The following three points
of interest summarise the results of this paper.
The otherness of the inimical creatures in Tolkien's works is visualised largely
through visual and verbal characteristics. (Chapter 3.1)
Orcs are the monstrous Other in Tolkien's works -- but not monstrous enough
to be completely inhuman. Their looks signify a racial Other, just as their
way of speech set them apart as a race. Moreover, their behaviour is patterned
in order to connect them with beasts (the Other is dehumanised) and ruthless
brutality (the Other is demoralised). But they remain within the group of
sentient beings, which is emphasised through a few poignant comments in the
works of Tolkien. However, this Othering process only creates the appropriate
response within the framework of a certain culture.
otherness is motivated philosophically in Tolkien's extensive commentary to
his own work. (Chapter 3.2)
By comparing what Tolkien
himself writes about Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon poetic masterpiece, with his
own storytelling techniques in The Lord
of the Rings, I have reached the conclusion that the purpose of the Orcs
(similarly to Beowulf's Grendel)
is to provide a mirror image of the fallen human. This is one of Tolkien's
conscious aims. The fact that the Orcs are irredeemable and therefore an unchristian
feature of The Lord of the Rings,
is no hinder to their existence. Primarily, just as Beowulf, The Lord of the Rings takes place in a pre-Christian setting, although
written or compiled by a Christian author. Therefore, all-too-obvious Christian
notions would upset the illusion of authencity. Secondarily, Tolkien has no
difficulties in fathoming the idea that some souls might, indeed, be irredeemable
after their fall. Hell must have been created for a purpose.
By comparing how Tolkien uses the words he coined
for his "Others" as applied to the real world, we gain insight into another
meaning of the Orcs -- the general fear and loathing among intellectuals in
the early 20th century of the so-called "masses". (Chapter 3.3)
Compared with his fellow intellectuals in Britain in his time, Tolkien stood
apart as a stubborn late Romantic with no modernist ambitions whatsoever.
His esthetic ideals were quite conservative and humble, and politically he
cheerfully declared himself an anarchist or an old-fashioned monarchist when
it suited his moods. His values and ideals were conservative, certainly partly
due to his Catholic beliefs, but also because of a lack of interest in the
world outside university. However, he not only rejected industrialism because
it polluted nature, but also because it created a type of people that he could
not feel any affinity to. This particular notion is echoed among many authors
of the time, both in the field of fiction and most blatantly in the field
of non-fiction, where the image of a West corrupted by the rise of mass culture
and democracy mixed with the notion of a threat of foreign masses flocking
to the borders. The Other becomes an amalgamation of the differences perceived
in race, culture and social class. Interestingly, Tolkien's views are modified
by the fact that he perceived himself also as a kind of Other in the context
of religion and social class. Therefore he actively spoke out against racism
and anti-semitism when he happened to encounter such sentiments, and he utterly
disliked nationalism of the "vulgar", chauvinist kind. That was Orc behaviour.
With his ambition to create a mythology for England, Tolkien proved himself
to be a child of the age of nationalism. However, he succeeded in creating
a mythology that in spite of its obvious traces of Norse and Anglo-Saxon mythology
(and the more hidden Finnish elements, as well as the Celtic nuances that
some might perceive) has become close to universal. In fact, The
Lord of the Rings has set a standard for many fantasy writers to follow,
and it is almost disturbing to notice how many of them set their own "secondary
creations" in a world so similar to Middle-earth. In this perspective, Tolkien's humble words to Milton Waldman
about his creative ambitions become almost moving:
I would draw
some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme,
and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave
scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.
Today, we can only state the facts -- Tolkien's "absurd" ambition was a devastating
success. However, one reason for the undying popularity of his mythology might
be that all the great nationalist romantic myths that once flourished in Europe
are dying out. Immigration influx, youth cultures and globalisation have forced
most nation-states to view themselves from an outside perspective and to question
old self-images. The intellectuals have had to come to terms with the "mass
society", and new generations have grown that take their rights for self-expression
for granted in ways that would bring Ortega y Gasset to the brink of despair.
There are, undoubtedly, more Orcs than ever in the world -- but we tend to
see the Orcs somewhere else than in ourselves, as always.
The modernist intellectuals had difficulties accepting deficiencies in the
society or in their fellow humans. Partly this was due to a Nietzschean ideal
of the superhuman -- but this is only a fragment of the explanation. Another,
more serious reason lies in the liberal humanists idealistic ambition to
reform humanity -- and their bitter disappointment as humanity fails to produce
Utopia. The response of the liberal humanist -- as Ortega y Gasset declared
himself to be -- is to look for other answers. The idea cannot be faulty --
the problem has to be humanity's nature. And thus the modernist evolves to
a racialist, a fascist, or a nihilist. Ultimately, the modernist intellectuals'
fate is ironic, as John Carey stages them as the intellectual "Orcs" of the
John Ronald Reuel: The Hobbit or There
and Back Again. George Allen & Unwin Ltd 1978
The Lord of the Rings. The Fellowship of the Ring.
The Lord of The Rings. The Two Towers.
The Lord of the Rings. The Return of the King.George Allen & Unwin
Ltd 1954, 1966
The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. A selection. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter, ass. ed. Christopher Tolkien. Houghton
Mifflin, New York 2000
The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. Ed. Christopher Tolkien.
& Unwin Ltd 1983
The Silmarillion. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. George Allen & Unwin Ltd
The History of Middle-earth Volume 10. Morgoth's Ring. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. HarperCollins, London 1994
The History of Middle-earth Volume 12. The Peoples of Middle-earth. Ed.Christopher Tolkien. HarperCollins,
5.2 Secondary Literature
Project Gutenberg web site.
William: The Roots of the Mountains;
Wherein is Told Somewhat of the Lives of the Men of Burgdale. Transcribed
from the 1896 Longmans, Green, and Co. edition.