The Orc Problem

Rachel Port

Active Member
Do they really value the vulgar - do they prefer what to us sounds ugly, or is it what they grow up with and learn so that other ways of talking sound uncouth to them, rather like Gollum spitting out the lembas?
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
That is a good question, as i understand JRRT he really at one point thought that the Orcs just like to destroy things, like they trample down plants for no obvious reason, just to stomp something beautiful. I think they have the same attitude towards anything, even words.

That does not answer the question WHY they are this way, or if they would maybe not be like that if not dominated by a stronger supernatural will that feeds them with hate.It would be interesting to speculate what happens to orcs without a dark lord...

Like men or elves might become orcish if dominated by a dark lord, perhaps orcs without such a domination... might become like some savage or wild Elves or men, primitive, but not evil anymore.Maybe they even cease to look orcish... and they fade like the Avari and become incorporeal spirits... or they become like mortal men, indistinguishable to us.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
That is a good question, as i understand JRRT he really at one point thought that the Orcs just like to destroy things, like they trample down plants for no obvious reason, just to stomp something beautiful. I think they have the same attitude towards anything, even words.

That does not answer the question WHY they are this way, or if they would maybe not be like that if not dominated by a stronger supernatural will that feeds them with hate.It would be interesting to speculate what happens to orcs without a dark lord...

Like men or elves might become orcish if dominated by a dark lord, perhaps orcs without such a domination... might become like some savage or wild Elves or men, primitive, but not evil anymore.Maybe they even cease to look orcish... and they fade like the Avari and become incorporeal spirits... or they become like mortal men, indistinguishable to us.
Hi Haerangil,

I think you have circled this thread back to the nub of the Orc problem. Are Orcs irredeemably evil, or are they gifted with spiritual life by Illuvatar (if not, then how are they created? And by whom?) Once JRRT says (through Elrond) 'Nothing is evil in then beginning', then Orcs become redeemable or machines. If Orcs are redeemable, then what the heck are the Valar doing? Where is an Istari who's job is to convert the Orcs? Where are the missionaries?

Orcs don't seem to be redeemable. Nor do they seem to be machines. Therein lies the Orc problem.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
Who’s to say the intention of the Blue wasn’t this? All we know is 4 of the 5 essentially failed their duties in some way. Perhaps the continued existence of orcs speaks to this. Perhaps redemption is not attainable in the material existence they currently have.

It does sometimes seems that trying to tie everything together in a single narrative tied Tolkien up in knots. If it’s never been mentioned that orcs were corrupted elves we’d all happily agree they are just what they are. But therein also lies the beauty of them. There’s something more to orcs than meets the eye.

I rather like the idea, entirely personal head canon here, that they delight in the detestable. They like what is ugly because it is ugly. Not because upbringing has taught them it is pleasant, but because they know ugliness and somewhere, deep down, they have to appreciate what is twisted and broken and hideous to behold, or else orcs would be undone by self-loathing. Maybe they are. Maybe their love of the vulgar is more to convince themselves on some base subconscious ingrained cultural level. But that’s me putting a creative spin on it.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Tolkien left the Orcs unfinished, in his own mind as well as in his writings. What we are left with is several concepts along the way. How would he have finished them? Who knows? Do we want anyone else to finish them? Some probably do, but some don't. The point is, we can't with any authority reconcile the inconsistencies.
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
He couldn't solve the Problem so he ignored it.

In theory nothing should be irredeemable.Not even Ar-Pharazon, the Mouth of Sauron or any other evil human being.
But somebody who refuses to regret and acknowledge his sins, to confess... you cannot help such a person with his soul -they do not want to be helped.

Now what do you do with an entire culture of such people? It must be clear, orcs cannot have much of a choice,,they aren't born a blank slate.

The only rational explanation i could come up with is that they always receive already fallen souls of some evil beings (elf, man, maia) from some undead nimbus with every generation, maybe by some sort of necromantic rite.-Inworld logic fanfic of course. JRRT doesn't state such a thing...

The more i think about it the more i guess that being Orcish is not about another biological race -though they are mutants of course - but it is a state of mind, an attitude.Or maybe they are born psychopaths... by modern medical categories they are certainly psychopathic and sociopathic as they completely lack empathy and feel lust for cruel things.But that is more sigmund Freud... and JRRT was no Freudian
 
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Haerangil

Well-Known Member
Who’s to say the intention of the Blue wasn’t this? All we know is 4 of the 5 essentially failed their duties in some way. Perhaps the continued existence of orcs speaks to this. Perhaps redemption is not attainable in the material existence they currently have.
Well thinking about it... in a way Sarumannwas working on this problem, he certainly gave his orcs something to believe in, almost like a religion, and he gave them discipline and an organisation.But the Dark lords had done this before too...so this is where he lost path.Not every type of Order is good, as we all know.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
But somebody who refuses to regret and acknowledge his sins, to confess... you cannot help such a person with his soul -they do not want to be helped.
Is this true of Tolkien’s world? The idea of an immortal soul being the superior supernatural element contained within the flawed material casing seems to be imported from certain Grecian philosophies and pasted onto Tolkien’s fictional world and possibly onto his real world beliefs. I’m not sure entirely what his Christian interpretation was on the matter. Regardless, do we know the text talk about redemption in this way?
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
What about their lives in the world? Do they have families? Do they love their mothers? Their wives? Their children? Do they bring up their children to be good Orcs, even if that means being evil? Do they reproduce in some other way? (Probably not, since Saruman can institute a breeding program.) If we visited an Orc village instead of just Orc barracks, what would we find? Are there young Orcs who rebel? How do they do that? That's the kind of thing I'd like to know. But I'm neither metaphysical nor theological. My questions require thinking of them as individuals, and once we do that, Gimli and Legolas' game becomes impossible.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
This is exactly the stuff I’d love to see explored.

Also, why does it make the game impossible. It would change our view of our protagonists but only if you’ve already committed to the conceit that killing war and keeping score is an acceptable thing. Either way you slice it it’s rather gross and speaks to a mind set. Bear in mind, everyone in The Lord of the Rings engages in conflict and kills a lot of orcs. Who doesn’t really do that much? Frodo. His purpose is higher. War isn’t the resolution. Tolkien frames of as a necessary evil but in the world, it isn’t the fix. It’s the background noise for a grander more elegant yet seemingly foolish solution that makes war null and void. I think it’s fair to view some Christian overtones in that, intentional or not, it’s certainly invokes a mood of a higher calling to undo the base struggles.

As for Gimili and Legolas, I’m personally totally fine with, and would prefer, heroes having aspects to their character I don’t like. It makes them more believable. They kill orcs gladly as that’s the world they’re born into. Their choices don’t always need to be the morally correct ones.

Orcs die and maybe are grieved.
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Oh yes - I like Legolas and Gimli and their relationship, and the counting game is part of that. Also, as you point out, it's not really the counting, but the killing that is the real issue. Maybe that's why they never bothered me much. The numbers killed would have been the same whether they counted and competed or not. War cannot happen without "othering" the other side. It's not natural for men to kill.

And interestingly, their friendship is only possible because they were able to stop othering each other.

Killing is evil, and the war cannot be won that way - that thought of Sauron facing himself if he had to face a new wielder of the Ring is so true. Frodo (and Sam) win the war because Sauron cannot imagine any other scenario. And in the end, the quest is only fulfilled because Frodo showed mercy - and got Faramir to show mercy - to Gollum. As had Bilbo. And the Elves of Mirkwood. Irony upon irony.

Tolkien saw two wars, one as a soldier, another as a parent of soldiers. He knew the real cost. He believed in the cause, but recognized that wars do not end all wars.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
Ah, but what do orcs believe?

There is a line I found of TolkienGateway or some other wiki style page that referenced the orcs in Moria worshipping Durin's Bane. For me, that just grabs my imagination. The idea of orcs worshipping. And the extrapolated idea that Azog could have in some way been a priest-king is so juicy. It's obviously not in the canon, but the idea that orcs might worship in that sense is fascinating. Now it may have just meant 'are reverent and fearful of its power', in which case, we know that to be true for orcs in their relationship to say Morgoth of Sauron, but the term worship implies taking that to a further step of veneration. Does anyone know if that reference is founded? I'm not sure where to look in the legendarium to find evidence of it.

Thanks
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
I think there’s some interesting stories to be told about the Othering of orcs and their literal devaluation as a people and what mindset that creates amongst other groups to the point where counting their slaughtered dead can be a game. And I’d sooner read those as stories than a paper lol
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
I doubt they worship anything.Tolkien states they even hate and despise the dark lords, and we have quotes by orcs to back up that.They just fear them.

Sarumans Uruks certainly admired him and were deeply loyal, Ugluk talks different than Gorbag and Shagrat, so we have a bit of a spectrum... the loyal Soldier-fanatic vs the cynical veteran.

Yet we still tend to humanize orcs when everything they are is intended to represent humans worst traits.The talk about them having a religion and loving their children...

That is not orcishness, that is us projecting ourselves.
 

Beech27

Active Member
Does anyone know if that reference is founded? I'm not sure where to look in the legendarium to find evidence of it.
Not in the text, and the wiki you mention doesn't cite anything. The appendices tell us about the Balrog arriving, Sauron sending Orcs to people Moria, etc. So to the extent that they "belong" to anyone, it's Sauron. But as noted, that sort of belonging is far from worship. They pretty clearly don't all revere him that way, in the text.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
I don’t think the text implies they are meant to represent our worse selves. If anything they are the elves’ worse qualities. And if that is the case, then the worst of the worst still have beliefs. Even about themselves.

To be a cynic or a loyalist involve belief (or lack of) in something.

My disappointment comes from not really knowing much of what true orcishness is. If we buy the meta narrative, then we only know of it from their enemies’ description. Which is less than favourable. Sure, this is likely because they are not a favourable people. Far from it. But if we buy into Tolkien's world, we have to buy that the stories we read are told by the victors. We get orcs through the filter of hobbits and Men. If a writer includes certain details, it's because they believe them to be important. If the Red Book of Westmarch includes certain traits of orcs over others, that is because only those were known to its authors and they were the details they felt saliant to tell for the reason of highlighting their enemies as bad.

I'm not saying orcs are misunderstood and are really the heroes, but there is language used to describe certain races, including orcs, (i.e. swarthiness and eye shape) that become recurring characteristics of what is negative. These attributes facilitate Othering. I firmly disagree with anybody who reads Tolkien's works as pro-racist or anything of the kind, but he has built a very firm world in which characters and cultures have ingrained worldviews. Tolkien may not be willfully Othering orcs based on physical attributes, but plainly his characters are capable of this. We see the worldview of a people most clearly with hobbits and their passions and pet-peeves. Paragraphs and attributed to the loves of hobbits. If we buy the frame, then we accept this is because the Red Book is largely hobbit-born then filtered through Men. If we can see their loves through what they chose to detail, then we also see what they count as ill. Physical descriptions included. Othering can come even from characters we like. It doesn't make them any less real, it makes them more. Sadly we only know one and not really the other.

I don’t want to project, I want to explore what we are given from the perspectives we are told to take them. And there are just gaps I wish were filled in. They may answer the problem of the orcs or make it worse. Alas, Tolkien never squared that circle
 
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Haerangil

Well-Known Member
Well, i think the elves themselves represent some of our best and worst qualities :) so i do not see "Elves" (out-verse) as anything but more extreme humans.

I like to put myself in the perspective of an orc (see My avatar cosplay image) and it enrages "me" no end everybody likens "us" to elves or humans.People want to make noble savages out of "us", put us into their barbarian topos.But that is not what "we" are... "we destroy, we kill, we survive or die.we like that".
 

Rachel Port

Active Member
Personally I see frightening numbers of people and groups these days who show a good deal of Orcishness, and they show it by extreme Othering of everything that disagrees with them. Could we learn about Orcs by studying them? Actually, when I first read LOTR in my teens, back in the dark ages, I pictured them rather like the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz (the 1939 movie, not the book), and I still don't like to see them depicted merely as ugly humanoids.
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
I was always fascinated by Orcs since i saw the bakshi movies as a child... i still think his orcs are really frightening and nightmarish.

Tolkien once stated "we were all orcs in the war (WW1)". So i think of Orcs as the element in humans which is frightening, because they represent things humans are capable of doing but we usuually do not see or realize, and like to think of as not possible.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
I think it's key to remember the individual races are very much that - individual.
I was always fascinated by Orcs since i saw the bakshi movies as a child... i still think his orcs are really frightening and nightmarish.

Tolkien once stated "we were all orcs in the war (WW1)". So i think of Orcs as the element in humans which is frightening, because they represent things humans are capable of doing but we usuually do not see or realize, and like to think of as not possible.
Things that were once glorious twisted into things that are monstrous
 
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