The Origin of Orcs

 by Elatan-(Valar) 
Dec. 10, 1999
Orcs > Orc Origins  > "The Origin of Orcs"
Tolkien Encyclopedia  by the Valar Guild
Annals of Arda  by Amillo-(Valar) (He changed his online name to Elatan-(Valar) in 2003.)  

     Christopher Tolkien, wrote ( Morgoth`s Ring ; "Myths Transformed" ; Text 5. Written in 1959-60 ) :

    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.

      The origin of Orcs has always been a matter of debate. Orcs were slaves of Melkor and Sauron and have been called Melkorohìni, the Children of Melkor, yet they are not his children but corrupted Children of Ilùvatar. Ilùvatar was the only one who could give life. Aule desired so greatly to see the firstborn children and to love and teach them that he could not await there coming and so he devised the Dwarves. But when they were full wrought, and Ìluvatar discovered what he had done, he was told and shown that giving life was beyond his power and authority and they could only be puppets acting at his express command:

    For thou hast from me as a gift thy own being only, and no more; and therefore the creatures of thy hand and mind can live only by that being, moving when thou thinkest to move them, and if thy thought be elsewere, standing idle.
(Sil. "Of Aule and Yavanna")

    The gift of Being was given to all the spirits of Ìluvatar but not more; none of them was able to put the imperishable fire into their own creations and neither was Melkor. Further on this :

    He ( Melkor ) had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame... Yet he found not the fire, for it is with Ìluvatar.  (Sil.; "Ainulindalë")

    Now Ìluvatar was the only one to give life. Nevertheless it was by the malice of Melkor that the Orcs arose and they were meant to be mockeries of the Children of Ìluvatar. The debate has been about from whom they originally derived, the Elves or Humans, and how they could have life on their own, to act and behave without the will, thought and eye of Melkor upon them all the time.
    For they did act on their own when not directly guided by Melkor or by Sauron, Melkors greatest lieutenant. The Orcs fought among themselves: Orcs killing Orcs, Orcs eating Orcs; and if their master was far away they could and did sometimes neglect his commands. Surely not something Melkor or Sauron could approve.  They would have better use of Orcs united all the time against Elves and Men. They would not be able to act against his will unless they were beings with their own minds and wills, though dominated by evil. Orcs were living creatures capable of learning speech, craft and, in some way, organization. The Orcs also spoke different languages even though the languages arose from the same basic tongue.  (Morgoth`s Ring ; "Myths Transformed")
    Of course the Orcs were held in thralldom, bred and raised to hate Elves and Men which they at any time would try to make pay for their suffering. The Master hits the apprentice and he beats the alley cat, but there can be no doubt that the Orcs hated their Master even more.
    In the Silmarillion "Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor", it is held true by the wise of Eressea that those who were ensnared by Melkor's spirits or himself, the Dark Rider, were by arts corrupted and enslaved. In this way Melkor bred the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves.  This has given us the impression that Orcs were bred from an Elvish source, but it has never been proven and, in a letter to a Mr.Hastings dated 1954 Tolkien wrote:

    In the Elder days it is suggested that the Diabolus subjugated and corrupted some of the earliest Elves. ( Letters of Tolkien , no.153 )

    The early connection with Elves is not finally denied by the later script I have quoted at the top, but it is very difficult to ignore the son of the father and the prime heir of the mythology. It is hard, however, to see how this can be incorporated into the mythology. I will try to explain my thoughts about it here.
    The chief obstacle probably is and was the words in the Silmarillion shown above. They could be an error but I do not think so. The words, held true by the wise of Eressea (Elves), must mean what the Elves thought to be true, not that it necessarily was so.  Yet another thing is to be marked: between the coming of Orome and the battle of the Valar where Utumno was laid  waste and Melkor captured, there is no mention of any host of Orcs or Orcs attacking the Elves nor
between the coming of Orome and the great journey to Aman, only of shadows and spirits.   At a short note to text 5 in Morgoth´s Ring , Tolkien wrote:

    It is unlikely as a consideration of the ultimate origin of this race (Orcs) would make clearer that the Quendi had never met any Orcs of this kind, before the finding by Orome.

    This is a reference to the later text of Orcs in Morgoth`s Ring: "Myths Transformed"; "Orcs". (More of that later.)  The words in the note, this kind, relates to the kind of Orcs who appeared after Melkor's return from Aman.
    But what kind of Orcs did the Quendi then meet? In text 5 it is written:

    Some of these things may have been delusions and phantoms but some were no doubt shapes taken by the servants of Melkor, mocking and degrading the very forms of the children. For Melkor had in his service great numbers of Maiar, who had the power, as their Master, of taking visible and tangible shape in Arda.

    And on a note to text 4:

    Melkor had corrupted many spirits - some great as Sauron, or less as Balrogs. The least could have been primitive Orcs.

    This leads to the meaning of the word Orcs.
    The Elves invented and used the word or words with the  base (O)ROK to denote anything that caused fear and or horror. It would originally have been applied to phantoms, as well as to any independently existing creatures. The word, Orc, originally spelled Ork, derives from (O)rok. (Morgoth`s Ring; "Myths Transformed", Text 4, opening note.)
    Now the Elves are dealt with. But there is still left to bring the race of Men into a suitable position where they can take the unpleasent role as source for the Orcs.
    In the tale, "The Debate of Finrod and Andreth", Andreth speaks of the Fall of Men and that they ( Men ) are not now as they once were. This conversation took place during the Long Peace before the siege of Angband was broken.  Andreth tells Finrod:

    The darkness that is now confined to the North, but once lay upon all Middle-Earth while you dwelt in your bliss.

    Here she refers to the time between the War of the Gods and the returning of Melkor and the Elves to Middle-Earth from Aman. At this time Men had not crossed the Ered Luin into Beleriand, still living East of the mountains. The fact of that could prove to us why the wise of Eressea thought the Orcs derived from them and not from Men. The Elves had not any knowledge of mankind at that time.
    Finrod asks Andreth what it is it that Mankind did long ago in the dark and how they angered Ìluvatar, but she will not tell him, saying there is no remembrance of it in her folk but that there are tales of it among the people of Adanel. (Third House.)
    The tale of Adanel, of which there are several, all agree in making the cause of the disaster the acceptance by Men of Melkor as King and God.  According to the "Tale of Adanel" in Morgoth`s Ring, the disaster (The Fall of Men) happened in the beginning of the history of Men, before any of them had yet died. Melkor came to them and ensnared them by promises and gifts and knowledge, but over time he became their master and demanded acknowledgement and petitions and demanded ever increasing deeds of his will:

    Now you are mine and must do my will. I do not trouble that some of you die and go to appease the hunger of the dark; for otherwise there would soon be too many of you crawling like lice on the Earth. But if you do not do my will, you will feel my anger, and you will die sooner, for I will slay you.

    To some Melkor began to show favour: to the strongest and cruelest, he gave gifts and they became powerful and proud and they enslaved the others.
    But some at last repented of Melkor and spoke against him. These were mostly slain by Melkor's friends or burned to death in the temple; some escaped and fled into far countries. But they did not escape from their past, for they too had worshipped Melkor and built and bowed in the temple. ( Morgoth`s Ring "Tale of Adanel".)
    At the end of the tale, Adanel said:

    Some Men say that he blasphemed Eru, and denied His existence, or His power, and that our fathers assented, and took Melkor to be a Lord and God ; and that thereby our Fëar (Soul) denied thier own true nature, and so became darkened and weakened almost to the death. And through the the weakness of the Fëar our Hroar (Body / Matter) fell into unhealth, and lay open to all evils and disorders of the world. And others say that Eru himself spoke in wrath saying: If the darkness be your God, little here shall you have of Light, but shall live it soon and come before Me, to learn who lies, Melkor or I who made him.

    In this tale, Tolkien has shown and proven that Men as a race fell under the dominion of Melkor at the very beginning of their time not many years after the rising of the Sun, before any of them had yet died, and Melkor then had Humans in his possesion East of the mountains before the Elves met them, and that they worshipped him as a God. Melkor had the raw material for the Orcs from the beginning of the time of Men.
    But there are still some questions to be answered: How could Melkor have a host of Orcs attacking Feanor when they landed at the shores of Middle-Earth before the Sun arose? It is said that the Secondborn awoke in Hildorien when the Sun first stroked Middle-Earth.
    Again it is needed to look at who said it, for it was the Eldar who said so. Whereas Bëor said:  A darkness lies behind us. Perhaps Bëor meant real darkness rather than the darkness of their souls, or he could have meant both and it was just Finrod who did not fully understand the meaning of the words. We might have to remember they had just met and they spoke different languages, so a misunderstanding would be an acceptable answer to this.  Furthermore Andreth, in her speaking with Finrod, mentions or at least infers that the humans were already born while darkness still lay over the Earth
    The next question is how could Melkor have bred the Orcs from Mankind when he was imprisoned in Aman after the battle and have them ready when he returned from Aman? And when the Noldor came, very soon after him, the Orcs had already infested the Earth.

    The answer is given by Tolkien in Morgoth`s Ring "Myth transformed", "Orcs":

    The Lieutenant of Melkor lay hid when Melkor was made captive and it was he (Sauron) who worked and schemed for Melkor.

    Sauron was cooler and more capable of calculation and he was often able to achieve things, first conceived by Melkor, which his Master did not or could not complete in the furious haste of his malice.  When Melkor was made captive, Sauron escaped and lay hid and it can in this way be understood how the breeding (no doubt already begun) went on with increasing speed during the age when the Noldor dwelt in Aman. (The time of Melkor's captivity.)
    There is no doubt in my mind that Tolkien originally had thought the Elves to be the prime resource for the Orcs, but that he later ran into trouble with this and had to remake the origin of them. It is my belief that his problem was with the question of what becomes of the Orcs or, more precisely, of their souls when they die. If they were living beings (and they were) and not puppets, they had a soul (or fëa) even if was totally corrupted and dominated by evil. The fëa of the Eldar and all other Elves are bound within Arda as long as it endures, and in Time according to the law and how they were devised by Iluvatar. An Orc-soul, in this case a corrupted Elf, would be summoned to come to the Halls of Awaiting in Aman and, if they chose to come, ultimate evil would be brought with them into Aman, indeed a wish coming true for Melkor.