Goblins (The Hobbit)
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 UruksEdit

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 while the author clearly differentiates between "goblins and Orcs" in the Tale of Tinúviel, the two terms appear to be synonymous in the Tale of Turambar. The word Gongs is also used on a few occasions; 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 Qenya Lexicon from approximately 1915 defines Orc as meaning "monster, demon", and the Gnomish Lexicon dated 1917 defines Orc as "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 of Thorin's Company for trespassing, and later fight the Men, Elves and Dwarves at the Battle of the 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 the large goblins ("great Orcs of the mountains"), as well as in the Elvish name of Thorin's sword, Orcrist. It is worth noting the description of large goblins as "great Orcs" works perfectly well if the terms are synonymous. This can be demonstrated by switching their positions: "even the large Orcs, the great goblins of the mountains...".

In The Lord of the RingsOrc is used predominantly, and goblin appears mostly in the Hobbits' speech. The second volume of the novel, The Two Towers, contains passages where "goblin" is used to describe Saruman's Uruk-hai as being different from the usual "Orc":


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:

The original edition of The Hobbit and early drafts of The Lord of the Rings first used goblin everywhere and used hobgoblinfor 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 inThe 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.

According to George MacDonald Fraser in The Light's on at Signpost, Tolkien answered a letter on this subject, confirming that Orcs and goblins were indeed identical.

Physical appearanceEdit

Orcs are described as ugly and filthy fanged humanoids. The largest can reach near-human height, but they are almost 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.

Tolkien describes Orcs explicitly in one of his Letters:

Readers have debated at length the extent and meaning of the seemingly racist imagery in Tolkien's writings, includingMichael D. C. Drout, Tom Shippey, Stephen Shapiro and Mount Vernon Nazarene University professor Anderson Rearick III.

Types of OrcsEdit

There is much variation among Orcs. The Uruks (who called themselves Uruk-hai) are larger, more powerful and cruel and "black"; 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 inThe 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". The first encounter with one of these half-goblins occurs in Fellowship of the Ring when the Hobbits encounter a suspicious character they refer to as the Southerner who is in cahoots with Bill Ferny (the Southerner turns out to be a spy of Saruman and possibly Sauron, and possibly a double spy for both as Aragorn suggests). 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." The hobbits occasionally encounter unusual-looking Men such as the "ruffians" in the Shire, implying some of these might be half-orcs. During the scouring of the Shire it is stated that the ruffians that have invaded include half-orcs and more of the sallow-skinned, slant/squinty eyed folks like the Southerner spy.

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 also grudgingly tolerate 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 inIsengard. 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 ofMount Gram in a foray into the Shire.

Orkish cultureEdit

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 he is 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.

Orkish languageEdit

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 theBlack 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 a "yellow-fanged" guard Orc 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 he gives an alternative translation: "Uglúk to the dung-pit with stinking Saruman-filth, pig-guts, gah!"

Alexandre Nemirovsky speculates that Tolkien may have drawn upon the language of the ancient Hittites and Hurrians for Black Speech and Orkish.

The origin of OrcsEdit

The origin of Orcs is an open question. Tolkien developed various 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.

In Tolkien's writings, evil is not capable of independent creation, making it unlikely that the Vala Morgoth, who was the first to produce them, could create them from nothing.

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 they exist; 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:

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.

It is said in The Silmarillion:

This text refers to the Quendi who ran and hid at the sight of Oromë when he came to lead them from Cuiviénen westward. These "corrupted elves" were the first orcs. There are various races of orcs (though with later races of orcs came different physical and non-physical characteristics like increasing tolerance to sunlight) all identical in their hate for everything that Ilúvatar and the Valar had constructed (including themselves) to resemble the hate that lay within Melkor.

A list of origins, proposed by TolkienEdit

Made from the earthEdit

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 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 Eru Ilúvatar (God) 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)Edit

The Silmarillion contains a suggestion that Orcs are descended from East Elves (Avari) captured by Melkor, their minds and bodies distorted and corrupted.

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 not 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.

This corrupted elves origin is probably the one used in Peter Jackson's live action films. In the film of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Saruman says:

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.

Sentient beastsEdit

Another of Tolkien's theories proposes that Orcs may have begun as soulless beasts of vaguely humanoid shapes, empowered by the will of the Dark Lord (Morgoth) and learning language only as parrots do:

Later in the same text he theorizes that some Orcs may have been Elves, who then mated with these beasts and with Men.

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 fromArda, 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.

Fallen MaiarEdit

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 theDwarves, may in fact have been fallen Maiar which had taken Orc form:

Corrupted MenEdit

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:

Also in Unfinished Tales there is a passage about the Drúedain which says :

Tolkien would have had to change the prehistory of Arda, for the awakening of Men to happen earlier, for there to have been Men for Morgoth or Sauron to corrupt.

A mix of corrupted Elves and MenEdit

A late idea of Tolkien seems to be that Orcs had a mixed origin of Elves and Men. Text IX of the "Myths Transformed" section of Morgoth's Ring shows this view. The text has no date, but uses the late spelling "Ork" instead of "Orc". This new spelling was adopted in a note of 1969:

Some cross-bred with MenEdit

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.

The first appearance of these half-goblins occurs in Fellowship of the Ring in describing one known as the Southerner, a spy of Saruman's;

Further description follows in the Two Towers.

In the Scouring of the Shire, there is further mention of the half-orcs under Sharkey's control, and they are described as men having squinty (or slanty) eyes and sallow complexion (a description used to describe the Southerner, Saruman's spy in Fellowship of the Ring, as well as some of the orcs in the Two Towers). Which seems to suggest that they look mostly human but share some of the features of the orcs.

Individual OrcsEdit

Main article: List of Middle-earth Orcs

See also: List of original characters in The Lord of the Rings film series

for Orcs unique to the New Line films

Influence on later fantasyEdit

Tolkien's Orcs have been, and still are, 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 FantasyDungeons & Dragons 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 Games Workshop for their Warhammer series, and from there the green colour was the most common used for Orc skin in most fantasy universes such as the Warcraft series of games and upcoming film.

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. They 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 made explicit in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, where orcs and goblins are portrayed as distinctly different races. Elven blades are described as turning blue when "orcs or goblins are near", a departure from the source text, and goblins have a notably different appearance in the film from orcs.

This distinction can also 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 Wargs into battle.

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