Resource Title:   Origins of Orcs
Date Added:
Mads Holgersen
Annals of Arda
RTF Document - Origin of Orcs
February 15, 2002
A good thorough review of Tolkien's written material on orcs and their origins.



Christopher Tolkien, wrote ( Morgoth`s Ring ; Myths transformed ; Text 5. Written in 1959-60 ) : This then, as it may appear, was my father`s final view of the question : Orcs were breed from Men, and if the conception in mind of the Orcs may go far back into the night of Melkor`s thought it was Sauron who during the Ages of Melkors captivity in Aman brought into being the black armies that were aviable to his Master when he returned.

In the opening part of Origin of Orcs I referred to the text "Orcs" starting on page 416 yet the quote is on page 421 but there is an earlier text before this also called Orcs on p.409.

This text on P.409 is his "working schedule" with questions and thoughts and above this text has C.T. been writing a kind of introduction to it and what is extremely important here is that J.R.R.T. working on the text orcs wrote against the account in the Annals of Aman concerned orcs, and i quote:    "Alter this. Orcs are not Elvish."

That alteration refers to Annals of Aman section 2, §43 in Morgoth`s Ring p.80 and was written in the margin of the typewriter which again refers to A.A. §127 p.109 where it is told that "But indeed a darker tale some yet tell in Eressëa, saying that the Orcs were verily in their beginning of the Quendi themselves, a kindred of the Avari unhappy whom Morgoth cozened, and then made captive, and so enslaved them, and so brought them utterly to ruin." This is nearly the same text everybody reads and understand in the Silmarillion and quote when they bring forth that Orcs were in their beginning enslaved and corrupted elves. But now it is seen that this was not so.

The origin of Orcs has always been a matter of debate. Orcs were slaves of Melkor and Sauron and have been called Melkorohìni; the Children of Melkor but they are not his children but corrupted Children of Elùvatar. Ilùvatar was the only who could give life. Aule desired so greatly to see the firstborn children and to love and teach them that he could not await there coming and so he devised the Dwarwes but when they were fulwrought and Ìluvatar discovered what he had done he was told and shown that giving life was beyond his power and authority and they could only be puppet acting only at his expressive command " For you have from me as a gift your own being only and no more; and therefor the creatures of your hand and mind can live only by that being, moving when you think so and if your thought are elsewhere; standing idle " ( Sil.; Of Aule and Yavanna ) The gift of Being was given to all the spirits of Ìluvatar but not more, none of them was able to put the imperishable fire into there own creations and neither was Melkor. Further on this : He ( Melkor ) had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame. Yet he found not the fire; for it is with Ìluvatar. ( Sil.; Ainulindalë )

Now Ìluvatar was the only one to give life, never the less it was by the malice of Melkor the Orcs arose and they were meant to be mockeries of the Children of Ìluvatar, The debate has been about from whom they originally derive ; The Elves or Humans, and how they could have life on there own, act and behave without the will, thought and eye of Melkor upon them all the time. For they did act on there own when not directly guided by Melkor or Sauron; Melkors greatest leutenant.

The Orcs fought among themselves, Orcs killing Orcs, Orcs eating Orcs, and if their master was far away they could and did sometimes neglect his commands. Surely not something Melkor or Sauron could approve, he would have better use of them united all the time against Elves and Men and they would not be able to act against his will if not they were beings with own mind and will though dominated by evil. Orcs were living creatures capable of learning speech, craft and in some way organization. The Orcs also spoke different languages, even the languages that had arisen from the same basic tongue ( Morgoth`s Ring; Myths Transformed.)

Of course the Orcs were held in thralldom, bred and raised and taught to hate Elves and Men which they at any time would try to let pay for their suffering. The Master hits the apprentice and he beats the alley cat, but there can be no doubt that the Orcs hated there Master even more.

In the Silmarillion ( Of the coming of the Elves and the captivity of Melkor.) it is held true by the wise of Eressea that those who was ensnared and captured by Melkors ghosts and spirits or himself, the Dark Rider, was by arts corrupted and enslaved and in this way Melkor bred the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves. This has given us the precise impression that Orcs were bred from an Elvish source but it has never been proved and in a letter to a Mr.Hastings date 1954. Tolkien wrote " In the Elder days it is suggested that the Diabolus subjugated and corrupted some of the earliest Elves." ( Letters of T. no.153 ) This is the text in the Silmarillion derived from the Annals of Aman Tolkien wrote so clear against in the margin " Alter this Orcs are not Elvish."

The early connection with Elves is here finally denied by the later script I have quoted at the top But it is hard to see how this can be incorporated into the mythology. I will try to explain my thoughts about it here.

The chief obstacle probably is and was the words in Sil; shown above. They could be an error but I do not think so, the words " held true by the wise of Eressea " ( Elves.) must mean what the Elves thought to be true, not that it necessarily was so. Yet another thing is to be marked; Between the coming of Orome and the battle of the Valar where Utumno was laid waste and Melkor captured there is no mention of any host of Orcs or Orcs attacking the Elves nor between the coming of Orome and the great journey to Aman, only of shadows and spirits. At a short note to text 5 in Morgoth´s Ring Tolkien wrote : "It is unlikely as a consideration of the ultimate origin of this race ( Orcs.) would make clearer that the Quendi had never meet any Orcs of this kind, before the finding by Orome ". This is a reference to the later text of Orcs in Morgoth`s Ring; Myths Transformed; Orcs. ( More of that later.)

The words in the note "This kind" relates to the kind of Orcs who appeared after Melkors return from Aman. One thing to mention here is also that in the Grey Annals it is told that in the Valian Year of the Trees 1330. " Evil creatures came even to Beleriand, over passes in the mountains or up from the South through the dark forests. Wolves or creatures in wolf-shape and other fell beings and among these were the Orcs indeed."

But what kind of Orcs did the Quendi then meet ? In text 5 it is written " Some of these things may have been delusions and phantoms but some were no doubt shapes taken by the servants of Melkor, Mocking and degrading the very forms of the children. For Melkor had in his service great numbers of Maiar, who had the power, as their Master, of taking visible and tangible shape in Arda." And on a note to text 4 " Melkor had corrupted many spirits- some great as Sauron, or less as Balrogs. The least could have been primitive Orcs." This leads to the meaning of the word "Orcs"

First we have to look at ourselves. We are humans reading a story and as such we make our own movie in the mind trying to visualize the things we read about but that is not enough to understand an "Elvish" tale. We have to dig into their language. As Men we picture Orcs and it would be as those we read about in LotR where the Orcs appear with words stature ect.. in a very human / elvish way ( Two arms, two legs, fingers, toes and so on ) but we look at the Elvish word Orcs we get another picture. The Elves invented and used the word or words with the base (O)ROK to denote anything that caused fear and or horror and it would originally have been applied to phantoms as well as to any independently existing creatures and the word Orcs original spelled Ork derives from (O)rok. Morgoth`s ring; Myths Transformed, Text 4, opening note.) And in this "Elvish" way looking at the tale we get other options; We forget that elvs would call anything that caused fear or horror for Orcs or words derived from its roots. A throll would in elvish also be called an Orc. And in that case could the early Orcs, the orchost attacking Fëanor shortly after the return to ME in Mithrim before Men had arisen. have been spirits, phantoms and delusions and maybe beasts commanded by spirits or under the direct will of Melkor. This is definately possible, just read the chapter "A journey in the Dark" in LotR. Where wulfs attack the fellowship but any trace of them are gone in the morning, no dead bodies or any other signs.

Now there is dealt with the Elves but there is still left to bring the race of Men into a suiteable position where they can take the unpleasant role as source for the later Orcs. How can Men be brought, from what we have, into position as the main source of Orcs.

In the tale " The debate of Finrod and Andreth.", Andreth speaks of the Fall of Men and that they ( Men ) are not now as they once were. This conversation took place during the Long Peace before the siege of Angband was broken. Andreth tells Finrod that "The darkness that is now confined to the North, but once lay upon all Middle-Earth while you dwelt in your bliss" here she refers to the time between the War of the Gods and the returning of Melkor and the Elves to Middle-Earth from Aman. At this time Men had not crossed the Ered Luin into Beleriand yet but still lived East of the mountains. The fact of that could prove to us why the wise of Eressea thought the Orcs derived from them and not from Men. The Elves had not any knowledge of mankind at that time.

Finrod asks Andreth what it is the Mankind have done long ago in the dark and how they have angered Ìluvatar but she will not tell him but says there is no remembering of it in her folks but there is tales of it among the people of Adanel. (Third House.) The tale of Adanel of whitch there is several "but all agree in making the cause of the disaster the acceptance by Men of Melkor as King and God." According to the Tale of Adanel ( Morgoth`s Ring.) the disaster ( The Fall of Men.) happened in the beginning of the history of Men, before any of them had yet died. Melkor came to them and ensnared them by promises and gifts and knowledge but over time he became there master and demanded acknowledgement and petitions and demanded ever increasing deeds of his will " Now you are mine and must do my will, i do not trouble that some of you die and go to appease the hunger of the dark; for otherwise there would soon be too many of you crawling like lice on the Earth. But if you do not do my will, you will feel my anger, and you will die sooner, for i will slay you"

To some Melkor began to show favour, to the strongest and cruellest, he gave gifts to them and they became poverful and proud and they enslaved the others. But some at last repented Melkor and spoke against him, these were slain by Melkors friends or burned to death in the temple but some escaped and fled into far countries but they did not escape from their past for they too had worshipped Melkor and built and bowed in the temple. ( Morgoth`s Ring ; Tale of Adanel.)

At the end of the tale Adanel " Some Men say that he blasphemed Eru, and denied his existence, or his power, and that our fathers assented, and took Melkor to be a Lord and God ; and that thereby our Fëar ( Soul ) denied their own true nature, and so became darkening and weakened almost to the death. And through the weakness of the Fëar our Hroar ( Body / Matter.) fell into poor health, and lay open to all evils and disorders of the world. And others say that Eru himself spoke in wrath saying : If the darkness be your God, little here shall you have of Light, but shall live it soon and come before Me, to learn who lies, Melkor or I who made him."

In this tale Tolkien has shown and proved that Men as a race fell under the dominion of Melkor at the very beginning of there time not many years after the rising of the Sun "Before any of them had yet died" and Melkor now has Humans in his possesson, East of the mountains before the Elves meet them and that they worshipped him as a God. Melkor had the raw material to the Orcs from the beginning of the time of Men. But there is still some questions to be answered : How could Melkor have a host of Orcs attacking Feanor when they landed at the shores of Middle-Earth before the Sun arose ?. It is said that the Secondborn awoke in Hildorien when the Sun first stroke Middle-Earth.

Again it is needed to look at who said it, it was the Eldar who said so, whereas Bëor said " A darkness lies behind us.". Perhaps Bëor meant real darkness and not the darkness of their souls or he could have meant both and it was just Finrod who did not fully understand the meaning of the words. We might have to remember they had just met and they spoke different languages so a misunderstanding would be an acceptable answer to this. Furthermore Andreth did in her speaking with Finrod mention or at least incline that the humans were already born while the darkness was still laying over the Earth.

The next question is how could Melkor have bred the Orcs from Mankind when he was imprisoned in Aman after the battle and had them ready when he returned from Aman and when the Noldor came, very soon after him, the Orcs had already infested the Earth.

( As a curiosum and fact J.R.R.Tolkien was thinking of a major alteration of the myths about the awakening of Men and in the tale of Adanel there is shadows of it; glimpses of a time before the known awakening. Also in the Athrebeth Finrod ah Andreth ( The debate of Finrod and Andreth ) is something shown of this thought. Andreth speaks of "Legends of days when death came less swiftly and our span was longer" and "A rumour that has come down through years uncounted" In Morgoth`s Ring; Myths transformed Text II. P.375-385. Tolkien wrote "Men must awake while Melkor is still in Arda - because of their Fall. Therefore in some period during the Great March." ( of the Elves.) and there is references to these texts. But the thoughts were never achieved and would have demanded a enormous effort of rewriting. )

The answer is given by Tolkien in Morgoth`s Ring ; Myth transformed ; Orcs.P.416 )
"The Leutenant of Melkor lay hid when Melkor was made captive and it was he ( Sauron ) who worked and schemed for Melkor. " Sauron was cooler and more capable of calculation and he was often able to achieve things, first conceived by Melkor, which his Master did not or could not complete in the furious haste of his malice." When Melkor was made captive Sauron escaped and lay hid and it can in this way be understood how the breeding ( no doubt already begun.) went on with increasing speed during the age when the Noldor dwelt in Aman." ( The time of Melkors captivity.)

There is no doubt in my mind that Tolkien originally had thought the Elves to be the prime resource for the Orcs but that he later ran into trouble with this and had to remake the origin of them and it is my belief that it was with the question of what becomes of the Orcs or more precisely of there souls when they die. If they were living beings ( And they were ) and not puppets they had a soul or fëa even if totally corrupted and dominated by evil. The fëa of the Eldar and all other Elves were bound within the life Arda as long as it endures and in Time according to the law and how they were devised by Iluvatar. An Orc-soul, in this case an corrupted Elf, would be summoned to come to the Halls of Awaiting in Aman and if they choose to come, ultimate evil would be brought with them into Aman, indeed a wish becoming true for Melkor.

From this it must be plain that J.T. had changed his view from whatever it had been, to orcs derives not from elves; with his own hand he wrote " Orcs are not Elvish"

Many people don't like it. It contradicts with what they had known to be true but true is only based on what is known; once western mankind believed the world was flat and we derived from Adam and Eva and female sex was made of a bone from man. That was the truth until we learned otherwise. What is more is that it is not just notes dropped here and there. The tales of the ancient world was living in his mind and thus exposed to alterations and new knowledge. We as readers of Tolkien should be open to this evolution shown to us by C.T.and greets it instead of mourning it. Anything else is far to conservative and we would only have the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings left. That would definently be a shame.

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