The racism in the Lord of the Rings

I guess the headline is a bit too sensationalist, but it made you to start the entry, so live with it.

What do I mean by this title?

It’s been bugging me ever since I’ve been reading the books. The first I saw Lord of the Rings was in the form of the first Hungarian edition, which was very rare, in the ’80s. My mother borrowed it from someone, and refused to let me close to it, as it was irreplaceable. She was worried I might ruin the book. When the books were published for the second time in the ’90s, I went for them, obviously. The cover art was not as nice as the first edition’s (no wizards or anything interesting), but it was THE BOOK; the book I wanted to read since I was eight.

Ever since I’ve read the novel about ten-fifteen times. One thing always made me uncomfortable, every time I’ve read it: the race of orcs, and their treatment in the book.

An example: after the battle for Helm’s Deep, the Huorns massacre every single orc who is fleeing from the battlefield, while let the human allies of Saruman go. Those very same humans (I will keep coming back to this point) who chose to follow evil.

I know: Lord of the Rings is a tale of light vs dark, good vs evil, yet the whole thing is not as clear-cut as you would expect from a fairy tale. There are plenty of cases when you see that characters are not completely evil (Gollum, for example), or good (except for Sam, but he makes everyone’s stomach turn). You see that nothing is inherently evil –they turn away from the light. Melkor, Sauron, Saruman, the Balrogs, the human allies of the Dark Lord(s)… every single one of them. They have a choice. Except for the orcs. They never had the chance; nobody asked them what they want. They were born into servitude. And glimpsing their lives through the eyes of the hobbits, we can see that they are sentient beings; in fact, however twisted they might be, they don’t differ much from your average grunt in any large military. They feel, they can be scared, they can be tired, they can be a lot of things. (These emotions are mostly on the negative scale of emotions, true. But somehow little orcs are made, so they cannot all be hate and fear.)

So here we are: a race of beings that did not choose evil; they are on a path chosen for them by their birth, and their enemies. This is an important point. They do not ever get quarter. Ever. They will be killed on sight by those who are more privileged than they are -who were born free. Free to choose (light or dark), free to escape the fight, and more over: born beautiful and born into plenty. No wonder they hate the elves so much. Melkor probably created them by corrupting elves to begin with, but there’s the fact that the elves are privileged: immortal, beautiful, free… everything they will not be. Ever. This envy-fueled hate is completely understandable. And this hatred is mutual… which is the reason why the two sides are locked a remorseless, pitiless struggle to the death. Should any orc try to surrender, he will be killed on sight. Dwarfs and humans are kept captive, even the ones who chose to follow the Dark Lord, but orcs are massacred, even though they never had a choice.

And this is what makes me uncomfortable. That in Middle Earth there’s a race that is evil just because they got the shit numbers on the global lottery of birth. That beings who choose to turn away from the light are treated more fairly, than those who have no word in the matter. It just makes me feel bad for the orcs. Their fate can only be total annihilation. So here’s a thought for you. Orcs cannot board fancy ships to escape to Valinor. If the forces of Light win, that means an automatic genocide.

Or perhaps I’m over-thinking this.

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