The Science of Middle-earth: Sex and the Single Orc
While at the Oxford Literary Festival on 12 April promoting my book The Science of Middle-Earth, I had the great pleasure of meeting Charles Noad, who assisted Christopher Tolkien in the production of The History of Middle-earth. He drew the assembled companies' attention to an unpublished letter by J. R. R. Tolkien in which he refers to the vexed question of orkish sex.
In The Science of Middle-earth I contrasted the reproduction of orcs with that of all other 'speaking peoples', noting that only in orcs is there no mention of females in any of Tolkien's work. From this I discussed several options, including the possibility that all orcs are female, and they reproduce clonally. The unpublished letter, though, makes Tolkien’s position clear.
The letter came up for sale at an auction at Sotheby's in London on 11 and 12 July, 2002. It is dated 21 October 1963, and is addressed to a Mrs Munby in response to a number of questions posed by her son Stephen about The Lord of the Rings. The letter is long, but in one place reads as follows:
'There must have been orc-women. But in stories that seldom if ever see the Orcs except as soldiers of armies in the service of the evil lords we naturally would not learn much about their lives. Not much was known'.
Tolkien also goes on to discuss the use of the word 'goblin':
'In The Hobbit 'goblin' is used... but goblin is a fairly modern word, and very vague in its application to any sort of bogey in the dark.'