The Corner

Film & TV

What If They Were Black Walkers?

Participants dressed as characters from J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit re-enact near the town of Doksy, Czech Republic, June 16, 2018. (David W. Cerny/REUTERS)

So I just found this Wired piece from last fall on J. R. R. Tolkien’s alleged bigotry towards . . . Orcs. By now this an old gripe, that began, to my knowledge, with the release of the Lord of the Rings movies. I’d be interested to know from some Tolkienologists whether this criticism was ever aimed at the book.  Regardless, I’ve been writing about it since 2003. From the Wired piece titled: “Is Lord of the Rings Prejudiced Against Orcs?”:

“It’s hard to miss the repeated notion in Tolkien that some races are just worse than others, or that some peoples are just worse than others,” Duncan says. “And this seems to me—in the long term, if you embrace this too much—it has dire consequences for yourself and for society.”

Yes, yes, that’s true, as far as it goes. It is a bad habit of mind to convince yourself that some peoples are just worse than others. And the “Tolkien is racist!” crowd does have stronger footing when they bring up the Haradrim and other swarthy “Men of the East” who served Sauron. But Orcs?

The Orcs are not people. From TolkienGateway:

The Orcs were bred by Melkor in mockery of the Elves, sometime during the Great Darkness.

It is unclear exactly when Orcs were created, but it certainly happened before the War for Sake of the Elves in his stronghold of Utumno. Whether the Orcs were at this time a capable fighting force against the host of Valinor is not known. But at least some of them survived this war, probably hidden in the deep vaults of Angband, and multiplied, waiting for their master.

When Melkor (now known as Morgoth) returned to Middle-earth, he created new hordes of Orcs and invaded Beleriand, where the First Battle of Beleriand took place. Orcs also fought in Dagor-nuin-Giliath.

I know that Tolkien did not see the Lord of the Rings as allegory, but the Orcs serve a great allegorical purpose: They’re indisputably evil and they are not people. And for that reason, it’s okay to think people are better than them.

The fact that they have dark skin — something many “Tolkien-is-racist!!11!” writers hang their arguments on — is pretty thin stuff for supporting the charge of racism.

Or maybe not. I mean the Night King and the White Walkers in Game of Thrones have a better claim on humanity than the Orcs do. But I haven’t seen much gnashing of teeth about the dangers of demonizing or degrading them as a “people.” Could it simply be because they are white walkers?

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