Skinematic Spotlight: Evil skin in The Lord of the Rings

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Though many of the friendly characters of Middle Earth have skin issues, they don't compare to the problem skin of the baddies. Are you frightened by the thought of seeing evil blemishes? NOT NEARLY FRIGHTENED ENOUGH! For the brave among you, let us address the following questions:
Is Sauron allergic to the One True Ring?
Sauron is the very very bad fellow that wants his ring back. Shrouded in black armor, he seems to be the original inspiration for the Star Wars villain Darth Vader. Could Sauron also be hideously scarred under his armor? Or maybe he just has a common allergic reaction to metals present in rings. Many people develop a so-called contact dermatitis to nickel (used to strengthen gold and silver jewelry) or even to gold itself. Sauron cleverly prevents this reaction by wearing a metal gauntlet separating his skin from the ring itself. For other people, switching to a different ring, coating the ring with a protective film, or using anti-inflammatory creams to reduce the rash are alternatives to wearing a suit of armor.

Who can donate some sun block to Saruman?
Christopher Lee has made quite a career playing vicious villains, many with problem skin. Whether especially sensitive to the sun as Dracula, or displaying a makeup-created extra nipple as The Man with the Golden Gun, Lee's performances make our skin break out in goose bumps. As the evil wizard Saruman, Lee shows skin lesions all his own: sun spots, here shown on his forehead. Exceedingly common, these develop after sun burns. Though not individually at risk for becoming cancerous, they are a sign of sun damaged skin. Lasers can fade them, though apparently wizardly incantations cannot.
Is Frodo a nail biter?


 Saruman is a bad guy

 with really good nails.

 Just compare to Frodo's nails

 If he could only keep them out of his mouth!
Saruman also has the kind of healthy nails that most women would die for (though not literally, we hope). Nails are a reflection of the overall health and hydration of the skin. Compare these luxurious nails with actor Elijah Wood's real nails as Frodo. Wood's stunted nails appear to have been chewed, macerated, or at least nibbled. It doesn't take Sherlockian deduction to identify the work of a nail biter. Known as onychophagia, nail biting is very common among humans, and apparently also among Hobbits. While chronic nail biting does result in a faster growing nail, it increases the likelihood for a bacterial nail infection. Nail biting behaviors are increased with anxiety, so perhaps Wood was just method acting while gnawing his nails. Whether purposeful or not, stopping a nail biter's appetite requires magic beyond that of most wizards.

Why are the Orcs so angry? Two words: Bad skin.


 Bald and scarred


Bald and Pale

Bald, Pierced, and discolored


Sun burned. Or lava burned?

For a pot pourri of evil skin findings, nothing beats a band of Orcs. Usually when movies feature an alien race, the producers lazily make all of the race's members look exactly like one another. Some examples from fantasy films include a race of bald pale creatures living in a Dark City and monotonously furry simians living on The Planet of the Apes. This goes against Darwin's theories of evolution and against the fact that accidents happen, creating scars. The LOTR producers deserve full credit for individualizing the Orcs. And the bright red baddie on the right shows that just like humans, while on the battlefield, Orcs seem to need sun protection. Or in this case, lava protection?

Can this Orc dance the Moon walk?

In addition to the above routine evil skin cliches, this Orc shows symmetric patches of colorless skin. This sorry goblin appears to have the frustrating condition vitiligo! For no obvious reason, a human's (or Orc's) immune system attacks the skin's pigment cells, resulting in spreading areas of missing color. These pigment-free patches are at high risk for sun burn. When burned, the areas appear pink, as in this Orc. You'd scream too if you had a difficult to treat condition and got sun burned to boot. Pointed teeth aside, this Orc's patchy discoloration actually more closely resembles the skin of most people with this condition than does Michael Jackson's diffuse bleached appearance!

Why can't directors like Peter Jackson resist a Bald Albino Villain?

  Though director Peter Jackson's vision of Middle Earth is innovative in many ways, he can't help but occasionally succumb to a cinematic cliché.  How is this seemingly unique fellow actually ordinary and mundane?  One would think that an Orc with albinism (skin without pigment) and total hair loss (called alopecia) would be news.  Yet, in the world of skinema, he's just another villain with albinopecia, our term for hairless albino bad guys.  Our suggestion to Jackson: How about an Orc with good skin? Now that would be innovative!

On to more LOTR Evil skin

© 1996-2008 Vail Reese M.D.

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