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Old 11-18-2021, 05:03 PM   #1
Mithadan
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Orcs and Elves (and Men and Animals)

The origins of Orcs has been debated here before. Whether your view is that Orcs were created whole cloth by Morgoth, were corrupted Elves, corrupted Men or perhaps animals bred into their Orcish form really depends on what source you look at. Orcs created entirely by Morgoth is a very early concept at best and seems to have been wholly rejected by JRRT. LoTR says little of the origin of Orcs other than Treebeard's statement that they were "counterfeits." JRRT, in Letters (153) states that "counterfeit," at least regarding Orcs but maybe not Trolls, does not mean made or created, but rather ruined, twisted or corrupted. The Silmarillion states that The wise of Eressea seem to believe they were corrupted Elves. I have not looked to HoME versions of the Silmarillion, but in his later writings found in Morgoth's Ring, JRRT seems to be leaning to Orcs being corrupted Men or animals. The Mannish origin of Orcs seems inconsistent with the timeline of various iterations of the Silmarillion which has Orcs appearing before Men arose. But NoME suggests that Men arose significantly earlier (if JRRT's Time and Aging musings are considered as authoritative in any way).

The purpose of this thread is not to determine the origin of Orcs. Rather, the intent is to discuss (read as "speculate") why JRRT wavered. The rejection of Orcs as a pure creation of Morgoth rests in the conclusion found in Letters, Morgoth's Ring, etc. that Morgoth, once he "fell" could not "create" beings. In Letters (153) he also states this as being related to a prohibition against creating incarnates; certain Valar could "sub-create" to an extent but Morgoth, after he fell, no longer could. But why did he then waver between Orcs being corrupted Elves and twisted Men (or animals)?
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Old 11-18-2021, 06:47 PM   #2
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I have to admit I am by no means versed in all the Professor's writings on the subject.
Being a devout Catholic, and adhering to Biblical Creation, I would think it natural though for him to have the "corruption" take on Orcs.

It is made clear in the Silmarillion,, with Aulë and the Dwarves, that while the Valar could make physical bodies, imbuing them with fea was beyond them.

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"Thou hast as a gift from me thy own being only, and no more; and therefore the creatures of thy hand and mind can only live by that being, moving when thou thinkest to move them, and if thy thought be elsewhere, standing idle".
Of Aulë and Yavanna

Why should it be any different where Melkor was concerned? The greatest of the Valar, perhaps; but still a creation himself.

Moreover, it feels wrong for Melkor to be a creator. Wouldn't that make him indeed a peer of Ilúvatar, and his lies to Húrin truth?
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Old 11-18-2021, 11:21 PM   #3
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It seems to me that as time went on he wanted the existence of Orcs to be more consistent with his own beliefs and how they were manifested in the spiritual-metaphysical systems of Arda, hence his later musing on the subject.

Yet I actually find it a little curious that he found the question difficult, because it seems to me that he saw the "Orc-level of mind and habits", or something close to it, present in modern society. I would have thought that, by his world-view, "Orcishness" was very evidently a state to which any being could be reduced, and that such a quality might well become endemic in a population under tyranny, oppression, denial of spiritual truth etc.
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Old 11-19-2021, 05:23 AM   #4
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I actually find it a little curious that he found the question difficult, because it seems to me that he saw the "Orc-level of mind and habits", or something close to it, present in modern society. I would have thought that, by his world-view, "Orcishness" was very evidently a state to which any being could be reduced, and that such a quality might well become endemic in a population under tyranny, oppression, denial of spiritual truth etc.
Indeed. And there is also sufficient evidence that physical changes of beings occurred, both "naturally" (as with the Petty-dwarves and Hobbits), and artificially (Gwindor's 'bent and fearful' alteration as a prisoner in Angband, and Saruman's cross-breeding of Men and Orcs).
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Old 11-19-2021, 07:37 AM   #5
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But why did he then waver between Orcs being corrupted Elves and twisted Men (or animals)?
I've always assumed that this shift was due to Tolkien not wanting to be so mean to his elves. He was happy for them to bring doom and destruction on their own heads, but I think in his later phases he didn't want them to suffer without inviting it on themselves. There's a quote in NoME (I think) about the Quendi being an Unfallen race, in contrast to the Fall of Man; from a religious perspective, torturing uncorrupted souls into evil orcs is... iffy. Note that things like the explicit presence of large numbers of elvish slaves in Angband drop out of the story, too: Gwindor remains, but he is the only survivor of his company, and can be seen to have brought the 'punishment' on himself by breaking ranks and (partly) bringing about the disaster of the Nirnaeth.

But I admit I haven't checked against the books, and a glance at Morgoth's Ring suggests the story is much more complicated. It may be tied to the question of whether Orcs have their own will at all, or are controlled by the dispersed power of the Dark Lord even after his banishment.

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Old 11-19-2021, 03:48 PM   #6
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I think it's partly a case that, as Tolkien's metaphysics around Elves got fancier and fancier, he became more and more leary of trying to explain Orks as a tortured derivative of them. Look at all the charts on ageing and generational growth in The Nature of Middle-earth and I think that if you tried applying it in any form to the Orks, it'd be difficult--especially in light of all the talk of "orks multiplying" in timeframes much closer to Mannish generations.

Of course, Tolkien could have explained differences in things like this as a result of Morgoth's tampering--but I suspect he didn't want to give Morgoth more credit in being able to tamper with the fundamentals of Elvish nature than necessary. (Same with Men too, but the most of the difference between Orks and Men can be put into degrees and gradations--as he liked to remark, there are Orks enough among us. And perhaps--having used that metaphor all through World War II and beyond--he felt that helped explain the truth of the matter.)
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Old 11-20-2021, 03:27 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Inzil
Why should it be any different where Melkor was concerned? The greatest of the Valar, perhaps; but still a creation himself.

Moreover, it feels wrong for Melkor to be a creator. Wouldn't that make him indeed a peer of Ilúvatar, and his lies to Húrin truth?
I agree that Melkor could not create, only "twist and corrupt" as Tolkien defines what Treebeard's "counterfeit" comment means. And later, Frodo's comment to Sam:

Quote:
"The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. I don't think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them;...~The Tower of Cirith Ungol
I think that's an important point in Melkor's (and later Sauron's) fall. They could not create "real new things" of their own, and they fell into nihilism.

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Originally Posted by Mithadan
The purpose of this thread is not to determine the origin of Orcs. Rather, the intent is to discuss (read as "speculate") why JRRT wavered.
This is only my opinion, but I think that since Tolkien did waver on orc origins is telling on its own. He was in a state of constant revision, trying to make each revision more consistent than the previous one. When it comes to the origin of orcs, he altered timelines, altered their origins, to fit whatever version of his story he had at the time. I think the different versions of orc origins show that Tolkien was more than capable of resolving the question. The only (or maybe I should say simplest) solution to the orc question, seems to be if Tolkien just went back to an earlier version; "screw it, Melkor has the power to create."

However, he does not do this. He'd waver and adjust timelines to fit whatever orc origin was most consistent with the revision he was writing. What he does not waver on though is only Iluvatar had the power to create. I suppose someone can argue that Melkor being able to create was a concept Tolkien held at one time, but certainly by the Lord of the Rings he seems to me, firmly set that only Iluvatar had the power of creation.
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Old 11-21-2021, 06:22 PM   #8
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I want to throw out a response from the "who really wrote the book" series, for the fun and ingenuity of it. Of course, if Tolkien wrote the book, then the question is why did he change his mind about Orcs so many times. But if Tolkien is merely the "translator"... Well, then we must ask where the primary sources of the text are coming from. Say, for instance, that the Professor stumbles upon some records in chronological order. What may he find? There could have been different speculations voiced by different people at different periods in time. A little fanciful illustration:

You are Quendi. Quendi are living creatures that speak, that are sentient - the only creatures who are so, and thus different from animals. If you are sentient, then you are Quendi. The world makes sense and it is beautiful.

Then you start meeting strange creatures. They feel wrong, they don't feel like they belong in the world, they are not in harmony with the rest of it. You can tell that they have an evil intent, and are driven by an evil will. They come in different forms, and do different things. Sometimes your friends disappear, and you assume the evil creatures got them. But they are sentient, they can speak too. Whence come the evil Speakers? They must have been created by that evil force that drives them to spread his power through the world. Certainly they did not awake with the Firstborn, they ought to have very different beginnings, one in light and one in darkness.

But then you learn of the Valar, perhaps even meet the Valar yourself. You learn that there is indeed an evil power who drives these creatures, and he is Melkor. Yet you also learn of his fall, and that he has lost the power to create, left only with the power to corrupt. And again you ask yourself, whence came the evil creatures under his dominion? And you remember again the comrades that have been lost, and a horrible thought occurs to you. You thought your friends were slain, but if instead they were captured, and corrupted into a dark reflection of their essence? The Orcs had to come from somewhere, and if they were not created, they must trace their origins - indeed! - to Cuivienen, as unlike as they are to all the Quendi who remained so in truth.

But time moves on, and yet another race makes its way into the western lands, a race you've heard very little of. The Mortals, the Aftercomers. Supposedly the Children of Iluvatar, jus like the Quendi. And they speak, and they are sentient. But they are weird. They hold onto the world just barely, and are not quite in harmony with it. They have many different customs, and not all of them are good. They are rash, and when their thought is lacking they behave not unlike Orcs might. In fact, they might be a lot more like Orcs than Quendi are. Then here is an explanation for the birth of the Orcs, one that could not have been known previously, for you have not yet known of the Aftercomers. It is not the Quendi who were twisted into the polar opposite of their being; rather, it is Men, who required only the slightest push to turn them into Orcs. Morgoth, as you now call the evil Power, must have found them way before they came into Beleriand, and way before even the Valar were aware of their awakening.

But you get to know Men better. You heard of Men committing acts of bravery and loyalty that would put an Elf to shame. You heard that two most beautiful Elven princesses fell in love with mortal men and wed them, joining the two races. There were Elves who worked hard to keep the bond between Elves and Men; Finrod, perhaps, was the first, and Elrond Halfelven might be the last. You've seen Men raise kingdoms that are perhaps less splendid than the Elven cities of old, but more durable. You see that while they might be more malleable than Elves, they still yearn for goodness, not for darkness. And you begin to doubt your theory again.

Perhaps you will never know how Morgoth bred the Orcs, whose hapless forms he twisted to his purpose. Surely it cannot just be a mindless animal, for Orcs are sentient, and animals are not, and whatever else you may think, you can never accept that Morgoth could have created a hroa, much less a fea. Neither do you believe that these creatures were meant to exist in Iluvatar's song. Was it Quendi, perhaps the lost ones from the dawn of time? Or Men, found and captured before the rest of the world knew of their existence? Surely not the Naugrim, for there is not much resemblance between the proud, hardworking, and reserved race and the hasty, treacherous, cruel Orcs. You will never learn the answer. Maybe you might have, if you knew the right questions to ask back then, in the days before the Sun. But it is too late now. Morgoth is gone beyond the Circles of the World, and the Quendi too are fading. You are among the last to linger, but you too shall leave this land soon. But this writing, these musings, you shall leave in Middle-earth. Let some future generation answer the question that you have not solved in your time.


...A little too fanciful, perhaps, but I think not impossible. What would have been the within-world explanations for the Orcs' existence, if you have to work in an internally consistent legendarium where things have an in-universe explanation, rather than just the meta "because Tolkien said so"? I know that in the end the meta explanation is the only one that really counts, but it's fun to imagine. And characters had to have some explanation that went well with their consequent actions. For instance, if the Elves always believed that Orcs are corrupted Elves, would they not try to, dunno, help them, uncorrupt them? Either in the beginning, before they met the Valar, or in the Fourth Age, when there were no named powers openly acting in the world, no Morgoth to strive against? Since the Elves gave up on the Orcs permanently, they had to hold a belief consistent with that decision. And this too can be playing in to Tolkien's decision - how can he have Orcs that are/were Elves, but have the kind and brave Elves not even consider healing them, at any point in history?
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Old 11-22-2021, 03:10 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Galadriel55 View Post
Say, for instance, that the Professor stumbles upon some records in chronological order. What may he find? There could have been different speculations voiced by different people at different periods in time. A little fanciful illustration:

...A little too fanciful, perhaps, but I think not impossible.
And very well supported in the text, because the last major text on Orcs (HoME X:V:X, pleasingly) is exactly this kind of document:

Quote:
So far as can be gleaned from the legends that have come down to us from our earliest days, it would seem that the Quendi had never yet encountered any Orcs of this kind before the coming of Orome to Cuivienen.
Much like the occasional Numenorean scholar author, the Elvish writer of this piece (written in the Fourth Age, because she talks about Saruman's experiments in the past tense) has fiercely strong opinions that she presents in the guise of facts.

Quote:
This view of the origin of the Orcs [that they were corrupted Men] thus meets with difficulties of chronology. But though Men may take comfort in this, the theory remains nonetheless the most probable.
She mentions most of the theories - independent creation of Melkor, spirits/phantoms, Maiar (handled separately), and of course corrupted Men - but is utterly silent on the question of Elves. Except...

Quote:
But even before this wickedness of Morgoth [the corruption of Men into Orcs] was suspected the Wise in the Elder Days taught always that the Orcs were not 'made' by Melkor, and therefore were not in their origin evil.
... which is a direct reference to the Annals of Aman, the last pre-Myths Transformed account, which states that it "is held true by the Wise of Eressea" that Orcs are corrupted Elves. So yeah, the most complete late text is explicitly an opinion-ridden denunciation of both mortal Men and their arrogance, and the naivity of old-timer Elves.

(Incidentally X:V:X is also where the idea that Elves would always take an Orcish surrender offer, though Orcs rarely offered, comes from.)

~

Glancing over the other Myths Transformed texts, I feel like the shift from the simple "they're elves" version came about because of the Athrabeth. Finrod tells Andreth that he cannot believe that Morgoth could change the Doom and nature of a whole people. In that text he was referring to her claim that Men were not supposed to be Mortal, but Tolkien seems to have realised it applied equally to making Orcs inheritably evil. Everything from then on was an attempt to write himself out of that contradiction, by making them either no longer Eruhini, or so crushed by Morgoth's spirit and will that they weren't entirely rational creatures any more.

hS
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Old 11-22-2021, 02:14 PM   #10
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...Being a devout Catholic, and adhering to Biblical Creation...
This isn't actually the case for catholics, though. Biblical creationism is very much not a thing, and literal biblical creationism very much less so.


There's something of an overview here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolut...atholic_Church - it does come with the caveat that I haven't read all of it so I can't personally stand over all of it, but the first paragraph is a reasonable summary of how things sre:
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According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, any believer ... may accept the belief that the earth evolved over time under the guidance of God. Catholicism holds that God initiated and continued the process of his evolutionary creation and that all humans, whether specially created or evolved, have and have always had specially created souls for each individual.
This totally holds true with my personal catholic upbringing in the 1970s, where factors such as the age of the earth, or evolution of humans and apes from a common ancestor, were never in doubt and were freely taught at catholic-run schools. To a catholic, rigid belief in literal biblical creationism would be a very "protestant" thing and would seem very strange.


This partially gives us the answer. In Tolkien's letters and his reworkings of the Silmarillion mythos from the 1950s on, we see him slowly dismantling the more mythical elements and replacing them with concepts that align more closely with real-world cosmology and history. So the sun and the moon can't have been created just after the death of the Trees, they must have always been there; the earth can't have been originally flat, it must have always been round; men can't have only recently awoken, they must be much older.



So it can definitely be demonstrated that Tolkien absolutely did not adhere to biblical creationism, quite the opposite in fact, and he expended considerable effort in making his feigned history a truer facsimile of real history (and pre-history).


Over the same time something also happened to his conception of his Elves, and they became higher, purer, more noble, more "unfallen". We see an example of this in the number of loopholes he invented in his attempts to disassociate Galadriel from the Feanorian rebellion.



I think in the end he just didn't want Elves to be the origin of Orcs. There were too many questions around immortality and rebirth, and he was no longer prepared to handwave this kind of thing with mythical explanations. By trying to root his work in real-world cosmology and history, he'd undermined the mythical elements.
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Old 11-22-2021, 04:39 PM   #11
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So it can definitely be demonstrated that Tolkien absolutely did not adhere to biblical creationism, quite the opposite in fact, and he expended considerable effort in making his feigned history a truer facsimile of real history (and pre-history).
I was not speaking of literal seven day creation versus evolution.
My meaning was that in the Bible, Satan is a supremely gifted (and originally beautiful) divine spirit. He is not, however, a creator. He is a masterful liar and corruptor.
That is the parallel I was aiming for.
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Old 11-23-2021, 10:08 AM   #12
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Glancing over the other Myths Transformed texts, I feel like the shift from the simple "they're elves" version came about because of the Athrabeth. Finrod tells Andreth that he cannot believe that Morgoth could change the Doom and nature of a whole people. In that text he was referring to her claim that Men were not supposed to be Mortal, but Tolkien seems to have realised it applied equally to making Orcs inheritably evil. Everything from then on was an attempt to write himself out of that contradiction, by making them either no longer Eruhini, or so crushed by Morgoth's spirit and will that they weren't entirely rational creatures any more.
Huinesoron, certainly the Athrabeth introduces a new idea in the mythos; that Men were, in their original nature, possibly "undying" like Elves but were rendered mortal as a result of some event in the distant and nearly forgotten past akin to a "fall." I do not have the Athrabeth in front of me, but I seem to recall that Andreth attributes the mortality of Man to some act or influence of Morgoth, while Finrod believes (as he was taught in Valinor) that the nature of Man was set by Eru, though he voices concern that, if Andreth's view was true, Morgoth was far more powerful that the Noldor believed. To Finrod, the "marring" of Man by Morgoth is the fear of death and Man's view that the darkness of Morgoth and the darkness are death are one and the same. The Arthrabeth is, in part, a debate between differing views, as well as an attempt by Finrod to understand why Men alternatively fear and revere Elves.

If JRRT's shifting view of the origin of Orcs is attributable to the "fall" (and the marring of Man and the biblical "fall" are not the same, see Letter 153 the metaphysic of JRRT's mythical world is not the same as the metaphysic of the "real World") of Man, then the Arthrabeth is relevant to this discussion. The Athrabeth could be considered, indirectly, to be a rationalization of Tolkien's possible change in view of the origin of Orcs. Yet I am not convinced of this.
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