D&D 5E WotC's Jeremy Crawford on D&D Races Going Forward

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On Twitter, Jeremy Crawford discussed the treatment of orcs, Vistani, drow and others in D&D, and how WotC plans to treat the idea of 'race' in D&D going forward. In recent products (Eberron and Wildemount), the mandatory evil alignment was dropped from orcs, as was the Intelligence penalty.


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@ThinkingDM Look at the treatment orcs received in Eberron and Exandria. Dropped the Intelligence debuff and the evil alignment, with a more acceptable narrative. It's a start, but there's a fair argument for gutting the entire race system.

The orcs of Eberron and Wildemount reflect where our hearts are and indicate where we’re heading.


@vorpaldicepress I hate to be "that guy", but what about Drow, Vistani, and the other troublesome races and cultures in Forgotten Realms (like the Gur, another Roma-inspired race)? Things don't change over night, but are these on the radar?

The drow, Vistani, and many other folk in the game are on our radar. The same spirit that motivated our portrayal of orcs in Eberron is animating our work on all these peoples.


@MileyMan1066 Good. These problems need to be addressed. The variant features UA could have a sequel that includes notes that could rectify some of the problems and help move 5e in a better direction.

Addressing these issues is vital to us. Eberron and Wildemount are the first of multiple books that will face these issues head on and will do so from multiple angles.


@mbriddell I'm happy to hear that you are taking a serious look at this. Do you feel that you can achieve this within the context of Forgotten Realms, given how establised that world's lore is, or would you need to establish a new setting to do this?

Thankfully, the core setting of D&D is the multiverse, with its multitude of worlds. We can tell so many different stories, with different perspectives, in each world. And when we return to a world like FR, stories can evolve. In short, even the older worlds can improve.


@SlyFlourish I could see gnolls being treated differently in other worlds, particularly when they’re a playable race. The idea that they’re spawned hyenas who fed on demon-touched rotten meat feels like they’re in a different class than drow, orcs, goblins and the like. Same with minotaurs.

Internally, we feel that the gnolls in the MM are mistyped. Given their story, they should be fiends, not humanoids. In contrast, the gnolls of Eberron are humanoids, a people with moral and cultural expansiveness.


@MikeyMan1066 I agree. Any creature with the Humanoid type should have the full capacity to be any alignmnet, i.e., they should have free will and souls. Gnolls... the way they are described, do not. Having them be minor demons would clear a lot of this up.

You just described our team's perspective exactly.


As a side-note, the term 'race' is starting to fall out of favor in tabletop RPGs (Pathfinder has "ancestry", and other games use terms like "heritage"); while he doesn't comment on that specifically, he doesn't use the word 'race' and instead refers to 'folks' and 'peoples'.
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

jasper

Rotten DM
If you want to be really picky, it is colonialism if you take over the place. If you come, kill things, steal stuff, and then leave, you're a raider.

Neither of which is an ethical lifestyle.
Wrong sir. Wrong. The Dm gives me Xp, and loot, which makes me happy and my pc more powerful. So it is ethical.
 

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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Source? I chased that rabbit and never found anything there. From everything I have found there is nothing of any actual substance to those wishes. I say wishes because it was obvious many people desired it to be true.

Tolkien's letter #210: “The Orcs are definitely stated to be corruptions of the 'human' form seen in Elves and Men. They are (or were) 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.”

The post above yours has links to two blog posts talking about the issue in general.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
This isn't D&D, but that terrible movie Bright went ahead and did this;

View attachment 123075

In D&D orcs are made as a tribal, raiding group. I wouldn't say there is a specific ethnic group analogy, but they are considered the "barbarians at the gates" of the European-inspired Sword Coast. Which inevitably makes the orcs stand-ins for the "not-Europeans," meaning indigenous tribes, mongols, Africans, whatever.
Those ain't non eurpeans, those are just standard American foot ball fans. AKA smelly
jocks.

Do we really need stereotyping snipes in a thread about stereotypes? Signs point to no.
 
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GameOgre

Adventurer
Tolkien's letter #210: “The Orcs are definitely stated to be corruptions of the 'human' form seen in Elves and Men. They are (or were) 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.”

The post above yours has links to two blog posts talking about the issue in general.
Oh that hogwash yet again. Sorry those rumors are false. He does state that he doesn't approve of the beaked or feathered versions of the orcs but finds that the humanoid form fits much better and that perhaps some degenerate form of Elf or human should be used.

He eventually used the Elves and had them become degenerate and foul. Born fully grown from the pits where they were created

Page #19 has most of this but some doesn't appear until later. At no time does he refer to mongol or any other real world cultures.

Not false; not hogwash. From the Facebook transcription of Letter #210, copied and pasted without alteration:
Why does Z put beaks and feathers on Orcs!? (Orcs is not a form of Auks.) The Orcs are definitely stated to be corruptions of the 'human' form seen in Elves and Men. They are (or were) 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.

Frankly it seems only modern readers wanting to find links to minorities find such links and one has to wonder if THAT isn't Racist.

This made up fictional race is foul.....they must be talking about this real word people! How racist!
 
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DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
I've come to this discussion late, and I really don't want to read 100 pages to see if it's been discussed, but I have a question: I absolutely understand what is insensitive about the portrayal of the Vistani, but I don't get the problem with orcs. Surely they are not based on any real-world peoples. Can someone explain to me what is the problem with orcs?

It's covered much more in depth in the other dumpster fire-- essentially the problem with orcs is not that they are stereotypes or caricatures of existing Earth people, but that all of the language that is used to describe them and justify violence against them-- up to and including genocide-- is word-for-word identical to colonial era pseudo-scientific and pseudo-theological justifications for the same behavior against real Earth people, and identical to the modern white supremacist movements' propganda to bring those days back.

Even including the blatant fantasyland theological justifications that they were created by lesser/evil gods, to be inimical to "civilized" people. They're brutish and violent-- so we can kill them-- they're not capable of building a civilization or being a part of one-- so we can seize their property-- and they breed rapidly and love nothing more than polluting our women with their cruel lusts which doesn't even have anything to do with D&D, but they still threw it in there. Orcs don't look nothing like real people, but close to half the real people on the planet have been hearing people who look like... most of the RPG industry... saying all of that about people who look like them for the past five centuries.

There are more radical positions involved, of course-- that I can't really explain to you without parodying them. But the core of it is that orcs are adapted from Lord of the Rings explicitly to replace people of color-- people of several colors-- in the extremely racist narratives of colonial European powers.

Gary Gygax infamously used the adage "nits make lice" to argue that a Lawful Good Paladin was morally obligated, on pain of Fall, to exterminate orcish prisoners and noncombatants (women and children) at every opportunity-- this adage is most infamously (again) attributed to one of the worst war criminals in United States history (John Chivington), which Gygax dismissed as being "observably true" and used by military leaders for a couple of centuries before that.

Which it was, by English officers and rulers to describe similar atrocities committed against the Irish and Scottish. In fact, regardless of which century it was uttered and which people were being exterminated, this "old adage" has always meant a colonial military power murdering native women and children to make it easier to quell rebellion.

According to the author of the game, this behavior is objectively Lawful and Good.

He originally used the phrase in Dragon Magazine in... the mid-Eighties, I want to say. I've seen it a million times, but I can never remember the issue number. I'm looking at it right now on Reddit, in a post from 7 months ago, attributing it to Gygax again-- in 2005.

 

DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
That all orcs are evil. ALL orcs.
Also, Tolkein explicitly said orcs are based on Asian peoples.
And then D&D orcs are based on Tolkein.
So...

Leaving aside Tolkien's metatext... the textual orcs in Lord of the Rings aren't as bad as D&D orcs, in my opinion-- they don't have a culture and they don't have mothers. When Tolkien's orcs were created by the God of Evil, it was literally and individually and within living memory, and there are no noncombatant orcs for Objectively Lawful Good Champions of Objective Lawful Good to indiscriminately slaughter.

Kinda like the distinction WotC's trying to draw between the two types of gnolls. Except gnolls aren't also described as the "least lovely" specimens of human ethnic groups.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Ok, going to answer this one honestly. Going back into the history of the depiction of blacks, particularly from Africa, we see people being compared to beasts, lacking intelligence, incapable of self control, animalistic, etc. Even if the depiction of orcs isn't meant to echo that, it, in fact, DOES echo that depiction. Orcs are beastial, stupid, incapable of self control, animalistic, etc. There doesn't need to be a "smoking gun" work or passage which ties orcs to real ethnic groups. The tie is there, regardless of whether it's intended or not.

I talked about this before, but, look at how Klingons are depicted in Star Trek. Original Trek had them as evil, bad, violent, dangerous, etc. But, then TNG expanded on Klingons to an incredible degree. Gave them all sorts of culture, background, differentiation, etc. Now, you can still have bad Klingons. Fair enough. But, the bad Klingons are bad because they do bad things. They are no longer bad just because they are Klingons.

People have asked if we remove the "bad guy, okay to kill" sign above orcs and other humanoids, what adventures can we write. Well, for one, instead of just killing those orcs just because they are orcs; make them justifiable targets. They are evil cultists, they are dangerous raiders/slavers, they work for Baron McEvilton and he's a right bastard, so on and so forth. If the only reason that you are killing orcs (or whatever) is because they happen to be there, then, well, that's problematic.

Thanks for the response. In my mind, what you describe isn't a clear or meaningful connection to an ethnic group. What you describe are shared traits to various stereotypes that have been used to character different racial groups (not only Africans), but not shared traits to the actual group(s).

Meaing, the tie to the actual ethnic group is only there if we, ourselves, fuse the stereotypes to the group, and then add the extra level of saying, "because orcs share traits of a stereotype, the depiction of orcs is connected to the group that has been stereotyped in that way." What this ends up doing is subtly re-inforcing the stereotypes.

We can parse this out in a simpler way. Let's say a hypothetical real world group of some kind has been stereotyped as being really lascivious and self-indulgent. Now let's say an author has a character who is lascivious and self-indulgent. Is there any real connection of that character to the real world group? We don't know the author's intention, but based upon what we actually ca observe, no, because that person only shares traits of the stereotype, not the actual group of people (who, by the way, are comprised of individuals for whom stereotypes don't apply).

So by saying that this person depicts the real world group, we are actually (unintentionally) reinforcing the stereotype when all that is actually happening is that the characters shares traits of a stereotype, but not of the actual group.

Now there would be a tie if orcs were actually depicted in a caricaturish way of black people--such as exaggerated physical traits, cultural forms, etc--but they aren't. As far as I can tell, there are no substantial or consistent links between the depiction of orcs in D&D and any traits of black people in our world. Orcs aren't Aunt Jemima in any discernible or consistent way. So yes, there has to be some kind of "smoking gun." Otherwise we're making a big leap that creates more problems than it solves.

Of course that doesn't mean that WotC shouldn't make efforts to be mindful in how it depicts different races and creatures. I'm not opposed to the idea of a cultural consultant in the cases where a fantasy trope is clearly based upon something from the real world (e.g. Vistani/Romani).

There are real and significant problems of systemic racism and racial stereotyping in our world, that probably trickle into RPGs into various ways. And certainly WotC should do everything possible to advocate for diversity and inclusivity. But I don't think orcs are the (or a) problem.

Google led me to this article by a psychology professor, which is worth considering: No, Orcs Aren't Racist.
 

Mercurius

Legend
That all orcs are evil. ALL orcs.
Also, Tolkein explicitly said orcs are based on Asian peoples.
And then D&D orcs are based on Tolkein.
So...

Tolkien made that connection once. In a personal letter. In other letters he said they weren't based on any specific group or people.

But, yes, it is possible to make any number of connections if we're ok with tenuous connections and emphasizing certain data while de-emphasizing or ignoring other data. We do it all the time. But the thing is, in order for the pattern to be meaningful, it has to have some degree of consistency and some degree of, to use a term mentioned by Hussar, "smoking guns."
 

TheSword

Legend
Source? I chased that rabbit and never found anything there. From everything I have found there is nothing of any actual substance to those wishes. I say wishes because it was obvious many people desired it to be true.


*I did want to add that D&D actually does a good job of preserving it's creative roots. It's very easy to see the evolution of the orc from its very start as a pig faced pale skinned being to it's almost current representation. How anyone can say the orc is racist with any validity is beyond understanding.

In the blog statement by WOC referenced in an earlier thread James Mendez Hodes explains why the the way the are portrayed is offensive. Read his articles they explain far better than we can in a forum. Though it has already been explained many many times.

It took me a while to see it too, but once you do it’s pretty unavoidable. Incidentally it isn’t just orcs it’s the way it’s lots of monstrous humanoids races.

Just because we don’t see it because our upbringing on Tolkien, Howard, earlier editions of D&D etc mean we take it for granted, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
Tolkien struggled with the idea of orcs, their nature and origins, and never came up with an answer that satisfied him.

Tom Shippey discusses it in The Road to Middle-Earth pgs 265-6. In The Silmarillion they are described as intially being corrupted elves. Later generations bred true "'after the manner of the children of Iluvatar', i.e sexually". In Unfinished Tales Tolkien proposes a different origin, that orcs were bred from the Druedain.

Tolkien seems to get no further than this as Shippey describes it. Shippey goes on to propose his own solution: "It would be a good solution to see the orcs as multiplying 'like flies', as if by some manufacturing process in hatcheries... maybe they 'quickened in the earth like maggots'... they would have no being of their own, 'moving when [he thinks] to move them , and if [his] thought is elsewhere, standing idle'"
 
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Doug McCrae

Legend
Tolkien made that connection once. In a personal letter. In other letters he said they weren't based on any specific group or people.
That may be so but their appearance in The Lord of the Rings is clearly based on Asian people. See my post upthread for the relevant quotations in full. "Sallow", "swart", "slant-eyed", "squint-eyed", "bowlegged".

This needs to be considered in the context of the infamous "Mongols" letter plus Tolkien's use of accounts of historical battles such as the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains (vs the Huns) as a source of inspiration for the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, the Siege of Rhodes (vs the Ottoman Empire) as a source for the Battle of Helm's Deep, the Italian city of Ravenna as inspiration for Minas Tirith, the Corsairs of Umbar deriving from Barbary Corsairs, the parallel between Minas Ithil/Minas Morgul and Constantinople/Istanbul, etc.
 
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TheSword

Legend
Oh that hogwash yet again. Sorry those rumors are false. He does state that he doesn't approve of the beaked or feathered versions of the orcs but finds that the humanoid form fits much better and that perhaps some degenerate form of Elf or human should be used.

He eventually used the Elves and had them become degenerate and foul. Born fully grown from the pits where they were created

Page #19 has most of this but some doesn't appear until later. At no time does he refer to mongol or any other real world cultures.



Frankly it seems only modern readers wanting to find links to minorities find such links and one has to wonder if THAT isn't Racist.

This made up fictional race is foul.....they must be talking about this real word people! How racist!

I thought the same way at first. I felt like someone was putting words into my mouth and making me feel like a racist which I found very disturbing. Then I actually did some research.

The guy who wrote the articles explaining in detail why depictions of orcs use racist stereotypes is asian.

So by claiming as you do that people who see a link are racist themselves you are saying that an asian man criticising the way white men write stories based on racist tropes is a racist?

...He’s a racist?

You do realize how stupid it sounds? I was ashamed I ever wrote it in the first place and now wholeheartedly redact that.
 

Mercurius

Legend
That may be so but their appearance in The Lord of the Rings is clearly based on Asian people. See my post upthread for the relevant quotations in full. "Sallow", "swart", "slant-eyed", "squint-eyed", "bowlegged".

Tolkien was a person of his times, and almost certainly had biases that we can look back upon and unfairly judge from a contemporary vantage point. But at the very least, we should look at the broad context of his work--not just single quotes from personal letters, but multiple quotes and his entire corpus of writings. I have no doubt that there were--from modern standards--degrees of subtle racism and Eurocentric bias, but even in that regard, Tolkien himself evolved his perspective and was overall very humanistic.

Perhaps most importantly, Tolkien detested allegory. So even though there were almost definitely subtle unconscious biases in his world-building, his focus was creating within the world itself, not intentionally transposing real world ideas into fantasy. He repeatedly stated that nothing in his secondary world was meant to represent anything from the primary world. He wanted orcs to organically emerge from Middle-earth, to make sense within Middle-earth.

But I think we should really separate Tolkien from D&D, just as we should differentiate Gygax from the current milieu. Of course Tolkien was a major influence, but not only was Gygax intentionally subversive of Tolkienisms, but the game has undergone almost fifty years of development and change since then. The orcs of at least recent editions have no real connection to Asian/Mongolian people, afaict.
 

TheSword

Legend
Thanks for the response. In my mind, what you describe isn't a clear or meaningful connection to an ethnic group. What you describe are shared traits to various stereotypes that have been used to character different racial groups (not only Africans), but not shared traits to the actual group(s).

Meaing, the tie to the actual ethnic group is only there if we, ourselves, fuse the stereotypes to the group, and then add the extra level of saying, "because orcs share traits of a stereotype, the depiction of orcs is connected to the group that has been stereotyped in that way." What this ends up doing is subtly re-inforcing the stereotypes.

We can parse this out in a simpler way. Let's say a hypothetical real world group of some kind has been stereotyped as being really lascivious and self-indulgent. Now let's say an author has a character who is lascivious and self-indulgent. Is there any real connection of that character to the real world group? We don't know the author's intention, but based upon what we actually ca observe, no, because that person only shares traits of the stereotype, not the actual group of people (who, by the way, are comprised of individuals for whom stereotypes don't apply).

So by saying that this person depicts the real world group, we are actually (unintentionally) reinforcing the stereotype when all that is actually happening is that the characters shares traits of a stereotype, but not of the actual group.

Now there would be a tie if orcs were actually depicted in a caricaturish way of black people--such as exaggerated physical traits, cultural forms, etc--but they aren't. As far as I can tell, there are no substantial or consistent links between the depiction of orcs in D&D and any traits of black people in our world. Orcs aren't Aunt Jemima in any discernible or consistent way. So yes, there has to be some kind of "smoking gun." Otherwise we're making a big leap that creates more problems than it solves.

Of course that doesn't mean that WotC shouldn't make efforts to be mindful in how it depicts different races and creatures. I'm not opposed to the idea of a cultural consultant in the cases where a fantasy trope is clearly based upon something from the real world (e.g. Vistani/Romani).

There are real and significant problems of systemic racism and racial stereotyping in our world, that probably trickle into RPGs into various ways. And certainly WotC should do everything possible to advocate for diversity and inclusivity. But I don't think orcs are the (or a) problem.

Google led me to this article by a psychology professor, which is worth considering: No, Orcs Aren't Racist.
I read the article too. Then I realized it was written by a privelaged white man who probably isn’t the best authority on what constitutes racism or not.

Also no one is claiming that people who use orcs in the games are racist. Even in the case of people who draw inspiration for monstrous humanoids from other cultures (Japanese hobgoblins for instance).

However you take a creature originally based on a appearance which today we definitely would say is racist (least loved Mongol types).

Then add the fact that they are described as behaving in the same way that non-white cultures were stereotypically claimed to behave as a justification for killing them and taking their stuff.

Then you write adventures that involve going to those creatures lair (home), killing them and taking their stuff.

Or you try and justify it by perpetuating the myth that there are warrior races of noble savages. To try and add a positive spin on the stereotypes, which are also Victorian and earlier racist tropes.

Either way it’s not a petty picture.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
we should look at the broad context of his work--not just single quotes from personal letters, but multiple quotes and his entire corpus of writings.
Yes, that's exactly what I have done, and it's clear from doing so that The Lord of the Rings is a racist work because it repeatedly makes a connection between Asian people and absolute evil. This isn't about whether Tolkien himself was racist, I can't make a judgement about that.
Perhaps most importantly, Tolkien detested allegory.
The Lord of the Rings is not an allegory, ie a long text intended to have a single meaning by the author. Whether it is or isn't an allegory is irrelevant to whether it's a racist work, because this isn't about conscious intent.
 

TheSword

Legend
Tolkien was a person of his times, and almost certainly had biases that we can look back upon and unfairly judge from a contemporary vantage point. But at the very least, we should look at the broad context of his work--not just single quotes from personal letters, but multiple quotes and his entire corpus of writings. I have no doubt that there were--from modern standards--degrees of subtle racism and Eurocentric bias, but even in that regard, Tolkien himself evolved his perspective and was overall very humanistic.

Perhaps most importantly, Tolkien detested allegory. So even though there were almost definitely subtle unconscious biases in his world-building, his focus was creating within the world itself, not intentionally transposing real world ideas into fantasy. He repeatedly stated that nothing in his secondary world was meant to represent anything from the primary world. He wanted orcs to organically emerge from Middle-earth, to make sense within Middle-earth.

But I think we should really separate Tolkien from D&D, just as we should differentiate Gygax from the current milieu. Of course Tolkien was a major influence, but not only was Gygax intentionally subversive of Tolkienisms, but the game has undergone almost fifty years of development and change since then. The orcs of at least recent editions have no real connection to Asian/Mongolian people, afaict.
Except the underlying assumptions are there. D&D orcs are Tolkien orcs to all intents and purposes - monolithically evil, savage, tribal, dumb but cunning, fecund, and generally dark skinned

Also yes D&D has changed, there is far better representation among the good guys. Which is awesome.

How ever the monstrous humanoids have changed little. Google hobgoblin 5e and ask yourself what stereotypes this warlike, savage, conquering, ruthless humanoid is based on.
 
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Mercurius

Legend
I read the article too. Then I realized it was written by a privelaged white man who probably isn’t the best authority on what constitutes racism or not.

Do you apply the same criteria to the privileged white men who are saying that depictions of orcs is racist, like the twitter guy who started the kerfuffle, or Christian Hoffer, who wrote the follow-up article on comicbook.com? Or the numerous white people who say that depictions of orcs are racist? The point should be obvious: if you negate one person's view on racism because they are white, you should negate any and all white peoples' views (I'm not suggesting this is what we should do, just that your logic should be applied consistently).
 

TheSword

Legend
Yes, that's exactly what I have done, and it's clear from doing so that The Lord of the Rings is a racist work because it repeatedly makes a connection between Asian people and absolute evil. This isn't about whether Tolkien himself was racist, I can't make a judgement about that.
The Lord of the Rings is not an allegory, ie a long text intended to have a single meaning by the author. Whether it is or isn't an allegory is irrelevant to whether it's a racist work, because this isn't about conscious intent.

There is also the general case that nations to the east and south are evil and serve the dark lord, while those to the west are generally good. The further west the better.

[I’m waiting for someone to say no zealot like a convert]
 

Mercurius

Legend
Yes, that's exactly what I have done, and it's clear from doing so that The Lord of the Rings is a racist work because it repeatedly makes a connection between Asian people and absolute evil. This isn't about whether Tolkien himself was racist, I can't make a judgement about that.
The Lord of the Rings is not an allegory, ie a long text intended to have a single meaning by the author. Whether it is or isn't an allegory is irrelevant to whether it's a racist work, because this isn't about conscious intent.

Racism has levels and degrees, no? Part of the problem I see with this issue is that we're mashing everything together. Calling the LotR "a racist work" is a sloppy characterization that avoids any nuance. By that criteria, we could say that 99% of literature and art is racist. So what then?

I also wouldn't characterize orcs as "absolute evil." The question of evil in Tolkien is complex.

I also don't agree that LotR was "intended to have a single meaning" - although I may not understand what you mean by that. I do think the allegory thing is important, because it informs us on Tolkien's intention and method. At worst he was guilty of sub- or unconsciously infusing his work with his own (Eurocentric) biases, which we're all guilty of doing.
 

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