Where the orcs of Rings of Power came from is the great mystery of Lord of the Rings

Where the orcs of Rings of Power came from is the great mystery of Lord of the Rings

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Of this week The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power delves into Tolkien’s deepest knowledge and the distant dawn of sentient life on Middle-earth to broach a question even the professor himself couldn’t answer: Where do orcs come from?

[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episode 6.]

Image: Prime Video

Many plot threads come together in ‘Udûn’, the penultimate episode in the first season of Rings of Power – especially for our purposes, Galadriel comes face to face with Adar, the elfin creature the orcs besieging Ostirith call Vader.

“When I was a child,” she tells him, meaning very, very long ago, “I heard stories of elves taken by Morgoth; tortured, twisted, made into a new and ruined form of life. You’re one of them, aren’t you? The Moriondor. The sons of the dark. The first orcs.” To her, orcs are “a mistake made in mockery” of life.

Adar replies that he prefers to be called a “uruk” and insists that his “children” have no master, no longer work for Sauron or Morgoth and earn their own place in the – well, not in the Sun, precisely. ‘Everyone has a name,’ he tells her, ‘a heart. We are creations of the One, Master of the Secret Fire, the same as you. Just as worthy of the breath of life and just as worthy of a home.”

With this scene, Rings of Power picks up a puzzle box that even Tolkien hasn’t solved: The Origin of Orcs. But before we get into the knowledge at work here, let’s define some of those Middle-earth terms that Adar threw there.

What does uruk mean?

Image: New Line Cinema

“Uruk” is a familiar sound to anyone who remembers Peter Jackson’s menacing uruk-hai Under the spell of the Ring trilogy. It simply means “orc” in the Black Speech of Mordor, which is another way of saying that orcs call themselves in their own language. (Uruk-hai actually means “orc-people” or “orc-folk.” Orc Folk is also my favorite musical subgenre.)

The “One” refers to Eru Ilúvatar, the supreme god of Middle-earth, who created the world, its gods – the Valar – and its mortal inhabitants (elves, humans, etc.). The “secret fire” is the divine power that Eru wielded to create something out of nothing, but it is primarily considered to be the ability that creates conscious life, forging living beings with souls and personality from mere animal flesh. eru hot the master of the secret fire because he alone had the power to create new life.

Which begs the question: if only Eru can make humans, who made the orcs?

Where do orcs come from?

The short answer is: Tolkien never really answered this, because he couldn’t find a way to solve the inherent problem with the concept of a “monstrous race of sentient people” before he died.

Galadriel’s idea of ​​the origin of orcs in The rings of power comes pretty close to that of The Silmarillion. Compiled and published posthumously by Tolkien’s son Christopher, it says that “little is known with certainty”, but it was “held true by the sages” that Morgoth had the orcs performed “by slow arts of ferocity” on elves caught in the dark before the Valar could find them. The minds and bodies of these oldest elves had been “corrupted and enslaved” into orcs “in envy and mockery of the Elves” – Morgoth’s envy of Eru’s unique ability to create life. “Deep in their dark hearts the Orcs abhorred the Master they served in fear, the maker only of their misery. This was perhaps Melkor’s meanest act and the most hateful to Ilúvatar.”

The longer answer is that Tolkien has come up with multiple explanations for the origins of orcs and may have come up with others had he had more time. In early versions of his legendarium, Morgoth created the orcs of stone. In the 1950s, Tolkien wrote the version Christopher chose The Silmarillionin which it was widely believed that the first orcs were corrupt elves.

But in later years, Tolkien began to struggle with sweeping and fundamental revisions to Middle-earth cosmology that he could never finish or complete. And in these years he seems to have seen the contradiction that it is totally heroic to slaughter orcs at every opportunity, even if the hobbit and Under the spell of the Ringthey seemed to have free will.

Mutilated Orc from Lord of the Rings Battle

Image: New Line Cinema

After all, Tolkien’s orcs had military ranks. They argued among themselves, grumbled about their orders and made sadistic jokes. In many ways they were the product of Tolkien’s most harrowing personal experiences as a foot soldier in the British Army of WWI: a people perpetually living in war, bureaucracy and petty obedience, with no sense of community or solidarity other than taking orders. Mordor was a foxhole, full of the worst people and the worst officers, war with no brotherhood or honorable reason except “the boss told you to.”

In his new origins for orcs, Tolkien explored the idea that orcs could be made of corrupt humans, elves, disembodied spirits and beasts – taken by Morgoth and transformed into a conglomerate mockery of Eru’s creations. In this origin, the dark god and source of all evil imbued them with his own will and nature so that they could quarrel and even betray him, but only because they were driven by his universal hatred of all living things, including himself.

Tolkien worked on the principles of a man who vocally loathed apartheid and Nazi Germany, but sadly all he had to do was work with the tools of a Catholic Englishman born in South Africa in the closing days of the Victorian era. . It doesn’t matter if orcs are made of stone, or beasts, or corrupt mortals, each origin is just a fictional version of the kind of stories racists have always made up to explain why it’s OK to kill the fellow humans they brutalize. mistreat. The idea that a category of persons can be inherently evil – the “monster race” – is the thorn in the heart of much of the fantasy media that has emerged from Tolkien’s work, in ways that are still being unpacked and unwrapped today.

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