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The History of Middle-earth (chibi version) - Part 122: Judge of the Dead

5th May 2014 (19:03)

As with last week, this is one of several ideas Tolkien had about what happens to Elves after they die, but it's the one that seems to fit best with the other things he wrote. although the logic isn't quite logical:

  • How come Elves have the right to refuse rebirth, but no right to demand it?

  • How come Námo cannot compel the souls of dead Elves to come to Mandos, but can keep them there once they arrive?

Part 122: Judge of the Dead

Next time: Part 123: We regret to inform you

Chibis by tektek.org
Original story by and copyright to J R R Tolkien, ed. C Tolkien: Primarily based on the Silmarillion, but incorporating ideas from the 12-volume History of Middle Earth series.
Questions and comments welcome!


Posted by: mr_waterproof (mr_waterproof)
Posted at: 5th May 2014 20:55 (UTC)

Should Nàmo be speaking in ALL CAPITALS, as well as using a different font? I think now he's Cooper Black surrounded by Comic Sans.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th May 2014 01:46 (UTC)

I did consider it; but I'm using all-caps for the narrator's voice, and I wouldn't want to confuse things.

But yes, the resemblance to the Death of Discworld is deliberate. You're right on the fonts; also, Melkor uses Helvetica Black.

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 6th May 2014 13:42 (UTC)

I think the Silmarillion would have gained a lot more popularity if it had actually contained dialogue like "We don't want ghosts wandering around loose."

Did Tolkien suggest that souls need to be called to Mandos in order to find their way there?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th May 2014 15:41 (UTC)

It's one of the ideas he came up with when he was writing 'Laws and Customs of the Eldar' in about 1958. Let me dig up the quotes:

"As soon as they were disbodied they were summoned to leave the places of their life and death and go to the 'Halls of Waiting', Mandos, in the realm of the Valar. If they obeyed this summons different opportunities lay before them. The length of time that they dwelt in Waiting was partly at the will of Námo the Judge, lord of Mandos, partly at their own will."

"But it would seem that in these after-days more and more of the Elves, be they of the Eldalië in origin or be they of other kinds, who linger in Middle-earth now refuse the summons of Mandos, and wander houseless in the world, unwilling to leave it and unable to inhabit it, haunting trees or springs or hidden places that once they knew. Not all of these are kindly or untainted by the Shadow. Indeed the refusal of the summons is in itself a sign of taint."

So it's not necessarily that they can't find Mandos without the call, as that they can refuse to go there. The essay doesn't go into what happened before Míriel's death. (It was written from an in-universe, unreliable-narrator position.) I thik Tolkiien was wanting to come up with an explanation for ghosts and nature spirits within the structure of the world he'd outlined.

I particularly liked the way the essay finally explained why Sauron was called 'the Necromancer'. He knew ways to communicate with and control these houseless spirits, and even taught the evil ones among them to possess other people's bodies.

Posted by: creepinjeeper (creepinjeeper)
Posted at: 7th May 2014 13:33 (UTC)

I have a question. Since the Orcs were once Elves, are they called to Mandos upon death?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 7th May 2014 14:08 (UTC)

Now that's a can of worms. :) Tolkien never managed to come up with an answer for that question that satisfied him.

If Orcs have souls, then theoretically yes, they'd be called to Mandos just like the souls of Elves are. (Dwarf-souls and human-souls are likewise called to Mandos, although human souls then depart 'elsewhere', and God hasn't told the Valar what happens to them next.)

However, we know that souls don't have to answer this call, and presumably Melkor can also command souls to come to him instead. If they've been corrupted and brainwashed, then they might answer his call, and be re-embodied as Orcs again.

The other explanation is that Orcs don't actually have souls. That would explain why they're irredeemably evil, and under the total domination of Melkor (and later, Sauron). Tolkien seems to have leaned more towards this explanation later on, and it's the one I went with. If you remember way back to #50, I had Mairon putting a tiny drop of Melkor's essence into each Orc, to activate it in place of a soul.

In effect, according to this theory, Orcs are like Buffyverse vampires. The twisted, mutated body once used to be an Elf, but that Elf's soul is safely back in Mandos (probably undergoing several thousand years of therapy for PTSD). The Orc body is now controlled by a tiny fragment of Pure Evil which was once part of Melkor. (And the fact that Melkor dispersed his original essence into so many bodies gives him legions of slaves, but also fundamentally weakens him if those slaves are destroyed - a flaw in his plans he does not yet realise. Compare Sauron putting his own essence into the Ring; it's the same sort of deal.)

Posted by: creepinjeeper (creepinjeeper)
Posted at: 7th May 2014 16:15 (UTC)

When Shagrat and Gorbag were talking about slipping off and setting up somewhere without no big bosses, that sounded like free will at work which would lead me to believe they had souls.

Can open, worms everywhere? :)

I haven't made my way through the entire HoME yet, so I don't know if these types of things have been covered.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 7th May 2014 16:51 (UTC)

Well, that is covered in HoME vol X. Since Orcs are motivated by Pure Evil, they are also necessarily filled with hatred - of each other, of themselves, and of their masters. Rebellion and treachery come naturally to them. They can't be loyal to their masters, because loyalty is a virtue. Instead, they serve Melkor and Sauron out of fear, and because they've been taught to hate Elves and Men even more than they hate each other.

Then again, I do think Tolkien wrote himself into a corner to some extent.

In his earliest writings (Book of Lost Tales, etc) he described Orcs and goblins as merely an evil race created by Melkor to be evil. They were just a faceless horde of enemies.

Around the time of writing 'Lord of the Rings' that started to trouble him. According to his personal beliefs only God has the power to create beings with souls and free will; the Devil (Melkor) can only corrupt and mock, not create. So where did Orcs come from? It was at this stage, in the early 1950s, that he first came up with the idea published in the Silmarillion that the Orcs were made from Elves rather than being Morgoth's own original creation.

However, it wasn't very long after that that he stated being troubled by that idea too. How could an entire race of creatures with souls be irredeemably evil? Even if Morgoth was able to torture and brainwash captive Elves into serving him, surely their children would be free of such a taint?

At this point he came up with ideas that maybe they were entirely under Morgoth's domination, or even that they were mindless animals (who could talk like parrots) unless the Dark Lord's will gave them life. But he never really settled on a final idea.

Posted by: creepinjeeper (creepinjeeper)
Posted at: 7th May 2014 17:08 (UTC)

I guess I better get to reading.

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