The Lord of the Rings orcs that have meat on the menu is actually a strange trope

The promise of fantastic fiction as The Lord of the rings is that the reader will be shown another world. A world with strange creatures (most of the time), magic (usually), and heroes – a palate cleanser, if not simply an escape, from everyday life.

But with one line, the movie trilogy raises a question that can easily bring someone back to real life: Does anyone in The Lord of the rings to have a job?

2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the Lord of the Rings movies, and we couldn’t imagine exploring the trilogy in a single story. So every Wednesday of the year, we’ll go back and forth, examining how and why movies have endured as modern classics. This is the year of the Polygon ring.

Regardless of whether you ask about the books or the movies, Frodo and Bilbo are out of work. They have been living off Bilbo’s family wealth and the spoils of an independent allowance (theft) that he took about 60 years ago. Merry and Pippin too. Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir are scions of political families, essentially. Gandalf is basically an angel. Aragorn is a king, sure, but that is not a job, it is a responsibility.

Perhaps this is the kind of question that comes naturally as Labor Day, the traditional end of summer in America, approaches. But it’s a question that can lead us to one of the most fundamental challenges of building a fantastic world that still feels familiar.

Because there are definitely people in the Lord of the Rings movies who have jobs. The orcs have jobs.

The paid employees of Middle-earth

Tolkien nods to employment in some places in The Lord of the rings. Sam is Frodo and Bilbo’s gardener, after all. Some Shirens are farmers and all pay for services and goods with the money earned, as in the Prancing Pony, which employs multiple people. But there are many places where Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Fran Walsh expanded Tolkien’s work to translate it into film, and occupations are one of them.

In Jackson’s movie trilogy, orcs have jobs. Because the orcs have restaurants. Boyens, Jackson and Walsh invented Orc Restaurants in a short scene in The two Towers, when the company of orcs transporting Merry and Pippin pauses to rest.

“I’m starving,” complains an orc. “We haven’t eaten anything but worm-filled bread in three smelly days!”

In a modified approximation of an argument in Tolkien The two Towers, the orcs argue over whether they are allowed to torture and kill their prisoners, with hunger as the motivation. A great Uruk-hai insists that Merry and Pippin are not to eat. The company grows restless and menacing, but just as a smaller orc takes over the hobbits for “just one bite,” the Uruk chops off their head in one fell swoop, declaring those infamous words:

“Meat is back on the menu guys!”

The rest of the orc company take this as a signal to descend on the corpse and consume it raw, intestines writhing through the air like straw.

Follow the logic: if orcs know what menus are, then they know what it’s like to pay for food someone else made. And maybe that means there are only orc cafes, where soldiers can eat. But it invites you to imagine orc bars, orc barbecues, maybe even orc bistros.

Orcs have jobs in restaurants.

How the lord of the rings got a moss troll

Okay okay, orcs don’t have restaurants, this is an anachronism. Well, the “cron” in anachronism comes from the Greek for “time”, so maybe this is more of a anacosmism, from the Greek for “world”.

We accept and enjoy that the menus are a prominent concept for the orcs because it is fun. And because the alternatives are difficult and can result in a more distant and less identifiable environment. But obviously this can result in unexpected leaps of logic. Writer Sarah Monette (The Goblin Emperor) called the quagmire the Moss-Troll Problem in a short essay to America’s science fiction and fantasy writers in 2010.

You may have never read a story with a moss troll, but you’ve probably heard of a womp rat. Luke Skywalker made them an indelible part of the Star Wars universe when he said, “I used to attack rats in my T-16 at home. They are not much taller than two meters. “

And you can find fan-made stuffed animals of an animal never seen in a Star Trek episode, thanks to the line “I can see it in your eyes. You can barely resist the urge to jump in and start jumping. like a tarkassian razor beast. “

“The advantage of writing urban fantasy or fantasy that crosses the world”, science fiction / fantasy writer Marissa Lingen wrote on his LiveJournal in 2006“It’s just that when the sea serpent has eyes the color of NyQuil, you can say so instead of wasting time trying to find a settlement-era Icelandic equivalent that has something to do with moss-troll ichor.” Once invented for a single line, the moss-troll ichor becomes a brick in the author’s fictional universe edifice, one that needs to be remembered lest it become an inconsistency or a contradiction. And, as Lingen said, “You can pretty well guarantee that he will come back and bite your ass in another book or two.”

Monette expanded on Lingen’s idea in her article for SFWA, calling it the “Moss-Troll Problem” after Lingen’s hypothetical example. And for her, it is a common challenge for anyone building a fictional world that is radically different from our own.

“You cannot, for example, say that something is as basic as the missionary position in a world without missionaries.” she wrote. “What about saying something is as fast and sharp as a guillotine blade? Well, did Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin exist in this world? You will find moss-trolls over and over again every time you begin to describe the imaginary people, places, and things in your imaginary world. “

Aragorn holds a torch in front of three trolls who have been frozen to stone in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Image: New Line Cinema

Boyens, Jackson, and Walsh’s solution to the Moss-Troll problem was “Meat is back on the menu, guys!” The line is objectively large. Actor Nathaniel Lees’ delivery is flawless, even through heavy orc makeup. It is much better than saying “Meat is back on our list of options!” or “They eat the insubordinate!”

Tolkien would also opt for a worldly reference in his work. While there are very, very few anacosmisms in The Lord of the rings, there is one that escaped the editorial pen in its first chapter.

This is how Tolkien describes the imaginary climax of Gandalf’s fireworks show at Bilbo’s birthday party.

The lights went out. Great smoke rose. It formed like a mountain seen in the distance and began to glow at the top. He released green and scarlet flames. A red-gold dragon flew out, not life-size, but terribly real: fire shot from its jaws, its eyes looked down; There was a roar and it hummed three times over the heads of the crowd. They all ducked and many fell flat on their faces. The dragon passed like an express train, somersaulting and exploding over Bywater with a deafening explosion.

You see, if orcs have restaurants, hobbits have trains.

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