Welcome, as always, dear readers.

I don’t know why, but I find sometimes that I have a soft spot for villains, well, some villains, in fiction.  It pleases me, for example, that Captain Hook may elude the ticking crocodile

and that Long John Silver

escapes at the end of Treasure Island, even though he’s been the ringleader and inspirer of the mutiny which causes all the trouble.  (It doesn’t bother me in the least that Blind Pew meets his end so early in the book,

or that Jim Hawkins shoots Black Dog right out of the rigging, however.)

(These illustrations come from the 1911 edition, illustrated by one of my favorites, N.C. Wyeth.  Here’s  a copy for you:  https://ia600901.us.archive.org/20/items/treasureisland00stev/treasureisland00stev.pdf )

And so, looking back on a number of earlier postings, I must admit that I have a sneaking fondness for orcs.  Not the ghastly things from Jackson’s films, like the almost-ludicrous “Azog the Defiler” from The Hobbit, with his twig for an arm as if he were attempting to become an Ent on an installment plan, and who should have been called “Azog the Anachronism” as the actual figure had been killed 150 years before Bilbo set out for the Lonely Mountain (for the story of the real Azog—and it’s a harrowing one—see:  The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, III, “Durin’s Folk”),

but the ordinary orcs we see throughout The Lord of the Rings,

and who, I suggested in an earlier posting (“Ugluk Orckins”, 3 November, 2021), were, like Sam Gamgee, a reflection of Tolkien’s experience among the British infantry in the Great War:

“My ‘Sam Gamgee’ is indeed a reflection of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war…”  (Carpenter, Tolkien, 91—“batmen” are officers’ servants from the French word “bat”, meaning a pack saddle, suggesting that the servants tended to officers’ baggage horses)

It’s easy, in fact, to hear JRRT bringing these men back to life in the voice of Ugluk the chief of Saruman’s orcs, who sounds like a Great War British sergeant:

“ ‘Don’t stand slavering there!  Get your rabble together!  The other swine are legging it to the forest.  You’d better follow.  You wouldn’t get back to the Great River alive.  Right off the mark!  Now!  I’ll be on your heels.’ “ (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”)

This is how I always imagine them, although Tolkien, being Tolkien, having made the orcs, couldn’t leave them as Saruman’s

(the Hildebrandts)


(no—not those minions)

or as a main infantry component of Sauron’s armies,

(Alan Lee)

but had to consider them, outside The Lord of the Rings, as moral (or not) beings.  This included thinking about who, in his legendarium had created them and what that might have implied.  Middle-earth was a monotheistic world, as he believed his own world to be (See, for instance, his 2 December, 1953, letter to Robert Murray, Letters, 172), and he reserved the right of creation to Eru Iluvatar, his version of the Judeo-Christian God.  That being understood, he underlined Eru’s possession of this right in the story of the Vala Aule’s making of dwarves:

“The One rebuked Aule, saying that he had tried usurp the Creator’s power; but he could not give independent life to his makings.  He had only one life, his own derived from the One, and could at most only distribute it.”  (see Tolkien’s continuation of a letter to Rhona Beare 14 October, 1958, Letters, 287)

There seems little possibility, then, that anyone other than Eru could have brought the orcs into being and yet, in a letter to Naomi Mitchison of 25 April, 1954, Tolkien writes:

“Orcs…are nowhere clearly stated to be of any particular origin.  But since they are servants of the Dark Power [that is, of Morgoth/Melkor, the rebel Vala], and later of Sauron [Morgoth’s servant, a Maia, one of the lesser divine figures], neither of whom could, or would, produce living things, they must be ‘corruptions’.” (Letters, 178)

And Frodo says of them to Sam:

“The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make:  not 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”)

Treebeard suggests a parallel with Trolls:

“But Trolls are only counterfeits, made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, in mockery of Ents, as Orcs were of Elves.”  (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 4, “Treebeard”)

And Tolkien extends this explanation in the draft of a letter to Peter Hastings of September, 1954:

“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, so wide that Treebeard’s statement could (in my world) have possibly been true.  It is not true, actually, of the Orcs—who are fundamentally of ‘rational incarnate’ creatures, though horribly corrupted…” (Letters, 190)

Tolkien, although clear on “make” versus “create”, seems a bit vague on just how this corruption came about, but there is a hint in the same letter to Peter Hastings:

“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.  That God would ‘tolerate’ that seems no worse theology than the toleration of the calculated dehumanizing of Men by tyrants that goes on today.” (Letters, 195)

If nothing else, then, almost by definition, if orcs exist, they must be “corrupt”.

To me, however, all of this talk about what orcs might have been previously and how they might have been changed is beside the point,

Instead, I ask myself, what’s to like about these creatures? 

And my answer is:  I believe I like them because they’re corrupt, but seemingly happily so.  They can be rascals:  that is, not black villains, like Sauron, who seems rather overfocused, if not over the top (thank goodness that JRRT had the wisdom to leave him only as a menacing shadow—can you imagine him in person, monologuing, as Saruman does to Gandalf, about his diabolical schemes?), but creatures who take a certain pleasure in being evil.  Captain Hook, for example, certainly has this rascality, as we can see when he’s about to make many of the major characters walk the plank and is positively cheerful about it—

“HOOK (communing with his ego). How still the night is; nothing sounds alive. Now is the hour when children in their homes are a-bed; their lips bright-browned with the good-night chocolate, and their tongues drowsily searching for belated crumbs housed insecurely on their shining cheeks. Compare with them the children on this boat about to walk the plank. Split my infinitives, but ’tis my hour of triumph!”

(J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan, Act V, Scene 1)

(costume design for the first production of Peter Pan in 1904)

Can we imagine the Dark Lord exclaiming “Split my infinitives, but ‘tis my hour of triumph!”?

Instead, listen to Gorbag and Shagrat:

“ ‘What d’you say?—if we get a chance, you and me’ll slip off and set up somewhere on our own with a few trusty lads, somewhere where there’s good loot nice and handy, and no big bosses.’

‘Ah!’ said Shagrat.  ‘Like old times!’” (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 10, “The Choices of Master Samwise”)

Sadly, Gorbag and Shagrat fall out, Shagrat knifing Gorbag before escaping the Tower of Cirith Ungol (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 1, “The Tower of Cirith Ungol”)—even some rascals pay the price for their rascality—but at least :

“Silver was gone…But this was not all.  The sea-cook had not gone empty-handed.  He had cut through a bulkhead unobserved and had removed one of the sacks of coin, worth perhaps three or four hundred guineas, to help him on his further wanderings.”

But I, for one, would not agree with Jim Hawkins, the narrator, that:

“I think we were all pleased to be so cheaply quit of him.” (R.L. Stevenson, Treasure Island, Chapter XXXIV, “And Last”)

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

Stay well,

Beware of the Nazgul waiting on the other side of the Great River,

And remember that, as always, there’s