Could there ever be a good orc?


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Welcome to our first ever listener question episode! Thanks to Deb for this intriguing idea.

1:00 Tom Shippey, sources

1:20 Hi Deb!

1:37 Orc clans – warlike

1:50 Sauron and Morgoth found ways to unite them.

2:00 Nature of evil

2:30 People asked Tolkien this very question! Specifically Peter Hastings, the manager of the Newman Catholic Bookshop.

2:50 Naturally bad, but not irredeemably bad.

3:20 Who is Tom Shippey?

4:20 Orcs made by Morgoth

4:30 Evil can’t create, can only corrupt.

5:00 Morgoth made orcs in mockery of the elves and Eru.

5:15 It’s an example of subverting God’s will.

5:30 Orcs in other literature are generally derived from Tolkien (discussion of Bright).

7:10 Orcs and loyalty. See Tom Shippey’s Orcs, Wraiths, and Wights. Orcs show knowledge of good and evil.

7:38 “Regular Elvish Trick”

8:00 Elvish = bad, orcs are the opposite of elves.

8:20 Dan thought orcs would have opposite morals but they don’t.

8:40 Elves can be bad too, just look at Fëanor (or Eöl).

8:50 Orcs are the infantry of the old war against the Vala and the elves in the first age.

9:18 Morgoth put his power into his works, the evil dilutes.

9:40 Erica’s amazing hand gestures.

9:50 Morgoth’s diluted evil – this idea has spread to other fantasy.

10:14 The dilution of evil is also dilution of control, so Sauron has a harder time controlling them than Morgoth did.

10:20 Tolkien tossed around the idea of a hive mind, but never really settled on it. They misbehave.

10:40 Ocrs that were elves vs. orcs that were men?

11:00 Orcs vs. goblins – idea for future research for Erica! Or, if you know, please tell us where Erica can look it up!

11:20 Goblins/elves = Moria, Orcs/men = Mordor? (upon further consideration, Erica doesn’t think this part is terribly likely because both of those places are extremely far East considering when orcs came into being)

12:10 We solved everything! Wait… not in any way…

12:27 Melkor corrupted orcs and they serve him out of fear.

12:47 The alternative is unpleasant

13:00 Born, not manufactured like the goo chamber in Orthanc in the movies.

14:00 Initial group created in the first age and the rest descended from them.

14:20 Is the goo chamber in Orthanc corruption? (Erica needs to watch the special features again)

14:54 Could there be a good orc? Yes. Not irredeemable.

15:00 It’s important to Tolkien to have redemption as an option.

15:24 Catholic background – post-fall beings with free will

15:50 Nothing can be created without Eru

Tokien’s letters p 195 – “by accepting or tolerating their making… orcs would become part of the World, which is God’s and ultimately good”.

16:28 Orcs know good and evil so they MUST be redeemable.

16:40 Only Eru could create things with independent thought

17:05 Eru wouldn’t sanction Melkor’s works like he did Aulë’s.

17:24 Corruption isn’t inheritable

17:50 Don’t know about socialization of orcs.

18:00 Children of a warlike, violent life.


A lot of research went into this episode. Most of the information is from the following resources.

Erica’s reference librarian brain is annoyed that these citations are not in a style or alphabetized, but she’s in a bit of a hurry today.

The Silmarillion local library / local bookstore

The Letters of JRR Tolkien, Selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Houghten Mifflin Boston, 1981.

Morgoth’s Ring, by Christopher Tolkien, Allen and Unwin UK, 1993.

“Orcs, Wraiths, Wights: Tolkien’s Images of Evil,” by Tom Shippey, in: JRR Tolkien and his Literary Resonances, ed by George Clark and Daniel Timmons, Greenwood Press, 2000

JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey, Harper Collins, 2000.

All music is by the amazing Doctor Turtle! Feel free to show him some love over on Bandcamp.

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