The latest images from the Amazon TV series The Rings of Power concerning the Orcs (personal opinion: really well done!) has brought back a discussion on the Orcs of Middle-earth, which cyclically reappears, seasoned with certainties related to Peter Jackson's films, but certainties are not at all, when compared to books.

Here I want to analyze three points in detail: Are Orcs laboratory beings or living beings? Are there female orcs? Are they a monothematic culture, abject and flattened on the malignant monstrosity or do they have other characteristics?

Tolkien's Orcs: living beings of dramatic origin

Tolkien was distressed, in his legendarium, from the Orc problem for life.
In a letter to Peter Hastings in September 1954, when asked about some thorny metaphysical questions, Tolkien focuses on various objections raised to him regarding his Secondary World. In particular, what interests us concerns the statement of Treebeard regarding the creation by the Dark Lord, of Trolls and Orcs.
Tolkien replies very clearly:

“Treebeard is a character in my story, he's not me (…) there are many things he doesn't know or understand (…) The suffering and experience give Frodo more insight; and you will read in chap. I of Book VI the words of him to Sam. 'The Shadow who raised them only knows how to undo, she doesn't know how to do, create new things on her own. I don't think he sired the orcs; he did nothing but ruin and deprave them ”.

And that's exactly what we read in The Silmarillion. There it is told how many early Elves, walking in the areas around their place of origin, Cuiviènen, were captured by the servants of Morgoth and “by means of slow cruel arts they were corrupted and enslaved; and so Melkor generated the hideous race of Orcs who are an act of envy and mockery towards the Elves (…). In fact, the Orcs came to life and multiplied in the same way as the Sons of Ilùvatar ". In short, the Orcs are creatures with their own life, because Evil cannot create, but only disfigure. Certainly they are not born from mud, as can be seen with regard to Saruman's Uruk-Hai in Peter Jackson's films - a very cinematic choice but absent from books -, they have a life of their own, however miserable and sad.

Orcs Rings of Power

Female Orcs Exist!

Closely related to this last point is the consideration of the presence or absence of female Orcs. If the Orcs reproduce as Elves and Men, it goes without saying that there are women, even if, given the level of "culture" of the Orcs, they will be subordinated, exploited and tortured in an atrocious way by the males.

Tolkien himself tells us about the Orcs. In fact, in a letter dated October 1963, he claims that "there must have been some ogres. But in the stories that view orcs only as soldiers in the service of evil lords, nothing is known about their lives. Not much was known ".

Not much was known, of course, because in a militaristic society like that of the Orcs, in the service of the various Dark Lords, women were the bottom rung of the social ladder. Yet this does not detract from their existence within the legendarium.


The variety of the orc world

We have said that the minions of Morgoth are mostly crushed by a power so great, and corrupted for millennia, that for them to think of a different, less ugly reality is impossible; yet Tolkien paints various types of Orcs and proves that they were not and are not monothematic characters.

In the last book of the Professor given to the press, The Nature of Middle Earth, we speak of an unspecified group of Orcs of the Second Era who rebelled against Sauron because they wanted "Do it yourself". We have no other explanations, but it is a really interesting note.

The most interesting elements, however, come from the Orcs of Lord of the Rings. The two Orcs of Mordor, Shagrat and Gorbag, show the stabbing contrast between Minas Morgul and Barad-dur, or, better, between the troops in charge of their defense. The capture of Frodo will unleash a real war between the two factions, a "nice friendship" as Sam jokingly defines it.

The mutual slaughter will help Sam and Frodo escape; but there is another element, which emerges, between the dialogues of Shagrat and Gorbag: the slavery that characterizes the Orcs themselves, who can enjoy as much as they want the raids and battles against the wise (the Men of Gondor) or the Elves, but who are prisoners of the will of their masters.

The two show a remarkable ability to analyze the situation, they do not spare criticisms of the "superiors", and from their dialogues it is clear that the Orcs are not automatons at all, but have a precise personality, which, although obscured by cruelty and ugliness, manages to come out:

“But anyway, if it actually ends well, there will be a lot more space. What do you think? ... If we had the opportunity, you and I, to sneak away and set up on our own with a few trusted guys, in a place where there is good booty and no bosses or superiors? "

“Ah!” Shagrat exclaimed. "Like old times".

"Yes," said Gorbag. “But don't count on it. I'm not at all calm. As I said, the Big Bosses, yeah, ”his voice became almost a whisper,“ yeah, even the Greatest, they can make mistakes. Something was about to kick in, you say. I tell you: something has introduced itself. And we need to be alert. It is always up to the poor Uruk to make up for it, with a few thanks. But don't forget: the enemies love us no more than they love him, and if they overwhelm him, we too are finished ”.


I have always found this dialogue illuminating and far too little analyzed. It clearly shows the enormous variety within the Orc world: there are soldiers who simply obey orders, but also those, like the two present here, who denote independence of thought and extreme lucidity, albeit mixed with ferocity. and the typical hypocrisy of those who live to kill, and who moralize the enemy without looking himself in the face.

Gorbag ​​regrets the times when the Orcs were free ... sure, free to slaughter and raid, but still it is a meaningful phrase, and the Orc clearly shows how often superiors, in war, always say that war is fine, even when reality clashes with propaganda, as in this emblematic and revealing phrase of the variety of the Orc world:

"You should try to be up here with Shelob," Shagrat said. "I would like to try a place where there is neither. But now the war has begun, and afterwards things will probably be easier ”. "It seems to be going well, to hear what they say."

"And what else could they say?" Gorbag ​​grunted.