LOTR--The Books This Time--Bad Guys Talking

In my last posts, I discussed Galadriel and Boromir. In this post, I'll turn my eye to more unpleasant fellows:

This Uruk-hai from The Two Towers is a reasonably good
commander. He sticks to his orders, doesn't hurt
Merry & Pippin and keeps the Mordor
orcs at bay. He also gets everyone
killed, but hey, he's an orc!

Tolkien was a master of language. Usually, that sentence is followed by a discourse on Tolkien as philologist and inventor of Elvish, etc. However, I am going to follow it with a discourse on Tolkien's excellent dialog.

Tolkien, thankfully, did not go in for forsoothly stuff; he was too good a philologist for that ("forsoothly" dialog didn't sound "forsoothly" to the people who spoke it; it just sounded current).

What he does do is provide dialog that sounds perfectly natural coming from the creatures--elves, hobbits, men, orcs--that are speaking. It's not just a matter of content but of cadence and word choice.

And he is very, very good at bad guy dialog.

As mentioned in earlier posts, Tolkien is often seen as a creator of static worlds--BAD GUYS (who are very, very, very bad) and GOOD GUYS (who are very, very, very good). To be fair, Jackson's films tend in this direction (at least when it comes to the bad guys) simply due to lack of time and space (when he can, Jackson inserts ambiguity).

In the books, however, the bad guys are far more complex and ambiguous than initially appears.

For instance--

At the beginning of The Two Towers, the orcs carrying Merry and Pippin begin to argue. There are three groups of orcs--one from Orthanc (Saruman's citadel), one from Mordor, and a group from Moria, who are ticked about the Fellowship getting away. Each group has its own agenda. The group from Moria are basically nobodies and are treated accordingly by the others. The groups from Mordor and Orthanc, however, represent opposing positions of authority (Saruman v. Sauron) and argue and threaten each other from within those positions. Saruman's orcs carry the day due partly to numbers, partly to location, and partly to having a clearer mission. Saruman's orcs are also a tad less unpleasant (think Italian fascists arguing with Hitler fascists; if you were being hauled somewhere on a train, you'd want the Italian fascists to win).

What is so chilling about the dialog is (1) the orcs don't talk about themselves as being evil; (2) they sound like a bunch of politicians.

That is, Tolkien doesn't have the orcs say stuff like, "But we want to destroy the universe, ha ha ha, so we are going to use these hobbits ill. Down with goodness!!"

In fact, Saruman's group keeps the hobbits from getting (more) hurt; their reasons are due partly to loyalty (hey, these are our orders!) though mostly to self-interest (why should we care what some other unknown bad guy wants?).

In fact, self-interest rules! The groups argue about who is in charge and whose boss has more authority. The orc from Mordor tries to "sell" his idea of using a Nazgul to transport the hobbits. At one point, a whole bunch of blame starts being slung around, especially when the orcs are cornered by the Riders from Rohan.

If all you had was the dialog--sans the label "orc"--you'd think you were listening in on some labor dispute between union officials.

Tolkien is very clear that Sauron is EVIL. Everyone else, however, including Saruman, is merely bad. There's a very funny exchange at the end of The Two Towers (overheard by Sam) in which the orcs discuss how, once this stupid war is over, they look forward to good old ordinary pillaging--

Because, geez, who wants to be stuck in some awful country with a big roving eye anyway?

1 comment:

  1. C. S. Lewis wrote an essay about the Lord of the Rings where he pointed out that while the Forces of Good and Evil as black and white, he doesn't actually portray people as strictly good and evil.

    Michael Moorcock was always talking about how the Lord of the Rings had "simplistic" view of good and evil. I've liked a lot of Moorcock's works, but this always made me want to strangle him. For that matter, I find Moorcock makes a lot of remarks that he thinks are wise, but are incredibly stupid.

    Tolkien did wonder if he portrayed the Orcs as to evil. That was a fair criticism, but Tolkien's work is far more complex than most people realize.