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Artist's impression of an Orc of Mordor
|Races of Arda|
|Children of Ilúvatar|
In J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy writings, Orcs or Orks are a race of creatures who are used as soldiers and henchmen by both the greater and lesser villains of The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings — Morgoth, Sauron and Saruman. The Orcs also work independently as the common antagonists in The Hobbit, though in that work they are more often called Goblins.
Although not entirely dim-witted and occasionally crafty, they are portrayed as miserable beings, hating everyone including themselves and their masters, whom they serve out of fear. They make no beautiful things, but rather design cunning devices made to hurt and destroy.
Orc is from Old English orcneas, which appears in the epic poem Beowulf, and refers to one of the races who are called the offspring of Cain during the initial description of Grendel ("Þanon untydras ealle onwocon,/eotenas ond ylfe, ond orcneas," ll. 111-112). In a letter of 1954 Tolkien gave orc as "demon" and claimed he used the word because of its "phonetic suitability" - its similarity to various equivalent terms in his Middle-earth languages. In an essay on Elven languages, written in 1954, Tolkien gives meaning of 'orc' as "evil spirit or bogey" and goes on to state that the origin of the Old English word is the Latin name Orcus — god of the underworld.
About the goblins of The Hobbit, Tolkien wrote:
They are not based on direct experience of mine; but owe, I suppose, a good deal to the goblin tradition ... especially as it appears in George MacDonald, except for the soft feet which I never believed in.
Middle-earth terms for Orcs
In the High-elven tongue Quenya, the word for "Orc" was urco, plural urqui, meaning "bogey", or "bogeyman", that is, something that provokes fear. In the Grey-elven tongue Sindarin, it was orch, plural yrch. In the Dwarven tongue Khuzdul, it was rukhs, plural rakhâs. In the language of the Drúedain or Wild Men, it was gorgûn. In the Black Speech of Mordor, the equivalent was Uruk, as can be seen in Uruk-hai, "Orc-folk". Orc itself is from Rohirric and the Hobbit-language, which shared linguistic roots, but the term is clearly related to the older Elvish words.
Uruk and Uruk-hai were reserved for the Uruks themselves, a special breed or breeds of Orc; they called smaller, weaker Orcs snaga, "slave". The Grey Elves also referred to the Orcs as a whole as the Glamhoth, "noisy horde". The word "goblin" is used to represent the original Hobbit Orc. In The History of Middle-earth Tolkien writes about an Orc captain named Boldog but later specifies that Boldog may have been either a term or a title for another special kind of Orc instead of a personal name.
Orcs, Goblins, and Uruks
The earliest appearance of goblins in Tolkien's writings is the 1915 poem Goblin Feet, also his first published work, which appeared in the annual volume of Oxford Poetry published by Blackwells. It features quaint elvin creatures, and some 45 years later Tolkien was to dismiss it as juvenile.
In The Book of Lost Tales the names Orcs and goblin are given to creatures who enslave and war with the Elves. Christopher Tolkien notes that whilst in the Tale of Tinúviel the author clearly differentiates between "goblins and Orcs", the two terms appear to be synonymous in the Tale of Turambar. The word Gongs is also used on a few occasions and it appears both distinct from Orcs, and as a sub-type of Orc, Christopher Tolkien remarks that Gongs are "evil beings obscurely related to Orcs". Both goblins and Orcs are occasionally mentioned as being "of Melkor" and also acting independently. Two Lexicons of elvish language also appear. The Quenta Lexicon from approximately 1915 defines Orc as meaning "monster, demon", and the Gnomish Lexicon dated 1917, gives Orc a definition of "goblin", alongside a definition of Gong as "one of a tribe of the Orcs, a goblin". Christopher Tolkien also notes, with interest, that in the Lexicon, the word Gnome (later Noldor) is an emendation from Goblin.
In The Hobbit, the inhabitants of the Misty Mountains who capture the dwarves for trespassing, and later fight the Men, Elves and Dwarves at the Battle of Five Armies, are identified as goblins, which is largely consistent with the use in The Book of Lost Tales. The term Orc does occur twice; once in an instance where Gandalf is trying to scare Bilbo by mentioning creatures of the wilderness "goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs of the worst description," and again when the narrator mentions Orcs as nothing but large goblins, and also in the Elvish name of Thorin's sword, Orcrist.
In The Lord of the Rings, Orc is used predominantly, and goblin appears mostly in the Hobbits' speech. The second volume of the novel, The Two Towers, contains passages where the more generic 'goblin' is used to describe Saruman's Uruk-hai as being different from the usual 'Orc':
There were four goblin-soldiers of greater stature, swart, slant-eyed, with thick legs and large hands. They were armed with short broad-bladed swords, not with the curved scimitars usual with Orcs: and they had bows of yew, in length and shape like the bows of Men.
Upon a stake in the middle was set a great goblin head; upon its shattered helm the white badge could still be seen.
The "white badge" mentioned in the latter passage makes it clear that the beheaded goblin was one of the Uruk-hai. Tolkien writes that these bore a white Elf-rune with the value of "S" on their helmets.
Tolkien also wrote the following note, appearing in some editions of The Hobbit:
Orc is not an English word. It occurs in one or two places but is usually translated goblin (or hobgoblin for the larger kinds). Orc is the hobbits' form of the name given at that time to these creatures, and it is not connected at all with orc, ork, applied to sea-animals of dolphin-kind.
The original edition of The Hobbit and early drafts of The Lord of the Rings first used goblin everywhere and used hobgoblin for larger, more evil goblins. Whilst investigating possible sources for the word "Hobbit" Tolkien realised he had made a mistake in using hob-, which is traditionally used to mean a smaller entity, not a larger one.
In his later, post-The Lord of the Rings writings (including The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and many essays published in The Peoples of Middle-earth), Tolkien preferred the spelling Ork, evidently mainly to avoid the form Orcish, which would be naturally pronounced with the c as /s/ instead of /k/ in English. Tolkien indeed used the adjective Orkish.
Orcs are described as ugly and filthy fanged humanoids. The largest can reach near-human height, but they are always shorter, and some are as small as Hobbits (since Frodo and Sam disguise themselves as such when they enter Mordor). In contrast, crossbreeds between Men and Orcs are called "man-high, but with goblin-faces." However, some Orcs are very broad, if not tall. Many Orcs have long arms, like monkeys or apes. Many of them also have crooked backs and legs. They have black blood, reminiscent of reanimated corpses.
Tolkien describes Orcs explicitly in one of his Letters:
...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.
Scholars have debated at length the extent and meaning of the seemingly racist imagery in Tolkien's writings, including Michael D. C. Drout, Tom Shippey, Stephen Shapiro. and Mount Vernon Nazarene University professor Anderson Rearick III.
Types of Orcs
There is much variation among Orcs. The Uruks (who called themselves Uruk-hai) are larger, more powerful and have black skin; they call smaller and weaker Orcs snaga ("slave"). Sauron apparently bred specialized types, such as the "super-soldier" Uruk-hai, and smaller tracker Orcs or "Snufflers" (described as "of a small breed, black-skinned"). Early texts in The History of Middle-earth mention Maiar incarnate in Orc-bodies called Boldogs (see below).
Tolkien wrote of Saruman crossbreeding Orcs and Men, producing Men-orcs and Orc-men in "Myths Revisited" in Morgoth's Ring. The half-orcs and goblin-men, mentioned by Gamling at Helm's deep, seem likely to have been crossbreeds, and they are not described much beyond being "creatures of Isengard", "that the foul craft of Saruman has bred", and that "they will not quail at the sun". Half-Orcs are described later on by Meriadoc Brandybuck, who saw them marching out of Isengard, as "horrible: man-high, but with goblin-faces, sallow, leering, squint-eyed." Later the Hobbits encounter more Half-Orcs among other "ruffians" in the Shire.
The Uruk-hai of Saruman, exemplified by Uglúk, are shown to be physically different from the regular Orcs of Sauron. They are taller and have more human-like proportions while the latter are shorter and have longer arms (according to the description of Grishnákh). They can also withstand the sunlight better. The Uruk-hai are different from most of the "Northerners", who came down from the Misty Mountains. These are said to be smaller than Grishnákh, who is "a short crook-legged creature".
Some of the Northerners, called "larger and bolder Northerners", stayed with Saruman's Uruk-hai when most of the Northern Orcs deserted. The deserters, "flagging in the rays of the bright sun", were later overtaken by the party of the Uruk-hai, showing differing tolerance to the sunlight.
Orcs served Morgoth in Angband and Sauron in Mordor. By the time of the War of the Ring, some served Saruman in Isengard. However, some Orcs seem to have worked independently. Before and during the time of The Hobbit, some Orcs had Mount Gundabad as their capital, the Orcs of the Misty Mountains were apparently ruled by one "Great Goblin", the former Dwarf-realm of Moria was held by orcs under one Azog and then his son Bolg, and one Golfimbul had led the orcs of Mount Gram in a foray into the Shire.
Tolkien does not elaborate on Orc culture and customs. Orcs know some form of healing arts (as the Orc-band apply harsh but effective Orkish medicine to Merry's injuries while in their captivity). Also their armour, though inferior to that of Elves and Dwarves, is serviceable. Orcs often use poisoned blades (as Aragorn observes while inspecting a wound received by Sam) and arrows (as they use on Isildur). They like to sing horrible songs (as in The Hobbit). The Goblins of the Misty Mountains were a smaller breed of Orc, and invented horrid machines used to torture and kill things. In some texts, Tolkien suggests that after the fall of Morgoth, some of his Orcs set up petty kingdoms of their own.
Tolkien indicates that Orcs are "always hungry". Orcs eat all manner of flesh, including men and horses, and there are frequent hints of cannibalism among Orcs. Grishnákh, leader of the Mordor Orcs, accuses Saruman's Uruks of eating Orc-flesh, which they angrily deny. In Cirith Ungol, Gorbag suggests that Frodo (recently poisoned by Shelob) should "go in the pot"; Shagrat indicates that Gorbag could be "for the pot" for making such a suggestion. Shagrat threatens to eat a disobedient orc, and after killing Gorbag he licks his blood from the blade.
The Orcs had no language of their own, merely a pidgin of many various languages. However, individual tribes developed dialects that differed so widely that Westron, often with a crude accent, was used as a common language. A few words of the Black Speech are common among Orcs: ghâsh ("fire"), sharkû ("old man", leading to Saruman's nickname "Sharkey"), snaga ("slave"), and Uruk ("orc"). Another Orkish word is tark ("Man of Gondor") from Westron and ultimately Quenya tarkil.
When Sauron returned to power in Mordor in the Third Age, Black Speech was used by the captains of his armies and by his servants in Barad-dûr. A substantial sample of debased Black Speech/Orkish can be found in The Two Towers, where Grishnákh of Mordor curses Uglúk of Isengard:
- Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai!
In The Peoples of Middle-earth, Tolkien gives the translation: "Uglúk to the cesspool, sha! the dungfilth; the great Saruman-fool, skai!". However, in a note published in Vinyar Tengwar gives an alternative translation: "Uglúk to the dung-pit with stinking Saruman-filth, pig-guts, gah!"
The origin of Orcs
The origin of Orcs is an open question. Tolkien tried out a few different origins for his Orcs throughout his life but died before he could fully revise The Silmarillion with his final view on their origins and nature. Tolkien's Orc origin ideas were published posthumously in The Silmarillion, with other versions of events appearing later in The History of Middle Earth.
No female Orcs are ever mentioned by Tolkien in any publication. However, in the published Silmarillion it is stated that Orcs "had life and multiplied after the manner of the Children of Ilúvatar", implying that there are; in The Hobbit the Orc Bolg is the son of one Azog, while Gollum is described as having eaten a young Goblin-imp (Goblins often being synonymous with orcs) shortly before he first met Bilbo (which seems to be alluded to in The Lord of the Rings movie when Gollum goes on (with himself) about how unpleasant-tasting orcs are and that sweet Hobbit meat would suit Shelob better).
In an unpublished letter, written in 1963 to a Mrs. Munsby (and auctioned in 2002 at Sotheby's), Tolkien confirmed that female Orcs did exist. He wrote:
"There must have been orc-women. But in stories that seldom if ever see the Orcs except as soldiers of armies in the service of the evil lords we naturally would not learn much about their lives. Not much was known."
Compare this with Tolkien's more thorough explanation of the existence of Dwarf-women, given in the Appendix. Dwarf-women seldom leave their underground cities, and are not encountered as frontline soldiers in war, but that does not mean they do not exist.
A list of origins, proposed by Tolkien :
Made from the earth
According to the oldest "theory" proposed by J.R.R. Tolkien (found in The Fall of Gondolin, from The Book of Lost Tales, circa 1917 — the first tale of Middle-earth to be written in full), Orcs were made of stone and slime through the sorcery of Morgoth:
|“||"bred from the heats and slimes of the earth"||”|
However, it is consistently stated in Tolkien's other writings, with regard to his creation myth, that only Ilúvatar (Eru) can create new life from nothing. Therefore, by whatever means the orcs came into being, it is certain that either they were "descended" from other beings or a deliberate manifestation of Ilúvatar's thought.
East Elves (Avari)
The Silmarillion contains a suggestion that Orcs are descended from East Elves captured by Melkor, their minds and bodies distorted and corrupted.
"Yet this is held true by the wise of Eressëa, that all those of the Quendi [Elves] who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes....This it may be was the vilest deed of Melkor, and the most hateful to Ilúvatar."
There is evidence of the immortality, or otherwise long life of Orcs. They certainly did live for at the very least hundreds of years, since Bolg was the son of Azog and his death occurred over 140 years after the death of his father. This theory is inconsistent with a statement made in the "Myths Transformed" essay of Morgoth's Ring that the Orcs had short lifespans in relation to the Númenóreans.
"Do you know how the Orcs first came into being? They were elves once, taken by the dark powers, tortured and mutilated. A ruined and terrible form of life..."
Of course this leaves open the possibility of one of the mixed origins (see below) being true in the films, as this was how they "first" appeared, not discounting other corrupted creatures or men being added to the ranks later.
Another of Tolkien's theories proposes that Orcs may have begun as soulless animals of vaguely humanoid shapes, empowered by the will of the Dark Lord (Morgoth) and learning language only as parrots do:
"The Orcs were beasts of humanized shape (to mock Men and Elves) deliberately perverted I converted into a more close resemblance to Men. Their 'talking' was really reeling off 'records' set in them by Melkor. Even their rebellious critical words - he knew about them. Melkor taught them speech and as they bred they inherited this; and they had just as much independence as have, say, dogs or horses of their human masters. This talking was largely echoic (cf. parrots)."
Later in the same text he theorizes that some Orcs may have been Elves, who then mated with these beasts and with Men.
"It remains therefore terribly possible there was an Elvish strain in the Orcs. These may then even have been mated with beasts (sterile!) - and later Men. Their life-span would be diminished. And dying they would go to Mandos and be held in prison till the End."It is certain all Orcs were dependent on the Dark Lord in various ways: after their leader was defeated, the Orcs were confused and dismayed, and easily scattered by their enemies. In the millennia after Morgoth's defeat and banishment from Arda, they were without a leader, and degenerated to small, quarrelsome tribes hiding in the Misty Mountains. Only when Sauron returned to power did they begin to reclaim some of their old standing. The same happened after Sauron's defeat by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men: only when Sauron returned as the Necromancer of Mirkwood did the Orcs become a real danger for Middle-earth again.
There are hints in the History of Middle-earth series of books, (especially in Morgoth's Ring in the section "Myths Transformed"), that some Orc leaders, such as the First Age's Boldog, or the Great Goblin encountered by Bilbo and the Dwarves, may in fact have been fallen Maiar which had taken Orc form:
"Some of these things may have been delusions and phantoms but some were no doubt shapes taken by the servants of Melkor, mocking and degrading the very forms of the children. For Melkor had in his service great numbers of Maiar, who had the power, as their Master, of taking visible and tangible shape in Arda."
"Boldog (…) is a name that occurs many times in the tales of the War. But it is possible that Boldog was not a personal name, and either a title, or else the name of a kind of creature: the Orc-formed Maiar, only less formidable than the Balrogs" 
"Melkor had corrupted many spirits — some great as Sauron, or less as Balrogs. The least could have been primitive Orcs."
While Tolkien at some point saw all Orcs as descended from the original corrupted and tortured Elves, later comments of his indicate, according to Christopher Tolkien in Morgoth's Ring "Myths Transformed" text X, that he began to feel uncomfortable with this theory. At about the same time he removed the references to the Thrall-Ñoldorin, he also began searching for a new origin for the Orcs. It seems Tolkien wanted to change the origin of the Orcs to make them corrupted and twisted Humans. He says of this Human origin view of the Orcs :
"This view of the origin of the Orcs thus meets with difficulties of chronology. But though Men may take comfort in this, the theory remains nonetheless the most probable. It accords with all that is known of Melkor, and of the nature and behaviour of Orcs - and of Men. Melkor was impotent to produce any living thing, but skilled in the corruption of things that did not proceed from himself, if he could dominate them."
Also in Unfinished Tales there is a passage about the Drúedain which says :
"To the unfriendly who, not knowing them well, declared that Morgoth must have bred the Orcs from such a stock the Eldar answered: 'Doubtless Morgoth, since he can make no living thing, bred Orcs from various kinds of Men, but the Drúedain must have escaped his shadow; for their laughter and the laughter of Orcs are as different as the light of Aman from the darkness of Angband.' But some thought, nonetheless, that there had been a remote kinship, which accounted for their special enmity. Orcs and Drûgs each regarded the other as renegades."
Tolkien would have had to change the cosmology and prehistory of Arda, for the awakening of Men to happen earlier, for there to have been Men for Morgoth or Sauron to corrupt. He did not live long enough to complete this task however.
A mix of corrupted Elves and Men
A late idea of Tolkien seems to be that Orcs (or Orks, showing the late spelling change) had a mixed origin of Elves and Men. In a note included in the "Myths Transformed" section of Morgoth's Ring (probably written in the late 1950s) he says :
"Since Melkor could not 'create' an independent species, but had immense powers of corruption and distortion of those that came into his power, it is probable that these Orks had a mixed origin. Most of them plainly (and biologically) were corruptions of Elves (and probably later also of Men). But always among them (as special servants and spies of Melkor, and as leaders) there must have been numerous corrupted minor spirits who assumed similar bodily shapes. (These would exhibit terrifying and demonic characters.)"
Some cross-bred with Men
Tolkien also suggested that Men were cross-bred with Orcs under Morgoth's lieutenant, Sauron (and possibly under Morgoth himself). The process was later repeated during the War of the Ring by Saruman. This possibly refers to the way the Uruk-hai and the Half-Orcs were created, in The Lord of the Rings.
"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."
- Main article: List of Middle-earth Orcs
Influence on later fantasy
Tolkien's Orcs have and continue to be a major influence on fantasy fiction and games; they are the literary precursors of the Orcs (and similar races) of many different settings. The Orcs of Warhammer Fantasy, Forgotten Realms and other games most often differ from Tolkien's Orcs in that they are taller than Humans (instead of always being shorter) and usually have green or greyish-green skin (instead of dark or yellowish skin). The green Orc portrayed today was largely created by a wargames club in the 1980s[who?] and from there the green colour was the most common for Orc skin in most fantasy.
C. S. Lewis may have inserted a nod to his friend's Orcs in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When Aslan goes to his death on the Stone Table, the narrator mentions various evil creatures gathered around the White Witch — including "Orknies" (the name is also directly based on the above Old English term).
Orcs have been featured in many adaptations of Tolkien's Middle-earth writings, from film to stage to video games. The Goblins in the 1977 animated adaptation of The Hobbit were likened to the work of Maurice Sendak. and are portrayed in exactly the same manner as the Orcs in the sequel The Return of the King (1980 film).
Some adaptations have made Goblins distinct from Orcs. This was implied in New Line Cinema's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, and can be seen in the real-time strategy games The Lord of the Rings: War of the Ring and The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II. In the former, Goblins can be used alongside common Orcs and Uruk-hai, while in the latter Goblins get their own playable faction.
In the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring some Uruk-hai are seen being birthed full-grown from what appear to be sacs in muddy pits. (This is used as a device to allow Saruman to build his army practically overnight, as opposed to taking the time to breed his "improved" Orcs through more conventional means.)
In The Rise of the Witch-king, an expansion pack for The Battle for Middle-earth II, the Angmar faction uses "Gundabad Orcs" as ordinary foot soldiers, referring to their capital of Mount Gundabad. Like the Goblins of the Misty Mountains, they sometimes ride wolves in battle.
Notes and references
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Template:ME-ref/LETTERS
- ↑ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1994), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The War of the Jewels, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-71041-3
- ↑ "Orc is the form of the name that other races had for this foul people as it was in the language of Rohan." Template:ME-ref/ROTK
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 What was the relationship between Orcs and Goblins? from The Tolkien Meta-FAQ by Steuard Jensen. Brackets by eds.
- ↑ Template:ME-ref/UT
- ↑ Template:ME-ref/LOB
- ↑ Template:ME-ref/MR
- ↑ Template:ME-ref/BOLT2
- ↑ Template:ME-ref/BOLT2
- ↑ Template:ME-ref/BOLT2
- ↑ Template:ME-ref/TT
- ↑ Template:ME-ref/TT
- ↑ Template:ME-ref/POME
- ↑ Template:ME-ref/TT
- ↑ Template:ME-ref/LETTERS
- ↑ Drout, Michael D. C. (2006). J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Taylor & Francis, Inc. p. 558. ISBN 9780415969420.
- ↑ Young, Helen (2010). "Diversity and Difference: Cosmopolitanism and The Lord of the Rings". Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 21 (3). http://www.faqs.org/periodicals/201009/2224380021.html.
- ↑ Bhatia, Shyam (8 January 2003). "The Lord of the Rings rooted in racism: Academic". Rediff.com. http://www.rediff.com/news/2003/jan/08lord.htm.
- ↑ Rearick, Anderson (2004). "Why is the only good orc a dead orc? The dark face of racism examined in Tolkien's world". Modern Fiction Studies 50 (4). http://digis.ewha.ac.kr/data/test/50.4rearick%5B1%5D.pdf.
- ↑ The Return of the King, "The Land of Shadow".
- ↑ The Two Towers, "The Uruk-hai".
- ↑ The Hobbit, chapter needed.
- ↑ The Two Towers, "The Uruk-hai".
- ↑ The Two Towers, "The Choices of Master Samwise".
- ↑ The Return of the King, "The Tower of Cirith Ungol".
- ↑ http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/orkish.htm
- ↑ "The Science of Middle-earth: Sex and the Single Orc". TheOneRing.net. http://greenbooks.theonering.net/guest/files/041305.html. Retrieved 2009-05-29.
- ↑ The Book of Lost Tales, Vol. 2
- ↑ The Silmarillion
- ↑ 30.0 30.1 'Morgoth's Ring', "Myths transformed", text VIII'
- ↑ Morgoth's Ring, "Myths transformed", text X
- ↑ Author's footnote to the text X
- ↑ Author's note to text
- ↑ 34.0 34.1 Morgoth's Ring, "Myths Transformed" - Text X
- ↑ Unfinished Tales, "The Drúedain"
- ↑ Morgoth's Ring, "Myths Transformed" - Text IX
- ↑ O'CONNOR, JOHN J. The Hobbit (review), New York Times November 25, 1977
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