Pondering how Frodo Baggins should at last arrive at Hobbiton, JRR Tolkien sat down one day in 1948 to plan the end of The Lord of the Rings. He decided his homecoming hobbits would see a troubling sight: “…they were astonished and disturbed to see four ill-favoured men lounging at the street-end.” These are “Squint-eyed fellows” led by “Ruffian Sharkey,” who is himself a “squinting man” and a “squint-eyed rascal” and “a large man, bowlegged, squinteyed…” And hobbit Pippin feels “staggered” at the thought of “half-orcs in the Shire…” Soon enough, confronting the insolence of these “halfbreeds,” heroic Frodo stabs “orc-man” Sharkey with Sting. Wiping the bloody blade on the lawn, Frodo muses, “…the world has really changed!”
Tolkien revised away a good part of this story, retaining “half a dozen large ill-favoured Men… squint-eyed and sallow-faced.” And at the final battle to liberate the Shire, Captain Meriadoc Brandybuck “slew the leader, a great squint-eyed brute like a huge orc.” We can assume that Tolkien brewed up these brutish semi-men to impart a sense of fantasy horror for his carefully imagined world.
In my book Tolkien in Pawneeland (2016 edition) I explore in detail the making of Tolkien’s orcs. We can identify some external ingredients drawn from Beowulf, George MacDonald’s goblins, and other sources, and it is interesting to sense Tolkien’s creative choices, the hidden processes that energized his invention. In the case of his half-orcs, however, we can also glimpse the social context of his imagining and his attitudes about the world.
When Tolkien’s orcs / goblins made their debut in his earliest writings as monstrous soldiery of evil, they were not squint-eyed; there was no mention of interbreeding between orcs and humans. But between 1939 and 1942 Tolkien spliced new elements into his orcs / goblins. He now made a decision to reshape these fantasy monsters. He decided he would colorize them with distinct details drawn from the traditions of British racial typology.
In 1958 Tolkien responded to a film proposal that treated his orcs as fantasy creatures with “beaks and feathers.” Correcting this imagery, he wrote to describe his orcs as “squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes: in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types.” This passage has received a good deal of attention from Tolkien scholars and fans. Some readers assume that Tolkien had Mongols in mind, but in Britain during the first half of the 20th century “Mongol-types” referred to a specific racial grouping – one popular scheme divided humankind into Caucasoids, Negroids, and Mongoloids.
It may not be coincidence that Tolkien’s 1958 description of orcs as “squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes” closely followed the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica entry for “Mongolic or Yellow Man”: “His physical characteristics are a short squat body, a yellowish-brown or coppery complexion, hair lank, straight and black, flat small nose, broad skull, usually without prominent brow-ridges, and black oblique eyes.” It is clear that Tolkien hoped that a film representation of his orcs would draw on this specific racial model.
Soon after writing the 1958 note on orcs as “degraded and repulsive… Mongol-types” Tolkien prepared another meditation on these creatures. Rumor had it, he wrote, that Melkor “captured and perverted” Men in early times. These captive humans could “be reduced almost to the Orc-level… and then they would or could be made to mate with Orcs, producing new breeds, often larger and more cunning.” This was Saruman’s “wickedest deed: the interbreeding of Orcs and Men, producing both Men-Orcs large and cunning, and Orc-men treacherous and vile.”
This wicked deed is notable because it clearly evoked the issue of miscegenation, a major concern of British racial culture during the first decades of the 20th century. In those days British magazines and books focused particularly on immigrant “Asiatics,” a Mongoloid subgroup. We find a spectrum of attitudes in writings that appeared in the years around 1900. By then Chinese merchant steamship sailors had become a common sight in London in the Limehouse district, dubbed by a journalist in 1905 as “China Town in London.”
Matthew Shiel broke ground in Britain with The Yellow Danger (1898), the first of his popular trilogy of future history novels – in this case, set in 1899. The Chinese-Japanese villain is Yen How, a man with “long eyes,” displaying “a dirty shade” of “yellow tan” skin and “a bitter aversion to the white race.” His ambition is “to possess one white woman” and work “an ill turn” on all other white people in the world. Yen How foretells a future with “the white man and the yellow man in their death-grip, contending for the earth.” This popular book helped to create an audience for Sax Rohmer’s later Fu Manchu novels, the first of which appeared at British bookstalls in 1913. These two novels brackett a notable period in the British imagination, a time that saw the rise of an obsession with miscegenation – fears of Chinese men impregnating impressionable English girls.
Jeffrey Richards in China and the Chinese in Popular Film (2017) mentioned a 1906 article in one Manchester newspaper with “accounts of English girls plied with opium and seduced by evil Orientals.” He also touched on a notorious essay published by The London Magazine in the summer of 1911, titled “The Chinese in England: A Growing National Problem.” This essay, as Richards explained, “focused on the evil of miscegenation, the racial mixing through sex, and raised the spectre of race wars and of an international conspiracy within the Chinese disapora in London, Singapore, Australia, America and Japan to subjugate the white race.” In a May 1911 article in Answers: The Popular Journal for Home and Train one author offered some personal observations of the Chinese in Liverpool: “In my wanderings to and fro, the centre of dozens of pairs of Chinese eyes, I saw white women with their half-caste babies, and I reflected sorrowfully that these infants must combine the worst vices of both nations.”
A speech made in April 1914 by a politician named Joseph Havelock Wilson amplified this revulsion: “…one of the most degrading and abominable sights one could witness was to go down into the East End of London and see there Chinese hob-nobbing with our own women, marrying our own women, and bringing into the world mongrels of the very lowest type.” Another speaker, O’Connor Kessack, added that Chinatowns in English cities were “rotten centres from which there emanates the most degrading and demoralising influences; and it would be futile to deny that many young women have been lured to destruction by the seductive suavity and treacherous lubricity of the Yellow Man.”
Anne Witchard has pointed out that the rise of eugenics crested with the advent of World War I, and this sparked “concerns about racial degeneration.” These concerns took the form of condemning “the disreputable behaviour of certain white women among the Chinese in Limehouse.” The national press denounced “the susceptibility of a certain type of white woman to ‘Oriental depravity’” and British culture-makers of the time decided they could not tolerate “racial mixing with non-whites…”
After 1900 these demeaning perspectives toward the Chinese and other Asians ascended in power and popularity in Britain. Sascha Auerbach noted that a “rapid evolution” occurred in British views toward the Chinese from “exotic curiosity at the turn of the century to a dire threat to society in the interwar period…” Tracing the history of “Yellow Peril” racism, Christopher Frayling saw the rise of this general attitude as rooted in four aspects of “threat”: a military threat, an economic threat, an immigration threat, and a racial threat defined as “social degeneration… spread through partnerships and intermarriage.”
It is not controversial to assert that the England of Tolkien’s youth served as source-material for the Shire. In 1955 he explained to his publishers that the Shire was “more or less a Warwickshire village of about the period of the Diamond Jubilee.” We can assume that this “period” (circa 1897) was intended to reflect his early memories of England, as he mentioned in a 1965 interview: “The Shire is very like the kind of world in which I first became aware of things… at the age when imagination is opening out…”
On the heels of the opening out of his imagination, the English racial narrative of Chinese miscegenation grew into a matter of widespread public fascination. We must guess as to how and when Tolkien first became aware of the status of Chinese immigrants in Britain. There weren’t many Chinese living in the Birmingham area at circa 1900 – I can find online only one mention of a Chinese laundry in the city, “Sing Hing Lee at 5 Stoney Lane, Sparkbrook,” known to have been in business by 1908. If it was located there at 1900, it is possible that for most of September Tolkien walked by this laundry on his way to school. But we can presume with more certainty that he became aware of the Chinese in Britain during the decade or so that followed.
And decades later when Tolkien sat down to write “The Scouring of the Shire” he had already decided his orcs would embody race. And in 1948 he wrote a tale that resonated quite obviously with early 20th century Sinophobic British racial culture. This context deserves attention when we consider the logic of his miscegenated “squinteyed” ruffian “Mongol-types” who invade and threaten his Diamond Jubilee Shire. We are supposed to sympathize with the horror of hobbit Pippin when he feels “staggered” at the sight of “half-orcs in the Shire…”
As far as I can tell, Tolkien’s Mongol-type orc-men have not generated much concern in Tolkien fandom. This void of unease is surely due in part to the deep affection felt among Tolkien fans for Middle-earth. But it is also clear that the vast literature of Tolkien studies has given rise to a settled scholarly consensus on matters pertaining to race and Tolkien, and this consensus encourages us to see him as a committed proponent of anti-racism. This may explain the odd conclusions reached by three of the most prominent scholars in Tolkien studies regarding the term “squint-eyed.”
Pondering the initial use of “squint-eyed” in The Fellowship of the Ring, Christopher Tolkien wrote in 2005 that he was “not sure” what his father “meant to convey by the ‘squint-eyed Southerner’ at Bree[.]” Responding to the suggestion that this description might refer to “narrow eyes” or “half-closed” eyes, Christopher mentioned a “muscular disorder that causes the eye to look obliquely[.]” Following this suggestion, Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull added the weight of their scholarship, affirming that the term “squint” in England “denotes a disorder of the eye.” This bizarre explanation for Tolkien’s use of “squint-eyed” neglected to even mention the infamous June 1958 letter in which he insisted that orcs were “Mongol-types” with “slant eyes.” We can dismiss the physical disability argument; when Tolkien deployed the term “squint-eyed,” he meant to reference the Mongolic racial category.
By the time Tolkien entered Oxford, the idea of slanted eyes as a racial signifier had become universal in racial thinking in Britain. In an 1885 publication John Beddoe made mention of “the oblique or Chinese eye” as a marker of the “Mongoloid race” in England. A 1908 book by Walter Johnson published at Oxford repeated this established association in British thinking between the Chinese and eye-shape, mentioning “the oblique or Chinese eye, with its almond-shaped opening and thick upper eyelid[.]”
Reframing this idea as “squint-eyed,” Tolkien borrowed from an idiomatic term of contempt, modifying the English term “squinny-eyed.” In Skeat and Britten’s 1879 glossary we find the term “squinny” defined as “a contemptible fellow.” Joseph Wright’s 1905 dictionary provided a detailed discussion of the dialectical usage of “squinny” and “squinny-eyed.” Here squinny appeared as “a contemptible fellow” and “squinny-eyed” referred to “a person whose eyes are habitually half-closed” as illustrated by an 1885 quote: “We saw the queer Chineese… With little squinney eyes.”
In short, Tolkien insisted that he had a “degraded” version of “Mongol-types” in mind when he designed his orcs, and this is supported by textual analysis of The Lord of the Rings. Referencing British racial terminology in his construction of orcs, he explicitly mentioned eye-shape. Tolkien’s racial slant-eyed “Mongol-types” align with the racial legacy of John Beddoe’s “oblique or Chinese eye” and Wright’s “queer Chineese” with their “little squinney eyes.” The term “squint-eyed” is properly read in this context.
These are not matters that are debatable in any meaningful sense. But there are important questions to ponder. Why did Tolkien see fit to enliven the legacy of the English racial culture that colored his youth? How do we choose to respond to that? Here in the early 21st century, a hundred years after Tolkien began devising his orcs / goblins, our far-flung communities exist closer than ever. Nowadays forms of ethnic and racial bigotry are deemed common topics to consider as a matter of conscientious public discourse. For those who think it useful to have in hand a detailed body of analysis on Tolkien and race, in my 2016 edition of Tolkien in Pawneeland I have traced Tolkien’s evolving constructions of his orcs, his literary uses of race, his comments on race, and the relevant social contexts.
But another purpose can guide us down these shadowy moral paths. That is, to discern for ourselves what we intend in our cultural aspirations. What do we envision when we choose the mythologies that resonate for us? What draws our imaginations onward? What kind of cultural journeying matters to us? Mary Naydan has noticed what drew Tolkien onward into Middle-earth. She points to what he wrote of his original intent: “to make a body of more or less connected legend” and “it should be ‘high,’ purged of the gross…” This purging of the “gross” would shape his legendarium to make it “redolent of… the clime and soil of the North West, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe: not Italy or the Aegean, still less the East…”
This “East” is a misty realm. Whether or not Tolkien had any specific place in mind, the “East” surely stretches to China. Tolkienists very commonly affirm that Tolkien had little or no interest in the “gross” mythologies of the world beyond Europe. He had no interest in creating a fantasy mythology that he could gift to the world. Now we must decide for ourselves if we agree with Tolkien that the mythological world beyond Northern Europe is indeed “gross”; we can weigh for ourselves the degree to which world mythologies can speak meaningfully to our imaginations.
Understanding that our mythmaking shapes our sense of community, we cannot set aside our responsibility to delve into JRR Tolkien’s racial usages. We need analytical insights that can help us traverse somewhat esoteric realms. A deep introspection on humankind and race can inspire the quality of our manifold preferences on aesthetic appeal, literary merit, ethical complexities – the nature of our human social contract. Tolkien had a limited agenda. He wished for his choices to resonate with the judgments of his countrymen, to gift the British with a sense of inherited destiny and remote nostalgia.
When we journey to the end of the myth, we arrive at the edge of the fading world of JRR Tolkien’s childhood. Following Frodo and his three hobbit companions into their Diamond Jubilee Shire, we must study the secret inner meanings of Tolkien’s ill-favored squint-eyed half-orcs; we must make sense of his halfbreed Mongol-type orc-men. He hoped his fantasy Shire would feel familiar to readers, a firelit pastoral enclave preserved by far-off legendary deeds. Here in all our diverse versions of modernity, we might well wonder how that world aligns with the values we cherish today, where it conjoins with the future we wish to create, and what manner of high mythological narratives we will someday pass along.
 JRR Tolkien, Sauron Defeated, in The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Four, Christopher Tolkien editor, Houghton Mifflin, 1992. For the 1948 date of the writing of “The Scouring of the Shire” see p. 13; for references to orc-men see p. 82-84, 90-93. For the more specific date of circa August-September 1948 see Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, The JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader’s Guide, Houghton Mifflin, 2006, p. 539.
 Humphrey Carpenter, The Letters of JRR Tolkien, with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin, 2000 edition [original publication 1981], Tolkien to Forrest Ackerman, undated June 1958, # 210, p. 274.
 Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 9, 1911, entry for “Ethnology and ethnography,” p. 851.
 JRR Tolkien, Morgoth’s Ring, the Later Silmarillion, Part One, in The History of Middle-earth, Volume X, Christopher Tolkien editor, Houghton Mifflin, 1993, p. 415-421. These notes were written sometime in 1959-1960. Tolkien’s final notes on orcs came sometime after early November 1969, see p. 421-424.
 Anne Witchard, England’s Yellow Peril: Sinophobia and the Great War, Penguin, 2014.
 MP Shiel, The Yellow Danger, Grant Richards, 1898. Anne Witchard noted that Shiel had a partner named WT Stead who reported on the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), and Shiel repackaged this material in his book (Anne Witchard, England’s Yellow Peril: Sinophobia and the Great War, Penguin, 2014).
 Jeffrey Richards, China and the Chinese in Popular Film, IB Taurus, 2017, [no page numbers in preview], quotes are from Chapter One. “Chinese Vice in England. A view of Terrible Conditions at Close Range,” in The Sunday Chronicle, December 2, 1906; Richards noted that the story offered “accounts of English girls plied with opium and seduced by evil Orientals.”
 Christopher Frayling, The Yellow Peril: Dr. Fu Manchu & the Rise of Chinaphobia, Thames & Hudson, 2014, p. 213.
 Anonymous article, The Seaman, National Sailors’ and Firemen’s Union, volume 1 # 40, Friday, May 1, 1914, p. 6 (online record, University of Warwick, University Library, Modern Records Centre). The cited speech by Joseph Havelock Wilson was paraphrased here by the anonymous reporter.
 Anonymous article, The Seaman, volume 1 # 40, Friday, May 1, 1914, p. 8 (online record, University of Warwick, University Library, Modern Records Centre).
 Anne Witchard, England’s Yellow Peril: Sinophobia and the Great War, Penguin, 2014. I have discussed Tolkien’s literary uses of eugenic ideas and the eugenic movement in England (Echo-Hawk, Tolkien in Pawneeland, CreateSpace, 2016 edition, p. 246-251, 271-274).
 Sascha Auerbach, Race, Law, and “The Chinese Puzzle” in Imperial Britain, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, p. 2. Auerbach attributed this evolution of attitude in part to “the vociferous debate over ‘Chinese labour’ in South Africa in 1903-6” – a circumstance that could well have drawn Tolkien’s attention.
 Christopher Frayling, The Yellow Peril: Dr. Fu Manchu & the Rise of Chinaphobia, Thames & Hudson, 2014, p. 254.
 Humphrey Carpenter, The Letters of JRR Tolkien, with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin, 2000 edition [original publication 1981], Tolkien to Allen & Unwin, December 12, 1955, # 178, p. 230. In 1896 Tolkien’s mother rented a cottage at Sarehole in the country near Birmingham; Hammond and Scull report that he recalled walking to school one day and noticing the building “illuminated with fairy-lights for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee” (Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, The JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, Houghton Mifflin, 2006, p. 4-5).
 Denys Gueroult interview with JRR Tolkien, BBC, January 20, 1965. Various versions of this interview exist; all derive from the 1965 interview. Tolkien offered this view of his hobbits: “Hobbits are just rustic English people, made small in size because it reflects (in general) the small reach of their imagination – not the small reach of their courage or latent power.”
 Walter Fung, “The Birmingham Chinese Community,” China Eye, 2012. Hammond and Scull note that in September 1900 “Ronald walks most of the way to school, which is in the centre of Birmingham four miles from home…” (Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, The JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, Houghton Mifflin, 2006, p. 7).
 Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, Houghton Mifflin, 2005, p. 153-154.
 John Beddoe, The Races of Britain, Trübner, 1885, p. 9.
 Walter Johnson, Folk-Memory or the Continuity of British Archaeology, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1908, p. 52. The quote on the Chinese occurred in a chapter titled “Folk-Memory and Racial Continuity.” These characteristics of eye-shape seemed to the author “to mark off the old ‘Eskimo’ or ‘Palaeolithic’ type.”
 Walter W. Skeat and James Britten, editors, Reprinted Glossaries and Old Farming Words, London: Trübner & Company, Part 4, Reprinted Glossaries Parts 18-22, 1879, p. 79.
 Joseph Wright, English Dialect Dictionary, Oxford: Henry Frowde, 1905, Volume 5 R-S, p. 710.
 Mary Katherine Naydan, Modernist Mythmaking: A Comparative Study of JRR Tolkien and Ezra Pound, Senior Thesis, Dickinson College, April 2015, p. 23. For the letter considered by Naydan see Humphrey Carpenter, The Letters of JRR Tolkien, with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin, 2000 edition [original publication 1981], Tolkien to Milton Waldman, circa late 1951, # 131, see p. 144.