- "Orc is not an English word. It occurs in one or two places [in The Hobbit] but is usually translated goblin (or hobgoblin for the larger kinds)."
- —J.R.R. Tolkien in the Preface of The Hobbit
Orcs were the most commonplace villains serving the Dark Powers in all of Tolkien's Mythology, a race of sentient beings bred by the evil Vala Melkor during the time of the Great Darkness. The Dark Lord Sauron, also bred them and used them, and later the wizard Saruman, as soldiers and henchmen to do various evil deeds across Middle-earth.
In The Silmarillion the wise Elves of Eressëa believed that Melkor had created the orcs before the First Age by breeding Elves he had captured and corrupted, by means of torture and mutilation. It's possible that female Orcs have the same appearance as male Orcs and thus few can tell them apart. In The Lord of the Rings, Treebeard tells Merry and Pippin that Orcs were mere attempts by Morgoth to copy the Elves, which would seem to contradict the account in The Silmarillion, but then J.R.R. Tolkien mentioned on several occasions that none of his characters were omniscient. Therefore, Treebeard's account of the creation of the Orcs might have simply been his understanding of it, or he might have been right about it and the ancient Elves of Eressëa might have been wrong.
It is unclear whether Tolkien regarded Orcs as evil in their own right or simply as tools of the Dark Lords Morgoth and Sauron, and eventually said that there were Orcs that did live peacefully as merchants and farmers throughout Middle Earth. 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 Melkor's defeat and banishment from Arda they were without a leader, and degenerated to small, quarrelsome tribes hiding in the Misty Mountains. Only when led by a Maia like Sauron did they begin to reclaim some of their old power and become a real danger to Middle-earth.
Many Orcs (along with fallen Maiar and other evil servants of Melkor) survived in the deep caves, pits, chambers, and tunnels of Melkor's great underground fortresses of Utumno and Angband. They multiplied and later spread through northern Middle-earth. They were first seen by the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains who reported them to King Thingol, the High King of the Sindar, causing the latter to seek weapons of war for the first time. For over a millennium, the orcs were only a minor problem, but when Melkor (Morgoth) returned with the Silmarils he took full charge of them and soon unleashed them on Beleriand. The newly organized orcs killed Denethor, the King of the lightly armed Laiquendi, but were eventually defeated by Thingol and his allies. They besieged the Havens of the Falas under Círdan, and the siege wasn't broken until the arrival of the Ñoldor. The heavy losses that the Sindar suffered at the hands of the Orcs frightened them to the point that Melian, Queen of Doriath raised a great enchantment to protect their kingdom. The Laiquendi, who suffered the most in the battle, hid themselves in the Ossiriand under the cloak of secrecy, or took refuge in Doriath.
In the First Age, thousands of Orcs were bred in Angband by Morgoth and to participate in the Battles of Beleriand, which lasted 587 years. They first appeared in the Battle of Lhammoth, where they were defeated by the Noldor. When the House of Fëanor returned to Middle-earth Morgoth sent a force of Orcs against them. Although the Orcs outnumbered the exiles they were no match for the power and wrath of the Ñoldor, and were quickly and easily defeated. However, Fëanor could not defeat the power of Morgoth alone and he was killed, leaving the Orcs to continue to breed under the Dark Lord. Years later, when the House of Fingolfin arrived in Middle-earth, Orcs were sent against them as well, but they were utterly defeated in the Battle of the Lammoth.
After their crushing defeat in the Dagor Aglareb and in a minor raid on Hithlum, the Orcs nevertheless regained their numbers and fought again in large numbers in the Dagor Bragollach and Nirnaeth Arnoediad. They were nearly destroyed in the War of Wrath, and those that survived fled eastwards into the Mountains of Angmar and the Grey Mountains.
Sometime around SA 1000, Sauron reappeared in Middle-earth and made the land of Mordor his realm, and then started to build the foundations of Barad-Dûr. During the War of the Elves and Sauron in SA 1700, the Orcs formed the main host of Sauron's power. Despite the immeasurable number of Orcs present, the battle was won by the Elves and the Numenoreans due to their united force and numbers. After the battle, Sauron regained power and became ever stronger in the east, with many Orcs living in the Misty Mountains.
During the Third Age the orcs were under the power of both the Witch-King of Angmar and Sauron in Dol Guldur and (later) Mordor. They invaded Eriador from the west under the power of the Witch-King. The orcs of the Misty Mountains formed many independent Orkish societies under the mountains, such as Goblin-town and Mount Gram. Azog, an orc-chieftain of the Misty Mountains, sparked the War of the Dwarves and Orcs by executing King Thrór, but he was eventually killed and his armies routed.
In TA 2941, the Battle of the Five Armies took place between Orcs, Wargs, Men, Elves and Dwarves. Orcs, despite having greater numbers than the other three armies in total, lost and fell in battle, returning to the mountains once again.
The Orcs of Mordor fought in all the major battles of the War of the Ring including the Battle of the Morranon in which the entire force of Mordor was destroyed. Uruk-hai became a prominent race in the war primarily for Saruman. The remainder of the orcs dwelled in Mirkwood until the Fall of Dol Guldur.
Fourth Age and BeyondEdit
Although the entire force of Sauron was extinguished by the end of the War of the Ring, groups of orcs continue to dwell in the Misty Mountains.
In Tolkien's writings, Orcs were cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted, and hated everybody and everything, particularly the orderly and prosperous. Physically, they were short in stature and humanoid in general shape. They were squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, bow-legged, with wide mouths and slant eyes, long arms, dark skin, and fangs.[Source?] Tolkien describes one "huge Orc chieftain" as "almost Man-high", and some must be close to Hobbit height, as Sam and Frodo are able to disguise themselves as Orcs in Mordor.
Orcs made no beautiful things, but many clever ones including machines, tools, weapons, and instruments of torture, were delighted by wheels, engines, and explosions, and could tunnel and mine as well as any but the most skilled Dwarves. This has been so from the day they were bred by Melkor from corrupted, tortured and mutilated elves that may also have been forced to breed with other unnatural abominations in the dominion of the Dark Powers[Source?]. They hate themselves and have an even deeper hatred of the Dark Lord who has brought them to this end. The result is a violent and warlike race in a perpetual state of chaos with itself and others. Despite their abominable nature, they are not dim-witted and are clever and crafty and make good tools, weapons, and machines of war but produce no beautiful things nor do they trade or share anything with others, unless ordered to by a Dark Lord for the purposes of war and conquest. Their tools and weapons, however, are of poor quality when compared to those of the Free Peoples.[Source?]
They have also developed tunnel making and underground living away from the light. Wickedness and violence are their nature, and they are known to quarrel and kill each other over petty things. An example of this destructiveness was its effect on nature such as was the case with Forests and trees which were often destroyed to fuel their war-making. See: Fangorn forest during the War of the Ring and the western part of Middle-earth after Sauron's War on the Elves in the mid-Second Age.
They generally hate Elves, Dwarves and Men, but some were said to make alliances with wicked Dwarf groups and others with Men. Without the leadership of a Dark Lord, Orcs usually live in tribal communities in underground lairs under mountains under the rule of brutal chieftains, raiding and pillaging settlements of other races that are unfortunate to live near them. Thus, they are hated by almost every race that knows them, even those allied with them.
Without firm leadership, Orcs have been known to go into battle in complete disarray and without any resemblance of formation or tactics. Their strength in combat comes from numbers and sheer violence. Due to superior organization, training and weaponry, Men, Dwarves, Elves, and at times even Hobbits, are able to defeat larger numbers of Orcs, provided they are able to withstand the horror and shock of the initial onslaught. 
Orcs versus GoblinsEdit
The word goblin, as used by Tolkien is merely another word for Orc, although in popular culture goblin is often used by readers of Tolkien's works to refer to the smaller breeds of Orc. The original edition of The Hobbit and early drafts of The Lord of the Rings used 'goblin' throughout to refer to Orcs and used 'Hobgoblin' to refer to larger and/or more evil orcs. In the introduction to later editions of The Hobbit, Tolkien explained that goblins is the translation he used to refer to the creatures referred to by the Hobbits as Orcs.
A clear illustration that Tolkien considered goblins and Orcs to be the same thing is shown in The Hobbit (the only one of Tolkien's works in which he usually refers to Orcs as goblins) when Gandalf asks Thorin if he remembers "Azog the Goblin" who killed his grandfather Thror, while in all his other writings Tolkien describes Azog as a "great Orc."
In The Lord of the Rings, "Orc" is used predominantly, with "goblin" used mostly in the Hobbits' conversation but occasionally in the general narrative. The Uruk-hai of Isengard are described in the narrative as "goblin-soldiers of greater stature", for example, and the severed head of one of them is a "great goblin head". Grishnakh is described as both an Orc and a goblin, as (by implication) is Ugluk. It is also notable that 'Orcrist' is translated from Sindarin as 'Goblin-cleaver'.
In the Brazilian translation of The Hobbit, goblins are also referred to by the word orcs. An example of this is the translation of Great Goblin to Great Orc.
- Main article: Snagae
Snaga comes from a word in the Black Speech meaning 'slave'. The plural of the word, snagae, is the term for the lesser Orc-breed used both by Saruman, as laborers in Isengard, and by Sauron, who had them first and used them as the core of his Orc-Host at the Pelennor.
- Main article: Gundabad Orcs
Gundabad Orcs were like the name suggests Orcs from the former Dwarven city Gundabad.
- Main article: Uruk-hai
Uruk-hai were a stronger breed of Orc. The Uruks were originally only in Mordor in battle against Ithilien before Sauron returned, during the time Angmar brought war upon Arnor, and these Orcs are called Black Uruks. Saruman also used Uruk-hai during his campaign against Rohan.
- Main article: Black Uruks
Black Uruks were an extremely rare breed of Orc, being one of the most high-ranking and were powerful. They were considered elite, being the best of Sauron's army, and two were notable of being Black Uruks: Murgash, lieutenant of Gothmog, and Shagrat, captain of Cirith Ungol.
- Main article: Morannon Orcs
Morannon Orcs were a breed of Orc similar in size to Uruk-Hai that appeared in the late Third Age, only originating in Mordor. They were larger, standing at least 5 feet and a half tall, and more stocky. The Morannon Orcs were Sauron's primary infantry in the War of the Ring at the Battle of Osgiliath, Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Battle of Cair Andros and the Battle of the Black Gate. These Orcs also knew how to operate siege engines like catapults and battering rams.
Morgul Orcs were the inhabitants of Minas Morgul. Their leader was the Witch King of Angmar, and they fought in almost all the major battles of the War of the Ring, during which they number at over 104,000 troops. It is most likely that these orcs were a mixture of Goblins and Snagae.
Guldur Orcs Edit
Small orcs. Adapted to the dwarven mines. Their leader was Azog, who conquered the dwarven kingdom of Moria, but was killed in the battle. His son Bolg then became the cheiftan of Moria, until he was killed in the battle of the five armies. The Moria Orcs were then driven out of Moria by an army of dwarves led by Balin. But they returned some years later and recaptured it. This time they were led by a large and unnamed orc chieftan, who was killed in a battle with the Fellowship of the Ring.
These orcs lived in the Goblin-town. Their leader the Great Goblin. They, like all other Misty Mountains Orcs, served Gundabad. They fought in the Battle of the five armies, and later in the War of the Ring.
Mount Gram or Ettenmoors orcsEdit
They were slaves, messengers, and warg riders placed in the service of Isengard during the War of the Ring. They helped breed the Uruk-hai and crafted their weaponry.
The orc berserkers are the most ruthless and fearsome orcs from Mount Gundabad, and struggle with admirable fervor. During the Battle of Five Armies, Bolg leads a hundred of these orcs as the vanguard of his massive army.
In Tolkien's Sindarin language, "Orc" is orch, plural yrch. In his late, post-Lord of the Rings writings (published in The Peoples of Middle-earth), he 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 Tolkien's languages the letter c was always pronounced /k/.) It is also possible that the word is a Common Tongue Version of 'orch', the Sindarin word for Orc. The original sense of the word seems to be "bogey", "bogeyman", that is, something that provokes fear, as seen in the Quenya cognate urko, pl. urqui. In the old English Orc means "demon." The term Uruk-hai merely means "orc-folk" in the Black Speech, and was the Uruk-hai's name for themselves.
"Yrrch" was the name used by Haldir and his brother, Elves of Lothlorien. This same variation on "orc" was also used by Legolas indicating that it is Sindarin.
Notable Orcs Edit
- The Great Goblin
Portrayal in adaptationsEdit
Peter Jackson's film trilogyEdit
In the Peter Jackson films, orcs range greatly in appearance. Skin colour ranges from bone white (Azog and Bolg) and peachy colours (orcs like Gothmog) to shades of green (the Orcs of Moria and Gorbag). Most Orcs and later Uruks, however, are shown as having darker shades of black or brown skin (for example, the Black uruks and Sharku). Some orcs are also much more human-like than others, Azog looks like a large and muscular but pale and hairless human whilst Gothmog looks much more deformed and less human-like. Towards the end of The Two Towers the Uruk-hai were made to deliberately have more blotchy and patchy skin. This was to hint that the Uruks had already been unnaturally overbred and the race had become inbred. Later Isengard Uruks look much less impressive and well-formed than the first batch of Uruks like Lurtz. In general the Orcs tend to be shorter than most men. According to official Top Trumps most Orcs stand somewhere around 5'4" while the Moria Orcs are the smallest at around 4'5". Later breeds shown, like the Morannon Orcs at the Pelennor Fields , seem to be much taller, closer to 6'3" (like Gothmog). Uruk-hai tend to be the same size as men, at around 6' or more. In Isengard the fearsome Uruk Berserkers stood at over 7 feet, and Shagrat, the Uruk captain of Cirith Ungol, was nearly 7'1". Early orcs shown are particularly slack with poor posture and broad with long arms (Grishnakh) is a good example of this shape) but some later Orcs are a more human shape. Uruk-Hai are shown as bulkier and more muscular with much more similar posture to men. Another variety of Orc/goblin appears in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. These stunted creatures dwelling within the misty mountains in Goblintown. In the movie, these goblins are short, diseased, mutated creatures covered in dubious warts and unidentified growths. They have pallid pinkish-white skin, large heads, and bat-like or porcine facial features. Many of these goblins also had small amounts of thinning white hair, and cataracts on their sensitive eyes. Also notable is the size of these goblins: while some were easily as big as a man, others were so small they'd be hard pressed to reach a Hobbit's shoulder height.
The clothing and armour they wear also ranges greatly. The first orcs seen in the movie seem to wear an assortment of different styles of armour and clothing and also commonly have various piercings and tribal scars. The clothing and armour was probably scavenged. Other Orcs wear specifically designed and made uniform armour for battle. Uruks tend to wear heavier, thicker armour or leather armour and headwear unless they choose not (for example Lurtz wears much less armour than the rest of his Uruk scouts). Orcs are often bald or balding, but there are also Orcs who have longer matted hair. The new Uruk-Hai have longer thicker hair, which they tend to wear back, except the Berserkers who have theirs shaved off. The Orcs' hair is nearly always dark or greying in colour, but in The Return of the King some orcs with blonde hair and beards can be seen marching from Minas Morgul. The favourite weapon of the Orcs is an Orc Scimitar, used by Orcs from all areas. Uruks have a different heavier sword with a hook at the end, designed to deal out more damage and pull people off their horses. Overall, the typical features that are included in all films on all species of Orc and Uruk-hai include fangs (sharp teeth that are definitely not human), flared nostrils (almost ape-like on some but much more refined on others), thin patchy skin, a broad stocky shape and black gums and blood.
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- The term "Orc" is an Old English term for a dirty creature which is used occasionally in the epic poem Beowulf.
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Races of the Creatures of Arda
- ↑ The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter V: "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm"
- ↑ He wrote once that "we were all Orcs in the Great War."[Source?]
- ↑ The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, "Of the Sindar"
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 The Silmarillion: Quenta Silmarillion
- ↑ Unfinished Tales, Introduction, Part Three, I: "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields"
- ↑ The Return of the King, Appendix A, "Durin's Folk"
- ↑ The Hobbit, Chapter XVIII: "The Return Journey"
- ↑ The Atlas of Middle-earth, The Second Age, "Refugee Relocation", and Thematic Maps, "Population"
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 The Hobbit, Chapter IV: "Over Hill and Under Hill"
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 The Complete Guide to Middle-earth