Orcs and free will in Arda (Part II)

[Version française ici]

{This post must be read more like a global meditation on this complex matter than like a demonstration based on some irrevocable stand of mine}

This is supposed to continue the exploration of the topic at stake in this previous post, and to complete it with an attempt at answering the following question :

Can we say that Orcs are « the eternal slaves of Darkness? »

Looking further into this topic, the person who came up with this question explained their thoughts :

Goblins, trolls etc. would be deprived of empathy right ? If they don’t know about the concept of good and evil, they’d commit any kind of atrocities without even questioning themselves. While a Human/Dwarf/elf would most likely hesitate, have regrets or existential questioning, the Orc would go straight to the point, giving no thought to the long or short terms consequences… ?

To better answer those considerations, we must first look at the origins of the Orcs and their nature. However, JRR Tolkien changed his mind a certain number of times, and apparently, he was never really managed to wrap up his different ideas. But let’s have a look at the different propositions before digging into the notions of good, evil and free will.

  • Orcs from stone bred by Melkor

This is the version given ins the earliest texts, written by young JRR Tolkien. We’re at the time of the Book of Lost Tales, et we’re told about the « agents of Melko (…) the Úvanimor, bred in the earth by him », also described as « demons and dragons and monsters, and Orcs ». This origin is still the same when JRRT works on the Quenta and the first versions of the texts which will later become The Silmarillion. In those early works, he talks of “the hordes of the Orcs he made of stone, but their hearts of hatred », and the Orcs are there already given as “mockeries of the creatures of Iluvatar », which is a notion that will never disappear.

In The Lost Road…, the Quenta Silmarillion gives us a more thorough depiction :

He brought into being the race of the Orcs, and they grew and multiplied in the bowels of the earth. These Orcs Morgoth made in envy and mockery of the Elves, and they were made of stone, but their hearts of hatred.

What we have here are creatures completely created by Melkor himself from stone, earthly material, and fed by his hatred. This version persisted for a while before vanishing, or more exactly before evolving with the global vision this universe and its creatures.

  • Corrupted creatures and subcreative powers

Therefore, in The Silmarillion as it was edited by Christopher Tolkien, we learn that the Orcs were, in the beginning, Elves captured long ago by Melkor, and tortured and enslaved until they were utterly corrupted. That’s how those elven individuals would have become Orcs, as mockeries of the Children of Eru (the Eruhíni, Elves and Men), and that’s what Eru sees as Melkor’s most terrible deed. This evolution in the conception of the Orcs stemmed from a simple but no less crucial idea: Evil has no creative power. Such reflections often appear in Tolkien’s letters, for instance in letter 144 (from 1954):

Since they are servants of the Dark Power and later of Sauron, neither of whom could, nor would, produce living things, they must  be ‘corruptions’.

This statement can be completed with what we find in letter 153 (draft) :

Treebeard does not say that the Dark Lord ‘created’ Trolls and Orcs. He says he ‘made’ them in counterfeit of certain creatures pre-existing. There is, to me, a wide gulf between the two statements, so wide that Treebeard’s statement could (in my world) have possibly been true. It is not true actually of the Orcs – who are fundamentally a race of ‘rationally incarnate’ creatures, though horribly corrupted, if no more so than many Men to be met today.

(…)

Suffering and experience (and possibly the Ring) gave Frodo more insight, and you will read in Ch. I of Book VI the words to Sam : “The Shadow that bred them can only mock it cannot make   real new things of its own. I don’t think it gave life to the Orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them.’ In the legends of the Elder Days, it is suggested that the Diabolus subjugated and corrupted some of the earliest Elves, before they had ever heard of the gods, let alone of God.”

Unable to create, Melkor can only covet people and things, creations made by others, and claim them for himself through corruption and the marring, as he did with Arda itself and the matter it’s made of. He stands on the side of destruction, not on that of creativity, which is the prerogative of the (unfallen) Valar and of the Eruhíni. The latter compose the Free Peoples, and the Orcs are not (or no longer) part of them, if only because they are not (or no longer) part of the Children of Eru. By the way, we must also keep in mind that the Elves weren’t the only creatures Melkor corrupted and turned into Orcs ; a few later texts mention humans who suffered the same fate.

Although subcreators, the Valar aren’t sources of life, which can only stem from Eru Ilúvatar, God, the almighty creator. JRRT explained that Eru gave the Valar subcreative powers as « a guarantee that what they devised and made should be given the reality of Creation. Of course within limits, and of course subject to certain commands or prohibitions. » It becomes clearer if you compare the Orc situation to that of Aulë and the Dwarves: When the Vala Aulë creates the Fathers of the Dwarves, he’s disappointed, for his creatures act like puppets under his orders, puppets precisely with no free will and who collapse into passivity as soon as their creator’s mind turns away from them. It’s the active intervention of Eru that enables them to act and think by themselves, for Eru is the sole giver of life.

The One rebuked Aulë, saying that he had tried to usurp the Creator’s power; but he could not
give independent life to his makings. He had only one life, his own derived from the One, and could at most only distribute it. ‘Behold”, said the One : “these creatures of thine have only thy will and thy movement. Though you have devised a language for them, they can only report to thee thine own thought. This is a mockery of me. »

Letter 212 (1958)

The Imperishable Flame, source of life, is within Eru, who is the one who designs the fëar (souls, more or less) and sends them onto Arda to inhabit the bodies (hröa) of the living. In one of the notes of the Athrabeth, JRRT explained that the term Imperishable Flame « appears to mean the Creative activity of Eru (in some sense distinct from or within Him), by which things could be given a ‘real’ and independent (though derivative and created) existence ». And a bit further, he wrote:

As the case of Aulë and the Dwarves show, only Eru could make creatures with independent wills and with reasoning powers.

Although Aulë designed the Dwarves, it’s only through the life that Eru places into those beings that they could eventually evolve in the world as individuals. Eru is the only one who can give a reality to the creations of the Valar and to enable them to exist in the world.

Therefore, if Melkor had created the Orcs as Aulë did with the Dwarves, it seems obvious that Eru wouldn’t have accepted to actually intervene and breathe life into them, especially if He sees them as Melkor’s worst crime. And even if it had been the case, the Dark Lord would have found himself with an army of puppets; useful indeed, but difficult to manage when you have to constantly focus on each one of them, which, according to Tolkien, “required a great expense of will”. Moreover, if things had happened this way, Melkor’s creatures “would have shown no reluctance to execute any command of his, even if it were to destroy themselves. But the Orcs were not of this kind”, at least for a while…

Because, of course, things aren’t that simple, and the question of the nature of the Orcs and their level of independence never stopped tormenting JRRT. He often worked to his drafts, and kept on questioning them ; corrupting Elves through torture until they turn into Orcs is a coherent element, but this conception carries a certain number of issues. For instance, how would you explain that this state of corruption would pass down from a generation to another until a whole new species, a relatively independent one, appears?

…it is not possible to contemplate his absolute perversion of a whole people, or group of people, and his making that state heritable.

Also, a third potential origin of the Orcs appeared: Tolkien mentioned the idea that great Orcs of the First Age would have been Maiar, divine beings, who followed Melkor, conscious of becoming rebels against Eru and agreeing to take Melkor as their lord upon Arda. Yet, they would have become « more and more earthbound, unable to return to spirit state, until released by death, and they would dwindle in force”. This solution would explain the existence of creatures with truly independent minds, but also completely devoted to their master. However, there was still the question of their offspring, since it doesn’t really explain why Eru would proved fëar for the children of such filthy and rebellious creatures. And if you can imagine that the idea of Maiar-Orcs could be partially included into the whole system, it never replaced the other ones.

Therefore, there would be different possible origins (all compatible) and we can easily accept the idea that there were different « categories » of Orcs : Ainuric, Elven and human. In any case, we’re here talking of individuals, be they celestial or not, who were previously created as free and independent, by Eru.

  • Language as a reflection of submission ?

As he tried to explain the nature of the Orcs, JRRT went so far as to describe them as « beasts of humanized shape », the independence of which would resemble that of a dog towards its master, but they would still be perversion of pre-existing beings. As for their language, he described it as a collection of words recorded by Melkor and which would be repeated by the Orcs, like parrots would do.

We may notice that language is at the core of this argument: expression is no longer free, it’s but a certain number of words dictated and reproduced almost exactly as they were, with no intervention no elaborations from the speakers. And that seems to point at an absolute submission to the master. Devoid of free will, the creature uses a robotic language, whereas the Free Peoples use languages as they please, they develop them, invent words and adapt them, so that words can circulate from a tongue to another. The lack of freedom means the exhaustion of words, as an obstacle to the creative energy of language (thanks to which tales and stories are created, told and shared), a creative energy which is at the core of Arda, and which is specific to the Children of Eru and to the Valar. « I think it must be assumed that ‘talking’ is not necessarily the sign of the possession of a ‘rational soul’ of fëa« , explained JRRT, for the Orcs’ use of language doesn’t prove that they have a fëa, since fëar (especially the elvish ones) are described as something being « above all designed to make things in co-operation with its hröa« ; the fëa is therefore essentially a creative energy, and if the lack of it doesn’t imply the lack of language per se, a creature without fëa would nonetheless be a creature speaking a language deprived of creativity, a language that would be like that of automata, pre-recorded or programmed by the one who designed them.

  • The choice of Evil

Nevertheless, this idea of anthropomorphic beasts apparently didn’t satisfy JRRT, and the reason might be that the tales and stories mentioned that « the Orcs continued to live and breed and to carry their business of ravaging and plundering after Morgoth was overthrown » at the end of the First Age, which seems to imply that those creatures weren’t so dependent to their master. Hence the other versions of their origins we can find in other essays, and which reunite the previously mentioned positions :

Most of them plainly (and biologically) were corruptions of Elves (and probably later also of Men). But always among them (as special servants and spies of Melkor, and also as leaders) there must have been numerous corrupted minor spirit who assumed similar bodily shapes.  

Although those hypothesis carry some issues, as we saw, they remain rather coherent and they somewhat imply that there are two forms of corruption: that of the Ainur who consented to pledge their allegiance to Melkor, and on the other hand, that of the Eruhíni, who had not choice at all and who were corrupted by force through torture and violence. What’s more, JRR Tolkien admitted that some humans could also have consented to corruption and were reduced to « orc-level », to the point that adopted their customs.

“Any creature that took him for Lord (…) became soon corrupted in all parts of its being, the fëa dragging down the hröa in its descent into Morgothism: hate and destruction. »

And that’s precisely this phenomenon which would have enabled the interbreeding of Orcs and Men in the Third Age.

So Orcs are no longer mere puppets since Tolkien himself talk of the « the corruption of independent wills, and they took pleasure in their deeds. They were capable of acting on their own, doing evil deeds unbidden for their own sport; or if Morgoth and his agents were far away, they might neglect his commands. »

  • Rebels and deserters

We must mention here one crucial element : Orcs hate their master as much as they fear him, and this fundamental fear is precisely what compels them to obey. Yet, « there are treacheries and strife even among Orcs”, explained Tolkien, which also points at some sort of free will. And such acts of disobedience don’t seem so rare…

In the third chapter of The Two Towers, Pippin witnesses actual strife among the Orcs, whereas puppets would be in one single mind, that of their master. You could argue that there are here two masters: Sauron whose troops are commanded by Grishnakh, and Saruman, whose troops are commanded by Uglúk. But there’s also a third party : the Orcs called the “Northerners”, some of which don’t hesitate to desert (that is an act of serious treachery). And when the Orcs from Isengard mention their orders, one of the Northerners answer :

“Not my order (…) We have come all the way from the mines to kill and avenge our folk. I wish to kill and then go back north.”

The different factions actually fight, some Orcs challenge the given orders, and during the night of the attack of the Rohirrims, the Northerners are said to be « both dispirited and rebellious », laying « on the ground, resting in the pleasant darkness”, which can somewhat evoke the image of real surly soldiers, weary of their conditions.

Anyway, that’s the behaviour of truly independent minds, a group of Orcs who came South because they were recruited yes, but their motives were not to obey a master; they merely wanted to use this opportunity (the presence of the strong Uruk Hai) to get their revenge. They don’t care about Sauron or Saruman, but they remain fierce, cruel, and devoid of empathy.

  • …or brainwashed slaves?

The Orcs we see in this chapter of TTT are far from the puppets or parrots mentioned earlier, but JRRT never completely discarded this idea. Indeed, he explained in a later text that some Orcs reduced to such a state could have existed in the First Age ; some of them « had lost almost all possibility of resisting the domination of his [Melkor’s] will. So great indeed did its pressure upon them become ere Angband fell that, if he turned his thoughts towards them, they were conscious of his ‘eye’ wherever they might be. » Contrary to the puppets-beasts quickly considered previously, what we have here is a group of independent individuals who, after long years under the pressure, lost all possibility to think by themselves.

When Morgoth was at last removed from Arda, the Orcs that survived in the West were scattered, leaderless and almost witless, and were for a long time without control or purpose. This servitude to a central will that reduced the Orcs almost to an ant-like life was seen even more plainly in the Second and third ages under the tyranny of Sauron

(…)

After the fall of Thangorodrim and during the concealment of Sauron, the Orcs recovering from their helplessness had set up petty realms of their own and had become accustomed to independence.”

After the loss of their Master and the surprise to find themselves so helpless, dealing alone with the world, some of those creatures died or killed themselves, but others managed to recover, which doesn’t mean they acquired any form of redemption since they didn’t turn into empathetic creatures for all that. And it is said that Sauron managed to unite those rather free clans of Orcs, who probably kept some sort of independency (just like the Northerners previously mentioned), « while the Orcs of his own trained armies were co completely under his will that they would sacrifice themselves without hesitation at his command ».

Therefore, the two positions formerly explained cohabit here: if the Orcs can enjoy a certain form of independence and free will, their master (Melkor or Sauron) can apply such a pressure on them that they would lose all notion of independence.

Those Orks who dwelt long under the immediate attention of his will –( as garrisons of his strongholds or element of armies trained for special purposes in his war-designs – would act like herds, obeying instantly, as if with one will, his commands even ordered to sacrifice their lives in his service.

But that state of dependency is not something natural or innate, it’s something that happens on long terms, after years and years of submission under the power of their master. Another interesting element is that it is said that his phenomenon could also happen with humans…

  • A certain form of humanity

Consequently, I believe we can imagine that there are different levels of domination :

  1. Orcs who were constantly under the influence and attention of their master, reduced to an absolute submission, unable to think and act by themselves (brainwashed)
  2. Orcs to whom their master wasn’t constantly paying attention, who were able to show independence, but who were no less cruel or violent.

We already noticed that independent Orcs could ignore Sauron’s orders, especially if he wasn’t around. And JRRT explained that the reason why Orcs were so quick to act rebelliously was that « their spirit is one of hate, and hate is non cooperative », therefore, « Orcs can rebel against him without losing their own irremediable allegiance to evil (Morgoth). »

We can illustrate that stand with a sigificant exert from the Lord of the Rings, in the last chapter of TTT. Frodo has been stung by Shelob and Sam thinks him dead. He puts on the Ring and listens to the discussion between two Orcs, Shagrat and Gorbag :

“What d’you say? – if we get a chance, you and we’ll slip off and set up somewhere on our own with a few trusty lads, somewhere where there’s a good loot nice and handy, and no big bosses”

“Ah!’ said Shagrat. “like old times”.

Needless to say more ! We clearly see that Orcs, while having an independent mind, will always tend to misbehave. And another fascinating element appears here: those Orcs show two very human sentiments; not only they’re able to project themselves in a better future (in which they’d be free, at their ease, with their companions), with some sort of nostalgia (without remorse though), but there’s also a true feeling of companionship between the two of them. This discussion could almost be that of two humans. Yet, violence will always take the upper hand with the Orcs, and they’re both having their own motives… and soon after Shagrat calls Gorbag “a rebel” for trying to take Frodo’s mithril shirt. Therefore, the word « rebel » is as much of an insult for Orcs as it is for Elves and Men ; rebellion, although usual for Orcs, isn’t seen as something you can be proud of…

  • Orkish morality?

Could we say there would be some sort of virtue or morality among the Orcs, despite their mind is characterized by hatred? Well, it seems so!

In Tolkien and his literary resonance; views of Middle-earth (quoted by Hammond and Scull in A Reader’s Companion), Tom Shippey asserts that the discussion between Gorbag and Shagrat in chapter X of TTT about whether one should leave a companion at his fate or not ( an act which they called a « regular elvish trick ») proves that « Orcs are moral beings, with an underlying morality much the same as ours. But if that is true, it seems that an underlying morality has no effect at  all on actual behaviours. How then is an essentially correct theory of good and evil corrupted? If one starts from a sound moral basis, how can things go so disastrously wrong? » Shippey answers to the question himself, as he relates it to the 20th century “in which the worst atrocities have often been committed by the most civilized people”, and explains :

Orcs recognize the idea of goodness, appreciate humour, value loyalty, trust, group cohesion and the ideal of a higher cause than themselves, and condemn failings from these ideals in others. So if they know what is right, how does it happen that they persist in wrong ?

The answer is easy: just like humans, “they can’t judge their own actions by their own moral criteria”. 

In terms of morals, the Orcs certainly represent an aspect of mankind, the most despicable one for sure, but which remains inherent to humanity and which is a direct consequence of free will: as soon as someone is given a choice, they can choose the worst.

On the opposite side of the moral spectrum, it can be argued that the Elves represent the best of mankind, not so much in terms of morals, since we saw here that they can also commit atrocities, but in terms of creativity, in their capacity to create beauty, and also maybe in terms of values; because if an Elf, like Fëanor, can be responsible of slaughters, they remain exemplary for their bravery, their determination, their ideals and creative passion ( and one must not forget that the Elves would never do evil things for their own pleasure, if they do wrong, it’s mostly because of their misjudgement, or in consequence of their hubris).

  • Are the Orcs meant for wrongdoing ?

It seems somehow obvious that, even if they’re free, the Orcs will ultimately lean towards destruction, and commit the worst crimes for their own pleasure only. In the first chapter of the aborted sequel of The Lord of the Rings, entitled A New Shadow, old Borlas and young Saelon ( both men from Gondor, and the scene takes place decades after the fall of Barad-Dur), talk about the roots of evil and the motivations of wrongdoers. This is how Borlas describes the evilness of Orcs :

Surely even a boy must understand that fruit is fruit, and does not reach its full being until it is ripe; so that to misuse it unripe is to do worse than just to rob the man that has tended it: it robs the world, hinders a good thing from fulfilment. Those who do so join forces with all that is amiss, with the blights and the cankers and the ill winds. And that was the way of Orcs.

[…]

But it is even as I said: the roots of Evil lie deep, and from far off comes the poison that works in us, so that many do these things – at times, and become then indeed like the servants of Melkor. But the Orcs did these things at all times; they did harm with delight to all things that could suffer it, and they were restrained only by lack of power, not by either prudence or mercy.

Of course, those are the words and the judgement of a Man, but I tend to believe that JRRT’s vision of the Orcs was rather close from that of this character. As the reflection of the worst human penchants, Orcs embody sadism, they’re lack of empathy, whether or not they are under the domination of a master. They enjoy their own evilness and feed on their own crimes, not only because they only know this pleasure, but also because they were made, or rather they were re-fashioned as the image of corruption itself, bred in violence and fed by the hatred of their (previous) masters.

I won’t deny it’s a bit contradictory: beings gifted with free will but who will irremediably be attracted by the worst… the ambivalence is deep and it can be applied to other creatures. I’m mostly thinking of Shelob; in The Treason of Isengard (HoMe VII), Christopher Tolkien presents a draft in which it is said Sam takes pity on the injured spider. Yet, this draft was abandoned, and in the final version, the creature inspires no such feeling. C. Tolkien explained that his father finally decided to depict her as wholly abhorrent and evil, and in the finale version there is not one single element that would even hint at any form of redemption, not even through pity. Therefore, JRRT actually thought about it and pondered the question before deciding that Shelob would be irremediably evil. However, Shelob is completely independent, she has no master and is gifted with a true free will. The parallel between the spider and the Orcs is clear.

So, if the Orcs are « genetically » evil, if evilness is so rooted into them, where could we place the needle on the free-will radar ? Is their behaviour driven by a conscious choice, or are they instinctively, naturally pushed in that direction, deprived of any possibility to control their own actions? It’s hard to tell, but there are a few leads we can follow.

Tom Shippey analysed the approach of evil in the The Lord of the Rings, a book, he said, in which JRRT seems to have tried to “reconcile two views of evil”. According to him, the first is derived from Boethius (c. 480 – 524) and says that “there is no such thing as evil », it’s not something that exists in itself :

‘Evil is nothing’, is the absence of good, is possibly even an unappreciated good (…) evil cannot itself create, that is was not in itself created (but sprang from a voluntary exercise of free will by Satan).

The other view of evil is what  Shippey calls the « heroic view »:

Evil, nevertheless is real, and not merely an absence; and what’s more it can be resisted, and what’s more still, not resting it (in the belief that one day Omnipotence will cure all ills) is a dereliction of duty.

In other words, one view makes evil a part of mankind, as something « essentially internal, psychological, negative », whereas the other one sees evil as “something external to be resisted”.

Based on what we mentioned earlier, I think (with a few reservations) the two visions can be reunited, somehow, in the case of Orcs: if we agree on the existence of Maiar in the shape of Orcs, we have here individuals who chose rebellion, who refused to resist the corruption of Melkor, but who weren’t born « evil », a bit like Saruman (a Maia as well). On the other hand, most of the Orcs, those who would descend from elven or human roots, corrupted under duress, would embody this « absence of good », they are the void from which nothing can stem. They were turned into the opposite of creativity, whereas creativity is the essence of of the Eruhíni. And even when they reject their master’s orders, it doesn’t mean they reject evil, for it’s only as a manifestation of their argumentativeness and of their lack of conciliation. Indeed, the conditions in which they were corrupted at first almost make them « essentially » bad. I insist on this point, because in this letter 153, JRRT explained that Orcs would be « creatures begotten of Sin, and naturally bad », before arguing « I nearly wrote ‘irredeemably bad’; but that would be going too far », if only because if that was the case, Eru wouldn’t have allowed their existence ( « allow it », a passive act, and not « bring them into existence », as he did with the Dwarves through a direct intervention).

In spite of certain moral values, Orcs remain the offspring of violence, which is rooted in their nature, so much that we can hardly imagine they would be able to have enough perspective to question their own behaviours. Therefore, they would know no remorse. Besides, having no faith in Eru and rejecting the Valar, they fear neither divine punishment nor penitence in the afterlife.

  • The consequences of free will

There’s still one question, mentioned above, which JRRT asked himself: Would Eru provide fëar for the offspring of such creatures, Orcs or giant spiders? In one of his essays on Orcs, he gives a negative answer, et that’s what brought him to consider Orcs as soulless beasts which would merely repeat their master’s words, an idea which he nonetheless seems to have put aside. Yet, still in letter 153, he wrote :

Having mentioned Free Will, I might say that in my myth I have used ‘subcreation’
in a special way (…) to make visible and physical the effects of Sin or misused Free Will by men. Free Will is derivative, and is only operative within provided circumstances; but in order that it may exist, it is necessary that the Author should guarantee it, whatever betides : sc. when it is ‘against His Will’, as we say, at any rate as it appears on a finite view. He does not stop or make ‘unreal’ sinful acts and their consequences.

Consequently, free will can only exist if the consequences, even the worst ones, of anyone’s choices become realities. With the Orcs, Melkor chose to go against Eru’s will, and if He had forbidden the existence of the Orcs, there would have been no real consequences to Melkor’s sin, which would have been just like annihilating free will itself. Therefore, the Orcs must become part of the reality of Arda, and « that God would ‘tolerate’ that, seems no worse theology than the toleration of the calculated dehumanizing of Men by tyrants that goes on today ».

But again, if all of this seems rather contradictory to you, it’s because JRRT couldn’t really find a solution. In Tolkien, Race and Cultural History, From Fairies to Hobbits, Dr Dimitra Fimi explains:

The ‘solution’ of the Orcs as ‘corrupted’ froms of Elves meant that Morgoth obviously did not have the power to ‘create » new things, which was in line with his evil nature. Only Ilúvatar, God, could create new life. But on the other hand, the thought that Orcs were once Elves – the « highest » beings of Middle-earth – became increasingly unbearable for Tolkien.

Hence those numerous attempts at defining the nature of the Orcs in such different and contradictory terms. But as T. Shippey put it:

Tolkien saw the problem, and collected parts of a solution. He did not, however, assemble the parts – perhaps because it would have involved, to be consistent, a complete revision of all his earlier work.

Image from Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation The Return of the King (2003)

Arda is the stage of a drama, and Eru designed its plan while the Ainur who descended upon it, along with the Eruhíni, are not only the actors, but also the co-authors; their role is to make the story go on, hence their essentially creative nature. As for Melkor, he was deprived of this subcreative power, and if he’s still an actor upon the stage of Arda, he’s no longer authorized to be an author… he has no choice but to sabotage others’ creations in order to better claim them for himself, and what he corrupts cannot, essentially, carry creativity. Yet, forbidding the existence of the Orcs would be just like « censuring » the drama, and deprive the world of the consequences (sometimes terrible) which are inherent to any form of freedom, and that’s something Eru wouldn’t do. The Orcs exist as actors but not as authors, sick distortions of the most beautiful production of creativity: life. And indeed, we saw that language is relevant of this subcreative power given to the Eruhíni, whereas the Orcs don’t have a language which they would have created for themselves; they (badly) use the language their master devised for them, and borrow elements of language from other folks, which they distort for the worst. Their expressive freedom, or expressive creativity, is as limited as their freedom of action, in the sense that, in spite of a relative room for manoeuvre, their lowest instincts will always take the upper hand. They are free to obey or not, but as the embodiment of this lack of creativity, they would never do anything productive, they can’t make the story go on, since they weren’t born from a fertile will to enrich the drama, but from a sterile will to possess it.

And when Melkor cannot possess something, he destroys it.

{thank you very much for reading this humble and yet much too long post; I hope it provided a few answers, or at least some leads to explore. Feel free to react in the the comments}

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  • Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth
  • Hammond & Scull, The Lord of the Rings, A Reader’s Companion
  • Dimitra Fimi, Tolkien, Race and Cultural History, From Fairies to Hobbits

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