Alan Lee, Antagonists, Bosch, Bruegel, Christina Rossetti, Corsairs, Easterlings, Gorbag, Gruenewald, Haradrim, Minions, Nazgul, Orc, Sauron, Shagrat, The Wind, Tolkien
A man is known by the company he keeps.
Who Has Seen the Wind?
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
Christina Rossetti from Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872)
Welcome, as always!
In our last posting, we talked about villains visible and invisible and suggested that, in the case of Sauron, rather than showing him as a searchlight eye,
(This is from the LOTR Project— a great site, much recommended).
there were other and more potentially convincing ways to depict such a menacing figure.
One was seeing his reflection in his minions.
(Can you wait for this?)
Imagine that seeing him this way is like seeing the effect a strong wind has on trees.
Sauron’s minions fall into three main categories: the Nazgul, various humans, most from what appear to be the less-civilized peoples of the south—Corsairs of Umbar, Easterlings, and the Haradrim.
are the most daunting, but we’re told only a limited amount about them, we see them very selectively, and their speech is recorded mainly as threats. We see the humans even less and we really don’t hear them at all. It’s the Orcs of whom we’re shown the most.
Sauron is described as once being “comely”, but his present condition (except perhaps for his eyes—make that eye) is hard to determine. Tolkien could never quite settle on the origin of the Orcs, but, they are definitely less than attractive.
Illustrators of Orcs tend, we think, to be strongly influenced by early-Renaissance northern German painters, like Bosch, who depicted devils and demons as hybrids between humans and birds and animals.
This does not, however, seem to be in line with Tolkien’s thinking. If as Fangorn says, they were created as a mockery of elves, one would presume that they would be much more human in look, but perhaps with exaggerated features, and this seems to be closer to what Tolkien had in mind, although physical description tends to be less detailed.
Here’s an Alan Lee which we think is more like what Tolkien imagined.
If they are northern Orcs—those whom Sauron employs—they tend to be smaller and paler. If Uruk-hai, primarily used by Saruman, larger and black. (Although a tracker for Sauron is described as small and black.) Here’s the contrast of the two types in the confrontation between Ugluk and Grishnakh:
“…a large black Orc, probably Ugluk, standing facing Grishnakh, a short crook-legged creature very broad and with long arms that hung almost to the ground.”
As Orcs may be a mockery of Elves, their speech sounds like it’s derived from the conversations Tolkien heard among his nco’s in the trenches—foul-mouthed (in a modified form), cheerfully abusive, and full of casual threats.
It’s also instructive to note that there appear to be no Orcs in command positions beyond captain—the rank of Ugluk and Grishnakh, Gorbag and Shagrat. Beyond are the Nazgul, whom the Orcs both dread and envy. (“Those Nazgul give me the creeps…But He likes ‘em; they’re His favorites nowadays, so it’s no use grumbling.”) When we hear these Orcs talk, then, we are being given the mass of Sauron’s soldiery, as below them there is only a babel of cries, cheers, and curses, like a translation of the baying of a pack of hounds.
Throughout all of the Orc conversation, there runs a joint theme: criticism of superiors (no names—but even up to Sauron himself) and fear of being heard doing so, as when Gorbag says:
“They don’t tell us all they know, do they? Not by half. But they can make mistakes, even the Top Ones can.” “Sh, Gorbag!” Shagrat’s voice was lowered, so that even with his strangely sharpened hearing could only just catch what was said. “They may, but they’ve got eyes and ears everywhere; some among my lot, as like as not…”
This suggestion of internal spies reflects a basic uneasiness to be found everywhere under Sauron’s rule: no one trusts anyone else at any level in what Frodo calls “the spirit of Mordor”, leading to murder between rival bands of Orcs and even between individuals, as Sam and Frodo witness, when soldier and tracker trade threats and insults before tracker kills soldier with an arrow.
So what do Sauron’s minions mirror, which would provide us with any clearer image of the nearly-invisible villain?
Certainly, we might see that he is incapable of gaining any kind of following at all among the dominant peoples of western Middle Earth. First, his armies are led by the ancient undead, who frighten their own side as much as they do the enemy. Second, his human recruits are half-civilized people from the far south, plunderers, with no stake in things beyond gain. Third, the bulk of his armies are made up of creatures who are, in a sense, not genuine, but simply mockeries of actual living beings and whose loyalty to their maker is, at best, questionable, even as they fear him.
Thus, we might imagine that, for all that he is powerful enough to command magic ghosts and armies of primitive men and mutants, Sauron is, ultimately, fearful, suspicious, and divisive and so transparently a source of instability that he can neither convince nor menace any of the free peoples of Middle Earth into having anything to do with him.
So, as always, we end by asking you, dear readers, what you think? And, as always, we thank you for reading.