Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Monsters as Extensions of their Creators

One habit that separates the forces of evil from the forces of good in Tolkien’s Legendarium is that the forces of evil weaken themselves by putting some of their power into their creations. This, while weakening them personally, the villains have their strength augmented through the act of creation, but only while the creation continues to exist. An example of this that immediately comes to mind is the Ring.  Souron creates it to augment his power, enabling him to conquer vast swathes of Middle-Earth and destroy Numenor from within, yet without he is unable to even take a physical form. And, obviously, if it is destroyed, Sauron goes with it. This is why the greatest evil force in Middle Earth could be destroyed by Hobbits. Melkor, however, does the same thing. In Morgoth’s Ring (1993), Tolkien makes an analogy between Souron and the Ring and Melkor and all of Arda. In the same way that Sauron put his power into the Ring, Melkor put his power into Arda, corrupting it. Thus, Melkor progressively weakens himself by putting himself into his creations (or rather, corruptions).

There are two conclusions that I want to investigate further:
(1)  The significance of monsters as extensions of Sauron and Morgoth, and
(2)  The Ring as a monster.

IGW’s post lays out a nice distinction between villains (like Sauron and Morgoth) and monsters (like Smaug). The difference is that monsters are evil by their nature whereas villains are “morally” evil. In human society, responsibility and free will are typically essentially characteristic of moral culpability, so it follows that villains, unlike monsters, freely choose to go down the path of evil even though they could have chosen otherwise. Melkor could have served Iluvatar faithfully but chose to rebel against him in the Ainulindale. The orcs, on the other hand, never choose to be evil, they simply are. This distinction, while mostly true, is incomplete. First, I want to explain how my monsters-as-extensions idea maps onto this distinction.

Since monsters are just extensions of their masters’ evil will, they are simultaneously evil without choosing to be so, i.e. inherently evil. IGW makes an important point that, since monsters are not morally evil, they are evil in an amoral sense. This, as I said earlier, stems from the fact that they do not choose to embrace evil as their creators do. I agree that this distinction is true but I don’t think that IGW justifies it enough. I will explain this below.

IGW makes another distinction that is puzzling, and it is only by adopting the framework I laid out that the distinction can be justified. IGW argues that monsters, although they are amorally evil, are not evil by “nature,” since this would make them basically indistinguishable from a cat, and “a cat isn’t evil for eating a mouse.” But this doesn’t make any sense since “by nature” and “inherently” are synonyms. You can’t say that monsters are inherently evil and yet not evil by nature. Moreover, since evil is connected to ideas of culpability and responsibility, which necessitate having the ability to follow good but choosing not to, there is a problem in saying that monsters are evil even though they cannot choose to do otherwise.   So, to summarize, there are two problems:
(1)  The contradiction between saying that monsters are inherently evil and yet not evil by nature, and
(2)  The contradiction between saying that monsters are evil, yet without choosing to do so.
Let me address the first point first. My argument is that monsters are evil by nature (i.e. inherently) but that they are different from say, cats, because they serve the morally evil purposes of their creators, as cats do not. Non-monsters may commit harm in order to survive, as predators do, but do not serve an evil purpose. Cats serve the amoral purpose of survival whereas the nature and inherent characteristics of, say, orcs, serves the fundamentally evil purpose of conquering Arda.

The second point: Monsters are just extensions of their master’s evil purposes. Since that evil ultimately stems from Melkor’s moral choice to rebel against Iluvatar, it is morally evil. In fact, I don’t really look at orcs, trolls, etc. as beings in and of themselves. We really should look at them as pieces of Melkor, with his will baked into their nature.


Is the Ring a monster? Yes! It is not the kind of monster that we are used to, but it not only meets my definition, but many of the other criteria we have for monsters. Obviously, it is an extension of Sauron, but it is also the principal obstacle the heroes of The Lord of the Rings have to overcome. As we discussed in class on April 26th, the ring could exert such a powerful effect on the people around that, at the Crack of Doom, not even Sauron himself would have been able to throw the Ring into the lava.

I need to make an important distinction relating to the difference between monsters and villains. Just because a person or object is under the control of Sauron or Morgoth does not mean that it is automatically a monster. By that logic, Ar Pharazon would be a monster, Denethor would be a monster. It’s important that we keep in mind two additional requirements: (1) that the object or person is automatically a servant of evil because they are created to be a servant of evil. Ar Pharazon came under the control of Sauron, but was not created as his servant, and is therefore not a monster. (2) Additionally, a monster is an obstacle to the heroes completing their objective.

Finally, I would like to make one final note on monsters-as-extensions-of-their-creators. Their inherently evil nature can continue even after the villain is destroyed. Smaug or the Balrog are evil despite the fact that they are no longer directly serving the will of Morgoth, since his evil is an inherent characteristic of their nature, and thus continues even though their master is not literally present.   

-Harry O'Neil 

NOTE: I want to explain why it is important that monsters be inherently evil. That is the only way that Tolkien’s Legendarium makes any sense. If orcs have the ability to freely choose between good and evil, why does literally every single orc ever created choose to serve evil? Thus, it is actually very important that we square this circle.


  1. I agree: evil seems to require malevolence, that is, will to do harm without mercy. This goes to the question I asked IGW: do monsters have free will? Could we push the question further? What kind of creatures are monsters if they do not have free will? Iluvatar's Children (including his adopted children, the Dwarves) are defined precisely by their free will. But if monsters do not have free will, then they are evil only as tools? This fits with Tolkien's logic, but I am wondering if it works for our theory of monsters more generally, as also participating in the Unknown. RLFB

  2. You say that monsters "do not choose to embrace evil as their creators do," but I think it's up for debate to what extent even Melkor could be said to have free will. Tolkien states that within Illuvatar's creation "Free Will is derivative, and is only operative within provided circumstances. . ." and hence "it is 'feigned' . . . that He gave special 'sub-creative' powers to certain of His highest created beings" (Tolkien Letter 153). I took this passage to mean that even though the Valar have great subcreative power, it is still only subcreation - they are still subject to the will of Illuvatar, even Melkor who is second only to Illuvatar in power and rebelled against his will. If we are to accept that free will in Arda is largely an illusion and all actions inevitably further the Will of Illuvatar for His creation, then this line between monsters and villains becomes incredibly blurry. The best way I think of to get out of this conundrum is to say that even though Melkor's actions will inevitably serve Illuvatar's will, he still chose his evil intentions.

    To move beyond slippery concepts of free will though, I think we can make a distinction between villains and monsters by analyzing the case of Melkor and Orcs more closely. Tolkien says that he "represented at least the Orcs as pre-existing real beings on whom the Dark Lord has exerted the fullness of his power in remodelling and corrupting them, not making them." (Tolkien Letter 153) If we are to say that Orcs are monsters, we can then say that monsters are beings whose evil actions are the result of external corruption, whereas villains are the corrupters, those who "chose" (insofar as it is possible for any subcreator to choose) the path of evil and actively lead or force other beings to serve their purposes. The only difference I would say this framework has from yours is that this doesn't make monsters inherently evil (as I don't believe that Tolkien believes inherent evil to exist within his universe). The Orcs aren't evil any moreso than any other creation of Illuvatar's, they are simply corrupted creations who are being used as tools by Melkor. As a result I don't think that their nature is an evil one, as otherwise they wouldn't have had to be corrupted in the first place.