Hello and welcome to chapter 5. I hope you are all enjoying the series so far and are not yet sick of me! Regular readers may have heard me go on about losing some of my Tolkien collection. Well the other day I decided to replace some of them, and the day they arrived I was clearing some cupboards out and guess what I found? I don’t know whether to be pleased or annoyed at my own stupidity. So I’m currently going through the history/ early drafts so you can look forward to a light-hearted chapter in the near future all about the entertaining ‘could have beens of middle earth.’ (think a tale about hobbits defending the shire against a dragon attack…yes…it gets even better..) Anyways…..
I had to put this one off for a week as it’s taken so much damn research that its given me a bad head (but was all the more enjoyable for it). Though this chapter may be shorter than others, it is no less (and perhaps more) detailed, and answers to these questions certainly do not come easy. Main sources for this one was Morgoth’s Ring-history #10 which Christopher Tolkien takes his father’s notes on this subject and attempts to draw some conclusions. How well does he do this? Well we’re about to find out: these are the points I am going to cover…….
-RACE DESCRIPTIONS – WHICH ARE THE SAME? WHICH ARE DIFFERENT?
-WHERE DO ORCS COME FROM-ARE ORCS IMMORTAL?
-AN ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM OF CHRONOLOGY
Orcs and Goblins
Here, believe it or not, there is no difference. They are both interchangeable, a fact we see Tolkien use often, sometimes even using goblin and orc in the same sentence, regarding the same creature. I’m not sure where the idea that they are different comes from, though I think it is likely that the cross-usage of terms causes a lot of confusion, and the films probably didn’t help this fact.
Orcs and goblins refer to the species as a whole. So to use an example, if we take the word- Cat. That would be the equivalent of orc/goblin- it describes a species as a whole, taking into account tigers, lions, house cats etc.
Orcs were first ‘created’ by Melkor in the pits of Utumno- his first fortress, where he spawned his many twisted creations. How they were created will be dealt with later on in this chapter, as it is a topic of debate in itself, and even the pretty much accepted ‘corrupted elves’ theory is not certain. But it can be said with certainty that they were created from some other race- Melkor could not create life on his own accord- only the Creator Eru could do that (even the dwarves were not given life after Aule secretly made them, it was only after Eru gave his blessing that they were given true minds).
Orcs were vile, pitiless creatures, who took delight in death and destruction. If they couldn’t fight an enemy they would fight amongst themselves, often over petty squabbles. As orcs were creatures of darkness, they hated the sun. They didn’t perish in it, unlike trolls, however it caused them much discomfort, and they needed to be driven under threat of death or pain to march under it. This was obviously a big disadvantage to their masters, so a better, more refined breed was made. The Uruk-Hai.
Uruk Hai/ Hob Goblins
Here it would appear that these two are also alike in meaning, hob-goblin being Tolkien’s early word for larger orc types in The Hobbit. As is usual with Tolkien, many ideas he came up with in the Hobbit (being before the trilogy in creation) were used in the trilogy, however are given separate names in the narrative.
Note: Here Tolkien uses the usage of the prefix HOB- ie, HOB here means large (as in larger-goblin) however in most mythology hob-goblins are the opposite-small.
So what exactly are the Uruk-Hai? Well lets first get something out of the way that may be confusing film goers. Saruman actually didn’t first create the Uruk Hai, they were first ‘bred’ (again this will be discussed later) by Sauron in Mordor around the year 2475 of the 3rd age. They attack and swarmed over Osgiliath, the defenders being off-guarded by the new stronger breed of orcs. They were Mordor and later Isengard’s fighters, and they often fought against their smaller counterparts in quarrels over plunder, orders etc. and thought the smaller orcs to be mere work slaves.
Note: The word for orc slave is Snaga, which we see used several times in the trilogy. In the past it was theorised that Snaga was in fact a different breed of lesser orc, but it is generally thought to be ‘slave.’ It was also given to the smaller swifter orc trackers.
Unlike their smaller ‘standard’ cousins, the uruks did not fear the sun.
Again there appears to be another pairing of terms meaning the same thing. Half orcs and goblin men appear very little in the text of the books, and it may be that goblin men was just a phrase of the other, a slang if you like, and they were the same thing. But there defiantly appeared to be a ‘watered down’ cross breed of orc/human.
So half-orcs can be seen as a more human breed of Uruk-Hai, as they resemble men more than any other type of orc. They are primarily used as spies however, and they appear in Bree in The Fellowship of the Ring (perhaps because they could blend in better?), and they follow Saruman after his downfall to The Shire. In fact it is very likely there were half-orcs, or at least evil men having dealings with The Shire early on, before the events of the trilogy, as Saruman is seen to be trading pipe weed for his own use. A deed he carried out in secret due to previously scorning Gandalf for using the ‘Halfling’s leaf.’
Tolkien hints in his notes that it is likely that Melkor was the first to experiment with the cross-breeding of orcs and men, and that Saruman came across some ancient source of his lore, and took it up himself.
WHERE DO ORCS COME FROM? ARE ORCS IMMORTAL?
If we take the (almost fully accepted, but certainly not final) theory that orcs are corrupted elves then this raises a bit of a question- are orcs immortal? What happens to them in death? The elves are immortal, and are neither affected by illness nor age, however are still vulnerable to forced death (ie mortal wounds). When this happens they go to Mandos’ halls (think Hades) where they await their time to return. So does the same happen to orcs?
The problem with all these breeding theories is that Tolkien constantly changed how orcs came in being. He already tended to change his mind a lot, which was a habit he had, so paired with this, we see many different changes that Tolkien makes, and he never really settles on one single theory. In later life, he became dissatisfied with the Silmarillion theory of orcs from elves, and began trying to come up with a better answer.
To find the answer to my question we must therefore determine whether orcs were in fact derived from elves, for if they are not, then that certainly helps us out a lot (and in typical Tolkien fashion opens up even more questions).
So I am going to discuss various notes Tolkien made, and will refer to them as note A B C etc. and give in the title the general theory he was putting forth. I have placed important areas in bold.
NOTE A- Orcs came from beasts/elves
Tolkien in this note stated these facts (at the time) about orcs-
1. Only Eru could create life with independent will- which orcs seem to have as they can both serve and rebel their masters
2. Therefore orcs must be made from some corruption of something else already living
3. Orcs were already present before the awakening of men. The newly awakened elves by the lake of Cuivienen were terrified of being taken by creatures that Melkor sent, however much of this was rumours sent by Melkor himself (though the Silmarillion does indeed say many were taken). Early Orcs couldn’t be men.
4. Eru as stated would not give independence to Melkor’s creations, unless…he though them ultimately redeemable and could be saved (finished with a ? beside it)
5. Melkor could not corrupt an entire race- the case of orcs had to be inheritable at some point, and this must have been the work of Eru (if indeed this last point is a fact, which Tolkien didn’t state either way). Therefore the orcs from elves theory is put into doubt.
6. Other species with free speech and will are not yet accounted for ie. beasts such as the eagles- some of which were Maiar in eagle form. Therefore could then some of the greater orcs be Maiar? Some of the lesser ones that Melkor is said to have turned to his service early on? If so then do they become earth bound as they become older and more corrupt? This would explain how some orcs seem to be immortal. (the great goblin is a strong contender for a lesser maiar…see NOTE C)
7. Speech however cannot be seen as proof of an independent spirit. Even though orcs spoke, much of it just rhymed off records set by Melkor, and even Sauron is later said to have devised a speech for his orcs. Therefore orc speech can be seen as the equivalent of a parrot speaking- it is merely copying. Even the orc’s treachery and hate for their masters still placed them as carrying out their master’s ultimate goal- evil. This points to orcs being no more than lifeless beasts made to mock the forms of elves.
Tolkien then ends the note with stating that saying Melkor could not wholly corrupt anything was going too far. Melkor could be seen as starting this off with ‘lifeless’ beasts, then mating the end results with the later elves to further create the true orcs. Therefore there is a strong possibility that there is elf blood in the early orcs. Thusly in death they go to the halls of Mandos and are held in prison to the end.
The problem here is that in a single note- Tolkien is contradicting himself, as stated by his son Christopher (editor of the histories). Tolkien states at the start that orcs can be no more than beasts, and in fact Christopher ends by stating his father had written at the bottom of the passage yet again orcs are beasts. However by the end he is starting to state they may be from elves, and have their blood in them. Therefore why conclude at the end, after stating the theory of crossing beasts with elves, that orcs are beasts. Was this a final word on the note? So that we may disregard all of it?
This is just the start of what becomes an ever more complicated set of notes. It is difficult to discern what Tolkien left, and what he later discarded as an old idea.
NOTE B- Mixed origins
In a separate note Tolkien explains how Melkor, though not having powers to create, did have great powers of distortion and corruption of those who came within him. He then concludes that orcs had mixed origins, and were mostly likely a mixture of corrupted elves, and later men, and most likely had in their ranks (leaders) who were fallen maiar. This would explain how some orcs had exceptionally long lives, and some did not. The ones that crop up again were leaders of the orcs and were likely maiar.
NOTE C-Early orcs maiar/spirits
Here again we have Tolkien writing a completely different note on orcs, dated later on from 1959/60.
In this text Tolkien explains how the orcs of later wars at least (after Melkor’s return from captivity) were capable of craft and speech- and concludes that these orcs were not the same orcs the elves had feared at their awakening in Cuivienen, which was very early on in the history of Arda. He therefore states that the ‘early’ orcs were in fact corrupted maiar, taking elf-like forms in mockery of them. Tolkien then goes on to write the following…
NOTE D- Orcs came from men
Tolkien starts with the same passage as note c- that orcs of later years were much different to the terror that the elves saw after their awakening. He then makes two very important (and related) notes, the first regarding the theory that orcs were corrupted men. The second on a point that arises from it.
1- Those who state orcs derived from men cannot be correct regarding these early orcs. Men had not awoke then, only elves had, so therefore it was not possible for men to be taken when they were alive in middle earth yet!
2. However soon after this, when Melkor returned from captivity he very quickly had a huge army of orcs to attack elves with. How? If they were not elves, and men had not awoken (because we must assume given the speed the army was raised the orcs had to already exist during Melkor’s captivity), then where did they suddenly come from? (for an answer to this see the chronology heading).
Tolkien then states
“the view of the origin of orcs thus meets with difficulties of chronology. But though men may take comfort in this, the theory remains nonetheless the most probable.”
He then goes on to explain many similarities between men and orcs- most notable the ability to become ill, and die of old age (for here Tolkien states that orcs had a lesser life span compared to the Edain).
This last point he goes on to explain, as we know of several orcs who are seen to have a longer lifespan than men. He thus says, as previously stated, that those orcs (usually great captains) who in the early days lived long lives and crop up several times were in fact fallen maiar, who having business to direct orcs, took their forms.
Note: there is an interesting footnote here that states Boldog comes up several times as an orc in the history of middle earth. It is theories that instead of Boldog being a name it is in fact a title for the orc-maiar beings, which were still maiar, just less formidable than balrogs for instance.
After this Tolkien states a point that the men could be corrupted to an ‘orc-like’ level of existence, and then be forced to mate with other orcs, creating a more formidable breed of orc (see half orcs/goblin men), and that Saruman likely found this lore many thousands of years later.
AN ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM OF CHRONOLOGY
At the end of this note, Tolkien finally gives us a formed answer to the problem of the timeline and how orcs fit into it.
The thought of orcs was created in the mind of Melkor- he bade his spirits take hideous forms to terrify the newly awakened elves, and it is these the elves see at Cuivienen, and their intent was to mock and cause terror. However the actually core breeding of orcs was left to Sauron, who Tolkien states was ever cooler in thought than his master, and during Melkor’s time of captivity, it was Sauron who bred the vast armies that were available at his return. It was from men that these orcs were created.
…..and yet again we run into a problem. For this to work men would have to awake much earlier to be taken during Melkor’s captivity. Therefore it was likely an unfinished task of Tolkien before he died to slightly bring forward men’s emergence into the world.
Well as you can see, there really isn’t an answer that was ever officially taken. Tolkien, if he had lived to change the timeline may have settled on men, or he may have changed his mind again. I think the concluding theory to take away is the early orcs, and several of the orc leaders were maiar (as this crops up in several notes) and the vast amount of orcs, especially in later periods were bred from men, and were certainly not immortal, which may seem strange as it is never changed in the Silmarillion, but remember Christopher Tolkien- again editor of the Silmarillion, firstly published the notes in Morgoth’s Ring much later than the Silmarillion, and secondly he really didn’t know for sure if he would be correct in changing it to men, and he would have to change a lot of his father’s work to fit it in, therefore it remains elves in the book.
As ever I hope this was enjoyable and/or informative and if you have comments or opinions please post.
Sources: Morgoth’s Ring (Myths Transformed)/ large amounts of black coffee
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