Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A Thought about Orcs

So, yesterday I was reading through some of JRRT's late metaphysical writings, during which I came across the following passage while looking for something else entirely:

The Valar feared to meddle with the Children . . . Also Eru had forbidden them to coerce their wills, daunting their minds by dread of the power of the Valar, or even amazing them with wonder of their beauty and majesty. But they [the Valar] deemed that since the rule of Arda was committed them, it was within their authority to hinder any creature from deeds of evil, or to restrain it from what might prove hurtful to itself or to others. By 'coercing the will' they understood the dominion or enslaving of the mind of a lesser creature, so that it might say 'I will', assenting to this or that against its true nature and inclination, until it lost, maybe, the power of choice.

The context of this lies in some commentary to The Converse of Manwe with Eru about elvish reincarnation.

What's interesting here is that reversing this line of thought leads to a means that satisfies some of the basics of The Problem with Orcs. What if Melkor the Morgoth, with his love of domination and free of any scruples his fellow Valar might feel as to the consequences of their work, imposed his will on the proto-orcs until they too 'lost, maybe, the power of choice'?

Not altogether satisfactory, but an interesting addition to Tolkien's various attempts (all ultimately unsuccessful) to sort out the problem of a race that is (a) sentient (b) free willed and (c) irredeemably evil.

--John R.
--current reading: J. M. W. TURNER: THE MAN WHO SET PAINTING ON FIRE by Olivier Meslay (another Thames & Hudson, but this one small-sized)


Clive Shergold said...

If we accept that Orcs are originally Elves, coreced, corrupted and misbred by Morgoth, then they are still Children of Iluvatar, with all the consequences. It may be that while in Middle-Earth they have become 'irredeemably evil' despite having limited free will. But what happens when an orc dies? As a corrupted elf, they keep the fate of being taken to the Halls of Mandos. I suggest that in that place they may be redeemable; that restoration or re-creation of their original potential may be possible.

What, then, happens when Legolas faces an orc? He sees a distant cousin, for whom there is no hope other than to die and go to somewhere that might offer redemption. For Legolas to kill the orc is not just morally right, it is also a loving act.

This reasoning relies on Orcs (like Elves) being theologically distinct from Men, and therefore the morality of killing them has to be argued from different premises.

John D. Rateliff said...

Interesting point; I had not considered the Orcish afterlife. What you suggest sounds like a refinement of, and improvement upon, Darrell Martin's theory from back in the early 1980s.

One factor that would need to be factored in is the 'Loremasters' saying that souls can refuse to travel to Mandos. Normally that wd mean it remains unbodied, but I suspect there might be ways around that.

Of course standard Xian theology does hold that free-willed souls can reach a point where they become irredeemable: it's called damnation. Maybe the breaking point arrives earlier (pre-death) among the orcs. And then there's the Woses to consider, as if it weren't all complicated enough.

Anyway, thanks for the interesting comment.

--John R.

Clive Shergold said...


Is Darrell's theory on the Web, or otherwise available? I have tried to trace it, but although his name is all over the place (including this blog), I have been unable to trace any of his writing.