Letters of Tolkien: 153 & 144

by Björn Axén

I’ve read some of Tolkin’s letters to find out more on what Tolkien thought about the religion of the Shadow. Anyway I found two things of interest for this project. One positive and one a little more problematic. I the text on Orcs I describe orcs as

rational, egoistical beings whose societies vastly differ from anything made by Man. We may recognise traits similar to our own but they are always from the side that we are ashamed of. The Orc is the utility maximising individual who always and only work for themselves.

This was a conclusion I came to by inference of a lot of different material because it was coherent with a lot of other interpretations. The important point is that I don’t remember reading this before and I have both bin a proud of the conclusion and worried that is was wrong. But in Letter 153 (p. 190) Tolkien writes that Orcs

are fundamentally a race of ‘rational incarnate’ creatures, though horrible corrupted, if no more so than many Men to be met today.

In Letter 144 I found something troublesome instead. I my analysis of The Black Speech I’ve made a clear distinction between The Black Speech on the one hand and Orcish on the other were the Orc Curse Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai is categorised as Orcish but not as The Black Speech. In Letter 144 (p. 178) Tolkien writes (my emphasis underlined)

The Black Speech was only used in Mordor; it only occurs in the Ring Inscription, and a sentence uttered by the Orcs of Barad-dûr (Vol. II p. 48)

This is not a fatal problem but I must rewrite some things in my analysis.

Note: in the first version of this text I referred to Letter 151 instead of Letter 153.

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