Episode 23
February 8, 2021

Hella Problematic in So Many Ways

Hosted by Jared Pechaček, Ned Raggett, and Oriana Schwindt

Jared, Oriana and Ned talk about Oriana’s choice of topic: Orcs. While not the only ‘bad guys’ in The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s wider mythology by a long shot, they’re generally the most common, appearing in everything from the earliest versions of the Book of Lost Tales to the final years of his reconsiderations and potential revisions. But ultimately the Orcs themselves may also be the most mysterious, their exact origins and place in Tolkien’s wider cosmology unclear, their own culpability potentially up for question in the face of manipulation and lies at the hands of Morgoth, Sauron and their lieutenants, even as they cut literal swathes through green growing grasses and commit horrific acts of violence among other species as much as themselves. What actually does life itself mean in Middle-earth when Tolkien himself couldn’t square away who or what the Orcs were exactly? How does Tolkien’s own unsureness of the Orcs’ origins reflect upon demonizations of the ‘other’ in wider human history, especially given the unsettling implications that Orc genocide can be a solution? How best to address the unavoidably racist elements in the descriptions of the Orcs that Tolkien himself admits to within the scope of his wider themes, and how can they be envisioned in art and film? In what ways did Tolkien’s military experiences shape how the Orcs are often portrayed, and how does that signal ways in which he felt that being an Orc might be less intrinsic and more something created by circumstances? And why do Orcs sound a little like Cockneys, sort of?

[Episode artwork]
0:00 / 56:05

Show Notes.

Jared’s doodle. We love the little hat.

The Amazon synopsis! And it tells us...almost nothing that we didn’t already know!

Tolkien Gateway’s Orcs entry gives you the basics...but the basics themselves can and do shift.

Our episode on death, in contrast to this wider meditation here on life.

Morgoth’s Ring does have a lot of Tolkien’s later thoughts on Orcs and more. Relatedly, hröa and fëa are important topics here.

You can guess what we think about QAnon. We hope for the best for the misled.

The scene with the dead Haradrim soldier is justly famed, in whatever version.

Aphantasia, as Oriana mentions having.

Tolkien’s letter #210 from the published collection is his response to the proposed Morton Zimmerman script.

Porcs! They’re apparently coming back?

The concept of the Yellow Peril is one of the most pernicious things in human history—and that’s saying something. Fu Manchu is just one small outgrowth.

Totalitarianism in Middle-earth is a rich vein of study—and Tolkien clearly hated it in our world.

Sing along with the Orcs!

Tolkien’s Father Christmas goblins—presumably not like Orcs, but you never know.

You might be familiar with the 1984 film Gremlins. (Ned still remembers the ads.)

Oriana’s conlang piece in Vox (updated from when we last referred to it!). David J. Peterson was who Oriana was referring to.
Pompeii’s graffiti! Ah the glory that was Rome et al.

Support By-The-Bywater on Patreon (thanks!).