Are Orcs the Blacks of Middle Earth?

I have mentioned the influence of my race a few times. It goes without saying as I am discussing various aspects of natural hair care. In the world of geekery I am interested in African American Sci-Fi and Fantasy characters. Because African Americans have been under represented in vaorcsrious forms of entertainment, since I was a child I find myself yearning for characters that “look like me”.  So my first time watching a “Lord of the Rings” film I found myself asking “where are the black people?”

I’ve read “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” books. And although descriptions of characters are given their race, as far as color, is not. But I believe European characteristics are the “default” of what people imagine in their minds if it is not specified. Much like the outrage of Hermione being cast as black in “The Cursed Child” to which author JK Rowling responded on twitter saying “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione”. The film makers who bring the movie to life create their own interpretation of the world the writers created. So in the Middle Earth created by Peter Jackson, the only people with dark complexion were the Orcs/Goblins.

In the Middle Earth of “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” there are a few races which include Elves, Men, Dwarfs, and Orcs/Goblins. I’m not even sure if I sure include Wizards as a race, since there a few of them one serve as guardians. Technically other than “Man” the other races of Middle Earth aren’t “men” (if you get what I’m trying to say) but nonetheless they were chosen to be cast as Whites in the films. Then you have the Orcs. Their skin color varies greatly in the films. Some appear the palest of  white like Azog the Defiler.  While others are yellow, pinkish, red, brown, and black. Some of their hair is matted in a way that reminds me of dread locks, I’m thinking primarily of Lurtz, the Uruk-Hai scout leader. The Orcs appearance is the most distorted of all the Middle Earth creatures. I’d imagine that is to reflect what these creatures have endured (sound familiar).

Saruman describes the orcs as “elves taken by the dark powers, tortured, and mutilated. A ruined and terrible form of life” he goes on to say “Now, perfected, my fighting Uruk-Hai.” These creatures are typically shown controlled and following orders of either Sauron or Saruman. Saruman “the white”, marks his soldiers with his white hand insignia. They are used for their physical strength, and depicted as unintelligent, savage creatures. They will turn against each other if it suites the individuals needs and follow orders of their leader with little question. They are largely regarded as villains in these works, although have little to gain from their “sides” victory other than remaining in servitude. Obviously, works in particular locations and time settings would not accurately have blacks, but why not if it is fantasy? Why could there not have been black Elves, Men, Dwarfs, or Wizards? Orcs are the only character that seemed to physically fit the bill. Then when I looked closer, I thought “maybe it wasn’t coincidence?” It is believed that Tolkein wrote these books to reflect what he saw during World War I. Could have also been showing his thoughts of the treatment of blacks during that time and over the course of history?

My intention is not to race bate or offend. I am merely stating my observations.  I have read “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” as well as seen the films, although I have not read “The Silmarillion” (future gift idea). These stories may close some gaps and give me more answers proving or disproving my hypothesis. Have anyone else had similar theories?

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28 thoughts on “Are Orcs the Blacks of Middle Earth?

  1. I think this is so interesting. While reading, if it is not specified I always assume they look like me. When I finished my novel I asked my beta readers about the skin color (which is a main point) and they all assumed white. Three of the main characters are not in fact white. I think it’s easy to overlook it when you’re trying to relate to the characters.

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  2. J.R.R. Tolkien’s work is very much a product of its time, and his Middle-earth is based upon early medieval NW Europe, which is why its populace is white. For people with darker skin tones, you’ll have to look to the southeastern part of the Middle-earth map, to Near and Far Harad. Unfortunately he did not write much about the Haradrim, and what he did would be considered a bit racist by today’s standards – as I said, product of his time (just like women don’t have much agency overall, apart from some obvious exceptions). I’m not aware of any theories about orcs depicting black people; I think their dark skinned appearance was introduced with the movies (that often don’t ring true to the books).

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  3. I get where you’re coming from. I find myself doing the same thing whenever I watch/read something or go someplace new. I was just watching a vlog of a youtuber who went to Amsterdam and I caught myself thinking, “where are the POC?”

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  4. Tolkein actually wrote in the foreword of the second edition of Lord of the Rings rejecting people’s theories that his work was based on the war. He did not want his life’s work to be linked to such atrocities. In regards to the diversity of race in the films you have to look at what tolkein based them on, in regards to the elven languages quenya was based on finnish and sindarin was based on welsh which are both countries made up of a predominantly white population. Tolkein has said in letters that his works were sort of a fantasy history for England as he hated that the Norman conquest in 1066 had taken away the development of Anglo saxon folklore. The population of the uk and surrounding European countries in 1066 was white so it is unsurprising really that Peter Jackson went with a predomitely white cast as he wanted to make something as close to tolkein’s vision as possible. Game of thrones is also loosely based on the uk and Europe and if you look at the populations he has put in different countries they’re mostly white in the north with darker skinned characters in the south. In regards to the orcs tolkein hadn’t actually settled on the exact origins for them when he died, and it was his son Christopher that finished and published some of works.

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  5. I think that in general as a POC we tend to see fantasy and Sci-Fi very differently. There is hardly any representation of us in this medium and when it does happen often times the character is killed off in the case of “Sleepy Hallow” or made to be the villain. With this in mind I’ve often thought like you unless the character is actually described as a person of color like Katniss was….then I alway assume they are white. I have agree with you about the Orcs as well. Perhaps not so much from what Tolkien wrote but instead what Peter Jackson interpreted his works as.

    I’m thankful that media is changing and there are now books out there with POC as the main protagonist. Times are changing.

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  6. So interesting and I have watched these movies hundreds of times and haven’t even looked at it like that. But to be honest I did think the Orcs where very dark for their color and bulky in physic….

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  7. His world is set in the european continent mostly in some age where only europeans lived in europe mostly. There are the Esterlings, the arabs, asians etc. Africans should be there with the easterlings although they only make a short appearance in the movies.

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  8. That’s such an interesting concept, with so much support to of carry it too. I see simplehuman ^ added some depth, but what a wonderful train of thought. I hadn’t heard about Hermione, but I love how Rowling how always been so adaptive within her world. Great post!

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