The Rings of Power: Fallen Elves and Origin of the Orcs in Lord of the Rings Explained

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is approaching its first season finale. Its latest episode stunned fans as it touched on the controversial topic of the origin of Orcs. SPOILERS follow for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Episode 6, "Udûn." The Rings of Power broaches this topic after the battle to defend the Southlands from Adar and his Orcs. Galadriel and the Numenoreans arrive in time to aid the Southlanders, seemingly saving the day (their victory is short-lived). Galadriel and Halbrand chase Adar himself. Ultimately, Galadriel convinces the Southlands king to capture rather than kill Adar.

Once captured, Galadriel has a tense conversation with Adar. She says she recognizes him as one of the Elves captured by Melkor (a.k.a. The Dark Lord Morgoth) and tortured to create the Orcs. Adar does not deny this but claims to have slain Sauron to free his people and give them a place they could call home. "We are creations of the One, Master of the Secret Fire, the same as you," Adar argues. "As worthy of the breath of life and just as worthy of a home."

Who is the One, Master of the Secret Fire in the Lord of the Rings?

"The One" that Adar refers to is Eru Ilúvatar, the capital "G" God of Arda, the world in which Middle-earth exists. The Secret Fire is a poetic way of referring to Eru's ability to imbue the living beings of Arda with sentience and a soul.

Galadriel believes it is good and right to kill any Orc on site because they are evil, having had all the goodness of the Elves drained from them ages ago. She's happy to commit genocide against them. J.R.R. Tolkien's writing generally supports the idea that killing Orcs is an okay and heroic deed.

Adar counters by arguing that the Orcs are sentient individuals with free will, an idea also supported by Tolkien's writing, and as much Eru's children as the Elves. This idea echoes part of Arda's creation story, which Tolkien details in The Silmarillion

At the very creation of the world, Melkor tried to alter Eru's design for the world. He inserted a song of his devising into Eru's, which He Eru sang in unison with the Ainur (divine spirits, Eru's first creations, of which Melkor was the greatest). Eru corrected Melkor's deviation, but Arda still bore some effect from Mekor's tampering. However, Eru chastised Melkor by saying that even his attempts at changing Eru's plans are part of the design, as nothing can exist outside of Eru's song:

"Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: 'Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined."

How did the Elves become Orcs?

In truth, Tolkien never settled on an origin for the Orcs, with the one widely accepted as canon having only been published after his death in The Silmarillion. That origin is one of several that Tolkien conceived. An earlier origin story suggested Melkor created the Orcs out of stone. In later versions, Tolkien more obviously wrestled with the inherently racist implications of labeling a race of beings "okay to kill." These later origins suggest that Melkor fashioned the Orcs out of all kinds of other already corrupted beings or spirits of the dead.

Even The Silmarillion suggests that no one in Middle-earth how the Orcs came to exist for sure. However, the widely accepted origin story is that Melkor created the Orcs by torturing and corrupting Elves.

The Elves were the first beings created by Eru in Arda. Melkor was the first of the Ainur to find the awakened Elves. Jealous of Eru's Sacred Flame, Melkor immediately started tempting the Elves towards corruption. Those who wandered away from the others were kidnapped, tortured, corrupted, and used to create the first Uruk or Orcs. The Rings of Power suggests that Adar is one of these, seemingly confirming that this origin story is true (at least in The Rings of Power's version of the mythology).

It's bold for The Rings of Power to take on the Orcs' origin and make them more sympathetic. The depiction of Orcs in Tolkien's world, like many other elements of Middle-earth, has been widely taken without much thought and adapted to other forms of fantasy fiction. It remains a point of contention, becoming a cause for reconsideration even for Tolkien himself. It'll be interesting to see where The Rings of Power goes with the conversation and where it ultimately lands.

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The Rings of Power debuts its new episodes on Fridays on Prime Video. The season finale premieres on October 14th. The show's second season is already in the works.