In Tolkien’s Cosmology and the Afterlife Part I, we discussed the destinies of the Ainur, Valar, Maiar, and the Children of Illuvatar. In Part II, we will examine the destinies of the rest of the created races and how they relate to the Powers.
Dwarves were first shaped by the Valar Aulë who had grown impatient for the coming of the Children of Men into the world. Being rebuffed by Eru for his impatience, he sought to destroy his creation out of obedience; but rather than allow them to be destroyed, Eru adopted them. Despite this adoption, they were not counted among the Children of Illuvatar, and therefore would not take part in the Second Music. While Aulë was able to give them form, it was Eru who gave them life by imparting the Flame Imperishable to the Seven Fathers, the Aulë-crafted ancestors of all Dwarves. These slept in the world until about a century after the awakening of the Elves, whereupon Eru willed that they awake.
The destiny of the Dwarves with one exception is a matter of speculation. They are mortal like Men, as it was Aulë’s imagination of what Men would be like that led the Dwarves to be shaped in their form. While blessed with natural lifespans comparable to that of the Númenóreans, Dwarves do not have the Gift of Men, and it is unknown even to them what happens when they die. A folk belief exists among some of the Elves that the Dwarves turn to stone upon death, but there is no evidence for this.
The notable exception to this lack of insight into Dwarven destiny is Gimli, Son of Gloin. A member of the Fellowship, Gimli is the only Dwarf said to have reached the Undying Lands:
‘We have heard that Legolas took Gimli Gloin’s son with him because of their great friendship, greater than any that has been between Elf and Dwarf. If this is true, then it is strange indeed; that a Dwarf should be willing to leave Middle-earth for any love, or that the Eldar should receive him, or that the Lords of the West should permit it. But it is said that Gimli went also out of desire to see again the beauty of Galadriel, and it may be that she, being mighty among the Eldar, obtained this grace for him. More cannot be said of this matter.’ – Appendix A, Return of the King (emphasis mine)
The exact origin of the Hobbits is unknown though they are believed to be related to Men, with a ninety to one-hundred-year lifespan (Bilbo Baggins infamously excepting) and possessing an adolescence that takes an exceedingly long one-third of this lifespan. If there are any ancestral ties to Men, they were long forgotten even by the first encounters with other races.
They have no known relationship to any Vala. Could we speculate, then, that their being in the world is certainly intentional and Eru-willed, and therefore they have a destiny of their own? If they are related to Men, perhaps Hobbits go beyond the world. Unlike Men, however, who possess a wide variety of traits, all Hobbits seem to love things that grow and are tied to the earth such that they literally live in it. If the love of the Hobbits for the world is so great that they do not desire to leave it, perhaps they have their own section of the Halls of Mandos where they dwell until the world is to be remade; though they will not participate in the Second Music, they could perhaps enjoy Arda Remade.
Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, and Samwise Gamgee were granted the grace of traveling to the Undying Lands due to their being Ringbearers, and especially Frodo who suffered greatly in the world
from his wraithblade wound. Like Gimli, they are mortals and would have eventually died in the grace and bliss of the West.
Orcs, Uruk-hai, and Goblins
The Orcs are not exactly a race unto themselves. Unsure himself of from whence the Orcs came, Tolkien gave several possible explanations: Elves were taken by Melkor, tortured and twisted into their present forms (according to the latest writings) or Melkor forged them from the earth itself (according to earlier writings). Still yet, Orcs could have come in some way from Men. However they came to being, they were made ‘in mockery of the Children of Ilúvatar’ (Quenta Silmarillion, Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor) and were always associated with Melkor. Perhaps some mixture of these origin stories is closest to the truths, with multiple sources of Orcs and therefore multiple destinies. The word goblin sometimes used to denote the Orcs that were withstood by Thorin and Company and should be understood as an early synonym for Orcs.
The destiny of Orcs is tied to their ultimate origin. If they are devolved Elves, then they share the fate of wicked Elves who will dwell in the Halls of Mandos in torment, never allowed the possibility of taking another body. If they were forged from the earth, their destiny is most probably tied to that of Melkor, who might summon them again as his wicked servants during the Dagor Dagorath and ultimately be destroyed prior to the Second Music. If they are wicked Men, only Eru knows what happens to them.
Of the Uruk-hai, a certain breed of Orc that is most close to the possibility of being from Men:
Finally, there is a cogent point, though horrible to relate. It became clear in time that undoubted Men could under the domination of Morgoth or his agents in a few generations be reduced almost to the Orc-level of mind and habits; and then they would or could be made to mate with Orcs, producing new breeds, often larger and more cunning. There is no doubt that long afterwards, in the Third Age, Saruman rediscovered this, or learned of it in lore, and in his lust for mastery committed this, his wickedest deed: the interbreeding of Orcs and Men, producing both Men-orcs large and cunning, and Orc-men treacherous and vile. – Morgoth’s Ring, Part Five, Myths Transformed (emphasis mine)
Dragons and Eagles
Another of Melkor’s twistings of nature, Dragons were made to serve his war machine during the First Age and endured in the world well into the Third Age and possibly less powerful Dragons endured into the Fourth Age. Few and far between, the Dragons were fearsome opponents on the battlefield and all those encountered were exclusively evil in their deeds. If not immortal, they are certainly exceedingly ancient in origin and age. Since Melkor could only twist what already exists, without any truly creative power of his own, the Dragons must have an origin prior to Melkor’s work. The most likely origin is that they are the descendants of fallen Maia, who could choose their own forms as they please; taking the form of a serpent, a Maia at Melkor’s bidding could have mated with a reptile creature already existing in the world, giving birth to the first of the Dragons, Glaurung. If this is true, then Dragons would be tied to the destiny of the fallen Maiar.
The antithesis of the later formed Dragons, the Great Eagles were servants of the Vala Manwë and have been present in the world since the First Age. Like the Orcs, multiple origins are given for them by Tolkien; his writings first conceived of them possibly as Maiar but his later developments suggest that they were animals ‘taught language by the Valar, and raised to a higher level – but they still had no fëar
[soul].’ This is in contrast to the Ents, who presumably did possess fëar as evidenced by their humanoid form. For Tolkien, ‘true ‘rational’ creatures, ‘speaking peoples’, are all of human / ‘humanoid’ form. Only the Valar and Maiar are intelligence that can assume forms of Arda at will.’ – Morgoth’s Ring, Part Five, Myths Transformed. As animals, the fate of the Eagles is that of the rest of the world and all its animal races.
The Ents came into being at the Valar Yavanna’s entreaty to Eru through Manwe to show the same mercy to her as He had shown to Aulë, for she greatly loved the forests and living things of the world and desired them to be protected. These Shepherds of the Trees were given life and taught to speak in the age to come by the Elves.
Little is known of Entish history and yet little of their destiny. Their lifespan is unknown but from our encounters with them in Lord of the Rings and their rise in The Silmarillion we can safely speculate that they are very ancient. Galadriel expresses a desire to Treebeard to meet again when Arda is remade:
“Then Treebeard said farewell to each of them in turn, and he bowed three times slowly and with great reverence to Celeborn and Galadriel. ‘It is long, long since we met by stock or by stone, A vanimar, vanimálion nostari!’ he said. ‘It is sad that we should meet only thus at the ending. For the world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air. I do not think we shall meet again.’ And Celeborn said: ‘I do not know, Eldest.’ But Galadriel said: ‘Not in Middle-earth, nor until the lands that lie under the wave are lifted up again. Then in the willow-meads of Tasarinan we may meet in the Spring. Farewell!” – Many Partings, Return of the King (emphasis mine)
Until now, we have discussed the afterlives of the world’s races in a sort of binary way: living in accordance with one’s natural Eru-given purpose leads to a favorable afterlife while rebellion courts disaster in both the life in the world and the worlds beyond. But what of redemption, the role of corruption and sin, how being tied to the Music versus having true free agency plays into the equation? Is any creature by nature irredeemable? Can a state of total depravity beyond help be reached?
We must be brief here and there are more questions than answers; chancing a real answer would fill the libraries of Minas Tirith.
‘In my story I do not deal in Absolute Evil. I do not think there is such a thing, since that is Zero. I do not think that at any rate any ‘rational being’ is wholly evil. Satan fell. In my myth Morgoth fell before Creation of the physical world. In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible. He had gone the way of all tyrants: beginning well, at least on the level that while desiring to order all things according to his own wisdom he still at first considered the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth.’ – Letter 183, Notes on W. H. Auden’s review of The Return of the King (emphasis mine)
The One Ring, as Tony Shannon points out in his On Being Essential: The Flame Imperishable, is a symbol of temptation – but it is not temptation itself. That lies within the world, the whole of which can be thought of as Morgoth’s ‘Ring’. The Elves call the present world Arda Marred, for Melkor poured his fëa into the world and gave birth to the temptation that affects all creatures. Those tempted by the One Ring do not have their eternal destiny marred as the world: consider Frodo, Boromir, Sam, and
Galadriel for only a few examples. Each suffers the temptation to seize it for themselves, and like Sauron, perhaps would even begin with good intentions. The presence of the Ring brought out only what was already potential within each of them. Something of temptation can also be glimpsed from the Dwarf-lords who, while possessing rings of power, did not become wraiths as the kings of Men. Instead, they were led astray by their own greed, yet there is no indication that their collective suffering for this was anything more than temporal. To be tempted, especially under such strong coercive forces, is no sin in and of itself; it is what we do with it that counts. Boromir atones for his misdeeds towards Frodo; Galadriel passes the test by choosing to leave to the West; Frodo who faltered at the end was helped along his impossible task by Eru; and Sam bravely noticed that his own visions of grandeur as Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, were ‘only a trick’.
Ultimately, we have the great promise of ultimate redemption in the remaking of Arda: Arda Marred, together with the fëa of Melkor, shall pass away into the Second Music, whose themes will come into Being the moment they are spoken, and shall give birth to a world more beautiful and more whole than the last.