We were watching the movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring, and after all three and a half or so hours of the flick were over, Samantha asked me as kind of a general interest question why the Orcs were bad. Well, there is the simple answer to this question, which is that Tolkien was writing in the pulp tradition. No, really, if you compare The Lord of the Rings to the Lensman books, you'll notice a lot of similarities in the grandioseness of the writing. I figure it is also in the same vein as Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rich Burroughs, but since I haven't actually read any Conan or Tarzan books, I really can't say. So I'll just stick with my E. E. "Doc" Smith comparison, and the simple answer to the Orc question, which is that they are bad because that style of writing requires that somebody had better be bad.
Sure, that answers the basic question, and it is really the only answer that is required. The story required a bad guy, and there you are. But, this doesn't really answer the deeper existentialist question of what is their motivation.
Well, that is kind of easy enough to answer. See, there was this guy Morgoth, which isn't even really his proper name but let us try not to get side-tracked here. Morgoth was the kid who wanted to be the center of attention but wasn't. He wanted to be special but wasn't. I mean, sure, he was just as good as all the other kids, but he had not been singled out for any special consideration. And, Morgoth just happened to be the kind of person who just has to be the center of attention. If he isn't, then he just does not want to play. He wants to go sulk in the corner, and if he is forced to play, then he'll do a really bad job of it. In fact, he'll try to sabotage the game simply because he is a rotten little bastard who can't play fair. You know the type, I am sure. The kind of kid you just want to smack when he acts all nasty because he doesn't have the majority of the marbles or crayons or what-have-you.
In his desire to skunk the works because nobody was paying special attention to him, Morgoth ripped the arms off of a couple of the dolls. He pulled out their hair. He squashed their bodies, and he painted horribly grotesque masks on their faces. In short, he mutilated a bunch of Elves and called them Orcs. The name probably came about when one of the other kids kind of desperately asked him what he had done with the Elves, and Morgoth replied that they really weren't Elves anymore. They were Orcs, which made it all okay that he had rather done a sorry job on the pretty toys.
So, we've got the pretty perfect Elves, and we've got the horribly mutilated Orcs. So, of course, what happened next? Well, the good kids with their pretty toys didn't want to play with the weird kid with the ugly toys. In other words, the Elves snubbed the Orcs.
Now, I think I'm missing a step here. I think Morgoth did start the next step by running around the playground and knocking over all the other kids Lego and Lincoln Log buildings. He had his Orcs attack the Elves just generally in an attempt to make the other kids cry.
The end result of all of this was just generally a snobbery among the Elves toward the Orcs and a low level animosity among the Orcs toward the Elves.
So, time passes, and we've got pretty Elves and ugly Orcs.
The Orcs look at what they've got, and they look at what the Elves have got. The Elves got all the good stuff. They've got pretty trees, and they've got jewels. They've got fine arts and crafts. They've got wine. They have obviously gotten all of the good stuff from their parents. The Elves even got pretty good health. They don't get tired. They don't get sick. Hell, the Elves are fucking immortal. None of this getting tired, old and dying for them. And, the best part? They can go visit their parents in their nice big house whenever they want.
So, what do the Orcs have? Rocks. They've got ash and stone and volcanoes. They've got dirty scum water, and they've got stale beer to drink. And, worst of all, the popular kids want nothing to do with them. Oh, and their parents have stopped talking to them.
So, I don't know about you, but when people have got the shit end of the stick and can see how good the other half live, it just makes them want to spoil the works. In other words, the Orcs aren't really evil. They are just really fucking pissed off. They are like the Goth kids in South Park who say that the purpose to existence is to make life miserable for everybody else. They are like the Vogons who are really pissed off that evolution gave up on them and export the beautiful jewel encrusted crabs from their home world for their parties just so they can crush the little bastards.
Yeah, the Orcs got shit. They came from the dysfunctional side of the family. Everybody laughs and spits at them. Can't get clean on account of everything being dirty. It's no wonder they are into piercings and scarring and obscene body art.
I mean, sure, their behavior is very bad and antisocial and should not be tolerated, but they are not inherently evil. They are just really fucking pissed off.