Orc-lovers around the world will have to hope the nasty little roles are doled out carefully to actors of equal talent, for there's nothing like a bad Orc to liven up one's day.
A few months ago I was visiting the Vault's Middle-earth Online developers' message board where prospective players of the much-anticipated game can ask questions and make suggestions. The subject of playing Orcs came up. Some people apparently enjoy playing evil characters in role-playing games and they wanted to know if Orcs would be available.
Not in the first release of the game, it appears.
The official games may not be ready to unleash Orc-players, but at least one unofficial gaming group has taken the plunge. Down, Down to Goblin Town memorializes some imaginitive (if not entirely faithful) Orc adventures. These Orcs seem a little better educated and talkative than Tolkien's Orcs. Somehow, I don't think Sauron would have funded an Orc Academy for the Fine Arts. Education has traditionally been portrayed as a threat to tyranny. Ignorant masses are easier to manipulate than educated masses.
Online gamers have probably long since heard about Elendor MUSH, a Multi-User Shared Hallucination founded in 1991. There are many Web sites out there devoted to the MUSH, but not many which celebrate the Orcness of Being. In fact, the MUSHers don't all seem to appreciate the Mordain (that's probably someone's attempt to extend Tolkien's Sindarin language) the way a good Orc-lover would. For example, Torus ben-Armeir: Lord of the Flame Tower indicates in one of the summaries for his logs that he's not very fond of Sauron's critters, though he is a true Corsair at heart.
Playing an Orc in a movie should be relatively easy compared to playing one in an ongoing game. The movie Orcs probably just show up whenever it's time for some slashing and killing (knowing they'll end up on the sharp end of someone's sword eventually). In a role-playing game, the Orcs should be as motivated to survive as the Elves, Dwarves, and Men. And they probably get bored just like everyone else too.
What does a bored Orc do for recreation? Some of our European friends have decided they play a little Blood Bowl. Seems a little bizarre, but quite Orcish to me. It reminds me of my favorite Orc joke: how many Orcs does it take to change a light bulb? About 200, but they'll all kill each other before they get the job done.
It would be something to see a game where someone made the Orcs the majority of the player characters. The chaos and mayhem that would ensue would be insufferable for most gamers. Every Orc would be plotting to lead off a few good lads and setting up on his own. Imagine the poor merchant who gets waylaid on the road by 5 or 6 Orcs. They start to quarrel over who gets to kill him, who gets the most of his gold, and so forth, and they end up killing each other right in front of him. What's he to do, go on like nothing happened? Offer a last word of kindness as the light goes out in their eyes? Cut their throats to make sure they are really dead?
An Orc's life is dangerous at best and doomed in any case. They are often described as brigands and bandits, but they're more than that. They have a culture, a history. They have values. Orcs are fiercely loyal to their leaders. Perhaps the leaders beat that loyalty into their followers, but they seem to acknowledge courage and strength as virtues. Life among the Orcs must therefore be a constant struggle, but a struggle with subtle undertones.
For instance, television and movies portray kitchen duty as punishment detail (no disrespect to all the good cooks and kitchen workers who keep our armed forces fed and ready fight off the Orcs). But in Orc society, one would think it's one of the most sought after jobs. Not because the head cook is likely to lose his head, but because they can probably sneak bites from the roast pony before the Orc leaders get to it.
On the other hand, since Orcs are fond of poison, maybe food-tasters are hard to come by among them.
Orcs did possess many skills, however, and they must have had some sort of schooling system, even if it was only a brutal master-apprentice situation. Orcs were skilled mining, smelting, and forging. They made their own weapons and armor (not necessarily the greatest, but it served them). They could also write. Yes, I said write. Why would an Orc need to write? I don't know, but when Frodo looked at the fallen head from a statue of a king in Gondor, he noticed that Orcs had scribbled all sorts of obsenities on it. Perhaps they were the equivalent of, "For a bad time, tug on Shelob's leg!".
Saruman's Orcs also put S-runes on their helms. A white hand must have required too much work. Imagine Saruman conferring with his lead Orc uniform designer over the matter.
"I want a white hand on every helmet."
"Garn, Sharkey, that might be a problem. The lads would all compare hands, and he what had the bestest would have to share with 'tothers. 'Twould be a bloodbath ere we start the war with the whiteskins of Rohan."
"Very well, then, Mugrat, what would you suggest?"
"Well, Sharkey, it seems to me we could all do a fair S-rune and none would think his better'n'tothers, and the lads would all stay close to their quarters, knowin' they was true Sharkey's Lads."
Obviously Mugrat never made it into the final draft for The Lord of the Rings because he got the part of Long John Silver in the Isengard Players' production of "Treasure Island". Little did Saruman know that one-legged armorer with the vulture on his shoulder was destined for greater things in life.
Oddly, Orcs do strike me as being a lot like the romanticized pirates of television and movie fame. Real-life pirates were probably just as foul-mouthed and nasty as Orcs, but the Orcs of The Lord of the Rings were toned down (according to Tolkien). So they could easily limp around the set or the online world spouting bad British accents, drinking rum, and cultivating the loyalty of vultures which could attempt to croak out, "Arak! Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!"
Of course, something gets lost in the translation. People may not be ready for the news that Tolkien owed a lot of his Orcish characterizations to Robert Louis Stevenson.
"Frodo, me bucko, thar be nuthin' in them thar hills but gold and jools!"
"Pardon me, Mister Frodo, but that's a spider's footprint if'n ever I seen one, and it's a mighty big 'un at that!"