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As I was recently re-watching the LOTR trilogy, it occurred to me that only the evil forces use (besides horses/oxen) what I consider "beasts of burden", such as Cave Trolls, Oliphants, Fell Beasts, Great Beasts (the huge animals that pull Grond), Wargs, etc.

It seems to me that these mindless creatures could be found in the wild & domesticated and/or bred by Elves/Dwarves/Men (of the West) to be used for the benefit of the good forces. How cool would it be to see an elf riding a fell beast? I realize some of these creatures might have an innate predilection towards aggression and blood-thirst, but they obviously can still be tamed/trained somewhat, similar to guard dogs.

Are these beast of burden hopelessly evil or could they be used by the good guys, assuming they are available?

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    Oliphants weren't really native in that part of Middle-earth, so they couldn't really use them, and were only used by the men to the south of Mordor. Cave Trolls are twisted and tormented ents (much like orcs were elves). The beasts weren't really evil for the most part, rather they were made to be evil by their riders. Wargs may be a special case though, as those are legitimately evil. – CBredlow Feb 24 '17 at 22:16
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    Going on more about oliphants: They weren't considered evil either. Sam looked at them in wonder (not sure if the same thing happened in the books) – CBredlow Feb 24 '17 at 22:17
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    Yeah, I think this is a fuzzy redefinition of what most people consider "beasts of burden". – Radhil Feb 24 '17 at 23:20
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    Weren't there, like, huge armies in LOTR? And didn't a lot of them, like, ride horses? Aren't horses, like, beasts of burden? So basically almost everyone in LOTR is evil? – errantlinguist Feb 25 '17 at 16:35
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    I don't think Bill was evil. – Oscar Cunningham Feb 25 '17 at 16:44
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Some of Beasts of Burden are Probably Inherently Evil While Others Are Just Beasts

Firstly, since your question references the movies, I would point out that the movie version of The Hobbit shows a number of different types of animals being used as beasts of burden. Thorin and his nephews ride goats up to Ravenhill. Dain rides a pig. Thranduil rides an Elk. So in movieverse, there are plenty of different types of beasts of burden around.

Next, I think we have to address the creatures that you've referenced one by one.

Trolls are probably evil

In The Two Towers book, Treebeard tells us that Trolls were made by "the Enemy" (likely Morgoth) in mockery of Ents as the Orcs were of Elves.

'Maybe you have heard of Trolls? They are mighty strong. But Trolls are only counterfeits, made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, in mockery of Ents, as orcs were of Elves. We are stronger than Trolls.'

If we assume that "cave trolls" are truly a type of troll, then I think we can assume that they are creatures of the dark forces, a twisted mockery of Ents.

Oliphaunts are probably not evil

The Oliphaunts appear to be associated with the Haradrim men rather than with Sauron or Morgoth. Sam has the following to say about oliphaunts:

But I've heard tales of the big folk down away in the Sunlands. Swertlings we call ‘em in our tales; and they ride on oliphaunts, ‘tis said, when they fight. They put houses and towers on the oliphaunteses backs and all, and the oliphaunts throw rocks and trees at one another. So when you said "Men out of the South, all in red and gold," I said "were there any oliphaunts?"

While the Haradrim do fight for Sauron, they are ultimately just men and probably not capable of creating things like orcs and trolls. It is far more likely that oliphaunts are animals that the the Haradrim have tamed. As for why Men of the West don't use them -- it is likely that they aren't an animal that occurs in the wild in the West. They seem associated firmly with the South.

It is unclear whether fell beasts are always evil, but the description of them seems to suggest it.

We know relatively little about the origins of the fell beasts, other than the suggestion they are of "an older world." They certainly seem to be unpleasant beasts from the description we get in Return of the King.

... it was a winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, and its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was, whose kind, lingering in forgotten mountains cold beneath the Moon, outstayed their day, and in hideous eyrie bred this last untimely brood, apt to evil.

Given that ugly, stinky creatures in Tolkien are often evil, this doesn't bode well. The "apt to evil" line is also rather damning, though "apt" to evil isn't quite the same as unambiguously evil. However, there is also the suggestion that the Dark Lord made these creatures even worse by feeding them "fell meats."

And the Dark Lord took it, and nursed it with fell meats, until it grew beyond the measure of all other things that fly; and he gave it to his servant to be his steed.

So it sounds like you have creatures who already tended toward evil that Sauron made even worse.

Wargs are probably evil

We don't know much about the origins of Wargs, but Tolkien describes them as "demonic wolves" in a letter to Gene Wolfe.

Dear Mr Wolfe, Thank you very much for your letter. The etymology of words and names in my story has two sides: (1) their etymology within the story; and (2) the sources from which I, as an author, derive them. I expect you mean the latter. Orc I derived from Anglo-Saxon, a word meaning demon, usually supposed to be derived from the Latin Orcus -- Hell. But I doubt this, though the matter is too involved to set out here. Warg is simple. It is an old word for wolf, which also had the sense of an outlaw or hunted criminal. This is its usual sense in surviving texts.* I adopted the word, which had a good sound for the meaning, as a name for this particular brand of demonic wolf in the story.

"Demonic wolves" certainly seems to suggest evil. Also, every time we see the wargs in the books, they are doing evil works. This includes in The Hobbit when they aren't really allied with Sauron, but are still working with the goblins.

As for the beasts that pull Grond ... I have no idea. I believe these are just called "great beasts" and aren't really addressed anywhere.

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This is very similar to the question "Are Pit Bulls mean dogs, or are they trained that way?" for several of the creatures you've mentioned here.

Oliphaunts: Nope, not evil, just animals. They were used as mounts by the Haradrim. They're about as good or evil as a warhorse from Rohan was considered good or evil (ignoring a Lord of Horses like Shadowfax). Just need to train them.

Cave Trolls: Similar to orcs, they were a lifeform from Middle-Earth that was corrupted by Morgoth. Except they're twisted Ents instead of twisted Elves. Not beasts, but evil.

Fell Beasts: They were bred by Sauron, so not really certain to say if they were evil or not. Gandalf has mentioned they came from an older world, so maybe they were around during the earlier wars with Morgoth?

Great Beasts: Similar to the Oliphaunts, they were trained to do this. There is some speculation where these animals were corrupted by Melkor.

Wargs: They are described as an 'evil breed of wolves', so no, you can't tame them.

Most of the examples you gave were creatures that were specifically corrupted by Melkor and Sauron. However, don't see anything that says the Oliphaunts and Great Beasts were specifically evil.

To answer your question: No, beasts of burden are not inherently evil, just made that way. (Not certain on wargs, couldn't find anything specific about it)

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    Pit bulls are mean, and I have a scar on my leg to prove it. – MissMonicaE Feb 25 '17 at 2:01
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    Pfff, in that case, pitbulls are not evil, and I have a non-scar to prove it! – Mr Lister Feb 25 '17 at 15:59
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    @MissMonicaE - Pfft. Chihuahuas are the real monsters. They are vicious. – iMerchant Feb 25 '17 at 22:29
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It ultimately comes down to if they were first bred by Morgoth or if they existed independent of the dark lord. Orcs, trolls and dragons clearly could not exist, if Morgoth did not exist. But oliphants and many other beasts would. I think thats what it ultimately would come down to! Anything, that is originally bred by Morgoth is inherently evil.

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The other answers have some flaws.

1) "Oliphants are just animals". Not exactly. Oliphants are clearly prehistoric relatives of elephants. In The Two towers Sam says oliphants have noses like snakes and throw rocks and trees. When the hobbits see one the narration clearly states it has an long snout like s a serpent and is much more mammoth than modern elephants. And research into the intelligence of non human animals in recent decades indicates that extraterrestrial observers might classify proboscideans, apes, and cetaceans - as well as humans - as semi intelligent or even fully intelligent, and thus possibly people.

2) Fell beasts. The description of the Witch king's mount makes it unclear if there was only one of them and the other Nazgul rode other flying creatures, or if there were a bunch grown in the same brood. The description makes it seem like a type of flying dragon and thus naturally as "evil" as dragons naturally are or maybe some type of "terror dactyl".

3) Grond is pulled by "great beasts" that are not described. But a few paragraphs before that there is a description of "Then came great beasts, like houses in the red and fitful light, the mumakil of the Harad dragging through the lanes amid the fires huge towers and engines." The Mumakil or Oliphants were prehistoric elephants. So it is logical to assume that the "great beasts" pulling Grond are some mammoth type of prehistoric proboscideans, unless the men of Harad have also tamed other types of now extinct megafauna.

  • 3. If mumakil are described a few paragraphs before, then there is no reason to refer to the animals pulling Grond with the generic "great beasts." Also, since the question referenced the movies, it is worth pointing out that the beasts we see in the movies look nothing like oliphaunts and resemble rhinos. – robopuppy Feb 25 '17 at 5:07
  • 2. Yes, the description only refers to the one fell beast who is attacking Theoden at that moment. It is possible to speculate that perhaps other Nazgul rode other types of flying beasts, though it seems reasonable to infer otherwise. We aren't even sure that all the Nazgul rode winged mounts. However, the Witch-King's mount is also the only one of the creatures ever explicitly referred to as a "fell beast" so this description stands. I actually never said that the other Nazgul mounts were fell beasts, nor did the other answer. Worth pointing out that the movie Nazgul all ride similar mounts. – robopuppy Feb 25 '17 at 5:16
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    1. I can't parse what you're getting at with this one other than that you have some sort of animal rights objection to oliphaunts being referred to as animals. It is certainly possible that oliphaunts are highly intelligent or even that they can speak human language. They wouldn't be the first talking animal in Tolkien. But we don't have any indication that this is the case and the broader point is that they don't appear to be creatures that have been twisted by the dark powers. – robopuppy Feb 25 '17 at 5:22
  • robopuppy - #3 "then came great beasts, like houses in the red and fitful light, the mumakil of the Harad" dragging siege towers. Thus the great beasts dragging Grond are probably also mumakil of Harad but might be extinct prehistoric rhinos or something. #1 more people's rights than animal rights, since my point is that it is possible that proboscideans, cetaceans, and great apes should be classified as people. Thus it is possible that the oliphants should be reclassified as slaves instead of livestock. – M. A. Golding Feb 25 '17 at 16:12
  • Now I'm wanting to read some fan fiction where the Mumakil people throw off the oppressive yoke of slavery that has been placed on them by the men of Harad and supported by Sauron. – robopuppy Feb 25 '17 at 17:38
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The short answer is no; they are not inherently evil. There exist no beings or creatures in the world of Middle Earth that are inherently evil. The thing that you have to consider is that corruption is an element of the Middle Earth mythology that runs rampant throughout that universe. Most creatures in their native form are simply just as they are. When jockeyed for the purpose of evil, they become evil. Some creatures were bred for the purpose of serving evil ones, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're inherently evil either. Evil implies that there is exists a nefarious motive, which requires some sense of self-identity and/or sentience.

Now here's where it gets tricky...

On the other hand, there exist no beings in this universe that are all 100% good, either. It's been a while since I've read some of the other LotR books, but the concept of the "Will of Eru" (Eru Iluvatar being the root deity) is mentioned a few times. In the early moments of the Middle Earth Universe, when the Ainur sang their songs of creation throughout Arda (the world) and guided the events of the early creatures (elves, etc.), certain songs were not sung so much in harmony of the "Will of Eru;" Melkor is one such example. Thus, Melkor sang songs that were in discord of the main melody, so to speak.

Technically, evil is the manifestation of the corruption that occurs from actions/thoughts/motives that do not run alongside the "Will of Eru."

I remember reading in one of the books where it stated something along the lines that the "Will of Eru" is the untainted natural state of things. As long as something is in its natural state, it shouldn't be corrupted. If you think about it, every sentient being in the Middle Earth universe has a taint of corruption, because the existence of a will apart from that of Eru is pretty much grounds for some degree of evil. But this also begs the question, that if something is bred for evil, but becomes re-aligned to follow the "Will of Eru," does it become uncorrupted? Who knows.

But if anyone was ever curious as to why Gandalf never just openly dominated his circumstances with his awesome magical power, it was because he was afraid of being corrupted. Saruman used his power so abundantly for his own purposes and his own will that he corrupted himself rapidly and fell into evil. Gandalf probably reasoned that involving himself in the politics of the kingdoms of Middle Earth was, instead, less of a schism from the "natural way" of things. in essence, Gandalf feared the use of his own power.

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