Evil in the Tolkien universe

After reading the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy many, many times, something strikes me. With the exception of the great antagonists and villains, none of the minions are named. And the exception to the exception would be two orc captains in the Return of the King. I suspect there is a method: evil is undeserving to be named. It is faceless, formless, and ultimately insubstantial compared to good, which has a face, a form, and substance. Everything that is good is lovely and admirable. The ancient Greek philosophers have a phrase for this: kalos kai agathos: the good and the beautiful. They would hold to the converse too: evil and ugly. Indeed, isn’t that why the orcs are so ugly and repulsive?

This causes a problem for Hollywood style storytelling. The antagonists “must” have a name. They “must” have screen time. Their motivations must be explored such that the audience will love to hate them. A faceless, inchoate villain is “bad” storytelling. The writers and producers end up taking some artistic license and liberty. Here are some examples:

  1. The scene showing the creation of the Uruk-hai and the name of the captain (not stated in the book but in the movie)
  2. The expanded role in “movie canon” of Gothmog in Return of the King. Again, Gothmog is not fully described in the book; Tolkien did not say he was a man, an orc, or a Nazgul but Peter Jackson depicts him as an orc.
  3. Book vs movie: Faramir is a little of out of character in the movie. In the book, Faramir explicitly rejects the Ring in the beginning without even knowing that Frodo had it. In the movie, Faramir is a bit more morally ambiguous. I did not like that.
  4. The expanded role of Azog in the latest Hobbit. Spoiler alert: Azog in the Appendices dies but lives in the movie.

It does help to have an identifiable “lesser” minion, but it moves away from some of the nuanced moral philosophy that the original writer is trying to express. Oh well, take the good and the bad.

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