J.R.R. Tolkien can be accused of many things, but lack of attention to detail is not one of them. That’s what makes the Orcs’ origin story and cultural explorations, or lack thereof, odd.
In the sweeping drama of their cross-country walk, it can be easy to miss a few points, which should not be ignored. Almost nothing is directly said of them other than that they are evil and unnatural, they are abominations.
“Tolkien based the Uruk Hais’ visage on Mongolians.”
Despite this attempt to conceal it, these orcs clearly have their own cultures and sub-cultures. They seem to also multiply on their own, and yet, no female orc is ever spoken of.
Orcs are never depicted as lacking in desire – be it for food, power or lust (albeit for blood.)
In the book they would have you believe that all orcs come ready-made with weapons, and only death of men on their minds. And yet, it is clear the main characters know this to be false, as they are aware that once Sauron is defeated these armies would disperse.
And so, drawing a logical thread from this piece of information, one can see a different picture begin to form. One in which orcs largely mind their own business, until our heroes trespass on their property.
According to the story, Moria was taken over by a dark and ancient evil – not by orcs, who took advantage of the vacancy. And this forms a pattern, orcs live in dark places, where people don’t go anyway. This is where they multiply and create their own languages and customs that differentiate between the clans.
Then there are the Uruk Hai, the first mention of a renewed meddling in orc affairs, and the first in a LONG time to be artificially created. Again we are told of “monsters” created with the sole purpose of killing. They are upgrades, as they can also walk in the sun. To some readers, this may perhaps remind them of Mengele’s medical experiments with twins.
Propaganda or Creative Liberties?
This is a fantasy novel, and Tolkien was creating a story line. An action must be taken or we are left with passive reactions and no real villain – in other words, Frozen. Tolkien wasn’t trying to make a statement, and this is important to note when attempting to criticize the author. And this is why the criticism should stay on the work. This isn’t a claim on Tolkien’s character, and as far as stories go, he wrote an extremely compelling one – but is it an eternal one?
Let us take a look at how Tolkein establishes “evil.”
• They are brutal and unfeeling toward their prisoners.
• They are depicted as mindlessly bickering among themselves and having a hard time working together – with their collaborations often ending in killings.
Discourse, and greed are set forth as the “evil” traits – rather rudimentary and common as far as evil goes.
1. Grishnakh, an orc, demonstrated its greed when it tried to take the hobbits and the ring they told it they had.
Grishnakh only did this when he thought all was doomed, and they were all going to be caught and the mission would fail.
2. The different clans end up warring with each other over what their orders were, and end up killing each other, then eating each other.
While cannibalism is abhorrent, one must remember that these are different clans with different allegiances. They fight each other in an effort to remain as loyal as possible to their respective masters.
In the instance of their kidnapping of Merry and Pippin they exhibit extreme dedication to their cause, even in the face of desperate hunger and physical punishment. Much as the heroes of the story exhibit their dedication to one another.
This isn’t the only instance in which the heroes and the villains are shown to share traits. Aragorn, for example, admitted to treating Gollum with brutality after hunting him down – again, a clear parallel to the orcs kidnapping the hobbits.