Wednesday’s class presented us with an interesting and challenging task: to identify the motives of Monsters and to classify different kinds of Monsters according to their respective motives. I present here my own system of classification, but before I explain it, I would like to consider the word Monster itself. I think one ought to distinguish the Monsters in a story from monsters in the abstract. “The Monsters and the Critics” deals primarily, I think, with the former, the draco rather than the draconitas. Someone in class mentioned that every Monster needs a Monster-slayer (and vice versa), and it is helpful to bear this fact in mind when reading myth or fairy-story. Most non-human antagonists (and even some “human” ones), whatever their motives, are Monsters within a story. Grendel, Smaug, Shelob, and Bilbo’s Trolls have vastly different origins and motives, but as far as the protagonists are considered, they are all Monsters: they exist, and they must be overcome, regardless of any more complex considerations of the nature of Evil and the question of “solving” it. While I agree with the comment that being a Monster depends on the story-teller’s point of view, I think it is wrong to say that being a monster depends on it. Smaug is certainly a Monster from Bilbo’s point of view, though presumably not from his own. But whether or not he is a monster is a matter separate from anybody’s point of view and should be analyzed as such. To that end, I have identified two (possibly three) categories of “Monsters” and have tried to determine their relation to monsterhood.
The first category, and the largest, is composed of Slaves. The word slave indicates unwillingness and coercion, and that is precisely why I think it applies to this category. Many of Sauron’s servants, even those who are not slaves in the strictest sense, serve him unwillingly, or at the very least had at one point no intention of serving him. The Quenta Silmarillion explains that the original Orcs were captive Elves who “by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved.” Tellingly, the text goes on to say that “deep in their dark hearts the Orcs loathed their Master whom they served in fear, the maker only of their misery.” Into this category one may place as well the many nameless men who serve Sauron (though not, perhaps, their captains and leaders); Sam wonders of the dead Southron in Ithilien whether “he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home.” And one ought also to include those beasts who seem to have been forced into Sauron’s service, like the black horses stolen from Rohan, and perhaps the Mûmakil.
I think a distinguishing feature of these “slaves” is that one feels genuinely sorry for them, however horrible or cruel they might be. Gandalf says to Denethor, “I pity even his slaves,” and Gandalf is right to do so. And there are a few instances in which Sauron’s slaves are shown to be not so very different from the Free Peoples; the conversation between Gorbag and Shagrat, for example, in which the two reveal fears, desires, and uncertainties concerning Sauron’s rule, humanizes the Orcs somewhat, so that they appear more misguided or coerced than properly Evil.
Into this category I also place, perhaps controversially, some of the primary antagonists of The Lord of the Rings, namely Gollum and the Ringwraiths. As someone pointed out in class, Gollum came upon the Ring accidentally, and his evil deeds (which are many) seem to stem from this unwitting submission to the Dark Lord, a submission that Gollum (or at least Sméagol) resents. Gollum is a slave to Sauron, and perhaps this explains why Gandalf and Frodo pity him so greatly. The Ringwraiths belong here as well, I think, because they too (some of them in any case) seem to have entered Sauron’s service unintentionally. Sauron was so convincing as the well-intentioned Annatar that he persuaded even some of the Elves to trust him; presumably the same ruse ensnared the Ringwraiths, and The Silmarillion states that some of them resisted Sauron’s power while they could.
The next category I call monstrous creatures. This category is comprised of the beasts who serve Morgoth and Sauron. Let us not forget that trolls, along with Carcharoth, dragons and various other breeds, were created by Morgoth to serve him; their wills are therefore naturally inclined to Evil. I also include here various animals, like wargs, wolves and bats, whose natural urges (in fairy-stories) tend towards consumption, aggression, and destruction and so coincide with the purposes of both Dark Lords. It’s hard to ascribe any real agency to these monsters, and I think they are of the same order as the “hungry monsters” mentioned by Prof. Fulton-Brown. They are not worthy of pity in the way that the slaves are because there is (or was) no reluctance to serve Evil, but since they are by definition incapable of distinguishing Good from Evil, it’s hard to consider them properly Evil. (I think the lesser Spiders belong here as well, since their relation to Shelob and Ungoliant is more or less the same as that of, say, Trolls to Morgoth).
It thus seems incorrect to say that monsters deserve to be called Evil. That dubious honor falls to the group I name the Villains. These, I think, can on the whole comfortably be called Evil. Morgoth, Sauron, the Balrogs, the Mouth of Sauron, and various spies (like Bill Ferny) belong here. Villains are those who willingly enter Evil’s service; many have endeavored to corrupt Slaves and create monsters. Therefore, all Men, Valar, and Maiar (indeed members of any race endowed with Free Will) who knowingly chose Evil over Good deserve to be classed as Villains. One may point out that Melkor, Sauron, and the Maiar who became Balrogs were perhaps originally convinced they were doing Good (as was the case with Saruman), but one should not forget that Morgoth and Sauron repeatedly squandered opportunities to repent of their misdeeds despite knowing they had chosen an Evil path. Perhaps there should be a subset of this group, the Lesser Villains, to include those who more or less match the definition of Villainy but for whom one might still feel pity – those who are “guilty, with an explanation,” like Saruman, Ar-Pharazôn, and Gríma. Perhaps the Lesser Villains belong with the Slaves; I can’t say.
I struggle with the question of Ungoliant and Shelob, however. They are, to my mind, the most horrific and frightening of all the enemies faced by the Forces of Good because they are so completely foreign. Morgoth and Sauron desire supreme power, yes, but at least their motive is understandable (even though it’s wrong). The two Great Spiders wish not to rule but to consume, to consume so thoroughly and completely that the the world would be left a dry husk. One gets the impression that they would eat even stone if they could, and in the end Ungoliant seems to devour herself in her hunger. I associate mindless consumption with Monstrous Creatures, but there seems to be something sapient and malicious about the Great Spiders. My instinct is to say that they are somehow Evil, in fact more Evil (if possible) than Morgoth, but whether they deserve their own category or whether they are merely the ultimate examples of the category of monstrous creatures I cannot say.
Both Villains and monsters can be Monsters, but I think it’s wrong to conflate Villains with monsters. Grendel is a Monstrous Creature, and there are several episodes which make him seem exceedingly like Ungoliant (whichever category she is in); he might even be a Slave, though I myself find there is no textual basis for such a claim. But he is certainly not a Villain, and since he is therefore effectively deprived of free will, it is quite hard to say that he is Evil. The same can be said of most of the Monsters in The Lord of the Rings: they are servants of Evil, yes, but they are not Evil themselves. But I don’t think that distinction adds any credence to Edmund Wilson’s argument that they are bad Monsters; rather, it makes the Villains all the more villainous and the struggle of the Free Peoples all the more compelling.
1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion (New York: Del Rey, 1997), 47.
2. Ibid., 47.
3. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers (New York: Del Rey, 1982), 317.
4. Ibid., 46.
5. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King (New York: Del Rey, 1983), 95.
6. “He got up and clenched his long hand into a bony fleshless knot, shaking it towards the East. ‘We won’t!’ he cried. ‘Not for you.’” Tolkien, Two Towers, 263.
7. Tolkien, Silmarillion, 346.
8. Ibid., 87.