Our Sponsor Sideshow Send us News
Lord of the Rings Tolkien
Search Tolkien
Lord of The RingsTheOneRing.net - Forged By And For Fans Of JRR Tolkien
Lord of The Rings Serving Middle-Earth Since The First Age

Lord of the Rings Movie News - J.R.R. Tolkien

  Main Index   Search Posts   Who's Online   Log in
The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Orcs come in pairs

noWizardme
Half-elven


Feb 28, 10:04pm

Post #1 of 9 (1337 views)
Shortcut
Orcs come in pairs Can't Post

In LOTR, orcs who we meet as characters, with speaking parts or much individual attention in the text tend to come in pairs. I'm thinking of:
  • Uglúk and Grishnákh (first met in TT, Uruk hai)
  • Shagrat and Gorbag (first met in TT, Choices of Master Samwise)
  • “Tracker” and “Soldier” (my working names for un-named orcs who make a brief appearance with dialogue in ROTK, The Land of Shadow)

Why this pattern? I think it gives Tolkien a lot of opportunities for plausible exposition. The circumstances aren't such that an orc is likely to have much of a conversation with any of our hobbit informants, but they can plausibly talk to each other for our hobbit heroes to evesdrop. This is helped by the members of each pair being from different, often rival groups. Because of that, each orc of the pair can plausibly give out a lot of information, without the problem known as “As You Know Bob”

Quote
“As You Know Bob”: A pernicious form of info-dump through dialogue, in which characters tell each other things they already know, for the sake of getting the reader up-to-speed. This very common technique is also known as “Rod and Don dialogue” (attr. Damon Knight) or “maid and butler dialogue” (attr Algis Budrys).
Turkey City Lexicon – A Primer for SF Workshops, SF Wriiters' Association, Edited by Lewis Shiner, Second Edition by Bruce Sterling



Thus Uglúk and Grishnákh argue over what to do with the captives given their different orders. They become rivals who boast, squabble and manouvre for control of the orc band, dropping a lot of information for us in the process. Lack of shared language between Isenguard, Mordor and Moria contingents require them to speak in Common, meaning their hobbit captives can understand. It also means they can attempt to maniplulate Grishnákh when he searches them (and appears to know somewhat about the Ring and to assume that one of them has it).


Shagrat and Gorbag (talking Black Speech, which presumably Sam can understand magically while wearing the Ring) reveal the bombshell that Frodo isn't really dead. They swap rumours about how the real progress of the War might differ from official Mordor propaganda. They are hypocritical about the dastardly behaviour of 'tarks'. They muse about going freelance. And then the underlying rivalry explodes into deadly orc-on-orc violence.


“Tracker” and “Soldier” squabble over whose fault it is that they can't find the intruders; reveal the ongoing confusion about who or what attacked Cirith Ungol, and provide Frodo and Sam both with some intelligence about how close they are to being tracked down, and that Gollum is still also tracking them.


But Tolkien is too compentent a writer merely to use his orcs as exposition mouthpieces who then conveneintly kill each other (or, in the case of Uglúk and Grishnákh, die in battle) so that our hereoes can escape. I feel I end up seeing these orcs as characters - individuals capable of planning and motive, though of course part of a culture that has copious amounts of aggression, cruelty and machismo. I really don't see Shagrat and Gorbag as interchangeable such that it hard to keep track of who is speaking in their dialogue. Uglúk and Grishnákh even less so. We also learn, way beyond the needs of plot, what it feels like to be an orc, or to live under teh regeime of Mordor.

What I'm less sure about is whether the orcs in the pairs differ from each other just as one person might from another, or whether they are deliberately contrasting characters-- eg for some themic purpose. What do you think?

~~~~~~
"I am not made for querulous pests." Frodo 'Spooner' Baggins.


Ethel Duath
Half-elven


Feb 29, 12:21am

Post #2 of 9 (1295 views)
Shortcut
Not to mention Gertrude and Heathcliffe! [In reply to] Can't Post

Oh, hmm, wait . . .
"The circumstances aren't such that an orc is likely to have much of a conversation with any of our hobbit informants, but they can plausibly talk to each other for our hobbit heroes to eavesdrop."
I would assume this would be true of orcs and anyone else other than themselves. I can imagine a lot of posturing (I am a fighting Uruk-hai) or wheedling in conversation with men or dwarves, and none at all, perhaps with elves; so yes, I think it's probably the only way for any personal conversation to occur. And that's when we do start to see personalities.




Roverandom
Bree


Feb 29, 4:48pm

Post #3 of 9 (1266 views)
Shortcut
Okay, Two Orcs Go Into a Bar, and the First One Says... [In reply to] Can't Post

Fun discussion, No Wiz, as always. Add to your list Shagrat and Snaga in ROTK, The Tower of Cirith Ungol. These fellows, along with your previously mentioned "Tracker" and "Soldier", lead me to a thought regarding your orc discussions in general. In both instances we see something of a class struggle that, when you throw in their colorful dialouge, allows us to see more of the orcs' humanity (or is that orcity?) than the reader may have expected. We are even told (somewhere) in the Appendices that Snaga is synonymous with "slave". I think this adds to what you were getting at. Both are interactions between what could be termed as the upper and lower classes, officers and enlisted orcs; and the author seems to side with the latter.

Interestingly, both confrontations end with the lower class getting the upper hand. "Tracker" puts an arrow in "Soldier's" eye and heads back to his hole in the mountains. Snaga basically refuses an order, thumbs his nose at Shagrat, and probably would have gotten away with it, if not for falling in with one of the book's heroes moments later.

I wonder what these snippets might reveal about Lt. Tolkien's feelings for his fellow officers vs. the enlisted men he knew?

Many of the characters in TH and LotR seem to fall into upper and lower classes. Sometimes we see authority figures deserving of respect (Thane, Master, Rightful King, Lord and Lady), and yet there are times like this where the working class gets their moment in the sun, though mountain orcs may not appreciate that expression (Samwise, obviously, but I'm sure there are others besides our friend Snaga).

For just as there has always been a Richard Webster, so too has there been a Black Scout of the North to greet him at the door on the threshold of the evening and to guard him through his darkest dreams.


noWizardme
Half-elven


Feb 29, 5:39pm

Post #4 of 9 (1261 views)
Shortcut
orcs and a class struggle [In reply to] Can't Post

That's an interesting idea! I'd never thought of it that way, but now you point it out, I do see how that is a viable interpretation (and a thought-provoking one too). Heart


I'd expect that orc society is riven by every possible kind of internal struggle: perhaps because of the nature of the creatures themselves, but perhaps also because of endless divide-and-rule by their evil masters.

Indeed, maybe those are two sides of the same coin. While orcs may not be the ideal servants of a dark lord in terms of effectiveness, they are perhaps the most appropriate ones. Back when we did the character study of Saruman, I burbled on about 'Darklordism' - and Tolkien's Letters comment that his story was about "...beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object except power, and so on..." (The characteristics of Darklords are helpfuly emboldened and underlined by me here Smile )


And I think we see these aspects of their 'creator'* in the orcs: the ability to apply ruthlessness to some objective, but also a delight in sadism, violent dispute, treachey, vandalism, selfishness and mahem just for the lolz.
Thinking about working class hobbits brings me to Ted Sandyman, in many ways Sam's dark-side reflection. I'm thinking about how when we meet him again in Scouring of the Shire he talks very much more like an orc than when he was just mocking Sam for his 'elves and dragons' enthusiasms in the Ivy Bush before the whole adventure kicked off. I'm sure this is deliberate - and in fact Tolkien has Frodo say quite explicitly that Mordor has come to The Shire. And that in turn leads me to the idea that maybe everyone in Middle-earth has some orc-nature to them that could be brought out by the right combination or temptaton and immoral response to it (orcs are just 100% orc-nature in this formulation).

__

*'Creator' there in quotes because I know (and probably most of us know) about Tolkien getting himself into a philopsical or theological tizzy once he'd written orcs with intelligence and personality. I believe that's because he found his story for their origins either no longer worked, or ended up damning a whole lot of creaters in perpetuity. But I think others here know more about that than I do.



~~~~~~
"I am not made for querulous pests." Frodo 'Spooner' Baggins.

(This post was edited by noWizardme on Feb 29, 5:39pm)


CuriousG
Half-elven


Feb 29, 11:42pm

Post #5 of 9 (1248 views)
Shortcut
More than just mouth pieces for infodumping [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
But Tolkien is too competent a writer merely to use his orcs as exposition mouthpieces who then conveniently kill each other


I wasn't a sophisticated reader on my first read of LOTR, but even so, I was used to stories where the heroes would encounter a talking tree or talking rock who would tell them how to get into the impenetrable tower/cave/etc, so I knew the trope without knowing what a trope was, yet I always found the orcs to have character and be distinct from each other, so looking back, I'm glad Tolkien put so much thought and work into them that they weren't just talking rocks spewing exposition who then disappear and are forgotten.


noWizardme
Half-elven


Mar 1, 9:27am

Post #6 of 9 (1225 views)
Shortcut
"Talking Rocks" - should be added to the lexicon maybe [In reply to] Can't Post

I like that!

In Reply To
I wasn't a sophisticated reader on my first read of LOTR, but even so, I was used to stories where the heroes would encounter a talking tree or talking rock who would tell them how to get into the impenetrable tower/cave/etc, so I knew the trope without knowing what a trope was, yet I always found the orcs to have character and be distinct from each other, so looking back, I'm glad Tolkien put so much thought and work into them that they weren't just talking rocks spewing exposition who then disappear and are forgotten.

Should be added to the lexicon maybe:

Talking Rocks: characters included as mouthpieces for exposition, but written with so little care or attention that they might as well be talking rocks.

I'm glad that actual, literal talking rocks don't appear in Middle-earth. I suppose the more comfortable and 'respectable' citizens (such as hobbits) would dislike them. Indeed, they'd probaby put up warning signs - Danger! Talking Rocks - so that you could give them a wide berth and not end up doing anything nasty and uncomfortable that would make you late for dinner.

But I'm not sure these warning signs always work as intended. I heard about someone who saw one saying "Falling Rocks", but when they tried it, it was no fun at all. Smile

~~~~~~
"I am not made for querulous pests." Frodo 'Spooner' Baggins.


squire
Half-elven


Mar 2, 2:13am

Post #7 of 9 (1201 views)
Shortcut
Talking rocks in Tolkien [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't know how literally you mean "actual, literal talking rocks don't appear in Middle-earth." These possible examples came pretty quickly to mind:
‘Only I hear the stones lament [the Elves of Hollin]: “deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us; but they are gone”.' - Legolas in LR II.3

Pippin on using the Seeing Stone (palantir) of Numenor: ‘He did not speak so that I could hear words. He just looked, and I understood.
‘“So you have come back? Why have you neglected to report for so long?”
- LR III.11

...to his challenge and demands [the Lord of Morgul] received only the answer of the voice of Saruman, that spoke by some art as though it came from the [stone] Gate itself.
“It is not a land that you look for,” it said. “I know what you seek, though you do not name it."
- Unfinished Tales, The Hunt for the Ring.

...[Bilbo] saw that across the valley the stone-giants were out and were hurling rocks at one another for a game, and catching them, and tossing them down into the darkness ... They could hear the giants guffawing and shouting all over the mountainsides. - The Hobbit IV. In this case, if we agree in this discussion about anthropic nature acquiring voices in Middle-earth, that "talking trees" do exist and are called Ents, then perhaps "talking stones" also exist and are called stone-giants.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


GreenHillFox
Bree


Mar 2, 8:38am

Post #8 of 9 (1194 views)
Shortcut
A certain "awareness" of stones [In reply to] Can't Post

... can also be noticed in this beautiful text, in "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol":

‘It’s saying a lot too much,’ said Frodo, and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his heart. Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth. To Sam suddenly it seemed as if all the stones were listening and the tall rocks leaning over them.


Hamfast Gamgee
Tol Eressea

Mar 17, 10:42pm

Post #9 of 9 (825 views)
Shortcut
One thing which I have noticed about Orcs [In reply to] Can't Post

Is that their hatred seems to get closer as the tale goes on. It starts of as Orcs against everybody. Fair enough as an Orc, I suppose. But then we get Sauron Orcs against Saruman Orcs, the rebel Uruk-hai. Though I must admit that I am still a bit puzzled about all the various uruks that appear in Orc-dom, but there you go! Then we get Mordor Orcs v Mogul Orcs. Then when we get to Mordor we have fighting Orcs v tracker Orcs. I think that Orcs would have made good football Holligans in the older days!

 
 

Search for (options) Powered by Gossamer Forum v.1.2.3

home | advertising | contact us | back to top | search news | join list | Content Rating

This site is maintained and updated by fans of The Lord of the Rings, and is in no way affiliated with Tolkien Enterprises or the Tolkien Estate. We in no way claim the artwork displayed to be our own. Copyrights and trademarks for the books, films, articles, and other promotional materials are held by their respective owners and their use is allowed under the fair use clause of the Copyright Law. Design and original photography however are copyright © 1999-2012 TheOneRing.net. Binary hosting provided by Nexcess.net

Do not follow this link, or your host will be blocked from this site. This is a spider trap.