In Tolkien's universe, the humans are clearly delineated to the 2 groups:
The description of their differentiation is told in Alkallabeth, the second to last chapter of the Silmarillion:
It is said... that men came into the world in the time of the Shadow of Morgoth, and they fell swiftly under his dominion; for he sent his emissaries among them, and they listened to his evil and cunning words, and they worshipped the Darkness and yet feared it. But there were some that turned from evil and left the lands of their kindred, and wandered ever westward; for they heard a rumour that in the West there was a light which the Shadow could not dim... The Edain these were named... and they became friends and allies of the Eldar, and did deeds of great valour in the war against Morgoth...
Of course, there is nothing 'racial' about the praise the Edain received - after all, they are honored for choosing good over evil, not for skin color or other aspects of appearance. But yet, the other humans chose to stay under the devil's power were those of darker hue.
In The Silmarillion, the people "far to the east and south" were described as "Wild Peoples".1 Tolkien quite clearly describes them as evil: "More ominous were rumors from the further east: the Wild Men were restless. Former servants and worshippers of Sauron, they were now released from his tyranny, but not from the evil and darkness that he had set in their hearts. Cruel wars raged among them, from which some were withdrawing westward, with minds filled with hatred, regarding all that dwelt in the West as enemies to be slain and plundered..."2
Although the racial appearance of people from the east and south were not mentioned on either of these pages, it is established in other parts of Tolkien's work that the people from the east and the south were the "swarthy and sallow" Easterlings and the brown and black Haradrim respectively.
So the subtle message is darker-skinnned people tend to make less moral choices than lighter-skinned peoples. Although there are exceptional *individuals* in The Silmarillion, such as the sons of Bor from among the Easterlings, and the devil-worshippers among Numenoreans, the general trend of dark=bad, light=good remains the rule.
Unfinished Tales also hints that darker coloration among humans is associated with evil character:
"Already the hostility was growing and dark men out of the mountains were thrusting into Enedwaith"3
It should be noted, however, that when a person is described as "dark" in Tolkien's literature, 'dark' may only be an indicator of hair color. The Lost Road and other Writings describes the Numenorean Herendil as "dark" and having a "white body". But I still believe Tolkien envisioned the good humans to be white Europeans. The absence of explicit racial descriptions for the 3 houses of the Edain implies they belong to the 'default' racial group of the author and his intended readership. Only those differ from the 'norm', such as the Easterlings and the Haradrim, need description.
The Edain are mentioned in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, and Tolkien implies that they are the noblest class of humans. They were the only humans who had the sense to appreciate the Elves (supposedly a higher and nobler race).
Many of the good humans in Tolkien's universe seem to be elf-wannabes. The first human kindred to move west into the elf-lands of Beleriand is the the people of Beor. From Chapter 17 of The Silmarillion: Of the Coming of the Men into the West we have this description:
... the kindred and following of Beor the Old...the first of the race of Men to enter Beleriand...It is said also that these Men had long had dealings with the Dark Elves east of the mountains, and from them had learned much of their speech... the language of Beor and his folk resembled the Elven-tongue in many words and devices...
In the same chapter, Beor also told of another 2 kindreds of humans other than his own:
'Others of my own kin have crossed the mountains' he said, 'and they are wandering not far away; and the Haladin, a people from whom we are sundered in speech, are still in the valleys on the eastern slopes, awaiting tidings before they ventured further. There are yet other Men, whose tongue is more like to ours... They were before us on the westward march...being all ruled by one chieftain whom they call Marach."
We gather from the Silmarillion that these 3 kindreds - Beor's people, Marach's people, and the Haladin - were the only humans who qualified as "Elf-friends" and were collectively known as the Edain. The Edain were the Elves' main human allies in their war against Morgoth. Tolkien actually describes in detail a 4th division of the Edain, the Druedain, in Unfinished Tales. We will explore them more fully later in this essay.
The House of Hador, descended from the Edain chieftain Marach, is identified by their blond hair. In Unfinished Tales, the darker-skinned and dark-haired Easterlings derisively call them "strawheads", and the Elves recognize Tuor as a member of Hador's house through the color of his hair. Tuor is established as one of two human "heroes" of the Silmarillion.
All the main characters of the Lord of the Rings saga, both Elven and human, have Edain blood. Elrond, his children, and Aragorn were all descended from the Edain humans Beren and Tuor, and their Elven wives. The only humans 'worthy' enough to marry Elves were of Edain heritage - said humans being Beren (from Beor's line), Tuor (from Marach's line, with some mixed blood from the Haladin), and Aragorn (descendent of both Tuor and Beren).
According to The Silmarillion, all the Edain went into the West and establised Numenor. But UT mentions that some remained behind, and evolved into other Middle Earth cultures. Nevertheless, their "good" nature is retained through the ages.
The Numenoreans are descendents of the Edain. After Morgoth was defeated by the Valar, the three houses of the Edain - the only worthy humans - were rewarded by the gods by having their superiority to other humans further enhanced:
[Note: Valinor is the land of the Valar, where only Elves can go. Humans can only live in Middle-earth. The 'Firstborn' refers to the Elves.]
To the Fathers of Men of the three faithful houses rich reward was also given. Eonwe came among them and taught them; and they were given wisdom and power and life more enduring than any others of mortal race have possessed. A land was made for the Edain to dwell in, neither part of Middle-earth nor of Valinor, for it was sundered from either by a wide sea; yet it was nearer to Valinor...
That as the beginning of that people... called the Dunedain: the Numenoreans, Kings among Men... they grew wise and glorious, and in all things more like to the Firstborn than any other of the kindreds of Men; and they were tall, taller than the tallest of the sons of Middle-Earth.
So the racial hierarchy of Tolkien's universe is quite clear. You have the Elves as the highest race, than the Edain/Dunedain, and lastly the other humans.
The Druedain are linked to the "Wild Men of the Woods" who guided the Rohirrim in Return of the King. Unfinished Tales devotes an entire chapter to them. They are described as "people of a wholly different kind" in relation to the Folk of Haleth, with whom they live as a community. The Folk of Haleth are in turn described as "a people apart" from the other Atani (the Edain, the humans who allied with Elves), speaking a different language.
According to "The Druedain", Section I of Part 4 of Unfinished Tales, this group of humans is clearly not of Caucasoid appearance, being distinguished from other Edain as being "stumpy (some 4 foot high) but very broad, with heavy buttocks and short thick legs" and having "wide faces" with "deep-set eyes with heavy brows, and flat noses, and grew no hair below their eyebrows, except in a few men". They had black hair, black eyes and wide mouths.
The description of their non-physical attributes conforms to the European idea of the "noble savage" - a magical people who are, as far as Tolkien's descriptions are concerned, entirely good. They are in some aspects, even superior to the other Edain. They were able to fight and overcome the Orcs in situations where their Haladin neighbors are helpless and vulnerable. They are wiser than the rest of the Numenoreans - having the strange gift of foresight, all the Druedain left Numenor before the time of the Downfall.
Also worth noting is the fact that there is no mention of intermarriage between the Druedain and the other 3 houses of the Edain. The other 3 groups - the Haladin, the people of Marach, and the people of Beor, apparently intermarried quite readily. Elrond and Elros, the brothers who became ancestors to the human and Elven nobles of The Lord of the Rings, have human blood from all three aforementioned houses of the Edain. The Druedain are presented as a "separate but equal" people. The author cleverly avoids the possibility of creating a racist Edain society which does not allow for mixing with the "unlovely" Druedain by shifting the responsibilty for this situation to the Druedain, whom he describes as people who like to dwell separately, and who do not even welcome the closest of their non-Druedain friends into their homes.
The Wild Men of the Woods in ROTK were descended from the Druedain who did not go to Numenor with the Haladin.4 The Rohirrim rather condescendingly call them Wild Men, but Tolkien does give a certain dignity to the chieftain Ghan-buri-Ghan. He refuses to entertain Eomer's rude questioning, and demands respect from his listeners. One curious thing he said to Theoden was: "But if you live after the darkness, then leave Wild Men alone in the woods and don't hunt them like beasts anymore." This implies that the Rohirrim used to hunt "wild men", yet Tolkien creates the character of a noble savage with no sense of vengeance for past wrongs, which may be understandable for a Brit, since Britain ruled many non-European countries. In the real world, colonized peoples have at times reacted against colonizers with reciprocal savagery, so Tolkien's British readers might be more comfortable reading about non-Europeans who forgive Europeans for their past misdeeds and continue to assist them faithfully.
A lesser race is not allowed to have thoughts of vengeance against a higher race. The Silmarillion also describes Elves hunting and killing dwarves out of ignorance, but one never hears of the dwarves actively taking vengeance. Yet when dwarves murdered and robbed the Elf-King Thingol, the Elves retaliated with force.
Rohirrim is a name of Elvish origin for the Eorlingas, who were descended from Edain who remained in Middle Earth. While the Numenoreans were "High Men", the Rohirrim and other Edain descendents who remained in Middle Earth were the "Middle Men", and all other peoples were "Wild Men".5 In LOTR, the Orcs call the Rohirrim "Strawheads" because of their blond hair, just as the Easterlings called the folk of Hador in Unfinished Tales. Tolkien provides descriptions of the skin coloration of the Easterlings and the Haradrim, but there is no similar description for the Edain as a group - only descriptions of individuals. Nevertheless, though the skin color and facial features of the Edain races are never explicitly described, it is quite clear that Tolkien envision the Rohirrim, and by extension, their Edain ancestors and Dunedain cousins, as white Europeans, not just racially, but also culturally. According to the notes to Cirion and Eorl in Unfinished Tales:
"the language of Rohan was 'made to resemble ancient English,' the names of the ancestors of the Rohirrim are cast into the forms of the earliest recorded Germanic language."
Unfinished Tales describes the "folk of Dale under Erebor" as "akin" with the Northmen. Bard, the human hero of The Hobbit, is descended from the king of Dale.
Note that ALL the "good humans" of the later Ages are linked by blood to the "good humans" of earlier Ages. Time does not change the "good races" or the "bad races" because blood is immutable. Unfinished Tales reveals that the people who became the Rohirrim are "the descendents of the same race of Men as those who in the First Age passed into the West of Middle Earth and became the allies of the Eldar in their wars with Morgoth. They were therefore from afar off kinsmen of the Dunedain or Numenoreans, and there was great friendship between them and the people of Gondor." Likewise, the "bad races" remain unchanged from Age to Age.
Here's more on those *other* men - the non-Edain, which, in The Silmarillion, have been identified mainly as the Easterlings, the Swarthy Men. The Haradrim, "a great and cruel people", are also mentioned in The Silmarillion.
In the Great Battle when at last Morgoth was overthrown,... the Edain alone of the kindreds of Men fought for the Valar, whereas many others fought for Morgoth. And after the victory of the Lords of the West those of the evil Men who were not destroyed fled back into the east, where many of their race were still wandering in the unharvested lands, wild and lawless, refusing alike the summons of the Valar and of Morgoth. And the evil Men came among them, and cast over them a shadow of fear, and they took them for kings.
In LOTR, Faramir mentions "the wild Easterlings and the cruel Haradrim", contrasting them with the Rohirrim, who, unlike the people of the East and the South, were descendents of the Edain.6 We'll take a look at some of the non-Edain peoples below:
By their name, we're safe to assume they are darker than the Edain. It seems they are generally of less noble character than the Edain, and from the descriptions in The Silmarillion, there also seemed to be a higher percentage of devil worshippers among the Easterlings than the Edain.
Here's an excerpt from The Silmarillion, Chapter 18: Of the Ruin of Beleriand [Note: Morgoth is the devil of Tolkien's universe. Maedhros, Maglor and Caranthir are Elven princes leading the Elven and human resistance against Morgoth.]
It is told that at this time the Swarthy Men came first into Beleriand. Some were already under the dominion of Morgoth, and came at his call; but not all... These Men were short and broad, long and strong in the arm; their skins were swart or sallow, and their hair was dark as were their eyes... Maedhros...made alliance with these new-come Men, and gave his friendship to the greatest of their chieftains, Bor and Ulfang. And Morgoth was well content; for this was as he had designed. The sons of Bor were Borlad, Borlach, and Borthand; and they followed Maedhros and Maglor, and cheated the hope of Morgoth, and were faithful. The sons of Ulfang the Black were Ulfast, and Ulwarth, and Uldor the accursed, and they followed Caranthir and swore allegiance to him, and proved faithless.
There was small love between the Edain and the Easterlings, and they met seldom...
So it seems that while the Easterlings are generally described as evil, Tolkien allows for the possibility of decent individuals among them.
The Silmarillion describes the Haradrim, as "a great and cruel people that dwelt in the wide lands south of Mordor." The people of the South fight on the side of Morgoth, and later Sauron. LOTR does not have much of a positive image for the Southrons. The Siege of Gondor includes a description of "wild Southron men... shouting with harsh tongues". The people of the South are apparently non-whites - the people of Far Harad were described as "black men like half-trolls with white eyes and red tongues."7 The dead Southron whom Sam encountered has "black plaits" and a "brown hand".8 They ride on Oliphuants, reminiscent of the elephant-riding warriors of South and Southeast Asia to which the British empire extended its reach. The only mention of the possibility that the Southrons are not completely evil comes from the thoughts of Sam as he looked at the dead warrior: "He wondered what the man's name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies and threats had led him from the long march from his home; and if he would not rather have stayed there in peace..."
The Dunlendings are "a sullen folk, akin to the ancient inhabitants of the White Mountains whom Isildur cursed."9 Appendix D of The Tale of Galadriel and Celeborn in Unfinished Tales tells of the history between the Numenoreans and the forbears of the Dunlendings. Because of the abusive behavior of the Numenoreans, the ancestors of the Dunlendings welcomed Sauron, seeing in him the hope of being rid of their Numenorean oppressors. In the chapter The Battles of the Fords of Isen, it is explained for the Dunlendings came to hate the Rohirrim. After Gondor gave the land of Calenardhon to the ancestors of the Rohirrim, the chieftains of the Rohirrim drove out the Dunlendings who lived there.
In The Hunt for the Ring, the human agents of the evil Saruman were "men, of Dunlendish origin."10 In LOTR, the Dunlendings, together with Orcs and Uruk Hai, fight for Saruman against the Rohirrim. But after their defeat, the Dunlendings who surrendered were spared by the Rohirrim. Erkenbrand excused them as having been deluded by Saruman, and allowed them to redeem themselves, "Help now to repair the evil in which you have joined... and afterward you shall take and oath never again to pass the Fords of Isen in arms, nor to march with the enemies of Men; and then you shall go free back to your land."11 No such mercy is extended to the Easterlings or Haradrim, who were slaughtered to the last man in the Battle of Pelennor Fields.12
The Dunlendings were the only non-Edain humans to whom Tolkien grants a measure of redemption. The Army of the Dead, who redeemed themselves from their Oathbreaking by coming to Aragorn's aid, were of the same stock as the Dunlendings.13 This is by far the most balanced treatment Tolkien has given to a non-Edain people. Although the Dunlendings chose the "bad" side, they were provoked into doing so. Other adversaries of the Edain, such as the Easterlings and the Haradrim, were described as being cruel and evil without justification. Unlike the Easterlings and Haradrim, the Dunlendings also not explicitly described as non-white. Tolkien also mentions that the Dunlendings might be "remotely akin" to the Edain at least in language.14>
According to Unfinished Tales, the folk of Bree were descended from Dunlendings who had become subjects of the northern Numenorean Kingdom of Arnor. "Only in Dunlend did Men of this race old to their old speech and manners: a secret folk, unfriendly to the Dunedain, hating the Rohirrim." So it appears that Dunlendings can assimilate into the "good" nation, but such a possibility is never mentioned for other non-Edain peoples.
The idea that racial heritage has a direct bearing on one's moral capacity is made very clear in the Notes to the chapter Aldarion and Erendis in Unfinished Tales. Note 3 describes the meeting between the men of Numenor and the Men of Eriador in Middle Earth. The two populations, although both descended on the Edain, had diverged culturally due to a long separation. Although they bore little resemblance to each other in dress styles and other aspects of material culture, the Numenoreans were instantly able to recognized the Men of Eriador as 'good' men, fellow worshippers of the true God Iluvatar, distinct from the evil devil-worshipping men of Middle Earth, based on racial appearance alone!15
1. The Silmarillion, p375
2. Unfinished Tales, p271
3. Unfinished Tales, p215
4. Unfinished Tales, p339
5. LOTR, p663
6. LOTR, p663
7. LOTR, p828
8. LOTR, p646
9. Unfinished Tales, p386
10. Unfinished Tales, p363
11. LOTR, p532
12. LOTR, p830
13. UT, p387
14. LOTR, p1103
15. Unfinished Tales, p223