Monday, August 12, 2013

I feel sorry for the Orcs.

Little goblins - Francisco Goya

There happens to be one trope that annoys me in fiction, particularly in fantasy fiction. It's when you have a race, species or type of sentient creature that is always evil. They don't just have an evil culture, religion or society ... the race is intrinsically evil. There's no hope for redemption for them. There's no hope of love or change. They're just ... evil. All they can ever hope to be is evil. And that's just what they are.

Examples are really too numerous to cite here. There are the Orcs in Middle Earth, the Rats in Redwall and other example. Oftentimes it's not just Orcs, sometimes it's humans too. For instance German soldiers during WW2 are often treated like Orcs to be slaughtered. Now ... don't get me wrong. I love Redwall, World War 2 films and I really love Lord of the Rings. However, treating an entire race or species like they are really always evil is fraught with problems.

Now Tolkien, unlike Brian Jaques or the makers of the old war films realized that this was a problem. He was always looking for a way to theologically set his Orcs 'right'. He theorized that it was possible for an Orc to be redeemed, or tried to ponder various theological explanations for them.

The problem is that the idea of intrinsic evil is rather Unchristian. Evil is due to the fall. In order to be evil the creature or whatever it has to first be good. Evil necessitates a fall. Since our God is good, He would not create a race that was 'always chaotic evil'.  Even the Demons were once created by God as 'very good', and only became evil things once they fell from grace.

But here's the problem with the typical 'Orc'. The Orc is a human without chance of redemption. Total Depravity without Common Grace. No chance is given for the Orc to repent and turn from his sin. There's not chance to repent. To add insult to injury the authors make them horrible leering creatures, ugly in both shape and form. As if it's misshapen form was evident proof of its depravity. The heroes never think twice about killing an Orc. Reason why? Because it's an Orc. As a devout Catholic this always bothered Tolkien. But he never found an explanation that was satisfactory for him.
Worse is when human cultures. Like Nazis, Russian Communists, the KKK or Islamic Terrorists are portrayed this way. It's not that these movements were not evil. They were. But they were filled with humans. Humans with hopes dreams and fears such as we have. Just because their cause was evil doesn't mean we can treat them as inhuman monsters. Here, Tolkien did know what to say, and he used Farimir to voice his opinions "I do not slay man or beast needlessly, and not gladly even when it is needed."

So think for a moment about your villains. The little villains who die in droves in your story.  Remember, in most cases ... those folks are humans too.

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