Of Orcs, Elves, and Men
One night recently I happened on a scrap of Peter Jackson's film The Lord of the Rings. It was the moment when the first of Saruman's uruk-hai—a bigger and better model than Sauron's—emerges from the earth. Jackson has elaborated on one of Tolkien's passing remarks to create a metaphor that one cannot help thinking the author would have approved.
You may remember that orcs are elves gone bad. Orcs abhor the light and cannot function in it. By contast, elves celebrate both day and night—indeed to them 'darkness and light are both alike'. Elves are tall, beautiful, and clear-eyed; orcs are tortured, grotesque, disgusting—yet, for all that, pitiable.
You may remember, too, that Saruman's destructive arms factories are gouges in the earth, underground caverns ripped from the rock, full of fire and stench. It is in one of these caverns that Saruman's first uruk-hai, a hybrid between orcs and men, is expelled from the earth. Uruk-hai can function in daylight. Unlike Saron's crabbed version, Saruman's are upright, nearly tireless, fed on man-flesh.
The scene shows two orcs scrabbling at the earth, plunging their hands deep into the polluted mud. They uncover what looks like a birth-caul, and indeed, that is what it is. When uruk-hai's appalling visage bursts through the membrane, the orks recoil; the uruk-hai snarls. The frightened orcs back off as this night-terror unfolds fully formed, perpetually raging, and ravenously hungry—it is clear that if man-flesh is not available, orc will do.
The scene is so riveting that it is only on the second or third viewing, or by chance, as I saw it the other night, that the depth of the metaphor begins to be revealed. This creature is the issue of Saruman's ultimate rape of the earth: the cinematographer shows the earth quite literally delivering the uruk-hai in the wake of penetration and gestation.
It isn't necessary to spell out the meaning of this visual metaphor and its implications for the direction the human race is headed as it continues heedlessly, despite all warnings, to rape and destroy the earth. And Gaia in the end will have her revenge, perhaps not through a Treebeard, but by means we cannot imagine. Time is short. Either we wake up, or we become uruk-hai and perish.