The LOTR Movie Site
December 11, 2000

My Orc, Your Orc

“Hey, wait a minute! That’s not an Orc!”

Here is the thought that leapt loudly out of my mouth when I first saw one of the
photographs of Peter Jackson’s rendering of Tolkien’s Orcs. I sat fuming and staring for several minutes piecing together what I didn’t like. Several definite items came to mind, including, “It looks too much like a deformed cat with its badly proportioned ears turned back.”

I have not written an essay for this website in some time (I wrote three last year) but I have visited almost daily and read most of the submitted “debates.” I have seen many fans at least uncomfortable with what has been released about the films. I think I have at last come to an understanding about why we are so vehement about what some people consider inconsequential details.

We are not setting out with an initial goal of battering Mr. Jackson’s films- at least, not all of us. As a matter of fact, I was more than a little thrilled with the idea when I heard of it about a year ago. Since then, I’m sorry to say, my excitement has dwindled.

Why? Because I have been approaching the films with the wrong expectations. I regret this deeply, my friends, but we will never see J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as a movie. Whatever enters the theaters will be the director’s vision of the books.

Does that mean Mr. Jackson can rewrite the plot, characters, etc.? Of course not. I, as a writer, refuse to believe that such a right can ever be granted, whatever legalities are undertaken. If Mr. Jackson has any decency or common sense he will not alter Arwen as the symbol of peace by tossing her a sword thus undoing Eowyn’s role as well.

On the other hand, however cautious Mr. Jackson is, he is going to upset and probably offend several Tolkien fans. Here is where the majesty of books is revealed. Regarding the Orcs, here is a quote from The Two Towers when Pippin first sees Ugluk, “In the twilight he saw a large black Orc, probably Ugluk, standing facing Grishnakh, a short crook-legged creature, very broad and with long arms that hung almost to the ground.” A stirring description of terrible monsters, as far as I’m concerned, especially since it follows pages describing the circumstances of two hobbits’ misery in capture. Instantly, as we read, we obtain a mental vision of the cruel captors, but Tolkien says nothing about the ears, eyes, feet, and so on of the two Orcs. Personally, since first hearing The Hobbit in fourth grade I pictured Goblins with no ears at all because they tunneled in the mountains and the Orcs in my mind usually looked similar in that respect. I doubt everyone else saw them the same. Yet Mr. Jackson must portray every feature of the Orcs, Elves, etc. Even if he follows Tolkien’s vivid words exactly, he is not going to create the image fans have in their own minds. Only the books can do that.

The main problem poor Mr. Jackson faces is that the story is made impersonal by specifics. Tolkien knew this and that is why his descriptions are only thorough enough to spin stunning realism into his books without doing the work of the readers’ imaginations. So while I am against anything Mr. Jackson puts into his films that directly opposes what Tolkien wrote, I have decided to compromise on the intimacy of the film. I think we must enter the theaters next year, not expecting the experience of reading the books, but of openly examining another reader’s understanding of it, much as we do here at this site.

I am open to any rebuttals or additions you may wish to submit.