Thursday 31 May 2012

Derek Jacobi's Tolkien Audiobooks reviewed


There are three audiobooks of Tolkien's short works performed by the English actor Derek Jacobi: Farmer Giles of Ham, Leaf by Niggle and Smith of Wooton Major.

There is not much to be said about them except that I suppose it is possible that better performances than these might conceivably be done at some point in the future, so I will award the discs 9/ 10...

But, really, Jacobi's readings of Tolkien are as near perfection as makes no difference.


Tuesday 29 May 2012

Which Inklings are the Notion Club Principals? And who is missing?


There are six main members of the Notion Club. Their resemblances with real-life Inklings are partial and mixed and - in the later drafts - inessential.

But, accepting that, what follows are my current thoughts on the identity of the real-life Inklings upon whom the big six were based.


Members Zero. Significant omissions: CS Lewis and Charles Williams.

I now feel that Lewis is omitted from the Notion Club Papers although at an early stage his initials were tentatively noted next to a character called Franks, who perhaps led to the name Frankley. Lewis was the cause and core of the real-life Inklings - but absent from the NCPs for the simple reason that Part 1 is substantially a debate about Lewis, especially his Space Trilogy.

Another core Inkling, Charles Williams, is also absent from the NCPs because he had died (May 1945) only a matter of half a year before Tolkien began to write the book (Late 1945), and Tolkien was not the man to write fiction about a recently-deceased friend.

Lewis would do this kind of thing - i.e. use fresh experience in his writing, as with A Grief Observed - but not Tolkien. Tolkien believed that raw experience needed many years of composting before use in fiction.

The subtraction of Lewis and Williams makes for a big, big difference between the Notion Club and the Inklings - how could it be otherwise when two of the largest and most distinctive characters of the twentieth century are missing?


The main six members of the Notion Club are 1. Ramer, 2. Guildford, 3. Lowdham, 4. Jeremy, 5. Dolbear, 6. Frankley.

1. Ramer is the main Tolkien mouthpiece in the early part of the NCPs.

2. Guildford is described as the club's recorder who does not read pieces very much - this role is most like Warnie Lewis; but not much else about Guildford is like Warnie: Guildford is rather irritable and critical; Warnie was the opposite.

3. Lowdham's extravert and boisterous character comes from Hugo Dyson (this was identified by initials in an early draft), but many of his interests, abilities and attributes are from Tolkien himself.

4. Jeremy seems a younger character, and behaves almost like a son to Lowdham - and I suspect he comes originally from Christopher Tolkien.

5. Dolbear was identified by initials with 'Humphrey' Havard in an early draft, and has several clear points of resemblence.

6. Frankley. I don't have any sense of him being developed from any real-life Inkling, indeed he doesn't seem to have much of an identifiable personality or role, and I expect he would have been eliminated from later drafts. Perhaps Frankley is the mere residue or shell of the projected CS Lewis 'Franks' character after the obviously Lewis-ite characteristics have been subtracted?


Monday 28 May 2012

Spiritual warfare in modern fiction


Spiritual warfare/ unseen warfare - the fight between Good and evil at a spiritual level (between Good and evil spirits, angels and demons), the battleground of salvation versus damnation as played out in human experience... this is not a familiar subject for modern fiction or fantasy.

But, it is the implicit (and perhaps unintended) subject for much fiction and fantasy - yet how can spiritual warfare be detected when it is not explicit?

It seems to me that spiritual warfare is, by analogy, what is going-on in all of those novels and fantasies in which the everyday world is invaded and inter-penetrated by the extraordinary: the supernatural, the magical, the ancient, the futuristic...

These book have the assumption of an unseen world of reality behind the appearances of the everyday - which I think works (insofar as it does work) by reminding us of the sub-text of our temporary mundane ephemeral lives - the spiritual world of the permanent and the eternal of which we are only partially aware, and which we only partially understand.


Sunday 27 May 2012

The Slytherin Problem


In the previous post I alluded to The Slytherin Problem, which is the question of why Slytherin House exists at Hogwarts.

Why would it be a good thing to have a house to educate (mostly) dark wizards and witches to become expert in magic?

I have seen several feeble and unconvincing reasons for this (including explanations by JK Rowling) - such as that not all Slytherins are evil (e.g. Slughorne) - but these are not at all convincing: Slughorne and the like could have been placed in another House - and there is always Hufflepuff as back-up, who will take any misfits.


No, the real reason for the existence of Slytherin in Hogwarts is the reason for the power of evil in the life as we know it: and thus in the Harry Potter world also.

Evil is strong in the Harry Potter world as it is described, such that there was no possibility of abolishing nor even of reforming Slytherin House.

Throughout the books, wealthy and influential dark wizards like the Malfoys seem to have great power in the wizarding world, including especially the Ministry of Magic bureaucracy and as governors and parents of Hogwarts, and the media (Daily Prophet).


Indeed, the forces of good are, by comparison, restricted to relatively few isolated pockets - those around Dumbeldore and (with reservations) the Auror's office, perhaps.


As usual, Rowling's deep instincts are right, even when her public explanations are not fully coherent: in a world like that of Harry Potter of course there would be a Slytherin House!

And Slytherins would make-up an 'old boys' (and girls) network which had a finger in every pie. 

And, if it was not a House within Hogwarts, then there would have been be a Slytherin School - and it would have been better equipped and higher in status than Hogwarts.


So, the answer to the Slytherin Problem of why it would be a good thing to have a House to educate dark wizards is that Slytherin House was not a good thing but was in fact - in its total effect - an evil thing.

And that is exactly why Slytherin existed.

Slytherin existed because it was evil, and evil was powerful in the wizarding world. 


Friday 25 May 2012

How was Dumbledore a great headmaster?


The Harry Potter saga is insistent that Dumbledore was a great Head of Hogwarts, yet the evidence is that considered strictly as a head Dumbledore was not very good.

1. He was a great teacher himself, apparently, yet we never come across him teaching any classes.

2. He employs Professor Trelawney, who is a terrible teacher (fraudulent, disorganized, has favorites, tries to terrorize students).

3. He promotes Hagrid from gamekeeper to Professor, although he is a terrible teacher (disorganized, no abstracting ability, indifferent to danger of students).

4. He allows Snape blatantly to favour his own House, and to pursue personal vendettas against students.

5. He uses a ghost (Binns) to teach the history of magic, who is a terrible teacher (dull, dry, zero rapport).

6. The Slytherin problem +

Indeed, the standard of teaching at Hogwarts seems to be low - perhaps only McGonagall seems like a really good teacher.


Q: So why was Dumbledore a great Headmaster? A: Because he subordinated the business of education to the larger religious concern of fighting Voldemort.

In Christian terms, Dumbledore recognized that the job of education must be subordinated to Christian imperatives, and at times educational sacrifices must be made to spiritual needs.

Dumbledore had reasons to do with defeating Voldemort for doing most of the above, including shirking a share of the teaching; and the other abuses were tolerated as inevitable imperfections.


SO - Dumbledore was a great man and a great leader, rather than a great headmaster qua headmaster - but considered in an ultimate sense, the strategies of 'spiritual warfare' must not be sacrificed to tactical  educational concerns.


+ The Slytherin problem. There is a serious problem with the existence of a House dedicated to teaching advanced magic to - mostly - evil wizards. The problem, in a nutshell, is to answer the question of how it could be 'a good thing' to teach the likes of Crabbe and Goyle to become expert at magic? I shall write my, probable, answer in a future posting.


Friday 18 May 2012

Corruption in Tolkien's Legendarium


It suddenly struck me the other day that corruption is almost the norm in Tolkien's world - even for the greatest, and indeed especially for the greatest.

The greatest of the gods (i.e. angelic powers below the one God) was Melkor, corrupted to Morgoth.

The greatest elf to dwell in Middle Earth was perhaps Feanor, or perhaps Thingol Greycloak - both corrupted by pride and self-will.

And in Lord of the Rings we see Saruman, the greatest wizard corrupted; and Denethor - pure Numenorean, second in personal wisdom and power only to Aragorn, and ruler of the greatest nation of Men. 

Greatness usually is corrupted. This is worth remembering.

Refusal of the Ring by Gandalf, Aragorn and Galadriel was not something to be taken for granted... 


Thursday 17 May 2012

The audio-book Lord of the Rings, read by Rob Inglis


For the past 4 months I have been listening to the audiobook version of Lord of the Rings, read by Rob Inglis: 44 hours of pure delight (that is the main text; and in addition there is the Prologue and Appendix A).

I would rate it 8 out of 10.


A good reading out loud is at least the equal of silent reading to oneself, as witnessed by C.S. Lewis (also one of the greatest readers of his era) - the Inklings was, to a significant extent, a product of Lewis's love of being-read-to.

At any rate, I found it wonderful to hear Lord of the Rings read to me; and better than me reading it to someone else (which I have done).


The performance by Rob Inglis is exceptional. Inglis is not a well known actor in the UK, so I presume he was selected because he was so good.

He is apparently Scottish - by his baseline narrative accent (and because Inglis is usually a Scottish name - Inglis was indeed the word used for the Lowland Scottish dialect of Middle English, the language of Dunbar, Henryson etc., to distinguish it form the 'Irish' Gaelic of the Highlands).

I suppose - strictly - a Scottish accent is sub-optimal for LotR, but Inglis has the measured clarity of diction retained by educated Scots - and also provides a basis of English class and regional neutrality from which to distinguish the different grades of people.

His voice has an occasional crack or break in it, which is a fault; and there are some points when (through inadequate preparation or slip of attention from actor or director) the wrong emphasis is given.

But there is a sense of complete commitment to this performance, which carries all before it.


The songs are a difficulty in performing the Lord of the Rings, and I have not yet encountered a satisfying solution.

Here, the model is for Rob Inglis to perform the songs unaccompanied, in a trained baritone voice and using a variety of weights and tones of vocalisation.

That is good - and much preferable to the usual method (e.g. the BBC dramatisation) of the sudden arrival into the text of a professional singer, choir and full orchestra; but the actual tunes or melodies are usually not appealing nor convincing to me - at any rate, they are on a much lower level than the words.

The hobbit songs were not folky enough (a tendency to end each verse on the dominant chord seemed odd) and the elvish and bardic chants were not spiritual enough, and too complex.

But at any rate, they are performed with complete conviction, and with no sense of hurrying over them  - and despite my reservations this makes them effective.


Indeed the whole thing is effective, very effective: very beautiful, moving and memorable.


Note added 1 Nov 2013

I have just found the following interview with Rob Inglis  - which answers some previously unanswered questions such as "Who wrote the songs?". It is from

but I have copied it here because I had been unable to find the interview previously, and worry that it may be deleted at some point.

Talking With
Rob Inglis

Recorded Books's unabridged recordings of THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, all narrated by Rob Inglis, are now enjoying renewed popularity as new retail editions of the audiobooks are being distributed in bookstores.

AUDIOFILE: Before we talk about your narration of the books, let's get a technical question or two out of the way. What was the recording schedule like for THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS titles? Where did the recordings take place?

INGLIS: We recorded all three books in the trilogy over a six-week period, so it was quite intense. We actually went back and recorded THE HOBBIT about a year after the trilogy. All the recording sessions took place at the Recorded Books studios in New York in 1990.

AUDIOFILE: Did you do a lot of preparation for all the different voices you employed in the stories, or just dive right in and figure out the characterizations as you went along?

INGLIS: (laughs) Oh, my--I couldn't just dive right in! The various dramatic societies I belong to had all sorts of people breathing down my neck to make sure I got it right! So, yes, there was much preparation. Actually, I was already a bit prepared, I think, because of my one-man stage production of THE HOBBIT. It was my one-man show that actually brought me to the attention of Recorded Books. They heard a recording of one of my shows and asked me to do the full readings of all the books.

AUDIOFILE: Listeners are treated to some wonderful singing performances throughout THE HOBBIT and the three volumes of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Who set the various songs to music?

INGLIS: Tolkien himself had already set a few of the songs to music, but most of the songs one saw on the printed page were without music. So, I had to come up with music for some of the songs, and Claudia Howard of Recorded Books wrote the rest of the music. She also essentially acted as my director and manager during the course of the recording sessions.

AUDIOFILE: Scores of characters appear throughout THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Was it wearying to breathe life into so many characters, and to give every character his own idiosyncrasies and other bits of uniqueness?

INGLIS: It was certainly challenging, but I enjoyed it. It's what I do, interpret and dramatize. And, of course, I didn't do it alone. There is much in the original writing that suggests how a character should be brought to life. It's quite strange. At times it felt like Tolkien himself was talking to me through his prose, telling me how things should be.

--Joseph P. Menta

December 2001/January 2002
(c) 2003 AudioFile Publications, Inc.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

What happens after death? Insights from Tolkien


Death, for men , involves the severance of soul from body - and to be a dis-embodied soul is a horrible state (it is indeed, when regarded as an eternal situation, actually Hell).

Thus the state of a disembodied soul is not 'life' - there is loss of personhood. The disembodied soul always survives death, but this survival is in a partial, maimed and suffering state (Hell).

Men were not 'meant' to suffer this severance of soul, they were meant to undergo an assumption directly into Heaven (like the Virgin Mary) - but death and severance were a product of The Fall.

This is why Men fear death - what they fear is the loss of personhood and the pain of being a disembodied soul, with no hope of relief.

Elves also suffer the severance of soul from body at death, but are (usually) reincarnated (restored) in the 'same' body and in the world (in this world) - either on Middle Earth or the Undying Lands.

The work of Christ enabled each Man's soul to be given a new and perfected body after death and to dwell outside of the world in Heaven - indeed, more than this, after death each Man's soul may be perfected as well as being given a perfected body.

Each man may then become a Son of God - something qualitatively superior to a mortal Man, yet still the same person

But this is only possible via death - and Men need faith to hope that this will happen.

So death became (by Christ) a Gift to Men - so long as there is faith and hope; while elves could (perhaps) only look forward to 'more of the same' and to be destroyed when the world ended.

Or elves might hope to join Men beyond of the world in Heaven, but (presumably, since they will not have been resurrected) as un-perfected and lower beings than the Sons of God...?




Tuesday 15 May 2012

Charles Williams regrettable tendency to regard co-inherence as therapeutic 'magic'


Charles Williams was the prophet of co-inherence for the modern age - and for that we must be grateful; indeed profoundly grateful since this is a teaching we lack and sorely need.


Yet Williams did confuse the issue by his recurrent tendency to regard (or portray) co-inherence in a 'magical', secular and therapeutic fashion, rather than as a matter of Christian salvation.


In her early biography - An Introduction to Charles Williams - Alice Mary Hadfield states that she had an unresolved disagreement with CW about the applicability of co-inherence beyond Christianity: Williams persisted in trying to open-up co-inherence as a possibility outside of Christianity while AMH felt that co-inherence was a part of Christianity.

I feel that AMH was correct - and that in trying to push co-inherence outside of Christianity, CW made the concept incoherent - indeed at times it begins to sound either like a magical technology or just wishful thinking.


For example, if his novel Descent into Hell is read from a Christian perspective, it is a profound work; but from a non-Christian perspective it is an occult work; because CW discusses co-inherence as effective by mere act of will and without love.

So that one person can (it is asserted) take on the burden of pain or fear from another simply by assenting to this, like picking up and carrying a parcel for them.


Now, in the first place this (even if wholly effective) is entirely a non-Christian act of altruism, and in the second place it is a purely therapeutic act - which starts and finishes in the relief of human suffering.

Yet in other places, notably his greatest theological writing - for example in He Came Down from Heaven and Descent of the Dove - Williams makes clear that co-inherence is about love and salvation - it is about saving others by our love for them; and about us being saved not by our own efforts but by the love of others for us.

This strikes me as an insight of first rank importance, the implications of which have barely yet been explored.


Why did Williams tend at times to make this error of detaching co-inherence from Christian salvation and love?

My guess is that there were good and bad reasons (as usual) - good reasons would include the hope that by establishing co-inherence as a habit then people might be more likely to become Christian; bad reasons might include a residual (from his early adult life) belief in the reality and potentially benign nature of magic, and an element of wishful thinking that co-inherence might be effective and helpful despite the lack of love.


(I sense in CW a difficulty or reluctance in distinguishing Christian love and pathological infatuation. His personality was one of extreme charm and magnetism, but he does not strike me as a naturally loving person - and his enormous and sincere efforts to become so seem forced and, at times, counter-productive. Perhaps - despite his convincing arguments for the validity of the Via Positiva/ Way of Affirmation/ Romantic Theology - Williams missed his personal vocation as celibate religious?)


Saturday 12 May 2012

Tolkien, philology and theology


Tolkien was a philologist - probably, in terms of ability, the best of his generation.

Philology was a specific technical discipline that focused on language, especially words, especially names – but this was only a tool being put to use in a search for understanding Man’s place in the world.


In Roots and Branches Tom Shippey summarises philology as a quest; firstly for a lost unity behind modern diversity in language and culture, both national and regional – including myths; and secondly as the reconciliation of this unity with ‘ideology’.

The ‘ideology might be German nationalist – as in the case of Grimm, or Danish nationalist (in opposition to pan-Germanism) as in the case of NFS Grundtvig, or Finnish nationalist in the case of Tolkien’s most direct influence Elias Lonnrot - who compiled/ created the Kalevala.


For Tolkien the aimed-at reconciliation was:

1. The West Midlands

2. England

3. Christianity


As is now well known, thanks to Shippey, Tolkien set out to do something for England that was closely analogous to the great 19th century philologists: that is, he set out to use philological methods to infer from fragmentary evidence a lost unity (if not the lost unity) behind English language, culture, ideology, mythology and - ultimately – theology.

(However, while Lonnrot synthesised national myths then presented them as if historical fact, Tolkien chose to present his lost unity in term of fiction, romance, feigned history; as an explicit act of sub-creation.)


Tolkien worked intermittently but very seriously to retain a general compatibility between his Legendarium and Christianity.

This can be seen quite explicitly in the material printed in relation to Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth in Morgoth's Ring which is Volume 10 of The History of Middle Earth (edited by Christopher Tolkien) .

(See )


Tolkien was trying to steer a middle course.

On the one hand, Tolkien had to avoid too close an identification of his Legendarium with Christianity, because then his work would become merely a re-telling or, at most, an allegory.

On the other hand, Tolkien certainly did not want his Legendarium to work-against Christianity in any way.

His hope and intention was, therefore, that the Legendarium should be complementary to Christianity.

His hope was fulfilled, his intention succeeded.


Tuesday 8 May 2012

The centrality of co-inherence to salvation - Charles Williams as prophet


Anyone who has approached the theological writings of Charles Williams will know the importance he places on the concept of co-inherence - yet this is a concept which I have found hard to grasp, and at times I have felt that Williams 'makes too much of it'.

But as I gradually come to grasp its meaning, I begin to see that co-inherence is of profound importance to the Christian life - an importance which it is hard to over-emphasise.

I shall try to explain in my own words.


Co-inherence relates to the second great commandment to 'love thy neighbour' (the first being to love God above all).

The deep meaning of this is that we save others, ourselves we cannot save - and it is by love of others that we may participate in the divine plan of salvation.


The necessity for the incarnation is that the human will is corrupt and humans cannot save themselves. We really cannot.

And the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ did not affect this fact.

The human will is still corrupt, humans still cannot save themselves.


Yet, by 'love of neighbour' we can save each other (our love being, as it were, added to the saving love of Christ which makes the whole operation possible).


The fundamental and immovable insufficiency of human will is neglected - we really cannot do anything at all for ourselves directly.

Attempts to live by The Law, spiritual strivings, the inculcation of good habits - these are all in vain.

We just are corrupt, and our will is poisoned at its roots, all such attempts will be perverted and turned against us.


But, by the new testament of Christ, our love can save others. This is the 'good news'. This is also 'the meaning of life'.


This means (I think) that we have no say in our own salvation.

Because if we did have any say in our own salvation, then we would refuse it - because we are wretched and corrupted creatures.

We would reject salvation - even if it was offered to us on a plate (as, in a sense, it really is).


BUT, we can be saved by the love of others - it is their love for us which saves us.

And vice versa, it is our love of others which saves them.


However the mystery is that love is inevitably and intrinsically a two way process.

One cannot love another without also being loved by them; or, love of another intrinsically entails love by that other (even when one party does not know the other, even when one is alive and the other dead).

Our love for another can, and will, save that other - whether they 'know about' it or not, whether they want it or not!

They may be be saved even if they do not consent to being saved - because if it required our consent to being saved, then nobody would ever be saved.


We can only love others by means of Christ's love - to put it in a simple metaphor, Christ's love will go into us that it may be transmitted to others, and only for that reason.

The saving love comes to us only as an indirect consequence of our love of others.


Or, to extend this simple metaphor, Christ brought this possibility into being as a extra to the already-existing possibility of salvation purely from love of God (which already existed for the prophets, for instance - I am assuming the prophets were saved, since at least some went directly to Heaven).


To put matters very crudely (my understanding being itself very crude) we have two routes to salvation - the direct route of love of God - which was available to humanity before Christ but is extremely rare and hard; and the indirect route of love of others which Christ 'brought into being'.

This indirect route being more possible to more people - a more accessible mode of salvation. (This the Good News).


And, this mode of salvation by love of others works retrospectively (in eternity). Love now is permanent in its effect, which means it is eternal - outside of time.

Thus co-inherence is the solution to the ancient problem of the virtuous pagan born before Christ - it is our love for them which saves them (or had saved them already, as it were, in the moment after death when their souls moved from Time to Eternity).


And co-inherence is also the solution to the problem of The Good non-Christian, and of the salvation of children, the mentally incompetent, the brain damaged and so on.

Such may be saved by the love of others (and by the loving prayers of others).


Co-inherence is therefore spiritual altruism - the real, underlying, proper other-wordly spirit of altruism.

By this account, co-inherence is - for most people, most of the time - just the most important thing in life.

So Charles Williams was not exaggerating its importance, not in the slightest; he was, indeed, the profound prophet of a fundamental but neglected truth.


Another way of thinking about this is that we cannot save ourselves because love of self is pride. Pride, the master sin, stands behind all human motivations as they relate to the self - whatever we try to do for, or by, or with ourselves will be subverted by pride. So how to escape this impasse? By love of God and of others; not by doings, as such, but by love (which may motivate doing, but may not - action may be impossible). Christ will 'supply' us with love, all the love that is ever needed, but only when that love is directed away from the self; when it is thereby freed from taint of pride. This combined with the recognition that love is eternal in its effects - an unceasing and ineradicable source of warmth and light for the soul that has been loved. The effect of us being loved is what compels us to choose salvation - without such compulsion we would not be able to accept it. Thus we may be saved without our knowledge or consent; and may do the same for others. It is an invisible economy of salvation (at least, its working are invisible in this world) .


Sunday 6 May 2012

Tom Shippey - the indispensable Tolkien scholar


For anyone not themselves a philologist and who finds themselves turning to JRR Tolkien as to a spiritual father or starets, the scholar Tom Shippey is indispensable - I mean the word literally. We cannot do without him.


My own understanding of Tolkien divides into two phases - pre- and post-reading Shippey's The Road to Middle Earth.


Shippey brings two things: first the technical skill (in itself extremely rare) necessary to analyse Tolkien's methods and purposes; and secondly a basic attitude to life which is essentially identical with Tolkien (Shippey writes from the perspective of a reactionary Christian).

(I do not know to what extent Shippey would explicitly accept the label of reactionary Christian; nonetheless this is without doubt the perspective from which he writes.).


Great literary criticism is extremely rare, but Shippey goes beyond literary criticism. Shippey is a real philologist, in the 19th century German tradition, when philology was (briefly) the Master Discipline of academia: combining traditional knowledge of the humanities, the objectivity and precision of science and the creativity of the poet.

Of course, this is precisely what Tolkien was; and it takes Shippey to show us Tolkien's greatness in this respect - and greatness is the proper word, because Tolkien was a truly great scholar, despite his slender publication list.

And Tolkien's fiction came from his scholarship - as Tolkien always himself claimed; but it takes Shippey to tell us what Tolkien's claim meant, and how the process worked.


These thoughts have come from (at last) reading Tom Shippey's third book about Tolkien - the collection of essays from 2007 entitled Roots and Branches.

I foolishly delayed buying this book until last week, because I worried that the essays might simply repeat the earlier books, and because the volume seemed over-priced.

I was wrong.  

Roots and branches represents a major extension of Shippey's insights into Tolkien, and it is one of the best books of 'lit crit' I have read - dense with scholarship, insights and wisdom; deft, direct, humorous; sheerly enjoyable.


First read Tolkien.

Then, if you want to look into the secondary literature read Shippey's Road to Middle Earth.

Then read Roots and Branches. 

And then read the others... 

Thursday 3 May 2012

The unrepentant orcs


In The Lord of the Rings there are several points where there are fairly extensive transcriptions of orc conversation - for example when Merry and Pippin have been kidnapped by the gangs of Ugluk and Grishnackh, and in the tower of Cirth Ungol when Sam overhears Shagrat and Gorbag in discussion, and in Mordor when Frodo and Sam observe an argument between a 'sniffer' and a warrior.

From such conversation, Tom Shippey (in his brilliant essay Orcs, Wraiths, Wights: Tolkien's images of evil) infers that:

'...Orcs recognise the idea of goodness, appreciate humour, value loyalty, trust, group cohesion and the ideal of a higher cause then themselves, and condemn failings from these ideals in others'.


In other words, orcs have a moral system which is pretty much identical with that of men - which would not be surprising, since they were (probably) originally men that have been corrupted (mainly by Morgoth).

What is different about orcs is:

1. That they utterly fail to live up to their moral system.

2. Are free from any guilt about this failure.

3. And therefore do not ever repent their wrong-doings.


As well as utterly failing to abide by their own moral code, orcs pursue evil in that they try to destroy Good: they destroy virtue, ruin any beauty and lie whenever it is expedient.


Thus, orcs represent an extreme limit of human evil.

Orcs retain the inborn Natural Law (the orc moral system) - and are thus typically human.

Orcs are nonetheless dominated by the will to evil - they nearly always choose the evil option (exhibiting original sin) - and in this too they are within the bounds of human behaviour.

All that divides orcs from humans in a qualitative sense is the apparent impossibility of repentance among orcs.


Perhaps this was the focus of Morgoth's corruption of men into orcs?

Perhaps Morgoth strove not so much to make men more evil, since there have-been and are men just as evil as the worst orcs described by Tolkien; but rather to breed (selectively?) a kind of man that is - in practice, temperamentally, by virtue of his character - incapable of repentance.


That is quite a thought: the only thing dividing humans from orcs is the matter of repentance.

And it is this which makes the difference between the possibility of salvation from humans, and the apparent impossibility of salvation for orcs.


Perhaps even this would not be enough to damn all orcs if they were capable of love, or even of eliciting love - but there is no sign of it.

Indeed, it is presumably the inability of orcs to love which is the ultimate cause of their inability to repent.