As always, dear readers, welcome.
It has been discussed, both elsewhere in print and on this blog, what an Orc is.
Treebeard’s definition is often cited, saying of Saruman:
“ ‘He has taken up with foul folk, with the Orcs. Brm, hoom! Worse than that: he has been doing something to them; something dangerous. For these Isengarders are more like wicked Men. It is a mark of evil things that came in the Great Darkness that they cannot abide the Sun; but Saruman’s Orcs can endure it, even if they hate it. I wondered what he has done? Are they Men he has ruined, or has he blended the races of Orcs and Men? That would be a black evil!’ ” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 4, “Treebeard”)
When asked about Orcs, JRRT offered several clues, saying:
1. “Also the Orcs (goblins) and other monsters bred by the First Enemy…” (letter to Milton Waldman, late 1951? Letters, 151)—so, somehow created by Morgoth, Sauron’s master
2. “But since they are servants of the Dark Power, and later of Sauron, neither of whom could, or would, produce living things, they must be ‘corruptions’.” (letter to Naomi Mitchison, 25 April, 1951, Letters, 178)
3. “Treebeard does not say that the Dark Lord ‘created’ Trolls and Orcs. He says he ‘made’ them in counterfeit of certain creatures pre-existing. There is, to me, a wide gulf between the two statements…It is not true actually of the Orcs—who are fundamentally a race of ‘rational incarnate’ creatures, though horribly corrupted…” (draft of letter to Peter Hastings, September, 1954, Letters, 190)—in this same letter, he also quotes Frodo: “ ‘The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make real new things of its own. I don’t think it gave life to the Orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them.’ “ (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 1, “The Tower of Cirith Ungol”)
4. “I have represented at least the Orcs as pre-existing real beings on whom the Dark Lord has exerted the fullness of his power in remodeling and corrupting them, not making them.” (from the same draft to Peter Hastings)
5. “Elves may turn into Orcs, and if this required the special pervasive malice of Morgoth, still Elves themselves could do evil deeds.” (continuation of draft of letter sent to Rhona Beare, 14 October, 1958, Letters, 287)
As these are remarks by the creator (well, “sub-creator”, as JRRT would say), then they must be true, but I would offer another detail—not as to who or what Orcs are, but on whom they might be based.
Humphrey Carpenter, in his 1977 biography of Tolkien, quotes him as writing:
“My ‘Sam Gamgee’ is indeed a reflexion of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war…” (Carpenter, 89)
Such a soldier was called a “Tommy” (short for “Tommy Atkins”) in the Great War, and, although there is, as is often the case with nicknames (just try looking up the old name for a US soldier, “Doughboy”) controversy, it seems to have been a generic name for “infantryman” as early as the 1740s.
JRRT’s Tommies in 1916 would have looked like this—
although very often more like this—
(A “batman”, by the way, isn’t what you might think
but an officer’s servant, called, it seems, after the pack saddle—in French “un bat”—on which rested an officer’s worldly goods in the field.)
Over the Tommies was a massive hierarchy, beginning with the army’s commander-in-chief—from late December, 1915, Douglas Haig,
down through a Tommy’s regimental commander, a colonel or lieutenant colonel,
to his company commander, a captain,
down to his platoon commander, a second lieutenant, like the one so often written about on this blog.
While a lieutenant might march at the head of the parade, however
the Tommy’s real boss was the man behind him, the sergeant, in the pre-Great War days, usually a senior soldier, with much experience, on battlefields and in barracks, who stood between the men and the officers, often as a kind of interpreter, and, to junior officers, as a kind of mentor.
At the beginning of the Great War, in 1914, senior officers were often men with long experience, many veterans of colonial wars across the globe,
and they commanded an all-volunteer army.
To meet the massive German army, swollen with reservists called up for active duty,
the British government initially relied upon patriotic calls for more volunteers, and got them.
So many soldiers needed many officers to control them and the government called in reservists and retired officers, but also depended upon boys who had been trained at their private schools in earlier student cadet organizations and then the OTC (Officer Training Corps), one such organization being formed at King Edward’s School, in Birmingham.
Such officers came from the middle and upper classes and therefore would have sounded very different from their (mostly) lower class soldiers. Officers were “gentlemen” and, even in the later years of the War, when replacements had to be found lower down the social scale, those promoted were coached in how to act as if they had come from much farther up that scale—hence the (really rather insulting) initials,“TG”, attached to them—“Temporary Gentlemen”.
Sergeants, however, were usually of the same social class as the men and would have sounded like them, as well as shared their values.
Which brings us to our Orcs.
Here is the sound of one of Sauron’s upper-class commanders—perhaps this is the Dark Lord’s Field Marshall Haig– on the field of battle:
“ ‘Come not between the Nazgul and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh will be devoured, and thy shriveled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.’ “ (The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter 6, “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”)
And here is what I would suggest is an Orc sergeant, Ugluk:
“ ‘You’ll run with me behind you…Run! Or you’ll never see your beloved holes again. By the White Hand! What’s the use of sending out mountain-maggots on a trip, only half trained. Run, curse you! Run while night lasts!’ “ (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”)
And, if that’s an Orc sergeant, then, although they carry swords, spears, and bows,
rather than modern magazine rifles and bayonets
mightn’t we see those whom Ugluk is driving before him, as Tolkien says of Sam Gamgee, a “reflexion of the British soldier”, but now corrupted and twisted, as the Orcs were by Morgoth and Sauron, into the infantry of the Dark Lord?
Thanks, as always, for reading.
And in your ranks,
And remember that, as ever, there’s