Demonizing the Enemy, Literally: Tolkien, Orcs, and the Sense of the World Wars




Tally, Robert T., Jr.

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Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute


A seemingly inescapable feature of war is the demonization of the enemy, who becomes somehow less human and more deserving of death in times of military strife, which unsurprisingly helps to justify the violence against them. This article looks at the development, character, and role of the orcs—creatures that are in some senses, literally demonized—in J. R. R. Tolkien’s writings in connection with the ideological need to demonize the enemy in World Wars I and II. Yet, in creating an enemy whom the heroes could kill without compunction, Tolkien also betrayed his own sympathy for the devils, perhaps owing to his own experiences as a soldier. This ambiguity pervades Tolkien’s writings, even as his demonized orcs are dispatched by the thousands, thus shaping the sense of warfare and our experience of it according to the desire to simplify, and make more comprehensible, the martial narrative



Tolkien, J. R. R., fantasy, war, narrative, ideology, English


Tally, R. T. (2019). Demonizing the enemy, literally: Tolkien, Orcs, and the sense of the world wars. Humanities, 8(1): 54.


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