- "Tolkien creates them to represent all that is bad about modern war."
- —Lynette Nusbacher in The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien: Master of the Rings
Orcs were the primary soldiers of the Dark Lord's armies and sometimes the weakest (but most numerous) of their servants. They were created by the first Dark Lord, Morgoth, before the First Age and served him and later his successor in their quest to dominate Middle-earth. Before Oromë first found the Elves at Cuiviénen, Melkor kidnapped some of them and cruelly deformed them, twisting them into the first Orcs.
After the War for Sake of the Elves many Orcs (along with fallen Maiar and other evil servants of Melkor) survived in the deep caves, pits, chambers, and tunnels of Melkor's underground fortress Angband. They multiplied and later spread through northern Middle-earth. They were first seen by the Dwarves who reported them to Thingol, King of Doriath, 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 Ossiriand under the cloak of secrecy, or took refuge in Doriath.
- "They were Elves once, taken by the dark powers, tortured and mutilated, a terrible, ruined form of life..."
Before the First Age
Melkor was the first to learn of the Awakening of the Elves. He soon began sending evil spirits among the Elves, who planted seeds of doubt against the Valar. It is also rumoured that some of the Elves were being captured by a "Rider" (Oromë) if they strayed too far, and it was believed these unfortunate Elves were brought to Utumno, where they were cruelly tortured and twisted into Orcs.
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 the Lammoth, where they were defeated by the Ñoldor. 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 by Balrogs, 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. In the Dagor Bragollach and Nírnaeth Arnoediad, they and their master won crushing victories against the free peoples. However, they were nearly destroyed in the War of Wrath, and those that survived fled eastwards into the Mountains of Angmar, the Grey Mountains and the Orocarni.
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 Númenóreans due to their united force, superior weaponry, greater strength and stature and combat skill.
However Sauron had not been able to gather all the Eastern Orcs into his armies, as they at first scorned him, not realising the fair 'Annatar' was Sauron. It was only after his first defeat that Sauron went among them in dark guise and was thus able to begin rebuilding his power.
After the War of the Last Alliance Mordor was desolate and the surviving Orcs were concentrated in the Misty Mountains. With the return of Sauron to Dol Guldur and the spread of his evil influence, their numbers began to increase once more. In TA 2475 at the ending of the Watchful Peace, a new tougher, stronger breed of Orc appeared; the Black Uruks, specifically bred for fighting Men.
Following the abandonment of Khazad-dûm by the Dwarves, Orcs eventually colonised the abandoned halls, killing King Thrór when he sought to enter his lost realm. This triggered the War of the Dwarves and Orcs, a massive conflict where the Dwarves gathered their full strength and destroyed every Orc stronghold they could find in the Misty Mountains. This and the Battle of Five Armies greatly reduced the numbers of Northern Orcs, weakening their contribution to the War of the Ring.
In the meantime Sauron had returned to Mordor, rebuilding his fortress and creating a vast army of Orcs. His thrall Saruman also created the Uruk-hai, a breed of Orc stronger than any seen before. Following the destruction of the One Ring, the Orcs scattered, eventually dwindling and being hunted to extinction in the Fourth Age.
- "For all that race were bred by Melkor of the subterranean heats and slime. Their hearts were of granite and their bodies deformed; foul their faces which smiled not, but their laugh that of the clash of metal, and to nothing were they more fain than to aid in the basest of the purposes of Melko."
- —The Fall of Gondolin
In J.R.R. Tolkien's writings, Orcs were cruel, sadistic, black-hearted, vicious, and hateful of everybody and everything, particularly the orderly and prosperous. Physically, they were short in stature (unless of the Uruk variety) and humanoid in shape. They were generally squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, bow-legged, with wide mouths and slant eyes, long arms, dark skin, and fangs. Tolkien describes one "huge Orc chieftain" as "almost Man-high", and some must have been close to Hobbit height, as Sam and Frodo were able to disguise themselves as Orcs in Mordor. They were roughly humanoid in shape with pointed ears, sharpened teeth and grimy skin. Their appearance was considered revolting by most of the other races.
Orcs made no beautiful things, but many clever ones including machines, tools, weapons, and instruments of torture. They were delighted by wheels, engines, and explosions, and could tunnel and mine as well as any but the most skilled Dwarves, though they are often untidy and dirty. This was so since the time Melkor bred them (in an unknown process) from mutilated and corrupted Elves. They hated themselves, and had an even deeper secret hatred for Melkor, thus resulting as a violent and warlike race in a perpetual state of chaos with itself and others. Despite their abominable nature, Orcs were often crafty and clever rather than dim-witted. Tolkien writes that they were capable smiths and craftsmen, though things of their making are described as crude compared to those of the Free Peoples. Orcs also developed tunnel-making, so as to dwell underground away from the light. It is also worth noting that Orcs prefer to do no more work than they can help, as they would rather coerce others into working for them.
Wickedness and violence were their nature, and it was not uncommon for them to kill each other in petty quarrels. They had a destructive effect on nature, especially forests, and often destroyed trees to fuel their war-making, particularly those near Isengard. Orcs had unchangeable disdain for all Elves, Dwarves, and Men, though they fought alongside wicked men under Morgoth and then Sauron in the First and Third Age and were also said to have made alliances with wicked Dwarves.
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.
Glamhoth was a Sindarin word for the Orcs that meant 'din-horde'.
Portrayal in adaptations
The Lord of the Rings (1978 animated film)
In The Lord of the Rings (1978), the Orcs are voiced by extras.
The Return of the King (1980 animated film)
In The Return of the King (1980), the Orcs are voiced by Paul Frees.
Peter Jackson's films
In Peter Jackson's two film trilogies, Orcs range greatly in appearance. Skin colour ranges from bone white (Azog and Bolg) to peachy colours (Orcs like the lieutenant Gothmog in The Return of the King), to shades of green. Most Orcs however are shown as having darker shades of black or brown skin. Some are more human-like than others; Azog looks like a large and muscular but pale and hairless human, whilst Gothmog has a very deformed face. In general the Orcs tend to be shorter than most men. Some orcs shown are particularly slack with poor posture and broad with long arms, a shape represented best in Grishnákh's portrayal in The Two Towers; others, such as all Uruks, have a human posture. A new rendition of Orcs was introduced in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: short mutated creatures covered in dubious warts and unidentified growths. They have pallid pinkish-white skin, large heads, and bat-like or porcine facial features.
The clothing and armour worn by Orcs in the films vary greatly. The Orcs wear an assortment of different styles of armour and clothing and also commonly have various piercings and tribal scars. Other Orcs wear specifically designed and made uniform armour for battle. They are often bald or are balding, while others have long, coarse hair. Their hair is most often dark or greying in colour, but in The Return of the King some Orcs with blond hair and beards are seen marching from Minas Morgul.
Quotes about Orcs
- "But of those unhappy ones [elves] who were ensnared by Melkor little is known of a certainty. For who of the living has descended into the pits of Utumno, or has explored the darkness of the counsels of Melkor? Yet this is held true by the wise of Eressëa, that all those of the Quendi 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. For the Orcs had life and multiplied after the manner of the Children of Ilúvatar; and naught that had life of its own, nor the semblance of life, could ever Melkor make since his rebellion in the Ainulindalë before the Beginning: so say the wise. And deep in their dark hearts the Orcs loathed the Master whom they served in fear, the maker only of their misery. This it may be was the vilest deed of Melkor, and the most hateful to Ilúvatar."
- —J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor
- "And ere long the evil creatures came even to Beleriand, over passes in the mountains, or up from the south through the dark forests. Wolves there were, or creatures that walked in wolf-shapes, and other fell beings of shadow; and among them were the Orcs, who afterwards wrought ruin in Beleriand: but they were yet few and wary, and did but smell out the ways of the land, awaiting the return of their lord. Whence they came, or what they were, the Elves knew not then, thinking them perhaps to be Avari who had become evil and savage in the wild; in which they guessed all too near, it is said."
- —J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Of the Sindar
|Foreign Language||Translated name|
|Chinese||兽人(Lucifer Chu Edition) /奥克(Deng Jiawan Edition)|
|Serbian||Оркови (Cyrillic) Orkovi (Latin)|
|Uzbek||Орчс (Cyrillic) Orchs (Latin)|
Races of Arda
Servants of the Shadow:
- The Silmarillion: Quenta Silmarillion, "Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor"
- The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, "Of the Sindar"
- The Hobbit, Chapter IV: "Over Hill and Under Hill
- The Hobbit, Chapter IV: Over Hill and Under Hill
- The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book Six, Ch. II: "The Land of Shadow"
- The Complete Guide to Middle-earth
- Unfinished Tales, Part One: The First Age: "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin"