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Tolkien did himself wonder how much Morgoth should be able to change about Elves, and whether or not an orkish state could be heritable...

... that is, Tolkien seems to accept that Morgoth could take Elves, Men, or beasts, and twist these beings into what we would call Orcs, but when two orcs have offspring, was Morgoth powerful enough that this perversion was made heritable? That the child of two perverted Elves is itself born an Orc, and not an Elf.

But that's a bit different from the 'great shift' in thinking: for decades Tolkien imagined that Morgoth simply created Orcs -- they were not once Elves, nor Men, nor anything but Orcs. And notably, he still thought so when he began The Lord of the Rings!

But ultimately this view shifted, and in the early 1950s it became a 'certainty' that Morgoth could not create Orcs from stone, slime, 'hatred', and it is then that we see JRRT considering already living beings as the source for Orcs.

Thus Treebeard's statement that Orcs were made in 'mockery' of Elves very arguably hails from a period in which Orcs were not, in fact, made from Elves. Frodo's later statement that evil cannot create [but only ruin] seems to reflect the 'germ' of a new idea...

... but 'Frodo's idea' doesn't seem to hold when Tolkien returns to The Silmarillion after he 'finished' [in the main] writing The Lord of the Rings -- not in the first draft revision at least, as the idea was repeated there that Morgoth created Orcs of his own power, if still to mock Elves. But soon enough Frodo's idea appears in subsequent revision, where the Elf Pengolodh offers, perhaps as an alternative theory, that the Wise of Eressea think Orcs began as perverted Elves.

And then Tolkien begins to wonder if Elves are really the best source...

... and then yes, next comes the question, are orcs immortal if they are from Elves? In the text where Tolkien asks himself this very question, he later concludes [in this text at least] that Orcs in general are not made from Elves, or at least not mostly made from Elves...

... and in any case JRRT also introduces a number of long-lived Maiar-orcs.

Thank you Galin!

So, if orcs are elves then they have to have a lot of the the qualities the elves have, like reincarnation and immortality, but since they don't they can't be elves. Orcs being minor mair is starting to make a lot more sense to me now. But, if they are mair then they are immortal right? I can't find any mention of really old orcs, but they would probably die young anyway. But if they are mair, why didn't Morgoth use them until after his return to middle-earth?

Orcs immortal or long life? Here is something to wonder about. The orcs in Goblin Town of Moria recognized Thorin's sword, Orcist the goblin cleaver.

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

'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...

'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.


'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.

I like that idea. Thanks for the informative and well researched posts

Well the research part is fun, and hopefully I'm being accurately descriptive about what's found in the text. Anyway, pure opinion next. If I were writing the tale [but using Tolkien's various ideas], so far I would:

A) keep Maiar-orcs to help explain orcs that existed before Men awoke. In the later texts in Morgoth's Ring the Maiar-orcs are a consistent element, and perhaps more could be done with them.

B) have these Maiar-orcs, though powerful, dwindle in numbers [be slain essentially], so that after Men awake some still exist, but the Orcs in general now descend from corrupted Men.

This gets around the Elvish 'immortality' and reincarnation issues, and possibly other potential questions, if we take Elves out as a source for the regular orcs I mean. And it disregards orcs as corrupted beasts, an idea I don't really like that much. Also, Treebeard's statement in The Lord of the Rings concerning when the Orcs first appeared is a consideration I think...

... the Ent appears unsure about what Saruman has been doing, or at least he offers more than one possibility about that, but I think he should be accurate enough about the past, and know, in general terms anyway, when these beings first began to trouble Middle-earth. 

Anyway, this would maybe mean that we have more Maiar-orcs -- at least at first -- than Tolkien appears to consider, but on the other hand, if they were less in number [less than the number Tolkien originally considers when Morgoth can simply create orcs], but more powerful and demonic, they would be notable in battle, perhaps harder to 'kill'... 

... and they could still become known to even the early Ents, these Orcs being haters of trees and so on.

They might also prove 'better' for battle against the towering Noldor and Sindar, although I'm not sure what Tolkien was going to do, from a later, external perspective, about the relative size of early orcs hailing from corrupted Men [or Elves, if so].

If the orcs are originally corrupted men, then why are half-orcs so different from them? I can see Saruman making them better, but would people born of orc and human parents really be all that different from normal humans?

Some 'half-orcs' were not that different looking from Men, I would say, although I think we have different scenarios here, generally speaking.

A) Orcs originally made by perverting both male and female humans, and through breeding they have already perverted offspring, if the orkish state is made heritable.

B) After thousands of years of Orcs begetting Orcs, Saruman adds human beings into the mix, not physically perverted beings, not beings already twisted and changed in the dungeons of Morgoth, but Men or Women mating with Orcs...

'Finally, there is a cogent point, though horrible to relate (...) There is no doubt that long afterwards, in the Third Age, Saruman rediscovered this, or learned of it in lore, and in his lust for mastery committed this, his wickedest deed: the interbreeding of Orcs and Men, producing both Men-orcs large and cunning, and Orc-men treacherous and vile.'

JRRT, Morgoth's Ring

The offspring are generally described with two different terms here, and I think it's natural enough that you get a mixture of results. In my opinion some of the half-orcs are human enough looking to be employed as spies. Although they might have an 'orkish look' to them, they are not so clearly orcs...

... while other half-orcs are 'man-high, but with goblin faces' however. I note Merry's description at Isengard for example...

'...And there were battalions of Men, too. Many of them carried torches, and in the flare I could see their faces. Most of them were ordinary men, rather tall and dark-haired, and grim but not particularly evil-looking. But there were some others that were horrible: man-high, but with goblin-faces, sallow, leering, squint-eyed. Do you know, they reminded me at once of that Southerner at Bree: only he was not so obviously orc-like as most of these were.'

So these half-orcs remind Merry of the Southerner at Bree, but he wasn't so obviously orc-like.

I go with the most recent Tolkien statement; that Orcs are twisted and corrupted Elves and later men-(and perhaps Hobbits?)

It is what is in the latest edition of The Silmarillion. I think that "sprouting them from the ground" is out of the question--even Aule, when he sprouted the Dwarves he disobeyed Illuvatar, but was forgiven since he had no evil intent. So given that Tolkien said that Morgoth/Sauron could create no living thing, that leaves them only corrupted what is already alive.

That does bring up though' if the orcs were originally born as an orc or man, then when they reproduced, wouldn't the offspring look like an uncorrupted elf or man? I would think so given the rules of genetic inheritance and "a child isn't born with a piercing or tattoo or missing an arm even if their parent is",etc.

Once we accept where they came from then the question still stands-how do they reproduce? I am going with sexually as the children of Illuvatar do. Where? In the "pits of Angband. Dol Guldur/ Bard Dur or any other suitable place that would make a good "pit" (as a possible visual for what that breeding pit would look like, I go with the scene from the film PANDEMONIUM where we see the mutated humans sleeping/breeding near the ship's reactor. A pit of filth and twisted humanity...)

Just as Elves are said to not reproduce during times of war due to the instability lack of safety,etc-I would think that Orcs would only reproduce in times of their safety, that is, when they had a master and they were safe in some stronghold without fear of being discovered and destroyed.

So they dwindled after Melkor fell and after Sauron was defeated first by the Numenoreans and then by the last alliance and bred once more when Sauron re-established himself.

They may breed with female Orcs (those female Elves that were taken captive from the Avari or in later times like in the fall of Narogthrond and Gondolin and the Mouths of Sirion,etc. These females would not have had to have been physically changed, just made available to breed with. The child could then be corrupted as needed.

Surely an Elf woman would be resistant and possibly "shut down" her body not wanting to live any longer. Therefore, the change may have been made to Human females. The coarsest of races that worshipped Morgoth probably would have volunteer women willing to breed with Orcs for trying to obtain Morgoth's favor/blessing.

Also like the idea of the fallen Maiar and their embodiment as orcs-becoming Orc chieftains, etc


Another question of mine-that we may never have an answer to if no one is allowed/chosen to continue writings in any fashion-is what happened to the Orcs after the Third Age? We know that not all were destroyed in the war of the ring. They still had mountain strongholds in the west and probably could have found favor in Harad or in the East. Without a supreme dark power overlording them, would they have gradually become less vicious? We know they preferred the "easy life" of eating and drinking,etc and usually only went to war when forced to. With the absence of a Commanding Evil, would the Orcs have settled to a more civilised condition? That is, still prone to violence and evil, but wanting to go on existing would they find a way to co exist with men-again, in the East or South?

I go with the most recent Tolkien statement; that Orcs are twisted and corrupted Elves and later men-(and perhaps Hobbits?)

Hello and welcome. About the matter of most recent, I don't know that that's necessarily Tolkien's most recent statement about the origin of orcs; and the Silmarillion is a compilation made by Christopher Tolkien and Guy Kay, and does not include [nor was intended to always include] Tolkien's most recent descriptions or statements about a given matter.

In my opinion the best bet for Tolkien's most recent idea is: Orcs from Men, some Maiar among them [noting that Tolkien himself altered the timeline to make this possible]. Christopher Tolkien presents the Orcs from Men text, and comments...

'This then, as it may appear, was my father's final view of the question: Orcs were bred from Men, and if 'the conception in mind of the Orcs may go far back into the night of Melkor's thought' it was Sauron who, during the ages of Melkor's captivity in Aman, brought into being the black armies that were available to his Master when he returned.'

'But, as always, it is not quite so simple. Accompanying one copy of the typescript of this essay are some pages in manuscript for which my father used the blank reverse sides of papers provided by the publishers dated 10 November 1969. These pages carry two notes on the 'Orcs' essay: one, discussing the spelling of the word Orc, is given on p. 422; the other is a note arising from something in the essay which is not indicated, but which is obviously the passage on p. 417 discussing the puppet-like nature inevitable in creatures brought into being by one of the great Powers themselves: the note was intended to stand in relation to the words 'But the Orcs were not of this kind'.

Christopher Tolkien, commentary, Morgoth's Ring

So, in what way do these two notes complicate Tolkien's 'final' view of the matter? I looked at this question earlier in this thread, and here's what I came up with anyway...

1) one of these notes carries a statement that denies an essential conception found in the text on Orcs from Men, and the denial hails from the detail that this later note suggests Morgoth had great numbers of Orcs at the height of his power and still after his return from captivity.

So the 'denial' is that in the Orcs from Men text, Morgoth had a great number of Orcs after his return from captivity, not before. And to muddy things further here, this may be a draft version for a variant passage that does not include this detail!

2) this short note concerns the spelling of the word orc: here Tolkien notes that he will spell it ork, just as he had noted in text IX, where Orcs were from Elves [and 'probably later also of Men'].

I think Christopher Tolkien's point with these notes is that they might throw some measure of doubt upon the seemingly 'final' idea that 'regular Orcs' were bred from Men (text X). That said, there is another late text which appears to have Elves stating that Men are the source for Orcs:

Late text (lacks date other than final period of Tolkien's writings): author's note (note 5) to The Druedain:

'To the unfriendly who, not knowing them well, declared that Morgoth must have bred the Orcs from such a stock the Eldar answered: 'Doubtless Morgoth, since he can make no living thing, bred Orcs from various kinds of Men, but the Druedain must have escaped his shadow;...'

I can't really tell if this description is later or earlier than the two notes dated 1969 or later, but again, if I had to bet money, I would say Orcs from Men is the latest idea -- as we can't really be sure if the seeming denial of the first note means that the whole idea of Orcs from Men was discarded...

... and I think the spelling of ork instead of orc need not mean that the idea of Orcs from Men was necessarily superseded, simply because the spelling of ork can also be found in an earlier text where Elves were included -- nor does Christopher Tolkien propose that the idea was certainly discarded in my opinion, as to my mind he is rather pointing out, as he says...

... 'it is not quite so simple'

Re: Galin (not seeing any button for quote function so....)

I understand what you are saying and having just recently read other works/compendiums of notes and papers by C Tolkien--Morgoth's Ring, War of the Jewels, etc-there is nothing in those reads that clarifies anything on the origin of orcs either. Just more circumstance to support an origin from men or elves. So I say, lets go with both. Why not? 

It seems perfectly reasonable that Morgoth/Sauron would have corrupted both races; wanting to defile creation they both would have joyfully twisted both men and elf, and any other living thing created by  Illuvatar.

But there are some items that indicate immortality of the orcs- at least some of them. The orcs/goblins in HOBBIT recognized Glamdring as a sword that killed many orcs at Gondolin. We can only presume that it was a first hand siting since Tolkien never gave us any indication on orc folklore or their passing down history.

At other times we see Orcs in the third age in conversation recalling their experiences at battles that happened in the second age

So I think it is perfectly reasonable for us to go with the printed material and believe that orcs had their origins in elves, men and maiar (for some superior orcs)

My bigger question is moving on from the origin one and going to how they reproduced. It seems Tolkien had a knack for leaving out females that were not an integral part of the story. Example-we don't see him writing about Dwarf women or Orc women, we just have his letters and notes where he speaks of his own creations in a type of thrid person=="I would think there are females..". Well, it is his world, he should KNOW one way or the other.

So once again we are left with what we do know. Whether from elves, men or maiar, we know that those races,uncorrupted, reproduced sexually, so therefore their twisted corrupted fellows must reproduce in the same manner ("they reproduced in the manner of the children of Illuvatar..."Wink Smilie.

Since we also know that either of the three "races" could interbreed and produce non-sterile offspring with one another (elf and man, elf and maiar) than the orc counterparts could also "cross breed" with either a female orc of human or elvish origin/ancestry or with one of maiar origin. Also, there should be nothing keeping an Orc from breeding with an uncorrupted female human or elf (other than revulsion) or a man (say a worshiper of Morgoth or Sauron/ follower of Saruman) breeding with a female orc.

That just leaves out the issue of the nature and appearance of the offspring. Is an orc imp corrupted in appearance or nature at birth? If we assume that the laws of evolution apply in Middle Earth, then the answer would be that the child would be born in appearance and nature of the originating species. That is an orc couple of any originating species would bear a perfectly formed elf or man child (or a cross in between). The only other option is that Lamarckist Evolution is the natural law in ME.

That child would then need to be tortured and corrupted in the same manner of its parents.

That brings my other question in that after the third age, with no dark masters (and we know Tolkien said Orcs were not evil by nature but servants/slaves to evil) above them, would the surviving orcs "mellow" to a more civilized form? Would their offspring be allowed to retain their birth form (assuming that they are born "clean"Wink Smilie? With the absence of the terror that drove them to evil deeds, they would what to survive. survival of their species in the fourth age and beyond would require them to become a more acceptable "people" to man.

... an origin from men or elves. So I say, lets go with both. Why not? It seems perfectly reasonable that Morgoth/Sauron would have corrupted both races; wanting to defile creation they both would have joyfully twisted both men and elf, and any other living thing created by Illuvatar.

It's certainly reasonable yes, but the reason I reacted earlier is that while it is reasonable, I think it is nonetheless not a given when we are looking at the question of Tolkien's latest statement.

But there are some items that indicate immortality of the orcs- at least some of them. The orcs/goblins in HOBBIT recognized Glamdring as a sword that killed many orcs at Gondolin. We can only presume that it was a first hand siting since Tolkien never gave us any indication on orc folklore or their passing down history.

Couldn't this be, in itself, considered an indication of orkish folklore?

Externally we know that when Tolkien wrote The Hobbit orcs were not created from Elves. JD Rateliff [History of The Hobbit] has illustrated that Tolkien might have, early on, imagined far less time between the Fall of Gondolin and Bilbo's adventures, which may help explain the recognition of these swords here...

... although in any case this was not the ultimate timeline of course, so that explanation would not work in an ultimate sense obviously.

At other times we see Orcs in the third age in conversation recalling their experiences at battles that happened in the second age

I'm not saying there aren't examples of this, and actually I recall some people bringing this matter up at times, but I would have to see the actual descriptions in question with respect to interpretation here. If you can [and want to], please include the chapter[s] in which any conversation[s] like this can be found.

Also, while I'm not sure that even after inventing Maiar-orcs Tolkien intended any orcs from The Lord of the Rings to be Maiar-orcs, in general the concept had certainly emerged to explain certain long-lived orcs in the First Age...

...  so in theory (unless the context of a given already published passage makes this unlikely) Tolkien could potentially preserve the idea of Orcs from Men [if this was truly his 'final' design that is] and employ the Maiar-orcs to explain certain passages already in print.

Again if we are dealing with The Lord of the Rings we are arguably [externally] dealing with the concept that the Orcs were made by Morgoth, out of something [like stone and hatred], but not necessarily created by twisting other already living beings, according to the old concept.

The question is, by way of publication and his rejection of the old concept, did Tolkien necessarily lock himself into Orcs from Elves?

JRRT certainly doesn't seem to think so; but then again, he did not always remember what he had published versus what he had merely written. 

I don't know if this have been said before but, the idea just came to mind. When Melkor created the orcs, (using men and elves theory) he probably put some of his power/essence in them, atleast the first batch. This could explain the long life span idea. This also explains why the offsprings were also corrupted. All orcs afterwards carried Melkor's "gene." Melkor himself did get weaker after making his creations.

There's also the question of The Hobbit and the influence of George Macdonald. In The History of The Hobbit John Rateliff looks at the goblins of George MacDonald, given Tolkien's stated influence here, noting:

'On one point, it's difficult to tell if Tolkien and MacDonald are in agreement or not. MacDonald's goblins are very long-lived (in the comic scene already referred to, the goblin-father remarks condescendingly to one goblin-child that 'You were only fifty last month' -- The Princess and the Goblin, chapter 8). The same may be true of Tolkien's goblins.'

But yet Rateliff can't be certain about that, I think; and obviously Tolkien's goblins need not echo MacDonald's in all respects [note the difference in goblin feet for example].

And that said, MacDonald's goblins were originally humans who withdrew below ground, so I'm not sure why they should live notably longer than humans -- despite this statement to the goblin-child, which does seem suggestive, I admit.

Although once again, in any case, even if that helps explain the recognition of the swords in The Hobbit it's yet another external explanation that only goes so far.

I was curious ...has there been any instance of an Elven female falling into the hands of Orcs?
I saw in the end of Hobbit movie that the orc was especially interested in the Elf female and not in the I wanna have you for dinner sort of way ...well more like I wanna have you for dessert sort of way

Edit: Looks like Galin took care of it! I will say Tolkien tried to keep the stories family friendly for the kiddos but deep enough for adults to enjoy too. Also Tauriel actually isn't in the books, so that look he gives is purely dramatic effect added by PJ.

Welcome Jordanblink! For a couple of arguable examples: the case of Celebrian is briefly noted in the Appendices:

"In 2509, Celebrían, wife of Elrond, was journeying to Lórien when she was waylaid in the Redhorn Pass, and her escort being scattered by the sudden assault of the Orcs, she was seized and carried off. She was pursued and rescued by Elladan and Elrohir, but not before she had suffered torment and had received a poisoned wound. She was brought back to Imladris and though healed in body by Elrond, lost all delight in Middle-earth, and the next year went to the Havens and passed over Sea." 

The Return of the King, Appendix A (III) - Eriador, Arnor and the Heirs of Isildur 


It has been speculated by some that Celebrian was r***d (family friendly response), but as you can see from this brief description, that is only speculation.

Finduilas was captured with other fugitives of Nargothrond, for a different example, but she was ultimately slain when the Orcs were later waylaid and chose to slay their captives.

It is cited often enough that no Elven woman could be taken by force by another's spouse, so it seems to follow that no Orc could force himself upon an Elven woman! The reason being that: "... one so forced would have rejected bodily life and passed to Mandos"

That information is from Laws And Customs Among The Eldar version A, while the same section in version B (which followed A) does not repeat this. If rejected here, I can't recall at the moment if this is stated or implied anywhere else, in this or other Silmarillion related texts perhaps.

Maybe it exists somewhere else, as in any case I have seen the notion raised when some question whether or not Celebriran might have been ra...

... well you know... again this is a family friendly website, so the word rape will probably be blocked in any case.

Or not.

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