Life and Times of the Orcs

On the Origin of Orcs

1. The Origin of Orcs as described by Tolkien

This essay developed along Molly Littlefoot’s questions in the thread AmandaK's stories: Enmities, a story about a dying Orc mother and her cubs.

When I read that story I found a beast-like mother loving and protecting her offspring. But this attitude I could not reconcile with the demonstrations of hate and disdain within the Orcish hordes as described by Tolkien. And then I remembered the Elven origin of the Orcs, which in my mind would result in self-hate as much as in hate of the Elven brethren. To bolster my feelings I perused LotR, Tolkien’s Letters, Silmarillion, and HOME for information on the origin of Orcs. Tolkien's description changed with time, but the Elven part in the origin of the Orcs seems to enhance with time.

Book of lost tales, Fall of Gondolin
How it came ever that among Men the Noldoli have been confused with the Orcs who are Melko's goblins, I know not, unless it be that certain of the Noldoli were twisted to the evil of Melko and mingled among these Orcs, for all that race were bred by Melko of the subterranean heats and slime. Their hearts were of granite and their bodies deformed; foul their faces which smiled not ... (very early version of Orc origin)

Of the Elf Meglin it was whispered that he had Orc's blood in his veins (Book of lost tales, Fall of Gondolin). This whisper is only possible if Orcs could procreate with Elves.

LotR, RotK, The Tower of Cirith Ungol, Frodo to Sam
No, they eat and drink. 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; and if they are to live at all, they have to live like other living creatures. Foul waters and foul meats they’ll take, if they can get no better, but not poison.

LotR, Appendix F, Of the other races
The Orcs were first bred by the Dark Power of the North in the Elder Days. … And these creatures, being filled with malice, hating even their own kind, quickly developed as many barbarous dialects as there were groups or settlements of their race, …

Silmarillion, Of the coming of the Elves
But of those unhappy ones who were ensnared by Melkor little is known of a certainty. For who of the living has descended into the pits of Utumno, or has explored the darkness of the counsels of Melkor ? Yet it is held true by the wise of Eressea, that all those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes. For the Orcs had life and multiplied after the manner of the children of Iluvatar; and naught that had life of his own, nor semblance of life, could ever Melkor make since his rebellion in the Ainulindale before the Beginning: so say the wise. And deep in their dark hearts the Orcs loathed the Master whom they served in fear, the maker only of their misery. This it may be was the vilest deed of Melkor, and the most hateful to Iluvatar.

Silmarillion, Of the Sindar
… among them were Orcs, … , but they were yet few and wary, and did but smell out the ways of the land, awaiting the return of their lord. Whence they came, or what they were, the Elves knew not then, thinking them perhaps to be Avari who had become evil and savage in the wild; in which they guessed all to near, it is said.

Letter 153 (draft written 1954)
Orcs – who are fundamentally a race of ‘rational incarnate’ creatures, though horribly corrupted, if no more so than many Men to be met today.

He (Eru) gave special ‘sub-creative powers to certain of His highest created beings: that is a guarantee that what they devised and made should be given the reality of Creation.

I have represented at least the Orcs as pre-existing real beings on whom the Dark Lord has exerted the fullness of his power in remodelling and corrupting them, not making them. That God would ‘tolerate’ that, seems no worse theology than the toleration of the calculated dehumanizing of Men by tyrants that goes on today.

Letter 212 (Draft 1958)
The fall or corruption, therefore, of all things in it and all inhabitants of it, was a possibility if not inevitable. Trees may ‘go bad’ as in the old forests; Elves may turn into Orcs, and if this required the special perversive malice of Morgoth, still the Elves themselves could do evil deeds. Even the ‘good’ Valar as inhabiting the World could at least err; …

Pondering the origin from Elves, and maybe subterranean heats and slime, I think Orcs could live as long as Elves. But as they lead a much more dangerous life (battles, skirmishes, brawls between themselves, hunting and slaying their own kind, slaving for Melkor or Sauron, accidents in the youth) I think they mostly die after a few hundreds years. Yet, there might be some revered ones who become really ancient. And being at least in part of Elven origin they surely have also the Elven capability to procreate.

As Men and Elfs can procreate together surely the same applies to Orcs and Men. But the faerie Elfs and Orcs have probably much less offspring than the short-lived Men.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.


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Author: elanor of aquitania

Status: Beta

Completion: Work in Progress

Rating: General

Last Updated: 09/06/04

Original Post: 09/05/04

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