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

Point of order–not all Orcs are in Sauron’s service.

What about Saruman’s?
What about the Goblins (really Orcs) in The Hobbit? They have their own King.

I suspect that the Orcish armies are Janissaries–slave soldiers. The shes & young are hostages against mutiny, & agricultural workers.

At least some of the other groups are deserters, often with females. Those deserters with no she-Orcs–see Half-Orcs.

Sensible? Yes or no?

I’ve always taken it that Misty Mountain Orcs were only free because Sauron was mostly dormant at this time. I don’t think Gandalf & the White Council knew for damn sure that the Necromancer and Sauron were one & the same in the mid-30th Century TE.

  1. The Silmarillion says “it is held true by the wise of Eressea” that Orcs were bred from Elves, and Treebeard mentions that Orcs were made “in mockery of” Elves. But nowhere does it appear to say that Orcs were bred exclusively from Elves.

Saruman apparently experimented with crossbreeding, which seems like a good hint about how Morgoth might have approached the problem. I reckon the Orcs were artificially bred from a variety of stock to produce Morgoth’s ideal of the ultimate warrior race-- coarse; utilitarian; disposable; easily dominated; as fertile and profane as Elves are rare and sacred.

The Silmarillion only mentions Elves, but a lot of the Silmarillion was written by Elves for Elves, only mentioning the other Children of Iluvatar insofar as they affected Elvendom. There’s no reason why Morgoth couldn’t have created Orcs by mingling Elven blood with that of the various races of Men, or even Dwarves for that matter. What the hell would an Elf/Woodwose crossbreed look like? Nothing too good, I’m guessing.

  1. Sure the Orcs have free will; they’ve got too much individual character not to. But they were created to destroy and pillage, and their temperament was bred to reflect that. Further, they are explicitly “mockeries of Elves,” meaning that whatever Elves find distasteful, Orcs are going to enjoy, and vice-versa. If an Elf finds Men too easily swayed by evil, or Dwarves too greedy and ungraceful, then Orcs will reflect even more of these failings. Orcs also have the will of Morgoth (later, Sauron) backing them up and keeping them in line; again, this is part of their role, their reason for existence. Deprived of that directing influence, they are purposeless and degenerate into isolated, warring tribes.

  2. There have to be Orc women somewhere. Could be, like Dwarves, we just can’t tell them apart from the males. More likely, they are away in the breeding pens rearing the kids, which we never see either. Again, the Silmarillion emphasizes that Orcs reproduce in the manner of the Children of Iluvatar. So do Ents, for that matter; and if a species of walking trees need both males and females in order to propagate, it’s a safe bet that Orcs do too.

All of the above applies to Trolls as well. Bred from Ents? It seems the most likely origin. Poor Entwives.

That’s not a point of order. Points of order are always concerned with the rules of debate or discussion, usually a complaint that somebody else has transgressed in some way.

(That’s all I have to contribute, which is sad in a way. Sigh.)

  1. I’m on board with the “twisted elves” origination theory, but I agree that it seems plausible that in addition to starting with tortured elf stock, Morgoth tried various interbreeding methods. Morgoth was clearly exceptional at some form what we might call genetic engineering: witness the creation of the great dragons, the first generations of which didn’t have wings.

  2. It seems clear that the orcs have self will. Judging from LOTR, it’s mainly force and fear that keep orcs in line. They are fairly easily dominated, true, but it is possible for them to rebel (for example, the scenes witnessed by Sam in and around the tower at Cirith Ungol.) Sauron exerted a tremendous will that bent all evil-leaning creatures to him. We see this in Gollum’s excursion into Mordor, for example. He was drawn there, and there are other passages about evil things being drawn to Sauron’s nefarious influence. Simply put, Sauron has a native talent in forcing his will upon others, and it works best against evil or corrupt creatures.

  3. Tolkien stated that the orcs bred in the fashion of all the Children of Iluvatar, i.e. sexually. I agree with the above speculation that the female orcs were kept isolated, and labored in some foul dark places, and that the armies were mainly (or exclusively) male. Tolkien was not particularly feminist; most of his female characters are passive. Eowyn is a notable exception.

Are you connecting the disappearance fo the Entwives with the breeding of Trolls?

I’d never thought of that, and it makes sense. Not that all Trolls could have come about that way, but I’ve never thought Trolls were anything like a clade, anyway; I’ve always taken it to mean “mean, stupid, super-strong creature of unknown origin, bigger than a man but smaller than a giant.” Perhaps the Olog-Hai are the result of captive Entwives being…

well, I don’t think we need say any more. I don’t know whether this idea is worth a :slight_smile: or a :(.

Oh, you can always give your opinion on what happened to Celebrian–wife to Elrond, mother to Arwen, & daughter to the great Galadriel–while she was the captive of the Misty Mountain Orcs. The professor refers to her torment as receiving a poisoned wound, I believe, which certainly could be Edwardian-era code for rape; but I seem to recall something in Letters to the effect that Eldar could not be raped, as such a trauma would cause (or prompt) them to will their own transit to the Halls of Mandos–i.e., to die.

And that, by the way, makes me think of something less Orc-related than Dunedin-centric. As most of you know, the Gift of Men is mortality, and part of the grace given to the Numenorians is the ability to die at a moment of their own choosing. Before their corruption, the Kings of Atalante used this power to help manage the succession, so that their heirs would ascend while in the fullness of their manhood (or, once, their womenhood). Aragorn did this as well.

How is this NOT suicide? I ask because of the book’s very Christian (read: Catholic) worldview, in which I should think suicide would be forbidden.

I’ll pass over the implied insult upthread in which, once again, you make Jim the next port of call after Dr Qadgop and forget all about your local oyarsa, and take a stab at this. The Numenoreans get to say “Okay, it’s time, I’m ready to go” and, if TPTB agree, an agreeable death follows a few moments later. But if departing at that time would not be in accord with the will of Eru, nothing happens (and presumably the would-be deceased realizes that there is something still for them to do).

Even in Aragorn’s case, although he was still in his full health and right wits, he remarked to Arwen that if he didn’t go willingly then the day was not far off when he would be going whether he liked it or not. So I’d guess they get a presage that they have run their natural course.

Well, perhaps not directly connected then. It would be an uncharacteristically sorry end to the story of the Ents and the Entwives, which I doubt Tolkien would have ever endorsed. Not that I wouldn’t put it past Sauron to make use of the Entwives in such a fashion if the opportunity had presented itself.

Still, it occurred to me that your questions about Orcs are also applicable to Trolls. Where did they come from? We’re told that they started out as beasts, but that Sauron managed to teach them language. Treebeard thinks that Trolls were created as mockeries of Ents, just as Orcs were of Elves, and they can apparently be bred and modified as Orcs were.

We know that both good and evil spirits can be embodied in living creatures-- the Eagles, Wargs, Mearas, Dragons, etc. But these are all pre-existing animals or perversions thereof. It therefore follows that there must have been a pre-existing, unintelligent tree-being-- a proto-Ent, so to speak-- which was ensouled by spirits loyal to Yavanna. Recall that Treebeard claims the Elves originally taught the Ents language, and compare that to Sauron and Trolls.

This also presents a neat solution to the enigma of the Huorns: rather than degenerate Ents, they are the original unintelligent species, related to Ents (and Trolls) in the same way that wolves are related to Wargs.

Trolls and Ents are not related at all. Trolls were either bred from some animal stock or are possible mostly magical in nature. They were bred or made in mockery of Ents according to Fangorn.

The other problem is that black trolls or Olog-Hai might not even be true trolls, but rather giant orcs bred by Sauron. These last were the ones that could withstand the sun. As Morgoth and Sauron could not create life, the Trolls were either bred and corrupted from some other race or animal or did not actually have free will. I actually lean towards the trolls being close to dumb beasts with minimal free will and created from Stone by Morgoth. I lean towards the Olog-Hai being giant troll-like orcs.

As to Orcs, Tolkien definitely abandoned the created from mud theory and clearly rejected Morgoth creating them and giving them the spark of life and free will. He had not that power. However Orcs clearly had free will and were either bred from corrupted Elves or Men. He left many hints that orcs were very long lived. If requested I can cite these. Let’s just make a brief list of the Great Goblin recognizing blades of Gondolin by name from well over 6000 years earlier. The Orcs in the Tower at Cirith Ungol talked of old days being better seemingly before Sauron returned to Mordor and they did not have to take orders. Bolg son of Azog had to be well over a hundred years old when he died. Azog died shortly after he slew Thror at Moria and Bolg was slain by Beorn in the battle of the five armies in 2941. He had to be no less than 150 and probably much older.

In the Silmarillion, which is canon, the elves believe orcs were corrupted from elves (Avari) captured very early by Morgoth.

I feel that, as Orcs appear to live much longer than men, with what we know, we need to assume that orcs are of extremely cursed and corrupted Elven stock and that orcs are possibly redeemable.

Now another thought is that Melkor (Morgoth) bred orcs up from animal stock and then bred them to elves and men and also had some dark spirits (minor Maiar) embody their chiefs and leaders. This combination bred to a new race that bred true enough and was mostly purely evil and long lived but not graced with either the Gift of Men of the special ties to the World that elves had.

In all cases, orcs lived miserable lives and grew up under miserable conditions and show much variation is size, intelligence and even skin pigmentation. In other words they were clearly a completely separate and successful if miserable race throughout most of the history of Middle Earth and they were capable of interbreeding with humans and most likely elves. The odds are great that many Elves and Human were raped by orcs and in all likelihood of both sexes.

I hope that helps, obviously no one living has a definitive answer and even the Good Professor himself never had a sure answer.


Oh, please. You name yourself after a LEWIS character. If I start a Space Trilogy thread (which I’ve been considering), I’ll add the Malacandra signal.

It’s been a long time since I read the books, and I don’t have them here with me, but didn’t Bill the Pony’s owner in bree have dark skin, squinty eyes and other features that were slightly “orcish”? Wasn’t he the spy in the Prancing Pony tavern?

If so, that implies that orcs were not only inter-fertile with humans, but that some people had orc ancestry, probably without their knowledge, and they definitely wanted to hide that fact.

The problem there is that we are explicitly told the origins of the Ents: Yavanna petitioned Manwe (and indirectly Iluvatur) for their creation so that they could act as protectors of plants against the exploitive technology of Dwarves (and later Men, though of course by the time Men became dominant, Ents were on the way out).

I must have missed something. Does the professor ever suggest that Orcs are spawned from mud? I thought that was a Jackson invention.

Apropos of nothing, my son’s sister, whose question to me inspired this thread, has decided to take a whack at Silmarillion. I think we have another Tolkienite aborning. :cool:

That’s not really a problem is it? Manwe says: “When the Children awake, then the thought of Yavanna will awake also; and it will summon spirits from afar, and they will go among the kelvar and the olvar, and some will dwell therein, and be held in reverence, and their just anger shall be feared.” It doesn’t say that Ents were created ex nihilo; they are spirits embodied in plant life. Therefore the Huorns must also be plant life. So there’s no reason why the Huorns couldn’t have come first, awoke when the Children of Iluvatar awoke, and then some were ensouled by spirits, just as the Eagles were ensouled by spirits.

That’s the religious answer. Ents having evolved from Huorns is the scientific answer.

To be fair **Malacandra **and several others know the works as well as I do. If you will consider **Qadgop **the leader of our order and that there are nearly a dozen Tolkien Scholars a step below. :wink:

You only notice me second to **QtM **as I show up in nearly every Tolkien related thread (at least for the past 3+ years.

Bill Ferny was a human, but his ‘friend’ called the squint eyed stranger was clearly hinted at as part orc.

Orc, Humans and Elves were all inter-fertile and on top of that Hobbits were more closely related to Humans than any other race so they to must be inter-fertile .

I was going to argue that the Ents were basically Yavanna’s idea, not Manwe or Iluvatur’s, but then I realized that was silly. Nothing happens in Arda that’s not presaged in the Song, and little happens that is not the will of the All-Father.

Which brings up another issue. Do Ents & Eagles? Certainly the Children of Iluvatur do; there’s something in Ainulindale to the effect that certain elements of the song do not proceed from anything before, and I’ve always taken that to mean that Iluvatur voluntarily limited His omnipotence in terms of his Children (which is part of the reason the Valar do not entirely understand them and are chary of interfering overmuch in their affairs, even when it seems obvious who is in the and and who in the wrong). Does that self-limitation of the All-Father apply only to Men, Hobbits, Elves, & Dwarves, or are Ents & Eagles included as well?

(Possibly I should have listed Orcs above, but I’m still not sure that Orcs should be considered degenerate Elves rather than magically-engineered beasts made in mockery of same.)

Also: to those of you who aver that Orcs are degenerate Elves: what happens to their fear upon their deaths? To the Halls of Mandos, or something else? It’s not like they asked to be changed so, after all–particularly not the first generation.

Arda isn’t the real world. With the possible exceptions of Men & Hobbits, all the species we’re talking about are the products of special creation.

Very early on the Professor considered the crafted from dirt or clay or mud concept but he rejected fairly early. Before the Hobbit was written I believe. There are also points where Dwarves were basically evil and Orcs and Goblins were two seperate races of evil. This is briefly covered in the Book of Lost Tales.

No, not really. Ents do not die of old age. They do not fit with science. They were given initial spirits by Eru and had the ability to reproduce. The unique thing with Ents is that many Ents become treeish or effectively Huorns and some trees living close to Ents become Entish and thus Huorns. Then there is Old Man Willow who probably was just an old dark spirit from the beginning.

The Eagles seem to be an odd mix. The were part of the song to start with. They are called at times the Thought of Manwë and his messengers. They are the ultimate Deus Ex Machina device in the books but probably as they really were sent by God or at least God’s primary representative Manwë. My guess is that they had little concern with free will most of the time.

As to Ents, I think the Ents did have Free Will. They seem to think so, counting themselves among the Free People.

BTW: Fëa not fear for the spirits. As to what happens to the orc ones. Pure conjecture but with some impetus from the Professor. Many Orc spirits would just drift away, they are broken spirits, perhaps not even complete spirits and thus why it is so hard for them not to just be evil followers. Many would go on to be restless spirits or ghosts and perhaps some few are given the release of men or a special Hall of Mandos. Finally the Orcs that actually were minor Spirirts akin to Maiar would eventually inhabit some other body. Maybe Orc or maybe some other foul creature.