3. The Image
of the Enemy
J. R. R. Tolkien was
very much aware of his role as a "Sub-Creator" and strove to create something
more than a colourful and exciting background for a heroic tale. Long before
writing the book that was to become his most famous work, his ambition was
to devise a mythology "ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level
of romantic fairy-story [...] which I could dedicate simply to: to England;
to my country." He took good care of creating a sense
of consistency throughout every aspect of his mythology, even those parts
that were to remain unpublished until after his death. Therefore it is useful to consider the theoretical outlines for a
fairy-tale or a mythology that he presented in two of his most famous essays,
namely "Beowulf: The Monsters and
the Critics" and "On Fairy-Stories", which have both been published in the
essay collection The Monsters &
the Critics, edited by Christopher Tolkien.
"On Fairy-Stories" deals with subjects and terms such as "Sub-Creation",
a term that Tolkien coined for the creative process that takes place within
the "Primary World", and the "eucatastrophe", the essential happy ending in
a fairy-tale. His vigorous and convincing defence of Fantasy (not yet as a
literary genre, rather as a literary device) has inspired many literary critics
to utilise the ideas expressed in this essay in their analyses of The Lord of the Rings.
However, The Lord of the Rings is not a fairy-story,
not even in Tolkien's sense of the word, although there are common elements
in it. The
Hobbit with its true "eucatastrophy" ending fits into the definition as
expressed in this quote: "Tragedy is the true form of drama, its highest function;
but the opposite is true of Fairy-story". In the earlier criticism of Tolkien's works, this was generally assumed to be the case, as
for example by Robert J. Reilly
in his essay "Tolkien and the Fairy
Story" from 1963. The enemy gallery is rich and varied in its shades,
with the morally ambivalent but susceptible Gollum to the well-meaning but
weak Boromir weighing over to the benevolent side.
are several distinguishable types of enemies in The Lord of the Rings, which
I will present briefly in order to outline their different characteristics.
The Dark Lord Sauron (the metaphysical evil)
Dark Lord is a Maia, the closest thing to a fallen angel in Middle-earth.
He is worshipped as a living god by his servants, and his power is enough
to make his realm expand although he lacks a physical body. His willpower
is concentrated in the One Ring that the hobbit Frodo must bring to the fires
where it was forged, the only fires that will destroy it. That heat can only
be found in the crater of Mount Doom, in the heart of Mordor, Sauron's realm.
His only visual shape mentioned is a gigantic, all-seeing eye, although it
is hinted that he has other guises.
Saruman the traitor
is a wizard, one of five powerful beings that arrived on Middle-earth to guide
its inhabitants in the struggle against Sauron. Faith in the future has abandoned
him, however, and he hopes to gain something from cooperating with Sauron
instead. As an entity of similar powers, it would be technically possible
for him to challenge Sauron, if he could get hold of the One Ring. Saruman
is aided by Gríma Wormtongue, a corrupted mortal man. Saruman's otherness
is emphasised by the duels with Gandalf, his former colleague and good counterpart.
The Ringwraiths and other beings of the supernatural
Ringwraiths and the Barrow-wights are undead servants of Sauron. They are
practically immaterial, and although hideous, they are able to shift their
shape. Their degree of otherness is a disruption of the binary opposition
between life and death.
are also some animal species in Sauron's and Saruman's service, such as wolves
and wargs (giant wolves that serve as mounts for Orcs), crows and the mysterious
squid-like Guardian of the Lake. It is unclear whether the big black flies
of Mordor with Sauron's red eye upon their backs are his servants or just
a by-produckt of his evil influence. Shelob, the great spider guarding one
entrance to Mordor, is an independent creature of chaos that merely happens
to be serving Sauron's purpose. All animals that serve Sauron or other evil
causes are distinguished through the instinctive fear and loathing that their
appearance or sounds evoke in the Fellowship. Their color is usually dark
and/or human beings corrupted either by Melkor, the first Dark Lord, or by
Sauron, originally a mere servant of the first one. The Orcs are slaves of
Sauron's will, but they technically
have the ability to survive on their own and use their reason independently.
However, they are consumed by hate towards every living thing, including each
other; only the fear of Sauron keeps them together for long. The Orcs are
the only mortal people that is perceived as incurably evil.
Easterlings and Southrons
human peoples serve Sauron either by free will, because of tradition, or by
force. The dark-skinned Southrons are also called Haradrim. They come from
the southern lands and ride enormous elephants -- oliphaunts -- into battle.
The reader might be reminded of Hannibal and the Carthaginians attacking Rome
with their battle elephants, or Maasai warriors with red plaits; the Haradrim
carry the colours red and gold and plait their hair in many braids. After
the war, those Easterlings that gave themselves up are pardoned, and peace
is made with the people of Harad.
The Orcs stand out among
the enemy types listed above. They have reasoning capacity and speech akin
to the humans and Elves; thus, they are not animals. They are material and
mortal, thus fundamentally different from the wraiths. However, they are treated
differently from the human allies of Sauron; they are not granted mercy because
they seek none, and their mortal remains are burned because they are perceived
as a pollution of the land. They are perceived as irredeemable and there are
conflicting theories about their origin. As a species in Tolkien's mythology,
they are shrouded in mystery.
As an example of the
ultimate Other, the Orcs measure up well. They are portrayed not only as physically
ugly but also barbaric, violent and sadistic. In comparison, any other race
seems sympathetic. They are described as physically and racially different,
not only because of their appearance, but also because of their biological
origin. But why create an entire new race for this purpose? Why not simply
pit good human against evil human, good elf against evil wraith, good hobbit
against wicked beast? In the next chapters, I will present and analyse the
origins of the Orcs, the evil mass of cannonfodder in the battles of Middle-earth.
3.1. The Creation of the Orc
Tolkien's creation has had some impact on the English language. Quite a
few words popularised by him are to be found in the Oxford English Dictionary,
among others, the hobbit. The word "Orc" already existed in the dictionary
before The Lord of the Rings' popularity. However, Tolkien's success has added
another definition to the word.
1. A cetacean
of the genus Orca, family Delphinidæ;
esp. the killer (Orca gladiator
Gray, Delphinus Orca, Linn.). By
earlier authors applied, after the mediæval L[atin]. writers, to more than
one vaguely identified ferocious sea-monster.
more vaguely (perh. derived from or influenced by L. Orcus, Romanic orco: see OGRE, and cf. OE. orÞcyrs oððe heldeofol 'orc-giant or hell-devil', also orcneas in Beowulf: see ORKEN) A devouring
monster, an ogre. Used by J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973) in his tales: one of
an imaginary warlike people in whom are combined human and ogreish characteristics.
In Tolkien's first published
work in the fantastic genre, The Hobbit, the Orcs are mentioned briefly. The
most numerous enemy creatures are the Goblins, but it is unclear whether the
Orcs are synonymous to them or a subspecies of greater stature. Keeping in
line with the more whimsical fairy-tale character of the book, the Goblins
are threatening but also slightly ridiculous
creatures living in the depths of the Misty Mountains. They are described
as ugly and disfigured, but also burlesque, singing a wild song as they carry
off Bilbo and the dwarves down to "Goblin Town". Later they appear as
leering wolf riders. Finally in the climax
at "The Battle of Five Armies", the jocular tone fades away as the horrors
of war take over. Although the ending
is happy for Bilbo and Gandalf, the story grows increasingly earnest and takes
up subjects such as treachery for a good cause and loss of friends in battle.
Gradually during the course of the story, the mischievous Goblins from a folkloric
tradition evolve into a bloodthirsty army of fierce warriors -- the Orcs. The
last chapters of The Hobbit are a premonition of the apocalyptical battles
in The Lord of the Rings. The role of the Goblins/Orcs is to cause the quarreling
Men, Elves and Dwarves to unite in the face of a greater danger.
Analyzing the mythological background of
the creatures and peoples in The Lord
of the Rings, Thomas J. Gasque has tried to prove how the fantastical
elements convince the reader precisely because they are rooted in long traditions
of myth and folklore -- with the obvious exception of the hobbits, Tolkien's
own invention. "We are unable to believe in the Balrog because we have no
foundation either outside the work or in it. Dwarfs, orcs, and elves are familiar
enough to most readers to stimulate a response."Thus, Gasque claims that the reader -- in
pre-roleplaying and computer-gaming times -- recognises an orc, a creature
barely mentioned before, except for a brief mention in Beowulf. Dwarfs (or, in Tolkien's spelling, dwarves) and Elves are
to be found in Norse mythology, as well as medieval folklore and Germanic
mythology. Gasque has no problems in finding such examples to prove his case.
However, the Orcs become his stumbling block: "What they are is never really
clear." Still, he goes on in an attempt to explain why they seem familiar
to the prospective reader:
[t]here is ample tradition to support the existence of
such beasts; certain variants in dwarf lore were known as Cornish mine goblins
-- "'miserable, little, withered, dried up creatures'" with "'big, ugly heads
with red or grey locks, squintan [sic] eyes, hook noses, and mouths from ear
to ear.'" Another, more flexible, tradition is the generally later medieval
concept of the Wild Man, which abounds in medieval art.... He is that same
wild man whose character was ameliorated into the Noble Savage...
Gasque goes on to prove that the wild man
of medieval legend was quite something else than a slave soldier for an evil
Enemy. The concept of the wild man is essentially connected to nature and
the forests in a way that resembles the characters of Ghân-buri-Ghân, the
Drúadan chieftain, or Treebeard the Ent, who guards the trees in Fangorn forest.
Famous wild men include the crude Caliban in Shakespeare's The Tempest, and the dehumanised Nebuchadnezzar
of the Bible, but also the wise Merlin in Welsh legends, and Sir Lancelot,
who maddened by love ran off into the woods and lived there like an animal.
This undermines Gasque's Orc theory and rather proves that the true origins
of the creature lie in quite a different place than wild nature (which Tolkien
himself loved). Ogres, of course, do appear in fearsome shapes in fairy-tales
and folklore, but never in such organized and servile fashion as Tolkien's
Orcs, who resemble the vast and faceless enemy armies of the Bible (Ezechiel,
Book of Revelations, etc.) far more than any folktale goblins.
Hobbit, the storyteller makes the interesting claim that it was the Goblins
that invented "some of the machines
that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing
large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always
delighted them...". They are also
described as accomplished miners, able to "tunnel and mine as well as any
but the most skilled dwarves, when they take the trouble". This echoes the
Goblins' origin in folklore as a subterranean people, spirits that haunt mines
and disturb the workers by strange knocks in the darkness. These creatures
are known in German-speaking parts of Europe as "Kobold" and in Francophone
countries as "gobelin", from which the English word was borrowed. Tolkien
is said to have been antagonistic towards borrowed words, especially from
French. This imight be the main reason why Tolkien abandoned the word and
sought ultimately to replace it with "Orc". The origins of the latter word
lie in Anglo-Saxon. However, the Anglo-Saxon word "orcneas" is ultimately
derived from the Latin "orcus", which means depth of Hell. Beowulf's orcneas, 'demon-spirits', are the most apparent source for Tolkien's
In Tolkien's chief work,
The Lord of the Rings, the Orcs
play a vital role in the background, with only a few lines of dialogue on
occasion. The first close encounter happens well into the second book of The Fellowship of the Ring, in the mines
of Moria; until then, more spectacular villains such as the Ringwraiths and
the Barrow-Wights have stolen the scene and raised the expectations. It is
not until chapter III (The Uruk-hai)
in The Two Towers that the reader gains an
insight into some of the Orcs' habits and dialogue, as Merry and Pippin are
taken captive by an Orc horde. Finally Sam and Frodo run into some close encounters
with Orcs in the very depths of Mordor. After the destruction of the Ring,
the Orcs are scattered in all directions, aimless and lost without their Master.
It remains a mystery whether all of them perish, or if some manage to survive
on their own. Tolkien gives some hints that evil cannot ever be wholly driven
out of the world; in Middle-earth, it will probably just be diluted and harder
to distinguish from good.
Three terms are used
of the Orcs in The Lord of the Rings.
Firstly, the old word "goblin" appears a few times as a remnant from The Hobbit, apparently derisively used
by Legolas the Elf. Secondly, the word "Orc" is used in a general sense, including
all subspecies. Thirdly, the word "Uruk-hai" denotes a subspecies of Orcs,
bred with unclear methods by the traitor wizard Saruman to be his private
army. The Uruk-hai are stronger and less sensitive to sunlight than normal
orcs. Apart from the Uruk-hai, there is also another breed of Orcs stronger
than average, which is referred to as "black Uruks from Mordor". Uruk is simply
the word for Orc in the Black Speech, the artificial lingua franca devised
by Sauron to keep order among his troops. The distinctions between Orc races
is a sidetrack that we will leave for now; enough to say that Tolkien never
states clearly what the differences between various kinds of Orcs are, and
that they must be deduced from the fragmentary descriptions in the novel.
So great are the differences, however, that the Black Speech that Sauron had
invented to facilitate communication between his underlings has evolved into
several dialects, mutually unintelligible, and the Orcs have to use the Common
tongue as every other race in order to communicate.
Tolkien describes his
Orcs in varying degrees of detail, and the descriptions allow for great flexibility.
Their anatomy and general appearance must be inferred from hints that Tolkien
drops. It is made clear that they have "hideous orc-faces" and "hideous arms"
and speak in an "abominable tongue" - but what exactly does this mean? They have yellow fangs
and clawlike hands, they only laugh with malicious intentions, and their sounds
are described as hissing, muttering, snarling and growling. In chapter III in The
Two Towers, Merry and Pippin witness the quarreling and infighting that
is typical for the Orcs regardless of race. Uglúk, a large black Uruk-hai
leader, faces a minor rebellion instigated by the common Orc Grishnákh, who
is a "short crook-legged creature, very broad and with long arms that hung
almost to the ground". The hobbit captives
are treated roughly but as the Orcs have to obey orders the leaders try to
restrain the others from hurting them. Uglúk even force-feeds them some orc
medicine, a "burning liquid", to make them endure the running. He also treats
a wound on Merry's forehead with a smeary brown substance: "He was healing
Merry in orc-fashion; and his treatment worked swiftly".
While the Orcs are strong
and scary-looking creatures, they are also disorderly soldiers and always
ready to quarrel over the slightest issue. Uglúk's and Grishnákh's disagreement
stems from the fact that they are serving two leaders; the Uruk-hai follow
Saruman's orders, while Grishnákh seeks to please Sauron. Others in the party,
Orcs from the Moria mines, have no other interest in the matter than avenging
their people who were killed during the Fellowship's passage through Moria,
and then returning home as swiftly as possible. The Orcs that Sam and Frodo
encounter in Mordor also fail because of their internal arguments and power
struggles. Even a scene where Sam and Frodo merely observe two Orcs tracking
them ineffectively, the one turns upon the other. "'If this nice friendliness
would spread about in Mordor, half our trouble would be over'", Sam comments.
The Orcs' language issues
have been touched upon previously. Besides the notion that language is "corrupted"
when developing into different dialects, Tolkien also utilises language as
a symbol of corruption in other ways. The Orcs speak vulgarly and with no
regard for the beauty of words (using contractions such as "d'you think" or
"let 'em laugh"), they call each other "swine" and "maggots" and curse at
their leaders -- even Sauron is half reverently, half jokingly referred to
as "Number One". Knowing Tolkien's delight
in languages and strong opinions about their proper use, one is probably not
mistaken in assuming that the Orcs' crude and impolite English in The Lord of the Rings aims to mirror their
spiritual qualities. They do not seem to enjoy anything except causing pain
and discomfort to others -- except for the secret and longing plans of two
Orcs in Mordor of slipping off and setting up "somewhere on our own with a
few trusty lads, somewhere where there's good loot nice and handy, and no
big bosses". Sadly, not long after,
the two of them kill each other in a fight over dominance and some shiny chainmail.
It is hard to overlook
the fact that the Orcs' physical appearance is described from a Eurocentric
perspective in terms of a racial other. They are dark-skinned with slanted
eyes. Their blackness is clearly a visual touch to emphasize their character
as not only Other in terms of race but also Other in terms of spiritual qualities.
They have been corrupted spiritually as well as physically, and their physical
corruption is easily described with features that the readers either will
recognise from the animal world (long arms like an ape, non-human movements
and sounds, eye colour yellow or red) or as a contrast to a prevailing beauty
ideal. The latter is, of course, culturally determined. Pale skin has traditionally
been viewed as more desirable than a dark complexion, partly due to the fact
that paleness signifies a high social class (no need for heavy work outdoors)
but also due to European colonialism that established a pecking order of colour
in wide parts of the world.
The animal characteristics
mingling with the human traits make the Orcs seem like grotesque hybrids.
The conscious attempt of turning a human into a non-human being, objectifying
a person, and the resulting borderland grotesque, are characteristic of race
discourse and literature dealing with race, as Leonard Cassuto shows in his
work The Inhuman Race. An interesting
point he makes is that "the tense and ultimately incomplete attempt to turn
a human into something not-human, is not isolated in one particular moment
in time. Indeed, it happens almost everywhere we look".
As we see, the fantasy
world of Middle-earth is not free from the patterns of culture and the methods
of discourse that reign in the "real" world. One might pose oneself a few
questions: Is objectifying and dehumanising less harmful if it is done to
a fictitious race? Why do we as readers of fantasy find comfort in such a
world order? Issues of colour and race are maybe hidden under a veil of political
correctness in today's Western societies, while in the relative "freedom"
of the fantastic, the old and proven codes of dark = ugly = evil and fair
= pretty = good can prevail. Thus, the outward appearance
of the Orcs mirrors some interesting issues of class and race.
The Lord of the Rings is a book about warriors. In Middle-earth,
a "normal" pre-modern society with its majority of farmers and craftsmen seems
almost invisible -- the world is viewed from the perspective of a warrior caste.
Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli the dwarf are a well-tuned trio of warriors living
according to a heroic ideal, each complementing the other with Aragorn shining
as a leading example. Nevertheless, a warrior's duty is to kill, and killing
is a dirty task. This is something that the heroes of The Lord of the Rings have in common with
the basest of villains, the Orcs. And this is also a field where the Orcs,
surprisingly, can display the few positive qualities that they possess. For
example, the Moria Orcs joining the Uruk-hai in chapter III, The Two Towers, have come down on the plains
to seek revenge for their kin. Thus, they must harbour some feelings towards
their own kin, otherwise they simply would not care and only go to fight if
there was a Balrog breathing sulphur at their backsides.
The Orcs are not allowed
the same respite as the human enemies, the Southrons and the Easterlings.
The Rohirrim burn the corpses of fallen Orcs as a warning for others and to
prevent pollution of the earth. Prisoners are clearly not taken, and the Orcs
seem not to offer themselves as such. Legolas' and Gimli's Orc-killing contest
would sound macabre enough, but in the context of the tale, it is only grimly
logical; the Orcs have to be defeated, because they will not stop fighting
as long as there is a will that is strong enough to drive them forward. After
the battle at Helm's Deep, the Dunlendings, the human enemies, are offered
a chance to redeem themselves through helping out with the cleansing of the
Deep after the battle -- the clemency surprises them, who where indoctrinated
by Saruman to expect torture from the Rohirrim. The Orcs, on the other hand,
are swallowed by the forest that hates them because they cut down a great
many trees for Saruman's weapons industries. When Sauron falls, the Orcs scatter
"like dust in the wind" in similar fashion. In their feeble flight the Orcs are compared to ants scurrying around
a destroyed anthill.
But the Men of Rhûn and of Harad, Easterling
and Southron, saw the ruin of their war and the great majesty and glory of
the Captains of the West. And those that were deepest and longest in servitude,
hating the West, and yet were men proud and bold, in their turn now gathered
themselves for a last stand of desperate battle. But the most part fled eastward
as they could; and some cast their weapons down and sued for mercy.
Fifteen months before
his death, Tolkien wrote to a friend about his tinkering with a sequel to
The Lord of the Rings. He had, however, given up the attempt, as the time
after the downfall of Sauron did not offer any "tales worth recounting". The suspense in
the preserved manuscript is provided by a rise of a secret Sauron cult and
Gondorian youngsters playing Orcs and ruining peoples' orchards. However, the lack of Elves and of a great story
to tell depressed Tolkien, and he discontinued this story after some half-hearted
What was the origin of
the Orcs, if they were incurably evil? In a letter written in response to
a Catholic reader, Tolkien clarifies that according to his mythology, the
Orcs were not "created" by the Dark Lord. The reader had acknowledged the
fact that according to Tolkien's basic metaphysics, evil cannot create anything
on its own. How then explain the existence of seemingly irredeemable creatures
such as the Orcs? According to Tolkien, they are "fundamentally a race of
'rational incarnate' creatures, though horribly corrupted, if no more so than
many Men to be met today". However, he would only
hint at a supposed origin for his Orcs, true to the spirit of his mock-historical
narration techniques. "In the legends of the Elder Days it is suggested that
the Diabolus subjugated and corrupted some of the earliest Elves, before they
had ever heard of the 'gods', let alone of God". These "legends of the
Elder Days" were later compiled by his son Christopher Tolkien in the posthumously
published Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-earth, the twelve-part
collection of his preceding work.
... all those of the Quendi [Elves of the
First Age] who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were
put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved;
and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery
of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes. For the Orcs
had life and multiplied after the manner of the Children of Ilúvatar; and
naught that had life of its own, nor the semblance of life, could ever Melkor
make since his rebellion... And deep in their dark hearts the Orcs loathed
the Master whom they served in fear, the maker only of their misery.
This passage in the Silmarillion is the most widely accepted
source to the origins of the Orcs, mainly because of its relative popularity.
Herein the Orcs are stated to be "incarnates" in their own right, that is,
mortal, sentient beings with a soul. However, Tolkien's extensive notes often
contradict each other. In many sources, he changes the origin of the corrupted
Orcs from Elves to humans. This, on the other hand, does not fit in his detailed
chronology of the creation and history of Middle-earth. There simply was not
enough time for Melkor to breed the armies he needed for the battles against
the Elves, if the raw material for his cannonfodder appeared amongst Middle-earth's
"late-comers", the Men. "But though Men may take comfort in this, the theory
remains nonetheless the most probable. It accords with all that is known of
Melkor, and of the nature and behaviour of Orcs -- and of Men." If the Orcs had been
automatons, as the first drafts suggested, they would have been useless without
Morgoth's conciousness guiding them. Orcs were capable of acting on their
own, although they were enslaved to their totalitarian Master by fear and
hate. Another interesting idea that Tolkien developed in his notes was the
answer to the question whether the "half-Orcs" mentioned in The Lord of the Rings were truly half-breeds between Orc and human
being; or whether they were just a new breed of Orcs, "enhanced" by Saruman.
"It became clear in time that undoubted Men could under the domination of
Morgoth or his agents in a few generations be reduced almost to the Orc-level
of mind and habits; and then they would or could be made to mate with Orcs,
producing new breeds, often larger and more cunning".
It seems that Tolkien
ultimately preferred not to settle for any exact idea, but to leave the final
answer to the puzzle in the mists of his fictitious mythology. The link between
Orcs and humans remains interesting as we proceed towards the final analysis.
3.2 The Other in Tolkien's Mythology
Tolkien had a complex
system of moral and metaphysical ideas supporting his vision of Middle-earth.
His notions of the nature of evil, of religion, and of the purpose of mythology
played a vital role in the conception of the Orcs. For example, in spite of
his Christian faith he did not shrink back from the thought that a sentient
being could be "bad to the bone" without the possibility to make an independent
choice. The Orcs were born and brought up as the slaves of the Dark Lords,
and their influence had corrupted them so far that the thought of salvation
I nearly wrote 'irredeemably bad'; but
that would be going too far. Because by accepting or tolerating their making
-- necessary to their actual existence -- even Orcs would become part of the
World, which is God's and ultimately good.)... That God would 'tolerate' that,
seems no worse theology than the toleration of the calculated dehumanizing
of Men by tyrants that goes on today. [written in 1954]
W. H. Auden, one of Tolkien's
most ardent defenders, asked in 1965 whether the idea that an entire race
was irredeemable was not, in fact, heretical. In his answer this time, Tolkien
made clear that he didn't feel
any obligation to make my story fit with
formalized Christian theology, though I actually intended it to be consonant
with Christian thought and belief, which is asserted somewhere ... where Frodo
asserts that the orcs are not evil in origin. We believe that, I suppose,
of all human kinds and sorts of breeds, though some appear, both as individuals
and groups to be, by us at any rate, unredeemable.
Christian readers of
The Lord of the Rings turned to him on
occasion and pinpointed problems in the work in a Christian context. Tolkien
himself took care to make it clear that the Ring trilogy was not a Christian
story per se, although he acknowledged the diffusion of aspects of his own
beliefs into the moral of the tale. As seen in the passage above, one assumption
that never changes is the incapacity of evil (as incarnated in Melkor/Morgoth)
to create anything on its own.
Applying the system of
Christian morals and ideals to The Lord
of the Rings might at a glance seem an obvious choice, considering the
author's own strong religious convictions. However, Tolkien was a scholar
and a researcher. It was not impossible for him to consciously keep his personal
faith apart from the subject matter brought up in the novel. After all, The Lord of the Rings is set in a pre-Christian
world and written by a learned Christian author -- not unlike the one literary
work that helped Tolkien earn a long-lasting reputation as a scholar: Beowulf.
In his famous essay "The
Monsters and the Critics", Tolkien made a major breakthrough in the history
of Beowulf commentary. Until his
time, the epic poem had been half dismissed, half praised by scholars, because
its more fantastic parts bewildered critics in a more realism-focused era.
Tolkien showed in his essay that the monsters play a vital role in the narrative
of the Beowulf-saga. What is more, their presence is a powerful sign of a
philosophy of a time that was slowly changing, a bridge between two ages.
Beowulf was written down by an anonymous but clearly very learned
Anglo-Saxon after the advent of Christianity but before the pagan times were
fully forgotten. The author or compiler of Beowulf clearly wanted to recreate
the sense of an age before Christianity. Except for some minor slips, the
poem has been purged from every Christian notion. When Beowulf dies, he dies
without prayers -- except for a wish for a good reputation amongst the living,
the highest goal for a pre-Christian Norseman.
Tolkien interprets the
pagan worldview as depicted in Beowulf
as a struggle of man (on the side of the nordic gods) against darkness and
chaos (the monsters). Yet, this struggle is inherently a hopeless one. "The
monsters had been the foes of the gods, the captains of men, and within Time
the monsters would win." In Beowulf,
the gods are absent, because of their problematic role after Christianisation.
The author may have striven to create the feeling of a pre-Christian, heroic
society, but the inclusion of pre-Christian gods would have been reverting
to paganism. The old gods had been left behind. Yet, Man's struggle remains
For the monsters do not depart, whether
the gods go or come. A Christian was (and is) still like his forefathers a
mortal hemmed in a hostile world. The monsters remained the enemies of mankind,
the infantry of the old war... Even so the vision of the war changes... The
tragedy of the great temporal defeat remains for a while poignant, but ceases
to be finally important... Beyond there appears a possibility of eternal victory...
Grendel is the offspring
of Cain. Cain is also the forefather of the Anglo-Saxon eotenas and ylfe (in Norse jötnar ("jättar")
and álfar ("alver")). Thus, Grendel's origins are human, which sets
him apart from the wholly mythical dragon. A monster with a human shape is,
on the other hand dangerously crossing the border between man and beast and
therefore neither of them. Tolkien explains Grendel as the image of Man estranged
from God -- thence his quasi-human shape. The curse that God placed on Cain
(actually a seal of protection, but due to errors in translation and distorted
in folklore to a curse) also rests upon Grendel and makes him unclean and
sinful for mortals.
Monsters of human shape
in Beowulf were not unaffected by
Christian notions of evil, sin, and punisment of the soul. Their parody of
human form became symbolical, explicitly, of sin. The mark of Cain shows that
Grendel is irredeemably a man estranged from his Creator. Similarly, the Orcs
-- whether of human or Elvish origin -- were bred from innocent creatures that
had never met the God of Middle-earth or his "archangels". They have been
estranged from God through the relentless torture and twisting of their minds
by the fallen Melkor/Morgoth. In The
Silmarillion, it is said to have been Melkor's greatest crime -- maybe
because the damage to the Orcs was too great to be undone in the mortal realm
of Middle-earth. "This it may be was the vilest deed of Melkor, and the most
hateful to Ilúvatar".
Grendel's monstrous qualities
approach the daemonic, thus pointing to definite Christian roots. "Because
of his ceaseless hostility to men, and hatred of their joy, his super-human
size and strength, and his love of the dark, he approaches to a devil, though
he is not yet a true devil in purpose". Not a true devil
means that he is not concerned with the seduction and ruin of mortal souls,
but he is a fleshly inhabitant of this world. However, the darkness that surrounds
him is according to Tolkien identical to the darkness as imagined in Hell
or the valley of Death. Grendel's main purpose is to be hostile towards mankind
and its creations. In the poem, he is referred to as simply "the enemy" or
"the foe". As a monster with a soul, he is doomed after death.
The Orcs, too, have a
soul or a spirit similar to the humans and Elves, according to Tolkien's mythology.
They eve have a faint idea of an afterlife. One Orc called Gorbag speaks about
the terrible Ringwraiths in The Two
Towers: "... they skin the body off you as soon as look at you, and leave
you all cold in the dark on the other side".
shape signifies another important thing, according to Tolkien. The eternal
enemy is always "both within and without; the fortress must fall through treachery
as well as assault". The giants or jötnar of Norse mythology are parodies of
the human-divine form, too. The trickster god Loki dwells in Asgarðr, though
he is the cause of never-ending mischief and the father of many a disastrous
The balancing of Grendel
in the first half of Beowulf with the dragon in the second half makes the
point that "Triumph over the lesser and more nearly human is cancelled
by defeat before the older and more elemental". Critics that have complained about the improbability
of the monsters and deplored the lack of political intrigue, normally a forte
of the Norse saga tellers, have not understood this significance. "It
is just because the main foes in Beowulf are inhuman that the story is larger
and more significant than this imaginary poem of a great king's fall". Beowulf is, in fact,
battling the eternal foes within every human being.
Similarly, the Orcs can
be read as a dreadful possibility for human beings. In the next chapter, I
will proceed to the occasions when Orcs crop up in the real world -- in Tolkien's
own time. What will they look like, and where can they be found?
The Purpose of the Orc
Before I continue with
my analysis of Tolkien's works, it is necessary to take a closer look on the
discourse of "race" and "otherness" that permeated the British society both
before, during, and after his lifetime. In
many ways, Tolkien was living in a time full of cultural clashes. As a self-confessed
Romantic and devout Catholic, Tolkien liked to place himself outside mainstream
society and its fashionable ideas and contemporary whims. However, as a British
citizen and an academic he could not avoid being influenced by the great questions
of his time. He was born in the British
colony of South Africa, and during his lifetime he experienced several wars
and crises dealing with the results of ideologies born in the 19th
century, such as liberalism, nationalism, socialism, and imperialism.
Already in the original
preface to The Lord of the Rings,
Tolkien is warning the reader for hastily analyzing the book as an allegory
of the contemporary world. To prevent any attempts to link The Lord of the Rings to the Second World War, Tolkien presented an
alternative version of it in the aforementioned preface. He tried to make
it clear that if he had written a truthful allegory on the events between
1939-1945, the "good" side would have used the Ring to defeat Sauron (with
obviously disastrous consequences). The temptation has been
impossible to resist for many critics looking for reasons behind the work's
immense popularity. Knowing that Tolkien himself served in the trenches during
the First World War, it is difficult not to see the obvious parallels especially
to Frodo's and Sam's struggle for survival on the road to Mordor. Tolkien
mentions this in a letter to a certain Professor L. W. Forster, in an attempt
to answer to what degree the World Wars had influenced his writing: "Perhaps
in landscape. The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something
to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme". The Orcs may have been inspired by images of the rampaging
Turkish, Mongol, and Persian armies that assailed Europe during the Middle
Ages. They may also have been inspired by archetypal figures of evil and destruction:
the Huns of Allied propaganda in both World Wars. This image of the pitiless
Hun was seized upon by Allied propagandists and used to demonize the Germans.
Indeed, in the same letter to Professor Forster, Tolkien mentions the Huns
as an inspiration -- but these Huns are the literary creations of William Morris,
the late Victorian, early art nouveau writer and founder of a famous school
of artisans. In Morris's novel The
House of the Wolfings, a Germanic people unites to face the destructive
might of the Romans in a victorious battle, defending their homeland, the
Mark. In The Roots of the Mountains, another novel,
another Germanic people - "the Dale-folk" - is threatened by the appearance
of "the Dusky Men", a Hun-like people. The names and phrases in these mock-archaic
stories echo in Tolkien's own works.
'What beast is afield then?' said Gold-mane.
Said Folk-might: 'The beasts that beset
our lives, the Dusky Men. In these days we have learned how to find
companies of them; and forsooth every week they draw nigher to this Dale;
and some day they should happen upon us if we were not to look to it, and
then would there be a murder great and grim.... Whatsoever is fair there have
they defiled and deflowered, and they wallow in our fair halls as swine strayed
from the dunghill. No delight in life, no sweet days do they have for
themselves, and they begrudge the delight of others therein. .... [W]hen a Dusky Carle mingles with a woman
of the Dale, the child which she beareth shall oftenest favour his race and
not hers; or else shall it be witless, a fool natural.'
The national romanticism that fed the imaginations of William Morris and
other writers, poets and artists of the 19th century thus made
an obvious impact on Tolkien's works. The national romantic idea was to define
the national character of England and the "English race", and the imperialist
ambitions made "English" and "British" interchangeable terms. Tolkien, as
a philologist with the private ambition of creating a genuinely "English"
mythology, was a part of this ongoing attempt at identity building for a nation
with roots too diverse to trace in the mists of history. For, of course, there
never existed an English mythology, because the concept of one single English
nation did not exist before the 19th century. The English nation
had to be created through the active efforts of many an artist and intellectual,
just as the British Empire needed its own ideologues to create an imperial
identity to justify its existence. Yet, Tolkien had very detailed ideas about
this fictitious "Englishness" than he wanted to convey through a mythology
-- using adjectives such as "cool and clear" and "high, purged of the gross",
as he explained in a wordy letter to his friend and potential publisher Milton
Waldman in 1951. "For I love England (not Great Britain and certainly not
the British Commonwealth (grr!))..."
Although "true Englishness" was as fictitious as any other national identity
created during the 19th century, its advocates viewed it as primordial.
Tolkien conveniently left out the Celts, the Romans, the Danish and the Normans
from his imagined primordial England. Although Tolkien was well aware of what
he wanted to choose as a true English heritage, there were other British intellectuals
who compromised with the terms "British" and "English" and conjured up a "British
nationality by blood", with its roots set deeply in the Anglo-Saxon past. The independent nature of this nationality was seen as
more natural than suddenly upcoming races such as the Irish. The Anglo-Saxon race was by heritage determined to be "higher"
than the races that it had come to rule. However, as the popularised "darwinist"
idea of "survival of the fittest" came to be used of cultures and nations,
there also arose the fear that an alien race might some day threaten the position
of the Anglo-Saxon, or that the Anglo-Saxon race itself was susceptible to
degeneration. As other states with
colonial ambitions rose to compete with Britain, imperial nationalism took
a more aggressive, chauvinistic form in the late 1800s -- the word "jingoism"
was coined in the 1870's. In the 1880-90s, the fear of degeneration intermingled
with fears of cultural decline. The aggressive nationalism of this period
culminated in the First World War, but found no solace in the victorious outcome.
Mirror images in the form of Irish and Indian nationalism, among many other
movements, threatened the "natural" order of British nationalism. The Second World War came to be the curtain call of racialist
chauvinism. After the macabre excesses of the national socialist regime in
Germany, it became more and more difficult to justify thinking in terms of
"superior" and "inferior" races.
As a linguist, Tolkien had chosen the one field that had lent a few words
to world history, which came to be some of the most contaminated words in
the last 200 years of European history -- Indo-European, Aryan, and Semitic.
Originally mere linguistic terms, these words caught the imagination of nationalist
and racialist thinkers during the 19th century. The British scholar
Sir William Jones discovered similarities between the Indian and the European
languages in the late 18th century. The term Indo-European was coined to signify this wide-spread
family of languages, but it soon also came to mean the hypothetical original
ancestor of all peoples that spoke those languages. Any evidence of the existence
of such a people or the original proto-Indoeuropean tongue were never found,
but this did not deter scholars such as philologist Friedrich Max Müller,
Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, Ernest Renan, Jacob Grimm and Georges Dumézil. The notion of the Indo-European race (and among British
racialists, the Anglo-Saxon as its most highly developed type) as the peak
of human development was built on anthropological "evidence", produced for
this very purpose.
The expansion of the British Empire during the 19th century
meant dealing with power relations in the colonies and social questions at
home, while the development of science provided answers that only lead to
further questions. A famous example of a clash of ideologies is the argument
between John Stuart Mill, liberal political theorist, and Thomas Carlyle,
conservative defender of imperial rule, after a rebellion of the black population
of Jamaica in 1865. Anssi Halmesvirta, historian of ideas, has shown how Carlyle's
images of "the savage Negro" that had to be kept in "divinely ordained servitude"
made a stonger impact on the public mind than Mill's altruistic defence of
"natural" civil rights. What was formerly "divinely ordained" became later "the
law of nature", as ideas borrowed from natural sciences gained popularity
among advocates of imperial rule. One writer who has been most closely associated
with romanticising support of the British Empire is Rudyard Kipling. But Kipling's
works in most cases depict a mixed gang of nationalities, colours and creeds
working together for the good cause of the Empire; even his historical narratives
focused on the co-operation between Saxon and Norman rather than appointing
one race above others. Nevertheless, notions of fundamental racial inequality
were so commonly accepted in Britain that a Mrs Wilson writing in India during
the 1880s could use the same vocabulary of race as a Miss Travers corresponding
from Finland in the 1910s. Mrs Wilson, the wife of an official working for the Raj,
tried to teach herself Hindi and to communicate with the locals, but lamented
repeatedly of the impossibility of peering into the heart of the Indians --
it seemed that they were as far from her as East from West. The same idea
of racial difference made the socialist intellectual Miss Travers ponder if
she would ever be able to get to know her Finnish friends closely -- the imagined
Mongol ancestry of the Finns made her suspect that the psychological "race-barrier"
was too high to conquer. During the Finnish civil war, Miss Travers expressed
her shock through the only language that seemed to provide an answer to the
atrocities committed by both sides -- through discourse of race. The war had
caused the Finns to return to their roots of "Mongol savagery". The mass soul of the "Mongol" was not capable of independent
rational reasoning. As word reached
out to the British press, it echoed the same song in unison. Only four years
later, the image had changed completely.
During the decades around
the turn of the century, many intellectuals in Europe had been occupied with
worries and fears for the future. The crucial questions were what impact the
complex issues of democracy, socialism and nationalism would make on the future
of the world. Intellectuals such as the German Oswald Spengler sought to explain
the past in order to predict the future. Spengler's great work Der Untergang des Abendlandes ("The Decline
of the West") mirrors in details the fears of his time. Spengler was not the
first to claim the existence of a "Volkseele", a nation's soul, but he also
saw the mobs and masses gathering spontaneously during the French Revolution
or other crises as beset with a "mass soul", albeit an easily disparaged and
shortlived one. The Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset warned of
this phenomenon of the masses in his famous book The
Revolt of the Masses, published in 1930, in which he raises alarm for
the danger that the free and unbridled masses pose for society in general
and cultural life in particular -- overcrowding, ordinary people taking over
positions previously reserved for the elite, dictatorship of the masses, to
name but a few of the crucial issues. These European intellectuals obviously perceived their
own status as "elite" as threatened through the "vulgarisation" of society
through the explosion of popular culture and the demands for further equal
rights -- and they were not alone.
John Carey, professor
at Merton College, Oxford, has shown how the literary intelligentsia in the
Anglo-Saxon world perceived the unruly masses in a way that can certainly
be expressed as proto-fascist. For the privileged few, the seemingly sudden elevation
of a majority of the population to materially acceptable levels, enabling
the mass-production and -consumption of culture as well as other products
for the first time in European history, ceratinly looked like preferring quantity
above quality with disastrous effects. Many
worried about declining cultural standards, about the lack of morals of the
modern man, and the harmful impact that a superficial education might have
on individuals with no sense of their proper place. These individuals were
defined as inferior according to their social standing, but notions of race
also mingled with these ideas. Eugenics was a new and promising branch of
science that evoked the interests of many intellectuals; W. B. Yeats joined
the Eugenics Education Society, and George Bernard Shaw and Aldous Huxley
(of all people!) were supportive. T. S. Eliot even wrote in 1932 that the "population should
be homogenous... reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number
of free-thinking Jews undesirable..." Education should remain an exclusive right of the few and
priviledged, many of these intellectuals agreed with Friedrich Nietzsche.
Curiously, the intellectuals who expressed these views often saw themselves
as progressive or modernist idealists, such as D. H. Lawrence, G. B. Shaw
and Virginia Woolf. Many had been influenced by a Nietzschean image of the
"superman". However, similar to the fate of the nationalist chauvinists, the
intellectual "supermen's" voices were subdued after the discovery of the realities
of the concentration camps. Still, the ambition to protect the purity of culture
(as if it were a rare dog breed's gene pool) from popular culture survived
for a very long time. Unfortunately, 1945 did also not mark the sudden ending
of eugenic experiments carried out by Western nations.
One might hardly come up with an ideologue further away from Tolkien's
compassionate Catholicism than Nietzsche. However, Tolkien was very aware
of his own position on one hand as one of the privileged intellectuals, on
the other hand an outsider in the fashionable atheist-modernist scene as a
Catholic and Romantic. Doubly different, it is small wonder that he cultivated
a certain separatist attitude and preferred to mark a clear distance to any
"mass mania" that might become fashionable, even nationalism and triumphant
glee in the wake of the Second World War.
When they have introduced American sanitation,
morale-pep, feminism, and mass production throughout the Near east, Middle
East, Far East, U.S.S.R., the Pampas, el Gran Chaco, the Danubian basin, Equatorial
Africa, Hither Further and Inner Mumbo-land, Gondhwanaland, Lhasa, and the
villages of darkest Berkshire, how happy we shall be. ... But seriously, I
do find this Americo-cosmopolitanism very terrifying. ... I'm not really sure
that this victory is going to be so much for the better of the world as a
whole and in the long run than the victory of ____ [sic!].
in the last year of the Second World War, Tolkien did not spare his fire when
he sneered at American popular culture.
O God! O Montreal!
O Minnesota! O
kind of mass manias the Soviets can produce remains for peace and prosperity
and the removal of war-hypnotism to show. Not quite as dismal as the Western
ones, perhaps (I hope).
However, Tolkien suggests that the "mass manias" that he is referring
to are also a means of power politics and not merely the whims of some hypothetic
blind mass. His conservatist nature was to protest against a too violent upheaval
of age-old norms and values, and his prejudiced stance towards everything
American was as much sullen defensiveness than a touch of old-school snobbery.
When meeting "a very nice young American Officer" on a train in 1944, he found
himself provoked to lecture him about English class distinctions upon the
"Yank's" allegations of "Feudalism". The tone of the letter is rather jocular and should not taken as serious
evidence of an anti-American attitude. Still, Tolkien was anxious to preserve
certain elements of culture, primarily language, in a state unsullied by any
kind of "mass" use. He did not approve of the world language status of English
and he did not approve of mass production (such as pocket books!) and modern
technological innovations (although he enjoyed driving a car when he was younger).
But as far as his own works went, he did not abhor the idea of commercialisation,
even by Americans, as long as it was done true to his artistic ambitions.
And he certainly never went as far as to toy with ideas such as expressed
by Eliot above; Tolkien's personal convictions would have hindered him from
that step. "Not that I'm a democrat in any of its current uses; except that
I suppose, to speak in literary terms, we are all equal before the Great Author
To return to Carey's thesis about the intellectuals and the masses: his
point is forcefully made with great amounts of "incriminating evidence". However,
the elitist stance of the early 20th century intellectuals makes
many of the aforementoned authors quilty by association. Because D. H. Lawrence
suggests "a lethal chamber" as the solution to the crippled and suffering
masses of the world, it is difficult not to think about the gas chambers of
the Third Reich. Fantasies about euthanasy (as in this peacefully described
example) and mass destruction on the other hand as a device for self-annihilation
are not unusual among people who style themselves the misunderstood elite
of a period. Not all intellectuals were as dismissive of the "mass man"
consuming everything mass-produced. James Joyce writes in Ulysses about a
"mass person", Leopold Bloom, he tries to redeem the individual from the mass
to a certain degree -- but Carey claims that Joyce's storytelling techniques
are precisely what excludes a hypothetical Mr Bloom from reading the very
This example is part of Carey's hypothesis that the modernist intellectuals
fear of the masses culminated in a removal of the masses' humanity by denying
them their individuality (by treating them as a mass), their education, and
their capacity of reasoning. The poets and artists actively attempted to alienate
the masses by making their works more and more obscure and esoteric to understand.
Indeed, Carey pictures the whole culture of modernism as invented with the
purpose of excluding the masses, and he extends his attack to include not
only modern art and literature, but also literature criticism -- the entire
school of post-structuralism. Now, it might be justified to question the obscure language
used by Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes and their colleagues, and to critically
examine their theories, but to claim that their sole purpose is to exclude
the public from cultural discourse is rather strong meat by John Carey. This
is, however, not the place to discuss his hypothesis, and I will turn my attention
back to Tolkien and his Orcs.
I have presented several
possible sources of inspiration and background information that in all likelihood
played a vital role in shaping Tolkien's worldviews. Tolkien made some forceful
suggestions that Orcs were to be found in real life. He wrote to his son Christopher
in the Royal Air Force in May 1944, reminding him of the consequences of a
victory obtained through using the Ring of Power:
But the penalty is, as you will know, to
breed new Saurons, and slowly turn men and Elves into Orcs. Not that in real
life things are as clear cut as in a story, and we started out with a great
many Orcs on our side.... Well, there you are: a hobbit amongst the Uruk-hai.
Are the Orcs German or
British soldiers? They certainly are equally grotesque caricatures of humanity
as "the Huns" created by the early wartime propaganda. Tolkien himself vehemently
denied that the Orcs were caricatures of any particular human nation. His
own family had some German heritage on his father's side, which Tolkien always
downplayed to the advantage of his mother's side -- a West-Midlander from the
counties on the Welsh borderlands. Tolkien detested Adolf Hitler and the National
Socialists for abusing the Germanic mythology for their criminal purposes.
The Norse sagas and the closely related Germanic mythologies were a great
and very dear source of inspiration for Tolkien. That Hitler took these traditions and adapted
them to suit his totalitarian ideology, was near-equal to blasphemy: "Ruining,
perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern
spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried
to present in its true light." Despite this, his sympathy went out to the German people
towards the end of the war. In January 1945 he wrote to his son:
destruction and misery of this war mount hourly: destruction of what should
be (indeed is) the common wealth of Europe... Yet people gloat to hear of
the endless lines, 40 miles long, of miserable refugees, women and children
pouring West, dying on the way... But why gloat! We were supposed to have
reached a stage in civilization in which it might be still necessary to execute
a criminal, but not to gloat, or to hang his wife and child by him while the
Here, the orc-crowd is
clearly not the German enemy; it is the British media and public at home,
gleefully enjoying the news from the front. Tolkien was well aware of the
fact that romance and reality have one fundamental difference; in real life,
the Orcs come on both sides. Especially military life seemed to bring out
the Orc in certain people. As he pointed out to Christopher in one of his
letters to the base in South Africa, May 1944:
Yes, I think the orcs as real a creation
as anything in 'realistic' fiction: your vigorous words well describe the
tribe; only in real life they are on both sides, of course. For 'romance'
has grown out of 'allegory', and its wars are still derived from the 'inner
war' of allegory in which good is on one side and various modes of badness
on another. ... But it does make some difference who are your captains and
whether they are orc-like per se!
Unless accused of allegory,
Tolkien quite generously applied the term Orc to uncultured and brutal people.
Orcishness knew no national, ideological or ethnic limits. Orcish is as Orcish
does. In the real world, unbound by allegory and not embellished by romance,
the "Orcs" look just like us. We have to study their behaviour in order to
According to Ortega y Gasset's analysis of "the mass person", the vulgar
person can be distinguished from the noble individual because the former does
not strive for a higher goal, does not try to elevate herself to a better
level. The noble individual serves a higher cause and does not see it as a
burden. She tries to live a disciplined life and to control her urges. The
mass person only obeys the commands of her basal urges and whims, unless someone
forces her to understand that she is "an individual of secondary caste, subjected
to many limitations, unable to create or to sustain the organisation that
provides her existence with the freedom of movement and satisfaction that
is the foundation of her self-affirmation." Like the Orcs, the masses are chaotic and undisciplined
when not led by a powerful will. But while the Orcs are dispersed when Sauron's
willpower slackens, the modern masses are more difficult to lead, and are
in possession of their own ideas, although -- still according to Ortega y Gasset
-- they do not realise their intellectual limitations. The masses strive to
force everyone down to their level. "They nourish a deadly hatred towards
anyone that is not of their kind".
When Tolkien uses his
Orcs as a metaphor for some phenomenon in real life, it becomes clear that
the usefulness of these creatures is not bound by any particular race or nation.
Tolkien's image of the Orc is strikingly similar to the modernist scarecrow,
the vulgar masses. This shows especially clearly in cases when race and class
are fused together to one compromising answer to complicated questions in
society and history. However, Tolkien seemed to fear the masses less than
the whims of the superpowers. The man in the mob who lets himself go with
the crowd loses self-control and becomes a puppet. It is precisely this that
the Orcs lack, and which does not elevate them to the level of noteworthy
villains, either: Self-control. They merely follow their destructive instincts to whatever
end -- usually their own, untimely one. Contrary to Ortega y Gasset's aggressive
and chaotic masses, impossible to control by anything else than their own
urges, Tolkien's image of the "Orc" as a Man is a mass person as a puppet
in the hand of some greater and destructive power. He perceived quite clearly
that the eagerness for people to be led around was also their greatest danger.
As an academic, he had the intellectual chutzpah to admire himself in the
relatively exclusive position of affording to cultivate critical thinking.
And as a Catholic, he saw himself as an outsider among Christians, a humble
believer, but also an elitist out of necessity. Therefore, Tolkien could neither ungrudgingly sympathise with the
masses, nor distance himself fully from them, due to his Christian ideals
of agapé. The "Orcs" of the real world are not a danger per se; they are simply
a fact of life, an obstacle to be encountered, a minor point of struggle.
The true danger lies in the seductive words of a Saruman or a Wormtongue of
this world, or in the crushing power of a ruthless Sauron. Judging from Tolkien's
letters, he could find more than enough of those in the world, as well.