Posted on November 29, 2018

Tolkien and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Accused of Promoting Racism Due to Orc Discrimination

Spencer Baculi, Bounding Into Comics, November 26, 2018

J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous and influential series, The Lord of the Rings, has been accused of purporting racism and discrimination due to its depiction of orcs.

Appearing on the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, hosted by Wired magazine, science-fiction author Andy Duncan states his views on The Lord the Rings concerning racism during a conversation about his work Senator Bilbo:

“But it’s hard not to miss that repeated notion in Tolkien that some races are just worse than others. That some peoples are just worse than others. And this seems to me, in the long-term, if you embrace this too much, it has dire consequences for yourself and for society. So, Senator Bilbo is a parody in which you have a racist demagogue stomping around the world of the halfings in a sort of desperate holding pattern to keep at bay all the change that is coming about as they resolve the Lord of the Ring.


Senator Bilbo is a short story by Duncan which reimagines Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins as a racist, xenophobic senator afraid of an influx of post-Return of the King war refugees. Duncan was inspired to write this story after noticing that Tolkien’s hero shared a name with former US Senator Theodore G. Bilbo, an outspoken proponent of segregation and white supremacy, and imagined a scenario where the two were one in the same.

{snip} Duncan’s claim against Tolkien’s writing is entrenched in the real-world ideologies of bigots and racists who routinely define those who differ from them as innately ‘inferior’ or ‘worse’. However, in applying these ideologies to The Lord of the Rings, Duncan ignores both the context of the story and Tolkien’s out-spoken condemnation of racism.

In The Lord of the Rings stories, the Orcs are depicted as disgusting, grotesque humanoid creatures that serve as the bulk of armies for both Melko, Dark Lord of the First Age, and Sauron, Dark Lord of the Second and Third Ages. In The Silmarillion, it is suggested that Melkor corrupted the bodies of minds of captured elves in an effort to twist them into the original orcs. Duncan’s point of racism may stand if not for the fact that the Orc race simply exist to lay siege to the lands of Middle-Earth. The Orcs are not fought and feared because other races merely hate their differences- but because they are a terrifying force of destruction and evil that leaves death in their wake solely existing in service of the Dark Lord.


Furthermore, within The Lord of the Rings itself, Tolkien often depicts the various race relations of Middle-Earth as sometimes tense and divided, which is never celebrated and is often lamented by his characters. When the Fellowship reaches the gates of Moria, Gandalf notes that though Elves and Dwarves have a distaste for each other, despite their previously amicable relationship:


Despite Tolkien’s anti-racist beliefs and writings, the man and his works are no stranger to accusations of racisms. Tolkien’s work has been almost routinely criticized over the years by numerous authors, such as academics, movie critics, and thinkpiece writers attempting to boost their careers. Thankfully, one must only point to Tolkien’s own words and actions as proof that these accusations are tired and baseless.