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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Are orcs immortal?

uncle Iorlas
Rivendell


Apr 28, 12:56pm

Post #1 of 13 (2686 views)
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Are orcs immortal? Can't Post

JRRT makes pretty clear that orcs are the descendants of elves, distorted and altered by Morgoth through whatever unspecified regimen of torture, sorcery and breeding, over the many thousands of years he has available to devote to the project. This raises a number of questions, first and foremost: are orcs deathless, as the elves are? Because the author also makes very clear that the mortality of humans (and hobbits and dwarves) is a gift, not some simple default.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 28, 1:49pm

Post #2 of 13 (2658 views)
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Orcs seem to be mortal. [In reply to] Can't Post

Orcs would seem to have a short life-expectancy due, if for no other reason, to their violent lifestyle. On the other hand, Bolg, whose sire Azog was killed in the year 2799 at the Battle of Azanulbizar, was alive and well when he led the Orcs at the Battle of Five Armies one hundred forty-two years later.

It may be that Orcs have both Elves and Men in their bloodlines so that if they were originally immortal in the manner of Elves, that might have been bred out of them for the most part.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


noWizardme
Valinor


Apr 28, 9:43pm

Post #3 of 13 (2634 views)
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But theoretically? [In reply to] Can't Post

That’s certainly right - an actuary would expect orcs not to live too long because of violence. But I thought the spirit of the question was whether orcs were ‘designed ‘ to grow old and die (like Men) or whether they’d carry on forever save for accident or violence (like Elves).

I don’t know the answer.

I think it’s a good question though, especially when for Men, death in Middle-Earth is explained as a feature rather than a big (if you see what I mean).

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 28, 10:32pm

Post #4 of 13 (2628 views)
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What were Melkor's limitations? [In reply to] Can't Post

We know that Morgoth could corrupt life and could fuse creatures with powerful entities of spirit (creating Werewolves). He could seeming do the same with inanimate stone to create the Trolls. Could he alter the fundamental nature of Elves so much that the Orcs made from them ceased to be immortal? That's why I wonder if similarly corrupting Men and interbreeding them with the first Orcs might have been what it would have taken to result in mortal Orkan lifespans.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 28, 11:11pm

Post #5 of 13 (2623 views)
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Continued from previous post. [In reply to] Can't Post

Dang that short editing window! If there was only one thing that I could change in the forums, that would be it.

The Hobbit does furnish us with some evidence for long-lived Orcs. There is Bolg, as previously mentioned. And then there is the Great Goblin who instantly recognized Thorin's sword Orcrist (though I have no idea when the Goblin-chief might have encountered the blade; the other goblins might have guessed at the identities of both Orcrist and Glamdring from legend and from their glow). Unfortunately we can only guess at the recent history of the blades of Gondolin that brought them to a Troll-hoard. Perhaps they were lost during the fall of Arthedain or the defeat of Angmar.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Apr 28, 11:21pm)


uncle Iorlas
Rivendell


Apr 29, 2:25am

Post #6 of 13 (2606 views)
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the actuarial answer, of course [In reply to] Can't Post

Surely the bottom line is for the most part that orcs die in violence and the question is moot. Hoom. But even one exception could make a difference; if there are elder orcs here and there, showing no age but with the experience of battling the sun-resistant races for thousands upon thousands of years, it changes their strategic picture a great deal, if nothing else.

I'm intrigued by your notion of crossbreeds. Though I note that in only three human-elf matchups, the Valar have felt it necessary to intercede directly often enough to impose a startling number of specific rulings about the relevant end-of-life procedures. Could they have let Melkor's rampant forced miscegenation pass without comment? It seems far from clear which "gift" the Valar would see as the default to accord to such hybrids.

But if they aren't hybrids? Would orcs be received in Valinor? Could they be cured there if they were? (Side question, could Gollum? Surely he bore the One longer than the others.)

What do we even know about orcs, anyway? When I was a kid they were universally represented as burly pig-heads. But really all I can think of that we know about their appearance is something like
- yellow fangs
- bristles on back of neck
- long arms, can run doubled over
- they come in a wide range of sizes

is that all?

And that's just their appearance. We also know precious little about their social structures, amongst themselves. Where are their underground cities, and what are they like, and do lady orcs have beards, and so on.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 29, 3:06am

Post #7 of 13 (2601 views)
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Can Orcs be found in the Halls of Mandos? [In reply to] Can't Post

That's an interesting question. Maybe (for Orcs derived solely from Elves), but perhaps they'll never reincarnate. For a long time, Morgoth had his way in Middle-earth without interference from the Valar.

Tolkien apparently considered revising the origin of the Orcs so that it was wholly Mannish, but that would have required a major revision of his legendarium since the Orcs first appear long before the awakening of Men. We know that Sauron and Saruman developed their own hybrids in the cases of the Uruk-hai and Saruman's half-orcs and goblin-men.

I think that we both first saw Orcs portrayed through D&D or at least the Dungeons & Dragons animated series (unless we are counting the goblins from the animated Hobbit movie).


In Reply To
And that's just their appearance. We also know precious little about their social structures, amongst themselves. Where are their underground cities, and what are they like, and do lady orcs have beards, and so on.


We know that one Orc-colony was in the Misty Mountains near the High Pass, Moria and other locations in the range. Also: Gundabad and other parts of the Grey Mountains; Mordor; probably in the Mountains of Mirkwood. I'm also going to guess that there would have been other Orkish colonies in the Mountains of the East. We also know that Orc-tribes often fought amongst themselves. I'm going to arbitrarily rule that goblin-women did not have facial hair (probably).

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


noWizardme
Valinor


Apr 29, 9:53am

Post #8 of 13 (2581 views)
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I think Tolkien's orcs were a work in progress [In reply to] Can't Post

The following is what I've taken away from previous discussions about this kind of thing. So please don't take it as gospel (or even lathspel). Collectively the Fellowship of the Room has an awesome amount of scholarly power, and so someone is bound to come along who can build upon what I'm going to say, and correct any misinterpretations on my part.

I think we have to remember that Tolkien didn't nail down every detail of Middle-earth and then write the stories. Rather, it seems to me, he discovered Middle-earth by writing - a process that lasted most of his lifetime. So ideas at one time are not necessarily compatible with ideas later.

A summary of what follows is that I think Tolkien made orcs more human-like over time, and then found he'd painted himself into a 'theological' corner. ('Theological' in quotes here - if I recall, Tolkien robustly rejected the idea he was inventing real theology, which for him was all set out by the Catholic church and was something he evidently took very seriously. It's the Middle-earth equivalent of theology we're discussing here.)

To start with works published in Tolkin Snr.s lifetime: The goblins in The Hobbit read to me as suitable foes for the children's fantasy story which TH was: they are not too frightening, but are monsters that nobody really minds if you kill in large numbers. As far as I recall, there's not much in the hobbit that shows Tolkien had though all that much about them. (Separately, of course he was building up his legendarium, and The Hobbit, whcih was initially planned as a standalone story, got sort of sucked into that. But more of that later).

In The Lord of The Rings the orcs become much more rounded villains. We have a close-up opportunity to observe the Uruks transporting Merry and Pippin, and then Sam overhears plenty of orc talk. After that, orcs read to me like people. Very immoral people, of course, but it's not hard for me to imagine humans behaving like that - the orcs don't seem to me to be utterly incomprehensible aliens now.

I'm not sure exactly how the timeline went (somebody here will definitely know) but I think orcs had meanwhile appeared in Tolkien's legendarium - the works that would, among other things appear posthumously as the Silmarillion. Tolkien was, eventually, doing lots of thinking about the 'theology' of his world, including immortality. Immortality in what I think is a new sense - elves are not indestructible (like gods), but do not have built-in senescence. And (as was mentioned in the OP) elves are fascinated by, and even envious of the 'gift' that death represents to Men, while Men are not always sure that this gift is what they want, because to accept death as a gift not a disaster requires faith.

At some post-LOTR point, Tolkien decided that only Eru could create proper life. He had to retcon the origin of the ents and eagles (material that appears in Of Alue and Yavanna). He also (I think) began to struggle with how to explain orcish life and death. I think he's got himself into a 'theological' hole. I think that for the compassionate and very Catholic Prof Tolkien, there was a considerable problem with the idea of a race of intelligent life-forms (such as the orcs now were) being damned for all perpetuity. Surely (I imagine he thought) there had to be some prospect of redemption? But I think he was now stuck:

It no longer seems feasible that orcs are 'meat robots' (a bit like Alue's dwarves in Of Alue and Yavanna, before Eru intervenes). So, they must have been derived from something created by Eru.

If orcs are immortal but not indestructible, how to explain the seemingly endless supply of them as mobs for the battlefield?

If orcs are mortal, little orc babies must be born with a pretty massive helping of a novel original sin - in real and unavoidable moral trouble through something that isn't their fault (absolutely OK for some more fire and brimstone Christian sects, perhaps, but the Catholics I know don't like this idea).


If orcs are intelligent and can - at least in theory - make moral choices, then maybe killing them is not such innocent fun after all. Tolkien tries to have it both ways, I think - orcs whose LOTR dialogue we read seem intelligent and capable of independent thought. But upon Sauron's 'death' his orcish legions scatter like mindless ants. The battlefield gets conveniently cleared after other battles too - e.g. by the Huorns at Helm's Deep. We don't hear of the pogroms and mass executions and exterminations campaigns that would happen in real life (and have regrettably happened in real life many times), if none of an enemy race were to be spared.

I recall a few debates here about all this, and I'm pretty sure there were other good discussions 'before my time'.

As far as I recall we haven't (during 'my time here' anyway) discussed orc afterlife. I see a trap there too - if we assume orcs have souls that can be recycled, elf-style, or that go wherever it is that Men's souls go, then there's an argument for as much genocide of orcs as possible: release their souls from their wretched bodies to do them a favour, you see. The idea makes me very uncomfortable, I must say. That's mostly because I can so readily imagine a genocidal nutcase applying an equivalent in real life, and the idea seems so odious. My Implied Author Tolkien, with his emphasis on pity and mercy, would not like it either. But then of course the Implied Author is each reader's construct - your Implied Tolkien might not be the same as mine, and I don't know what the real-life Tolkien would have made of it.

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm

(This post was edited by noWizardme on Apr 29, 10:00am)


noWizardme
Valinor


Apr 29, 3:10pm

Post #9 of 13 (2566 views)
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Hang on a moment... (correction) [In reply to] Can't Post

I just realised that one of my points make no sense. I put



Quote
If orcs are immortal but not indestructible, how to explain the seemingly endless supply of them as mobs for the battlefield?


But that’s nothing to do with immortality. New orcs have to be created sufficiently quickly to make up battlefield and other losses- presumably sexually, because there doesn’t appear to be a vast programme of elf kidnapping and corrupting for much of the time. One is free to imagine that orcs are short-lived but fertile creatures; or that far from the front there are long lived breeding populations, like elves who never get tired of having kids.

Sorry about that, I hope the rest of it makes more sense! Crazy

~~~~~~
Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Elthir
Grey Havens

Apr 30, 8:28pm

Post #10 of 13 (2444 views)
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my unhelpful answer (and not considering Orcs hailing from Elves as a certain fact) [In reply to] Can't Post

To my mind Tolkien himself doesn't seem too sure about this question. He actually asks himself this in a text. After musing about the question of heritability and other things, Tolkien notes...



Quote
'In that case Elves, as a source, are very unlikely. And are orcs 'immortal' in the Elvish sense? Or Trolls?'

JRRT, text VIII, Morgoth's Ring



But by the end of this text Tolkien has concluded that the majority of Orcs are perverted beasts, with possibly some Elves in the mix, explaining...



Quote
'It remains therefore terribly possible there was an Elvish strain in orcs. These may have even been mated with beasts (sterile!) -- and later Men. Their life span would be diminished. And dying they would go to Mandos and be held in prison until the end.'



But then Tolkien adds a passage in which he simply says orcs are beasts! So one wonders if he had maybe rejected the idea of an Elvish strain here, or was just not mentioning it again due to brevity.


And that's not the only text about Orcs in any case, as in text X we have Orcs made from Men [the chronology was altered to allow this], and the Orcs were said to be short-lived compared with the life span of Men of higher race, such as the Edain.

But...



Quote
'This last point was not well understood on the Elder Days. For Morgoth had many servants, the oldest and most potent of whom were immortal, belonging indeed in their beginning to the Maiar; and these spirits like their Master could take on visible forms. Those whose business it was to direct the Orcs often took Orkish shapes, through they were greater and more terrible. Thus it was that the histories speak of Great Orcs or Orc-captains who were not slain, and who reappeared in battle through years far longer than the span of the lives of Men.'

JRRT, text X, Myths Transformed, Morgoth's Ring



In my opinion the Maiar-orcs were never supposed to be the main source of Orcs in any case, but they could explain some exceptionally powerful, or exceptionally long lived orcs.


(This post was edited by Elthir on Apr 30, 8:29pm)


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Apr 30, 8:41pm

Post #11 of 13 (2436 views)
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Boldogs [In reply to] Can't Post

Ainu/Orc hybrids could explain Azog, Bolg and the Great Goblin as Boldogs or Boldog descendants.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


squire
Half-elven


May 1, 1:33am

Post #12 of 13 (2412 views)
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Yes, Tolkien was straining himself to the limit to get the Orcs to work [In reply to] Can't Post

But at least he was honest to himself that their existence, within a philosophically consistent work, was a paradox!



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CMackintosh
The Shire

Jun 10, 9:23am

Post #13 of 13 (1533 views)
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Orcs and Druedain as kin? [In reply to] Can't Post

In Unfinished Tales, The Druedain, there's a comment in one of the endnotes, No 5, to wit:
"But some thought, nonethelass, that there had been a remote kinship, which accounted for their special enmity. Orcs and Drugs each regarded the other as renegades."
I have assumed that that meant that the Druedain were Orcs who had taken the chance to escape Morgoth and Utumno for a chance at a life of freedom, and as such had been rewarded with their own identity as a Free People. As such, and knowing their background and their kinship with the Orcs, they would regard those who like them had the chance but refused it, or who knew of the kinship but still regarded them as legitimate prey, as renegades, since they by doing so, doomed their kin to a non-ending life of slavery. I have also assumed that this meant the Druedain were given their own span of life - at times they seem to be long-lifed, and at others they seem to have ordinary mortal lives.

(I'm aware that Gorbag and Shagrat considered a life free from obedience to the boss, but they did not consider a life free from predation on other speaking beings. I think that would've predisposed them to renewed slavery once the Dark Lord took up his reins again and demanded fealty aka slavery from them again.)
Just my 0.02c worth.

 
 

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