Tolkien thread: let's take a whack at the origin & nature of orcs

In the last two days, for completely unrelated reasons, two people have asked me the same question: “Were Tolkien’s Orcs created by raping Elves?”

My first answer was no.

My second answer was there’s an account of the possible origin of Orcs in The Silmarillion, but it’s undercut by the narrator’s use of the phrase “it is said that” beforehand.

My third answer is “Hey! Let’s ask the Dope!” So here’s a few questions:

  1. What explanation of the genesis of Orcs do you find most persuasive?

  2. Do you think Orcs have free will, as is implied by the conversation Samwise overhears while infiltrating Barad-dur, or is their consciousness the projection of the current Dark Lord’s will, as is implied by their reaction to the destruction of the One Ring?

  3. Where do new Orcs come from? Do we take it that female Orcs, like female Dwarves, look so much like the males that outsider have difficulty distingushing the two genders? Or are the females all slaves? How do we account for their extremely high rate of reproduction? Do they rape female Children of Iluvatur whom they capture and add to their ranks that way? Or is there another option?

I have my own opinions, but I’ll leave 'em for later. So…anyone…? Bueller?

The only one of your questions that I have an opinion on is the one concerning free will. The conversation Sam overheard was enough to convince me that the orcs were volitional actors and could be swayed from the side of Sauron to the side of light. That being said, I realize this raises all sorts of conundrums - i.e. why did they all follow Sauron? Was he holding all the females hostages? Did he just have a better health plan, or what? Were some creatures in Middle Earth more susceptible to evil? Were they smudged with original sin?

Anyway, Skald, I was getting so desperate for a new LOTR thread; glad you stepped up here.

Skald has been on a roll lately with the threads. :slight_smile:

  1. I am convinced by Tolkien’s suggestion that Morgoth was incapable of creating anything on his own. For that reason, I prefer the “orcs are things that used to be elves” origin.

  2. Yes, I think that they have free will – not only from what we see of their actions, but also because neither Morgoth nor Sauron would be interested in dominating them if they didn’t have free weill.

  3. I think there are female orcs, but don’t really expect that a Morgoth-influenced culture would have gender-equality – i.e., we don’t see female orcs because they’re all kept hidden away somewhere, probably as chattel. And there’s a lot of 'em because Sauron told 'em to breed, so they did. Also, probably immortal (like elves).

It’s all part of my plan to keep you guys occupied while [del]my troops move into position[/del] I wrap your Christmas presents.

There’s new, and then there’s new. Ultimately, of course, everything comes from Iluvatur. But dragons didn’t exist until Morgoth bred them from pre-existing stock; the same is true the Nazgul’s winged mounts (I refuse to call them Fell Beasts like that’s a species name!), and, for that matter, Dwarves. I’ve always taken the incapable of anything new" to mean that Morgoth and Gorthaur were unable to create ex nihilo and that they could not imbue animals with souls. The fact that Dwarves (and presumably Ents) are ensouled is a gift of Iluvatur, not the work of the ostensible creators.

Two things here. First, in the case of Sauron, I’ve always taken it that he was interested in the Orcs as a means to an end; it was Elves & Men–and primarily Men–he had a jones on to conquer. (I suspect, had he won the war, he’d have set about exterminating the Dwarves.)

Second, Morgoth was more interested in general destruction than conquest. He wasn’t Darksed; he was Thanos.

Except Orcs are insanely fertile. By the end of the War of the Dwarves & Orcs, something like two-thirds of the latter race had taken sail on Charon’s ferry, but they were back to their oold numbers in a generation. This seems to argue against all Orcs being deformed and depraved Elves, as Elves aren’t nearly so fertile. (I have an explanation for that too, but I want to read what others think before I proffer it.)

I agree that at least some Orcs are “immortal” in the same sense that Elves are: the goblins we see in the Hobbit clearly recognize Beater & Biter as something they have seen in person before, and there’s at least one reference to a 3rd-Age Orc who was at either the last battle of the War of the Jewels or the last battle fo the Last Alliance. (Sorry for being inspecific; I don’t have the books at hand.)

There’s the narrator, then there’s the implied author, then there’s the author. In general, I assume that regardless of what kind of such “undercutting” the author does via the implied author and/or the narrator, if there’s no alternative explanation given for something, then I’m hearing the version the author intends me to hear.

“Wise men say
Only fools rush in”


The thing is, Tolkien uses the unreliable narrator technique from time to time. I don’t think he ever made his mind up on the origin of Orcs, as he had some philosophical and theological considerations in his way. I think he wrote (or perhaps Christopher inserted) the “it is said” there the matter was not completely settled.

Also, consider that we’re talking about Quenta Silmarillion, whose ostensible authors are Eldar. Some information they would clearly have access to; I have no trouble believing that Aule was willing to tell an Elvish interviewer exactly how Dwarves came to be, and likewise Nienna wouldn’t have the slightest issue relating the origin of the Ents. But in the case of Orcs, there’s no way Melkor ever fessed up as to exactly what happened to create them, and I don’t think the Valar knew either. They knew that Elves had gone missing and that someone disguied as Orome had been around at that time; the notion that the ersatz Vala was Melkor is a reasonable supposition, but not necessarily correct.

Iluvatur knows, of course, but he’s been at a massive, winner-takes-all poker tournament with Odin, Cybele, and Kulkulkhan for centuries and as a result his phone is off the hook.

Hoooo boy. Tolkien scholar material, this. I’ll take my own amateurish swipe at it.

#1: I’m definitely an adherant of the “The original Orcs are Elves that Morgoth captured” theory. It seems that for all deft little dodges on the issue (“it is said” pah.) that this is the theory that the Professor himself wanted us to heed. And certainly I don’t think differences in fertility are a convincing argument to the contrary. If you can take an elf, make its skin black (or brown, or green, or whatever) color, make them ugly, hairy, and uncouth, I’m sure you can make them fecund too.

#2: Orcs certainly have Free Will, but they also have a natural predisposition towards evil (All races in Middle Earth, except for Men, have a sort of racial character. Orcs tend towards evil. Small e.) being prone to violence, etc. Additionally, they have Sauron’s Will pressing upon them, emboldening them, and generally helping to keep them in line. It’s not that The Great Eye can think 'You! Schnravr! Orc #472,549! Move that rock!" and expect it to be done, but he -is-, in a way, imposing his Will upon the orcs of Mordor, at least. If all orcs were being ‘directly controlled’ then orcish infighting, and the ‘independant’ orc factions like Sauruman’s and the orcs of Moria wouldn’t exist. However, and particularly when he bends his Will upon them, the orcs of Mordor are emboldened, controlled, and directed by Sauron. In fact, it’s so much a part of their daily lives as members of his army that when it all goes up in smoke with the Ring, they are suddenly confused, and left feeling naked and undirected in the middle of a bunch of people who want to kill them. Rout ensues.

#3: This isn’t one I’ve ever pondered, but I would wager that since essentially all we ever ‘see’ is orcs in the army, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that all we ever see is male orcs of military age. Most likely, the female orcs are, if not locked away somewhere, off toiling in the great fields of Nurn or some such.

I wanna know what the reasons were.

Silver Tyger Girl asked me in reference to a story I’m writing; she drew a comparison, but orcs are not mentioned in my tale.

My son’s sister asked me because she is staying at my house, is reading my books to pass the time, and wanted to know. She had, somehow, been unaware that the movies were [del]based on]/del] [del]inspired by[/del] suggested by an actual book. She was wondering why there’s no scene in Fellowship showing Saruman creating the Orcs, and she finds Silmarillion intimidating.

I think there’s a reply from him in his Letters (also away from my books) that makes it clear he was still waffling on the origins of orcs. Hence, it is now grist for Dope discussion.

That is kind of what I’m thinking – Morgoth can’t create “souls”, and while Ilúvatar might do so to make Aulë or Yavana happy, I can’t see the same happening for poor Melkor. In fact, had Ilúvatar done so, Morgoth would have been sure to spurn or destroy whatever gift had been made.

No, he was Darkseid. Morgoth’s imperative was to make Arda in his image – that this required basically destroying Arda first was part of his plan, but not his ultimate goal. Thanos just wants everything to end – were Morgoth to do that, he’d just end up back in the void with Ilúvatar as in the beginning. He’d be king of nothing.

And, as Tolkien noted (Letters again, methinks), Arda itself is essentially Morgoth’s “One Ring” – the Valar cannot destroy Morgoth without destroying Arda, so they cast him out into the void. Morgoth has that kind of relationship with Arda because that is what he wants. He just wants it to be his.

Which is why I think Morgoth wouldn’t have created orcs if they didn’t have free will – Morgoth either twists things so that they are under his control, or he destroys them. He wants things that want to serve him; if orcs don’t have free will, he’s not getting the ego-boost of being Big Man On Campus, as it were. He wants toadies.

I agree that he started out as conquest, but I believe, by the end, he wanted to just destroy; somewhere in Letters, the professor calls him the ultimate nihilist or some such. Again, I can’t cite till i go home.

For some reason, this makes me think: “The Color Purple”, for orcs. Might work…

Wouldn’t that make her your daugther?

Or is she his “sister”? Did you dig her out of a deep pit under Orthanc? What are you planning?

She’s his half-sister; they shared the same mother but not father.

Sorry, no cites at hand at the moment.

But Tolkien had a problem with orcs.

Towards the end of his life, he wanted to re-write his mythos to make them descended from men, not elves, as he’d written years earlier, in a number of different versions of Silmarillion.

This was mainly due to his tale growing in the telling, and both orcish and elvish tendencies evolving along the way made the original idea of orcs arising from elves more philosophically unpleasing.

That’s all I’ve time for at the moment. :frowning:

I am of the opinion that Orcs are descendants of elves that were tortured. Potentially immortal.

I don’t see any of them having free will, because we never see a good Orc.

We don’t know where new Orcs come from, but presumably from Mommy and Daddy Orcs.

Oh, good grief. What is the POINT of me trudging all the way up to the roof, IN THE SNOW, and turning on the Qadgop-signal if that’s all you’re gonna offer? When come back, Doc, bring your usual brilliant insight. :slight_smile:

:: grumbling as I head back upstairs to turn off Q-signal and try the “What Exit?” signal instead.

Then wait to turn on the signal after regular work hours! Had to cut the discussion short to deal with a guy whose glucose was 27.


I should have figured that out. I have two of those sisters myself. And neither of them are orcs.

Okay, you were dealing with a diabetic, so I can’t hold it against you; diabetes has almost killed me twice. And just today it prevented me from having lemon meringue pie with lunch. Stupid diabetes.