Aka: Goblins; S. Yrch” (sing. Orch”); B.S. Uruku” (sing. Uruk”); B.S. Snaga” (Slave); Shadowdwellers; Ent. Barárum” (Treeslayers); Hobgoblins; Servants of Melkor; Sunfearers; Spawn of Utumno.

An Overview of the Orcs

What realms of Middle-earth have gone unscathed by the cruelty of the dark brutal hordes of Melkor’s children? What goodly races do not have dozens of histories and camp-fire tales filled with the red-eyed, tusked, and loathsome denizens of the dark? What youngsters have not wrestled with fear because of nightmares about the Dark Lord, whether the children of the most noble Adan or Noldo households, or the silent small ones of the Woses? What great events in the history of Middle-earth do not feature a supporting cast of numberless goblins and hobgoblins? Indeed, Orcs have been a constant and completely pervasive threat, on a scale from nuisance to plague, since shortly after Melkor built the Underdeeps of Utumno.

Origin of the Orcs and Their Form

The origin of the Orcs (or. Orqui,” sing. Ork”) is as dark and mysterious as the deeps of Utumno itself. All theories are agreed that their existence is an intentional mockery of the works of Ilúvatar, especially his children. It also seems certain that Melkor did not do his work until after he had seen Ilúvatar’s Elves. No theory on the origin of the dark races of monsters can be considered completely certain, but at least one is reputed by the Wise to be most credible, unthinkable as it may seem. It begins thusly; above all the things which Melkor desired, he envied Ilúvatar’s power to create. However, Melkor was never able to obtain the power of true creation — only the ability to warp that which was already made. So, when it came about that great numbers of the Children of Ilúvatar, especially many of the Quendi (i.e. Elves”), misguidedly followed Melkor, he imprisoned them and began to corrupt them. As he corrupted their souls, he also changed their forms. The result was the horrid and tortured goblin-kin.

One story recount that the Orcs were created from Men, especially the Drúedain, but this is not true. Orcs battled Elves beneath the stars long before the sun traveled the sky and Men awoke to walk the earth. Later strains of Orcs, bred during the long peace between the Dagor Aglareb” (the Glorious Battle”) and the Dagor Bragollach” (the Battle of Sudden Flame”) may have had Mannish blood in their veins. Also untrue is the idea that Melkor fashioned the Orcs from the stone of the earth, even as Aulë had done with the Dwarves. According to this notion, the Orcs were indeed made as a mockery of the Elves, but their forms, though of stone like the Dwarves, were much more horrible than the Khazad because of the malice and discord in Melkor’s soul, Aulë’s work was misguided, yet his intentions were fair, and he and his creation were given grace by Ilúvatar, Melkor’s Orcs were filled with a discord that warred against the music of Ilúvatar’s creation.

When Melkor warped the Elves to create Orcs, he began with the Elves’ own hunger for power and their related curiosity concerning Melkor’s evil forces. Using these darker interests, Melkor twisted their souls and perverted their very essence. Without the Elves’ initial interest, without their lusts, Melkor could have done little with them, for he could not have warped steadfast golden characters. But the misled children of Ilúvatar provided the dark Vala all that he needed to begin his horrid work, and their spirits became more foul than any could have imagined. No longer able to feel love, delight, or merriment, these newly deformed creatures experienced only pain and hate; they found their greatest joy in the agony of others, and their blood became as dark and cold as it had been fair and hot. The perversion of the Elves was akin to that of those Maïar who became Balrogs. for the twisting of the soul resulted in the deformation of the body; in a similar vein, Sauron eventually became unable to take a fair form due to his corrupt spirit.

This is not to say that the Elves were twisted into their final Orcish incarnation just through a spiritual perversion. Through cruel arts which are for the most part lost, Melkor and his sorcerous minions altered the very physical nature of his Elven slaves. They became as horrible as they had been beautiful. The peerless Elven eyes retained the capacity of seeing in starlight as Men see in the day, hut they became ugly: pupil-less and red, the light of Aman replaced by the evil glow of Melkor’s hatred. The lovely Elven voices, those of the race called speakers,” capable of singing the fairest songs heard in Arda, became gruff or shrill, halting, toneless, almost inarticulate; the mouths themselves became fanged or tusked, with great black or red tongues like those of serpents. The wonderful Elven skin, attractive and unmarred (for wounds healed without scars), became dark, coarse, scarred and scarring, and covered with scattered patches of tough stringy hair. The dancing Elven forms became brute, with massive skeleton and musculature, long arms sometimes dragging the ground, and posture like an ape. Whereas once known for agility and speed, they now became famous for clumsy force, strong but graceless. The quick Elven minds, capable of great arts, sciences, magics, and crafts, became dim, artless, unappreciative; craft gave way absolutely to pragmatism. To the new Orcs, this meant the most effective use of cruelty to attain their ends. The Elven hearts, too often distracted from great works by a nearby butterfly, or stirred to tears by the weeping of a child, now turned to granite: without remorse, pitiless.

Uruk — Orch — Half-Orc

These changes came as a result of Melkor’s mis guided attempts to improve the original Elven form: strengthening and making it more suited for battle.

But the Orcs still lived and reproduced as did the Children of Ilúvatar. and this Melkor could never have created. And the Orcs retained tremendous potential for long life spans. Coming from Elven stock, the early incarnations lived for hundreds or even thousands of years. However, in succeeding generations, the Orcs’ lifespans, as their origins became further and further separated from their immortal beginnings, shortened dramatically. Also, the frequency of bloodshed in Orcish life caused an individual to be regarded as old if he reached fifty years of age. Read Sil 50; UT 385; LTales1 236 – 237: LTales2 14, 159, 219.

Origin of the Uruk-Hai

Even Sauron, as insensitive as he became to aesthetic matters, was frustrated by the dullness and disagreeability of the Orcs. So, in Mordor, during the Third Age, Sauron bred the species known as the Great Orcs, or Uruk-hai (B.S. Orc-people.”) He sought a race more capable of social relationships, in order to strengthen their responsiveness to commands, to make tribes and military units function more cooperatively and effectively, and to cut the numbers of losses due to Orcs killing Orcs. This new strain, improved slightly in spirit, was also stronger in form. Straighter and larger, they frequently stood as tall as six feet, or more. They were more human” in appearance, with their tusks usually reduced to the size of fangs and having more mannish faces (albeit with cat like eyes). More importantly, while they still hated the sun, they could function under it. while their lesser brothers were almost incapacitated by daylight. The Uruks were, according to Sauron’s design, more cunning and intelligent, more responsive to orders, and they showed greater integrity within their tribal and social groups. However, all these descriptives are in reference to Orcs alone, and it must be clear that violence, abuse, torture, and greed were still the highest rated Orcish pleasures, and true cleverness remained exceedingly rare. Eventually, Uruks were scattered over vast reaches of Arda and traces of their stronger blood became evident among the lesser Orc tribes. Saruman, and many others, eventually bred and used Uruk-hai, and almost every Orc whose name is known was either an Uruk or carried strong Uruk blood in his veins. Among these are Azog, Bolg, Gorhag, Ugluk, and Shagrat. Read LotRI 421; LotRII 20, 61, 441; LotRIII 155, 414, 511; UT 357 – 359, 361

Origin of the Half-Orcs

Little is known of the so-called Half-orcs, and they appear to have remained a small race. Morgoth blended Orcish blood with that of Men, Trolls, or Demons, breeding individuals to serve specific purposes. Storage was one such creature, an Orc-demon who became the primary inculcator in Morgoth’s servants of worship of the Dark Lord. Sauron followed this precedent, producing Orc-priests to ensure unquestioning obedience from his enslaved hordes. Yet neither the Black Enemy nor his lieutenant explored the full potential of these half-breeds.

It was left to Saruman to develop the Half-orcs as a race. Derived from Dunnish stock, they were as large as Men, clever and mean. It can be assumed that the fallen Istar, in an unspeakable perversion of his own, bred Orcs directly with captives incarcerated in the dungeons of Isengard. Significantly, the offspring were not discomfited by the sun at all. Saruman used them as soldiers and spies for they were very similar in appearance and ability to humans, except for squinting eyes, sallow faces, and usually unmistakable ugliness.

Regularly, Saruman’s Men and Orcs marched along the Misty Mountains to obtain lumber from Fangorn Forest. There, they earned the undying hatred of the Ents whose trees were killed by the hack and slash bands. Half-orcs may have been destroyed as a race in the purging of Isengard after the War of the Ring. More likely, there are scattered survivors reproducing the race, although thankfully, at a slower rate than the true Orcs. Read LotRII 96, 218; LotRIII 350, 364.

Glossary of Epithets for the Orcs

Children of Melkor
Orcs (and others). Read LTales2 193.
The name means din-horde” or host of tumult” in Sindarin. Those using the label translate it folk of dreadful hate.” The roots of the term are evident in the words Glamdring” (i.e., Gandalf’s Orc-slaying sword) and Tol-in-Gaurhoth (i.e., the isle of the werewolf horde). Read Sil 360; UT 39, 54; LTales2 160, 219.
A term probably synonymous with Orcs.” Sometimes the usage appears to show an identity such as Melko’s goblins, the Orcs of the hills” (LTales2 157). Other times there seems to be a distinction: Orcs and goblins of the hills” (LTales2 31), and a great host of the Orcs, and wandering goblins” (LTales2 230). See entry for Hobgoblins. Read Hob 30, 138; LTales2 14, 31, 35, 67, 76 – 80, 154, 156 – 7, 159, 176 – 7, 179 – 82, 219, 230, 247, 279.
An evil race of beings, proto-Orcs from the long past related. The term is very much like goblins, being sometimes a likely synonym for Orcs, at others apparently naming a distinct race. Read LTales2 136 – 7, 283, 288, 328.
An epithet for the Orcs used by the Wose chieftain Ghân-Buri-Ghân. Read LotRIII 133.
Great Goblin
The leader of the Orcs in the Misty Mountains. See Urgubal in the short glossary section. Read Hob 70 – 72. See ICE’s Goblin Gate and Eagle’s Eyrie.
Great Orcs
The Uruk-hai or High Orcs. Read LotRII 48.
A special breed developed by Saruman, they appeared to be a cross between Men and Orcs, and were labelled Half-orcs by Rohan. They were as tall as Men but had squinting eyes and more sallow faces. They served Saruman as scouts and soldiers. Their origins are vague but they are definitely not the same as the Uruk-hai. Read LotRII 96, 218; LotRIII 350, 364.
Perhaps a term synonymous with Uruk-hai, Gandalf used it on one occasion trying to frighten Bilbo into sensible action. However, it is not certain that the term goblin” is exactly synonymous with Orc,” since Gandalf also mentions Orcs as (perhaps) a separate category in his list: i.e., goblins, hobgoblins, and Orcs of the worst description.” Read Hob 138.
Sindarin for Half-orcs.
(B.S. Slave”) An appellation for the lesser Orcs, used by the Uruk-hai. Read LotRIII 511.
The general term for the monsters, giants, and ogres” bred by Melkor, which includes the Orcs. Read LTales1 75, 236 – 237.

Orcish History

A survey of Orcish history reveals that, with very few exceptions, the history of the Orcs is the history of Middle-earth. On nearly every occasion in which good wrestled against evil, the Orcs were present. As described above, historians define the beginnings of the Orcish race in the deep breeding pits under Melkor’s hell-fortress Utumno. They are a very old race, bred prior to the Dragons, in the days before Melkor set the stolen Silmarilli into his Iron Crown. Utumno itself was sacked by the Powers at the end of the First Age of Stars, and Melkor was imprisoned with a great chain. The Orcish race was almost entirely destroyed during that sack, but unfortunately a relative few masterless Orcs scattered, hid, and bred.

The Wars of Beleriand

The Elves do not speak of the Orcs again until the Fourth Age of the Stars (the ages of the Stars’ are divisions of great First Age) when the Orcs had grown in numbers and become troublesome. Prepared with steel weapons and armor, the Orcs forced the Elves to seek help from the Dwarves in steel-craft. Thus, better equipped, the Elves were able to defeat the Orcs and drive the remnants away. But when Morgoth assaulted Beleriand in the Last Age of Stars, the Gates of Angband opened to unleash countless hordes of Orcs, legion after legion, in three great armies.

The first was decimated by the Grey-elves and the Green-elves, under Thingol and Denethor; and the remnants where completely annihilated by the Dwarves. No Orc of the first army survived. The second army, unable to conquer the cities of the Falas, joined the third army in attempting to ambush the newly arrived Noldor in Mithrim. The Orcs had been warned of their new enemy by the smoke and the flames of the ship-burning. These Noldor, led by Fëanor the Great, were far stronger than the Orcs could have dreamed, and the light of Valinor in the Elves’ eyes seared the Orcs’ flesh. The Orcs were slaughtered in great numbers and pursued through Eredwethion into the plains of Bladorion. This battle is known as the Second Battle in the Wars of Beleriand and is called the Battle Under Stars” (“Dagor-os-Giliath”), for it took place in the dark between the destroying of the Two Trees of the Valar and the arising of the sun and moon for the first time. In this battle, the great lord Fëanor was slain, overcome by a squad of Balrogs and struck down by the hand of Gothmog, their lord.

But, even with the loss of Fëanor, the second and third Orcish armies were defeated. A second army of Noldor, led by the lord Fingolfin, assaulted the Orcs under the new light of the sun and the legions of darkness were destroyed. The armies of Fingolfin, although they occupied relatively small tracts of land in comparison to Fëanor’s people, were most frightening to the Orcs because of their valor and their arrival coincident with the rising of the Moon and the Sun. As Fingolfin and his people marched into Dor Daedeloth, the Land of Dread, the Orcs were amazed and many of them fled into the depths of the earth. The tense alliance between Fëanor’s son Maedhros and his people, and Fingolfin and his people, succeeded in once again driving the main host into Bladorion. There they encircled and utterly destroyed it within sight of Angband. This was the Third Battle, the Glorious Battle” (“Dagor Aglareb”).

The Noldor laid siege to Angband itself, and the Orcish armies were penned in by the great wall of Elves around the dark gates. This siege of Angband lasted for over four hundred years! Many times, Melkor tried to break the strength of the great ring of Elves, but his Orc legions were repeatedly destroyed. Eventually Morgoth attempted to take Fingolfin surprise, sending a horde into the everlasting cold of the White North and circling around to the coast west of Eredlomin. But the Noldor broke this army and it never entered Hithlum, and they drove it into the sea by Drengist After this rout, there was a peace which lasted for years, and Melkor sent no more of his Orcs out to war.

However, a day of glory for the Orcs finally arrived with a terrible vengeance. All the time Morgoth was penned within his own hold, he was. via sorcery and the breeding pit, building an awesome army of Dragons, Balrogs, Werewolves, Trolls, and myriads of Orcs. The Dark Gates held back a horde of monsters, over a 100,000 Orcs, and more than 1,000 Balrogs! When Melkor finally moved out of besieged Angband, he broke the Elves in the Battle of Sudden Flame (Dagor Bragollach) and the Battle of Unnumbered Tears (Nírnaeth Arnoediad). The strength of the Elves and the Edain was shattered.

The War of Wrath

The Men and Elves won some victories, yet only a few of the many stories of great heroism remain alive to this day. On several occasions, there was real hope that Melkor’s might may yet be defeated. But eventually all the realms of Men and Elves were overrun: Hithlum, Mithrim, Dor-lómin, Dorthonion, Brithombar, Eglarest, Nargothrond, Menegroth, the Falas, and finally Gondolin itself. The Orcs call these the Great Years, and they were a reign of terror. Melkor stood on the brink of total victory in Arda. At the last moment of hope, Eärendil made his holy voyage to Aman and pleaded with Manwë for aid. And such aid was given against the Dark Enemy: the Valar, the Maïar, the Vanyar (i.e., the Fair Elves), and the Noldor of Tirion came forth from Valinor, and the Great Battle was joined. Eönwë, Herald of Manwë, summoned all the Elves, Men, Dwarves, birds, and beasts to the standard of heaven, and yet it was that many were so overcome by Melkor’s will that they did not respond.

Thus, began the fifty-year long War of Wrath, Morgoth himself came out of Angband and crossed over Taur-nu-Fuin; his coming roiled like thunder in the mountains. But Eönwë and his great army came across the waters of Sirion and Morgoth’s minions blew away as leaves before a wind, and nearly all the Balrogs were destroyed. Melkor fled to Angband; from there, he loosed the awful winged dragons. For a time Eönwë was beaten back to Dor-na-Fauglith. But Eärendil, who was appointed to be a symbol of hope for his people as a constellation, came from the sky and slew Ancalagon the Black, the leader of the dragons. So great was his fall that the mountains of Thangorodrim were broken. Angband was destroyed and the northern ring of mountains was brought down. In the depths of hell, the host wrestled with Morgoth. The earth shook and cracked; Beleriand was shattered, and many upon the land perished in the cataclysm. A boiling sea swallowed up Beleriand and Angband together. Melkor was subdued under the mightiest hands of heaven, those of the youngest Vala, Tulkas Astaldo the Valiant. The Dark One was judged, bound in a chain made from his own Iron Crown, and forever banished into the void. The Orcs of the North were exterminated. However, the Black Enemy’s evil Men and a number of his monsters fled into the east. There, for a long while, demons, Dragons, monsters, and Orcs ruled over the Men and were guided by Morgoth’s will, even though his form was locked eternally into the Void.

Morgoth’s Lieutenant

The surviving Orcs in the South and East, after many years, came into the service of Morgoth’s most terrible servant, Sauron. Under this dread master, they campaigned constantly throughout the Second Age in wars with the Elves, until the battle of the Last Alliance, when Mordor fell and the Orcs were again almost exterminated. While Sauron was gone in the Third Age of the Sun, the breeding survivors of the Orcs constantly harassed the fair peoples. But without a great leader, they attempted no great conquests. When Sauron reappeared in Dol Guldur, the Orcs again entered the service of the Dark Lord, and for two millennia their power grew with his. They expanded first to Mirkwood near Dol Guldur, then into the Misty Mountains. Later, Angmar fell to the Orcs and became the domain of the Witch-king, the first and greatest of the Nazgûl. Eventually, Sauron carved out the realm of Minas Morgul from Gondor, and the Orcs in Mordor multiplied like those in Mirkwood, the Misty Mountains, and Angmar for a millennium. Even the great Dwarvish realm of Moria was brought down in T.A. 1980 by the Balrog and the Orcs of Mount Gundabad. Sometime later Sauron developed the Uruk-hai, who were first written about in T.A. 2475 when they sacked Osgiliath, the greatest of Gondor’s cities.

The Uruk-hai became the elite of Sauron’s soldiers. Being straight in body themselves, they carried straight swords and long yew bows. They used many poisons. The Orcs made alliances with the tribes of Men tending most often to evil: the Dunlendings, Balchoth, Wainriders, Haradrim, the Easterlings of Rhûn, and the Corsairs of Umbar. In T.A. 2793 – 2799, the Dwarves responded to all the abuses and losses suffered at Orcish hands. These fierce and costly battles were the Wars of the Dwarves and the Orcs, in which the Orcs of the Misty Mountains were almost exterminated. Here perished the great Orc-lord, Azog. In T.A. 2941, the Orcs suffered another disastrous war (after the death of Smaug the Dragon) which culminated in the Battle of Five Armies. In this conflict, the Orc lord Bolg, the son of Azog, died. During the War of the Ring, the Orcs fought numerous great battles, and lost most of them, although the victories were costly for the Men and Elves who won. Among the battles fought by Sauron’s Orcs of the Red Eye and Saruman’s Orcs of the White Hand were the Battles of the Fords of Isen, of the Homburg, of the Pelennor Fields, Under the Trees, and the Battles of Dale. In several, the Orcs were completely vanquished, yet Sauron held back the majority of his armies in the depths of Mordor for his planned great final victory. Horrors, like those of the hidden armies of Melkor, were to be visited upon the world again. These awesome numbers were unleashed to overwhelm the armies of the good before Morannon, the Black Gate. And they would have succeeded had not the One Ring of Power fallen into the fires of Mount Doom. At that instant Sauron’s world completely collapsed. The Black Gate and Tower burst. The great servants, such as the Nazgûl, were consumed in the unparalleled fire. Sauron became a gust of black smoke dispersed by the wind. The Orcs, with their leadership, strength, will, and mind all but gone, became like straw and fell by droves. They either perished at that time or retained, forever after, just a rumor of their ancient dark might.

Docu­ments de la section

Orcs are the living breathing examples of cruelty, brutality, pitilessness, indulgence, ambition, and evil. Although it may be stated that the race is not intrinsically evil, the tendency is almost irreversible and unavoidable.

We have chosen a limited number of Orcish characters to focus upon in some detail.

A series of short descriptions covering the majority of the Orcs in the lore of Middle-earth.

A list of all the known Orcs from Middle-Earth.


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