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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: 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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