has Elrond say, "Nothing was evil in the beginning" and further Frodo says, "Evil cannot create, it can only mar." Which means apparently that Tolkien has to change the origin and nature of the Orcs. And this creates the ontological-theological problem of how to treat the Orcs if they were originally created by Iluvatar and could not be by Morgoth.

However, I want to suggest two simple implied (in my mind) and obvious emendations to these two statements by characters (technically not by Tolkien himself, please note). They should read, "Nothing created by Iluvatar was evil in the beginning." and "Evil cannot create life, it can only mar it." With these two clarifications I think we have Tolkien's real point and nothing in conflict with Orcs as non-living, non-Iluvator manufactures of Morgoth (and perhaps Sauron?). Such theological-ontological precision would not be appropriate to either character. Frodo is simply a Hobbit, and Elrond is not an omniscient Elf. They are not addressing an academic symposium on the cosmology of Middle-earth. They are speaking somewhat spontaneously in a rather informal context.

There is thus not really an Orc Problem. Orcs can remain soulless mechanisms and agents of evil who are nothing but evil. If Tolkien changed his mind about them and tried to make them corrupted Elves, this is another case of him overthinking himself like his misguided attempt to reconcile his mythic cosmology with modern astronomy. His usual gift for retcon failed him on these points. Myth is myth and should not be restricted to modern literal science any more than fantasy and its fantastic bestiary or novel species should. It must operate on an every day level of reality, but not be forced to live within modern non-fiction criteria. It is not non-fiction, after all!

And in the end, even if the Orcs are corrupted Elves, if they then basically cooperate with that corruption wholeheartedly and become stubbornly and unrepentantly evil, then there should be no qualms about ending their existence any more than Christian theology is rightly willing to consign fallen angels, who being eternal beings have made the eternal choice for evil, and thus need to be confined to Hell... or more accurately have chosen to confine themselves to the Hell they so desire. That is the world they have collectively created and they fully deserve to share it with those of like kind. Free will has it consequences. As some have perceptibly noted, Hell is not a punishment imposed from without, but rather the chosen fulfillment of what is within, the River of the Fire of God's love is a searing hellish heat to those who prefer to do evil and a warming light to those who seek to make themselves like unto it by cooperating with Grace. This goes for both Angels and men...
So perhaps the Orc Problem is a false one, albeit self-imposed by Tolkien himself.
 
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Rob Harding

Active Member
I do like that you highlighted character perspective. It's always important to highlight that statements made in dialogue or characters' minds is not the same as the narrator's voice of authority. Of course, all this is complicated and made more interesting by Tolkien's framework that the works are transcribed, interpreted and embellished by characters within his world. So we have potentially unreliable narrators. Which can forgive a multitude of problems. In-built get-out-of-jail free card that is still very much canon.

I do struggle with orcs though. I think the idea of disposable canon-fodder is frankly just dull. In a world so rich and with cultures so developed as Tolkien's, it seems a shame orcs are just 'baddies'.

As for Hell and spiritual beings as portrayed in the Bible, that is a far longer discussion lol. There is a problem therein though of needed to map every facet of Tolkien's mythology and cosmology onto Biblical/Abrahamic worldviews. There are gaps that don't need direct correlation. Clearly Tolkien wrestled with how to treat orcs to fit into this but maybe in the end, we can leave that internal criticism to him and concentrate on what the books tell us. Perhaps we could make a list of times it is hinted the orcs are more than merely mindless creatures? They certainly have speech and language. Presumably they craft and build and have plainly have sentience. I think of them as having accents but I can't know recall if that's in the texts of just the voices I put on when reading
 

Beech27

Active Member
Perhaps we could make a list of times it is hinted the orcs are more than merely mindless creatures? They certainly have speech and language. Presumably they craft and build and have plainly have sentience. I think of them as having accents but I can't know recall if that's in the texts of just the voices I put on when reading
The most famous instance is when Shagrat and Gorbag muse about 'old times' (and wish for their return) with no 'big bosses'. This certainly suggests some capacity for projection and conceptualization. ("Can a mindless automaton want freedom?" feels like a no.)

Orcs certainly do speak in less refined, more colloquial English (as it's 'translated' for us), but the heavy use of Cockney accents are, I think, exaggerated in adaptations.
 

Timdalf

Active Member
I do like that you highlighted character perspective. It's always important to highlight that statements made in dialogue or characters' minds is not the same as the narrator's voice of authority.

Well, that is really only a secondary point. The main point is that the two quotes or comments really exclude the Orcs as substantive realities with will power of their own. I would amend my "expansion" of the second one to "Evil cannot create independent, free life with a soul, it can only mar that which has that kind of life". All it can do is manufacture a soulless unfree imitations of life... Just as we cannot create anything but machines. Even our imaginary literary "creations" are only constructs of words and not ontological realities. However vivid they may appear, they are not independent, hypostatic beings apart from the words in our imaginations. Living beings act on their own according their own will, according to their nature. Morgoth or Sauron can set their manufactures in motion and order them to go and do things. But that is not "personal" freely directed or chosen "life". The Uncreated Creator has not endowed His creatures with the power to create on that level. Human creation is really only rearranging the elements of a make up. of a nature. In our minds and words or by breeding or by robotic machinery. This is one of the basic ontological distinctions of Creator vs creations. It is sort of the "Frankenstein Problem"... man can throw together parts and even energize them from a source, but the soul as the principle of life itself, which somehow has will is not within our remit. as we have been created. to engender.

I have little if any doubt Tolkien understood and would agree with that. And this distinction in creativity is of course Providential, that is, a good thing. We already see what damage we humans do when we attempt technological feats that attempt to exceed our natural capabilities -- and above all our judgment -- DNA manipulation, nuclear manipulations, even propaganda. Our nature has boundaries that we should be wary in the extreme of violating. The various bans imposed by the Valar indicate Tolkien had that firmly in mind. Until we have become perfected in our morality and ethics, we need to be ever self-critical and doubt our seeming powers.

Is that not the primary lesson of The One Ring itself. It is in essence the archetype of making the mistake of not heeding that caveat. Nor should we overlook the bad example of Fëanor as one who creates something good but misuses it, in essence. Same with the Palantiri. None of these creations are anything but lifeless wonders, instruments of the technology of magic. That Orcs can move and speak is no great breakthrough. Automobiles and computers do that now!! Yet we would not mistake them for living beings. Orcs are merely machines of flesh and blood with nervous systems (that presumably can feel pain), but that does not make them living beings intrinsic worth. When Sauron is literally blown away in the destruction of the Ring, they fall inert. What does Tolkien write of even the Nazgûl at the moment of the destruction of the Ring -- [they] came, shooting like flaming bolts, as caught in the fiery ruin of hill and sky the crackled, withered and went out." (Emphasis added) "Went out" like snuffed candles lacking fuel. That which energized them was gone. They had for eons no independent existence. "The Power that drove them on ... was removed from them." "...so the creatures of Sauron , orc or troll or beast spell-enslaved, ran hither and thither mindless..."
 
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Rob Harding

Active Member
The most famous instance is when Shagrat and Gorbag muse about 'old times' (and wish for their return) with no 'big bosses'. This certainly suggests some capacity for projection and conceptualization. ("Can a mindless automaton want freedom?" feels like a no.)

Orcs certainly do speak in less refined, more colloquial English (as it's 'translated' for us), but the heavy use of Cockney accents are, I think, exaggerated in adaptations.
I thought that latter point was the case and I think the influence of Cockney trolls led me to characterise all non-governing villains with working-class accents. Some of the old British classism probably creeping in there sadly.

As to the first point, that is a really interesting throwaway line that I'm not sure fits in continuity-wise. Weren't the old days categorised by being ruled by big bosses. I suppose it depends how far back an individual orc's nostalgia reaches. But the idea of nostalgia amongst orcs is a wonderful idea. Honestly, for me, the orcs are the one group I wish we knew more about. I would love other writers to dabble in the mythology of Tolkien more about would love to read an anthology of tales by other authors, particularly any that included the day-to-day doings and grumblings of blue-collar orcs.
 

Timdalf

Active Member
...Some of the old British classism probably creeping in there sadly.

...;)particularly any that included the day-to-day doings and grumblings of blue-collar orcs.
First, i am not so ready to disparage the hierarchies of class systems. part of the charm of Sam is his (and the Gaffer's) willing and very realistic deference to the Bagginses.

as for day to day grumblings....

What is next? The entire LotR told from the point of view of Gollum/Smeagol's long abused and overlooked loyal cousin Hollum/Beagol? ;) To that end offer you two wanted posters I did up for my reading on Tolkien Reading Day -- samples of Beagol's defense of Smeagol... (excerpts from his mistreatment by the Baggins and the Gamgee!) (To give credit, these were inspired by a photo sent by a friend of a telephone pole in Los Angeles.) Someone might pen "The Beagoltape Letters", no? Taken from notes in the diary of Smeagol found amongst Sam's papers when he ripped them from Gollum's hands as he was bashing him with them during their fights on Mt Doom...
 

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Beech27

Active Member
As to the first point, that is a really interesting throwaway line that I'm not sure fits in continuity-wise. Weren't the old days categorised by being ruled by big bosses. I suppose it depends how far back an individual orc's nostalgia reaches. But the idea of nostalgia amongst orcs is a wonderful idea. Honestly, for me, the orcs are the one group I wish we knew more about. I would love other writers to dabble in the mythology of Tolkien more about would love to read an anthology of tales by other authors, particularly any that included the day-to-day doings and grumblings of blue-collar orcs.
The continuity works if you assume they're talking about the time before Sauron's return.

I don't expect other authors to get a crack at canonical Middle-earth fiction, though. Nor do I want it, to be honest. There is already decade's worth of fantasy that responds (sometimes brilliantly) to Tolkien (or the tropes he popularized) in how it treats the concept of monstrous 'races', power structures, etc., that I don't think we need anything so direct.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
Oh it'll never happen but I'd love to see different writers explore the canon and mythology he constructed and bring new styles and voices to it. It shall never be alas, but I'd love an anthology of short tales.


First, i am not so ready to disparage the hierarchies of class systems. part of the charm of Sam is his (and the Gaffer's) willing and very realistic deference to the Bagginses.
Yes, Sam's charm does come from a place of deference but alas his is a fantasy world and alas, we live in a world we're it's all to easy to demonise the working class into trailer-trash and chavs. And somewhere along the lines I've internalised enough to make all my orcs take on the tropes of an uneducated working Englishman. Still, a funny voice is a funny voice, right?
 

Timdalf

Active Member
Now, there's a conundrum... What were the Orcses doing during Sauron's long "early retirement"? Anybody's guess, of course. But maybe they just kept on existing as a result of the momentum/inertia gained from the early years. Oh, and just how long do they exist.... like Elveses in virtual perpetuity?
 

Timdalf

Active Member
Oh it'll never happen but I'd love to see different writers explore the canon and mythology he constructed and bring new styles and voices to it. It shall never be alas, but I'd love an anthology of short tales.




Yes, Sam's charm does come from a place of deference but alas his is a fantasy world and alas, we live in a world we're it's all to easy to demonise the working class into trailer-trash and chavs. And somewhere along the lines I've internalised enough to make all my orcs take on the tropes of an uneducated working Englishman. Still, a funny voice is a funny voice, right?
And likewise it is all too easy to demonize the Brit upper class into insufferable snobs and twits. See "Downton Abbey's" Lord Robert Grantham for an alternate view. Even the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley had her virtues, not least of which was wit!
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
And likewise it is all too easy to demonize the Brit upper class into insufferable snobs and twits. See "Downton Abbey's" Lord Robert Grantham for an alternate view. Even the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley had her virtues, not least of which was wit!
Look, we all just wish we were another class and hate them all at the same time. And pretend we don't have a class system anymore.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
Now, there's a conundrum... What were the Orcses doing during Sauron's long "early retirement"? Anybody's guess, of course. But maybe they just kept on existing as a result of the momentum/inertia gained from the early years. Oh, and just how long do they exist.... like Elveses in virtual perpetuity?
I always imagined this might have been the period when some orcs became tribal and feral and took on their own leaders. When were the Misty Mountains colonised by the orcs? This was around this time right? And they took to worshipping Durin's Bane. Worship of a figure to me is very different to falling under leadership
 

Timdalf

Active Member
Look, we all just wish we were another class and hate them all at the same time. And pretend we don't have a class system anymore.
You speak for yourself about hating them all.... not me. I don't pretend. I lament it. I have found very often those of true "class" to be faultlessly generous and approachable. I speak of an Oscar winner you are all familiar with and of a cousin of the Tsar among others whom you unfortunately were not. Beware of class envy and the resentment of "slave morality". Leave that to the Wormtongues of this world.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
I was being tongue in cheek to be fair. But you look at the media and working class are still categorised as louts, middle classes as a strivingly desperate and upper classes as out of touch. On an individual anecdotal reality it’s quite different. But there’s still a zeitgeist and an unfortunate ingrained classism tied to a history of fealty, and monarchy and empire and whatnot. Hey ho. I’ve no idea what class I’m technically supposed to fall under and frankly doesn’t affect my day to day but try to remain conscious of stray thoughts of ingrained generalisations. Unless it’s for tongue in cheek comedy purposes

I do think there’s some interesting critical theory to be done looking at Tolkien’s pro-classism overtones and connection to class bonds being both enforced and undermined during the war and subsequently the post-war era. Partnerships and lifelong friendships were certainly formed in the trenches across classes while at the same time, a working class man would be bound (willingly) to the service of an upper class captain. Ala Blackadder. I think that clearly plays out in the bond between Frodo and Sam in the idealised narrative.

Do orcs have class and fealty? They certainly have chiefs and captains
 
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Rachel Port

Active Member
What the orcses were doing was the kind of thing they were doing in The Hobbit - haunting caves, bothering travellers, raiding villages - the usual stuff that thugs do.
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
It could be interesting to imagine upperclass Orcs among themselves.

But i guess... it is like with fake-cockneyspeakers or pseudo-ghettokids nowadays, the point is not that Orcs are lower class or poor, the point is they don't like beautiful, thoughtful language, they enjoy ugly words and ugly talking and making language a mess.The Orcs in shadow of Mordor i a tualky like... they remind me of Hooligans and criminals who maybe even aren't working or lower class at all, but they speak this way to come about as toughies and bad ass.

In the old Working class families i know, like my grandparents, it was seen as a sign of status and sophistication not to use bad language and strong words in public and to try to speak like you are a religious person and have some education.

Sam Gamgee is a guy like that.

The Orcs are people who simply don't care or even enjoy uglyness, Tolkien once stated they were actually worse than he wrote so i guess the Hobbits did kinda censor them.The untranslated Orcish we get one or two sentences from is much more raw and dirty...
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
Oooh valuing the vulgar is such a fascinating cultural trait. This is the kind of things I wish we knew more about. We get lots of armchairs and maps and present giving for hobbits, it makes me sad we don’t get the same for an orc unit
 
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