66

I never made it through Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien, but it may have the answer. We know there were good men and bad men in Middle-earth and there were good Wizards and bad Wizards there too...

Did Tolkien ever provide a example of a good Orc in any of his writings?

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    It came up in chat that "good" orcs were elves, and "bad" elves were orcs, but that made me wonder if that meant a "bad" elf would be born all knarly and a "good" orc would pop out of the ground all shiney and Legolos like? – Major Stackings Feb 25 '12 at 0:10
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    A good Orc wouldn't be an Orc. Enslavement and corruption by the Enemy is mandatory for the Orc condition. Note that Tolkien didn't really decide whether Orcs were truly corrupted Elves or corrupted Men (I didn't include this debate in my already verbose reply) -- the only certainty is that they were corrupted versions of an existing race, which answers your question: Orcs cannot be good, ever. – Andres F. Feb 25 '12 at 22:06
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    @Gilles - I changed the wording of your edit a bit to allow for Tolkien's notes and other related materials to be eligible. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 25 '12 at 22:27
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    @AndresF. But orcs can be nice! – NiceOrc Feb 27 '12 at 9:22
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    The only good Orc is a dead Orc. – Morgan Apr 29 '14 at 5:24

11 Answers 11

78

No, there aren't. Orcs are universally despised by the "good" races of Middle-earth, as seen by the reactions of Treebeard and most Elves who talk about them.

There is some evidence Orcs are a race twisted by Morgoth, possibly made out of tortured Elves (but this is never confirmed). One common theme in Tolkien's work is that Evil cannot create, only mock and twist. Orcs are therefore a mockery of the "good" races.

From The Silmarillion, "Of the Coming of Elves":

But of those unhappy ones who were ensnared by Melkor little is known of a certainty. For who of the living has descended into the pits of Utumno, or has explored the darkness of the counsels of Melkor? Yet this is held true by the wise of Eressëa, that all those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes.

(Note Tolkien himself is stating this isn't known with certainty!)

That said, at least some Orcs in LOTR show some mildly positive traits. Ugluk, the leader of the Uruk-hai carrying Merry and Pippin to Isengard, displays leadership (though admittedly pretty ruthlessly), and is not a coward like most other Orcs. When push comes to shove he tries to stand his ground against the Rohirrim, finally getting slain in single combat with Eomer. Gotta respect the ugly guy!

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    Awesome. I knew there would be a good answer out there. – Major Stackings Feb 25 '12 at 0:03
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    "No, there aren't." Well hmmph! I frown in disapproval in your general direction, and I hope something mildly unpleasant (but not actually inconvenient) happens to you. – NiceOrc Feb 27 '12 at 9:21
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    @NiceOrc Heh heh. But seriously, I find Tolkien's views on Evil (which are a reflection of his life's philosophy) a bit simplistic, though it does suit LOTR. Oh, well, if you want nicer Orcs, you can always migrate to World of Warcraft ;) – Andres F. Feb 27 '12 at 14:50
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    @AndresF. :) I started using this nom d'internet after hearing Terry Pratchett speaking in Chch, NZ, in 2004. Because LOTR movie was just out he was asked how he would have written it. He said he would have had an orc who liked kittens and flowers, and wondered about the meaning of it all. – NiceOrc Feb 28 '12 at 4:02
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    One of Pratchett's later novels Unseen Academicals has a protagonist who is revealed to be an orc and pretty much does that. Of course you can't necessarily equate a Pratchett Orc with a Tolkien one - look at how different Elves are. – TheMathemagician Apr 9 '13 at 9:16
32

I agree that orcs can have good qualities, for example loyalty:

Orcs will often pursue foes for many leagues into the plain, if they have a fallen captain to avenge (FotR 351).

What would be other reason than (twisted) sense of honour, it's like this "they killed ours so we want revenge". Uruk-hai are even more "nationalistic", proud of what they are:

We are the fighting Uruk-hai! We slew the Great Warrior. We took the prisoners. We are the servants of Saruman the Wise:The hand that gives us man's flesh to eat. We came out of Isengard, and led you here, and we shall lead you back by the way we choose.

They have sort of tribal bond, of course they won't hesitate to kill other orcs if they are from different tribe. Among themselves they can be colleagues, like Shagrat and Gorbag talking about ,,good old days", and that they would take some ,,trusty lads" to plunder:

'No, I don't know,' said Gorbag's voice. 'The messages go through quicker than anything could fly, as a rule. But I don't enquire how it's done. Safest not to. Grr! Those Nazgûl give me the creeps. And they skin the body off you as soon as look at you, and leave you all cold in the dark on the other side. But He likes 'em; they're His favourites nowadays, so it's no use grumbling. I tell you, it's no game serving down in the city.'

'You should try being up here with Shelob for company,' said Shagrat.

'I'd like to try somewhere where there's none of 'em. But the war's on now, and when that's over things may be easier.'

'It's going well, they say.'

'They would.' grunted Gorbag. 'We'll see. But anyway, if it does go well, there should be a lot more room. What d'you say? - if we get a chance, you and me'll slip off and set up somewhere on our own with a few trusty lads, somewhere where there's good loot nice and handy, and no big bosses.'

'Ah!' said Shagrat. 'Like old times.'

It seems also that orcs are brainwashed to think that elves and men are more cruel and treacherous than they:

'It's my guess you won't find much in that little fellow,' said Gorbag. 'He may have had nothing to do with the real mischief. The big fellow with the sharp sword doesn't seem to have thought him worth much anyhow - just left him lying: regular elvish trick.'

Of course they didn't rescue from similar situation their fellow Ufthak, just because they feared Shelob.

It's like a stereotypes that were put to their heads to hate every other beings, besides they're evil because they never had opportunity to be anything else. They were always influenced by greater powers, first by Morgoth (who probably presented himself to them as god) and later Sauron (influence was partially magical, the same way as Saruman did with his mind-controlling voice).


I meant nationalistic in positive sense, as a sign of community spirit which in itself is good. Also there is a personal view of author. Tolkien wrote:

"They would be Morgoth’s greatest Sins, abuses of his highest privilege, and would be creatures begotten of Sin, and naturally bad (I nearly wrote ’irredeemably bad’; but that would be going too far. Because by accepting or tolerating their making - necessary to their actual existence - even Orcs would become part of the World, which is God’s and ultimately good.)~Letter #153

"Naturally bad" signifies their natural tendency towards evil, even greater than it is for Men, which is further influenced by the thralldom of higher dark powers and their own culture devoted to destruction, hate and essentialy doing evil deeds for pleasure.

"It became clear in time that undoubted Men could under the domination of Morgoth or his agents in a few generations be reduced almost to the Orc-level of mind and habits;"

It is also known that orcs secretly hate their masters and miserable life they were forced upon. But ultimately Tolkien foreseen for them a more merciful fate. By becoming the part of the world they had chance of redemption. So while we don't have examples of strictly good orc in any stories, we can't forget about the potential of change.

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    It’s weird to see “nationalism” listed as a “good quality” … (though it’s certainly a trait shared with the “good” races in Middle Earth) – Konrad Rudolph Oct 30 '12 at 23:01
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    Maybe it's weird for someone originally from Germany, but quite normal if you come from good ol' USA. e.g. see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_upon_a_Hill. – La-comadreja Apr 28 '14 at 18:37
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    Nationalism can generate a bond between people such that they help each other. After all people want to "belong to" something. But in some cases it leads to the idea that one nation is superior to another, in other words that a life from X is worth more than a life from Y, regardless of what these people have done in life. This eventually leads to wars. All such wars "justify" themselves by the fact that they "bring civilization" to the other nation. From that point, it is a bad quality. – Willem Van Onsem Sep 28 '14 at 0:50
20

As an individual who admires energy, tenacity, courage and faithfulness, I believe Ugluk of Isengard (introduced in The Two Towers) has more than "mildly positive traits." A captain of the fighting Uruk-hai, he commands a troop of orcs that capture the hobbits Merry and Pippin, bringing them partway to Isengard before he is killed by horsemen from Rohan. Ugluk fiercely demonstrates and promotes a clear set of values that include bravery, determination and loyalty, all of which are VERY positive traits.

On courage:

"I don't trust you little swine. You've no guts outside your own sties."

Yet he does seem to trust—and gladly reward—those he identifies as sharing his warrior spirit:

"We are the fighters. We'll feast on horseflesh yet, or something better."

In fact, Ugluk's group loyalty is so strong, he introduces his troops as being "servants of Saruman the Wise, the White Hand" before he introduces himself by name. Even under duress, it remains steadfast. When "the [enemy] horsemen had encircled" his group and are about to go in for the kill, Ugluk keeps his mission in the forefront of his mind, at great danger to himself:

"Put those Halflings down...as long as I'm alive, I want 'em. But they're not to cry out, and they're not to be rescued."

At the very end of his life, he is apparently in the "one band, holding together in a black wedge, [that] drove forward resolutely" rather than abandoning his comrades.

Ugluk also compares favorably to the "good" characters, particularly Hobbits, in his willingness to place personal accomplishment ahead of physical comfort. While he does show consideration that his "lads are tired of lugging you [Hobbits] about," he will readily "march day and night" through dangerous territory and "leg it double quick" when being chased by riders. Even with the fate of the world at stake, none of the "good" characters show this sense of urgency. Describing Ugluk's journey, the wizard Gandalf admits:

"So between them our enemies have contrived...to bring Merry and Pippin with marvellous speed...to Fangorn, where otherwise they would never have come at all!" (emphasis mine)

Ugluk would probably have no way to know the exact purpose of his mission, although he is aware the hobbits have "something that's wanted for the War." Given that he was presumably raised in Isengard with scant information about Middle-earth's geopolitics available, his ignorance that Saruman was an "evil" faction would be quite reasonable. Thus, his capacity for "good" in the canonical sense is somewhat untested. However, Ugluk is able to respect skilled fighters beyond his own race and even beyond the dark factions. He describes Boromir as a "great warrior."

Furthermore, his discipline in keeping the Hobbits "alive and as captured" throughout his march suggests that under a different training regimen, he might even be capable of observing and fiercely enforcing the 7 principles of Leave No Trace outdoor ethics, which protect ferocious predators and stately trees alike. https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles. Although circumstances are causing the orcs of Isengard to cut the local trees, it is not inherent in all orcs to destroy forests on sight. In The Hobbit, we see that the Misty Mountains orcs not only frequent an apparently sustainable forest near their homeland, but are allied with its wolf inhabitants.

Keep in mind that The Silmarillion was ostensibly written by the orcs' elven arch-enemies and the scene in which Ugluk appears was written from the perspective of hobbits, Middle-earth's most comfort-loving race. Hobbits would be unlikely to identify any of Ugluk's qualities as positive because such qualities are practically the antithesis of their own values. The Ents, who pride themselves on their ponderousness and look down on anything "hasty," would also be contemptuous of the orcs' love of swiftness. However, other enemies of orcs react differently. After observing Ugluk in battle, the Rohirric commander Eomer considers him a worthy opponent to dismount for and fight man to man, sword to sword.

In short, the characterization of this orc always made me skeptical of the blanket policy of killing orcs on sight, especially in peacetime.

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    You should really read "The Last Ring-Bearer" :) +1 for very interesting and well backed up viewpoint. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 29 '14 at 0:39
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    I see what you're saying but it can also be read that Ugluk prefers 'man flesh' to horse meat, loves to fight and kill men, drives his soldiers harshly, would rather kill the Hobbits than lose them and blindly follows orders. Still I like the supported thought process. +1 – Morgan Apr 29 '14 at 21:50
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    @Morgan, from Ugluk's perspective, he's an army guy and the Hobbits are enemies of his great nation. Imagine what you would do if you were a professional soldier with a dangerous al-Qaeda terrorist in your hands. Now imagine how fast you would move if you were in country as dangerous as where Ugluk is. What we have left is that he enjoys "man's-flesh to eat." Who would have told him otherwise, though? And besides, his enemies would be dead anyway. – La-comadreja Apr 29 '14 at 22:49
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    @user23715 It's surprising to me that the "intellectual" and "positive" elves of Tolkien's works are so incurious about what happened to the "dark" races, they don't try to understand the subject and want nothing to do with redeeming creatures that might be their kin. – La-comadreja May 2 '14 at 22:09
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    Oh, I agree that Ugluk has positive traits (I said as much in my answer!), and the policy of killing Orcs on sight is nicely countered in "The Last Ring-bearer" recommended by DVK (which you really should read!). However, the ecological Leave No Trace is stretching it, in my opinion. Tolkien makes it clear that it is in the Orcs nature to plunder, pillage and waste. Treebeard says as much, it's not out of necessity, but it's what Orcs do. This of course is Tolkien's bias against industrialism and the "unwashed masses", but it's his story and we must take him at his word :/ – Andres F. Oct 28 '15 at 15:05
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An old conversation, but i thought i'd contribute because you never know who might be wondering and stumble on the page.

If i remember correctly, having read most of JRR's stuff, orcs are no longer produced via corrupted elves or men, but instead reproduce sexually, by way of "breeding pits". (i imagine that there are female orcs, perhaps very few, that are bred with the best male orcs in breeding pits and act as a sort of "queen", and produce offspring, who then grow quickly and independently from child form to adult in the pits, afterward emerging from the ground as tolkien says(

The way the birth of Uruk-hai is depicted in the films is never mentioned in the books and is, i think, just to easier explain how saruman could create an army quickly. Melkor couldn't create life, and saruman certainly not, hence why melkor had to corrupt existing races to make his orcs. The reason i bring Uruk-hai into the equation is that they are "orcs bred with men" indicating that orcs have sexual organs and are capable of reproducing. Consequently, orcs are "indoctrinated" if you will, by their masters and their peers, to be of the mindset that they are. If you had a new orc, and raised it in the shire, it would have a love of pipe-weed and little rivers, but there is not record in the books of any such orc.

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    Nice insight. +1 from me :) – Major Stackings Apr 9 '13 at 19:52
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    In text, what's the basis of what you are saying about orcs raised in the Shire? – La-comadreja Apr 29 '14 at 4:07
  • @La-comadreja - you missed the "if" - Tom is speaking hypothetically. You also missed "there is not record in the books of any such orc". – user8719 May 11 '14 at 13:19
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    @JimmyShelter no, what Tom was saying is that orcs' behavior is fundamentally caused by the environment in which they were raised, rather than inborn. Tom needs to provide textual evidence for this. – La-comadreja May 12 '14 at 2:38
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    I must agree with @La-comadreja. I'd love if this was what Tolkien had actually written, since it would have made Orcs way more complex and interesting. Unfortunately, it's not. Orcs seem to be inherently corrupted ("almost irredeemable", in Tolkien's words). What this answer seems to be describing is Orcs as imagined by more sensible authors such as Terry Pratchett (see his Orc from Unseen Academicals). – Andres F. Oct 28 '15 at 15:09
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There is no mention of any 'good' Orcs in The Silmarillion.

Morgoth tortured and twisted elves into orcs. In the silmarillion, it is said that it was the "vilest deed and most hateful to Iluvatar".

Because of this proclamation in the book, I tend to beleive that the orcs can never be good. If there was even a spark of good in them or even a tendency to turn good, it wouldn't have been the vilest deed.

But then, they are not just mindless slaves or evil minions who follow Sauron's every order. This is evidenced by Gorbag and Shagrat having a fight about whether or not to directly obey Sauron or keep Frodo's Mithril coat. Also, there is the element of all creatures of middle earth having free will, so after the fall of Mordor, they might have evolved to be more good than evil, but personally I don't think it likely.

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    It was the "vilest deed and most hateful to Iluvatar." Say the elves. Let's go ask Iluvatar. Seriously, even if it were the vilest deed, I don't think extinguishing all the good from a race is a necessary prerequisite for this distinction. It might be the worst deed, compared to all the rest, to not only perform terrible crimes but make Arda's noblest humanoids guilty of participating in them and committing their own (note the difference, and the elvish conceit). Furthermore, "they might have evolved to be more good than evil" in par. 4 contradicts "orcs can never be good" par. 3. – La-comadreja Apr 30 '14 at 1:29
  • @La-comadreja I believe it's Tolkien's authorial voice speaking. It is ultimately the author, not just the Elves, that believes the creation of the Orcs was "the vilest deed". I've no proof, but this is the sense I get by reading the Silmarillion, and it matches with what I know about Tolkien's worldview. – Andres F. Oct 28 '15 at 15:12
  • @AndresF. Tolkien was also a Luddite and glorified couch potatoes like hobbits and ents. Many of his other moral judgments, including the status of orcs, are based on or heavily colored by these biases. Thus, I'm inclined toward a more Last Ringbearer-like reading of canon. For people like me, Tolkien left this tidbit in Letter 246: "Gandalf as Ring-Lord...would have made good detestable and seem evil." By analogy to Saruman, the Istar that did fall to the Ring's temptation, do technology and industriousness only seem detestable and evil? Are they actually good? – La-comadreja Oct 28 '15 at 20:51
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Tolkien's wickedness of Orcs is addressed in The "Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien". In "Letter 269". Tolkien suggests that, in the real world, Orcs would not be completely ir-redeemable.

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    Kristy - can you please quote relevant portions from the letter for those of us who doesn't have them? Thanks – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 29 '14 at 0:40
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We do not know what happened to Orcs after the end of the Third Age. And this is open to imagination since Tolkien wrote very few lines about the Fourth Age and beyond. We can think as well that Orcs were extinguished by Men, or that Orcs evolved free of Sauron as a rather brutal race, but not necessarily evil, or any other option that suits us.

  • I think the question is more about third age and before – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 7 '14 at 3:04
  • Received and understood :) Not a native english speaker – Envite Jan 11 '14 at 14:45
  • Not a native english speaker here either :) Welcome to SFF.SE – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 11 '14 at 14:47
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    Or that they used their inherent determination to get back on track, and some turned to technology and showed up on our sister site Stack Overflow :) – La-comadreja Apr 28 '14 at 18:16
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    Without a dominating evil will to drive and control them and press them to evil deeds, the orcs probably did begin to evolve towards something less corrupt. When an orc got "sick of this crap" during the rule of Sauron or Morgoth, either of these would have ordered the orc put down as an example. After the fall of Sauron, such orcs could at least go their own way and acquire some decency. – EvilSnack May 5 '17 at 4:52
0

[Tolkien]eventually said that there were Orcs that did live peacefully as merchants and farmers throughout Middle Earth I do not know the actual source for this as I found it on a wiki, but if this is indeed the case, I would say no, not all orcs are pure evil.

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    Which wiki would that be? – muru Dec 23 '15 at 7:38
-1

If video games can be taken in consideration , there is an orc in Shadow of Mordor called Ratbag who actually helps the protagonist. He is not really evil but not entirely good either. If you reward him accordingly he will do anything within his power , good or evil deed.

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    The question specifically asked about Tolkien's writings. – phantom42 Dec 28 '15 at 20:18
  • Ratbag sounds like an amalgam of the names Shagrat and Gorbag, two Mordor orc-captains in Tolkien's writings. These orcs indirectly help the hobbits because they mention useful information about Shelob in their conversations to one another, which Sam overhears. Their units also battle over the captive Frodo and annihilate one another, allowing the hobbits to take the clothing of the slain orcs for disguise. – La-comadreja Jan 3 '16 at 18:02
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    Ratbag was not presented as a positive figure. He was slightly more conniving than the average orc, but he was a coward to the end. – Rogue Jedi Jun 16 '18 at 22:53
-1

It is written in Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, that during the War of the Last Alliance

All living things were divided in that day, and some of every kind, even of beasts and birds, were found in either host, save the Elves only.

Implying the possibility of 'good' Orcs.

-3

Of course there may be good Orcs somewhere in the lands of arda. Many of you say no because they were made a mockery of the good race and evil races cannot be created, but only altered. That is also saying that there can not be any bad men or elves because they are of a good race. Now looking at how the science of nature versus nurture works, I'm sure most races on middle earth are born neither evil nor good (pls excuse a balrog). However, the culture the Orc child is born into will teach the orc youngling what they think is right and what they feel is wrong, therefore the Orc child is made evil, not born. I'm sure there were a few orcs who did not agree with the orkish way thus labeling the Orc as taboo. That would be exactly the same scenario, of a evil man from rohan who murdered innocent people after being told his entire life that killing of the innocent is wrong. Now mr. Tolkien may of never wrote this but I'm sure he would agree with me if he were alive today.

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    no quotes here though. You don't verify what tolkien would agree with, unless you back it up. – La-comadreja Apr 28 '14 at 23:50

protected by Rogue Jedi Jun 16 '18 at 22:54

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