Tolkien was ‘racist’ to orcs?! Sci-fi author echoes dank memes, totally unironically
In Tolkien’s fantasy world, the orcs - described as black-blooded, flesh-eating goblin-men - were created by the dark lord Morgoth to serve his quest to dominate Middle-Earth. Dwelling in the caves and wastes of Mordor, the orcs would eventually serve as footsoldiers of Sauron, a lesser dark lord who sought to subjugate all of Middle-Earth’s free peoples.
Science fiction and fantasy author Andy Duncan, however, thinks this is all a bit... problematic.
“It's hard to miss the repeated notion in Tolkien that some races are just worse than others, or that some peoples are just worse than others,” he told Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, a podcast run by Wired magazine.
“I can easily imagine that a lot of these people that were doing the dark lord's bidding were doing so out of simple self preservation and so forth,” he added, ironically echoing the ‘just following orders’ defense that Nazi war criminals used at Nuremberg.
Rather than drive Sauron’s armies back from the walls of Minas Tirith with sword and spear, Duncan argued that Gandalf the White (supremacist?) and the leaders of men and elves should simply have let them in. After all, the orcs probably brought great cuisine and some much-needed cultural enrichment to Gondor.
"It is easier to demonize one's opponents than to try to understand them and to understand the complex forces that are leading to, for example, refugees trying to cross the southern [US] border legally or illegally,” Duncan pontificated, adding:
It's easier to build walls and demonize them as ‘scum'.
Whereas President Donald Trump wants a wall to deal with border-jumpers and rock-throwers, the Denethor administration had to contend with armored war-trolls and trebuchets raining severed human heads down on Gondor’s terrified population.
Still, if the modern media had been around during the War of the Ring, what would they have made of Tolkien’s heroes’ last stand against the Orcish horde of Mordor? Bigotry? Racism? Shameless elven supremacy?
Bizarrely, Duncan’s argument actually sounds like the #orcposting memes - which use the world of Tolkien to mock the modern left - taken at face value. If liberal journalists existed in Middle-Earth, the orcposters joked, surely they would have pointed out that #notallorcs are responsible for acts of radical Orcish terrorism. There may have even been long-read think-pieces justifying the orcs’ behavior as noble cultural traditions.
This is not the first time Tolkien and his fantasy magnum opus have come under fire for “racism,” either. In 2002, amid the theatrical release of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations, cultural studies professor Dr. Stephen Shapiro wrote that “Tolkien's good guys are white and the bad guys are black, slant-eyed, unattractive, inarticulate and a psychologically undeveloped horde.”
Some Tolkien fans have responded to Duncan’s claims by arguing that the orcs were the actual racists, using Tolkien’s letters and the novels themselves as proof.
No, Tolkien wasn't racist with Orcs. In Letter #144, he said "orc" comes from Old English for "demon". Demons were "corruptions" of Angels, Orcs were corrupted servants of Sauron. In Letter #153, they're "counterfeits" of other pre-existing creatures. https://t.co/YBeYgWWF8o— Chris Whisonant (@cwhisonant) November 27, 2018
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