The origin of the orc

Who told you, and who sent you?” — Gandalf
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OrcsThe Origin of the OrcGeneral InformationPhysical Description
Race
“In Mordor” by John Howe
Other names Goblins, Glamhoth, Yrch
Origins Obscure, but apparently bred from Elves or Men
Locations Utumno, Angband, Mordor, Misty Mountains, Angmar, Mount Gundabad, High Pass, Dol Guldur, Isengard
Affiliation Morgoth, Sauron
Rivalries Elves, Men, Dwarves
Languages Black Speech; numerous Orkish languages; Westron
People Uruk-hai, Goblin-men, Half-orcs, Hobgoblins, Mordor Orcs, Misty Mountain Orcs
Members Othrod, Azog, Bolg, Gorbag, Great Goblin, Grishnákh
Lifespan Early Orcs – Probably immortal or long-lived[1]Later Orcs – diminished[2]:411Boldogs – far longer than Men[2]:418
Distinctions Evil footsoldiers of the Evil; preferred darkness
Average height Short[3]
Skin color Sallow, green, brown, grey, black, swarthy
Gallery Images of Orcs

Orcs (also called Goblins) were the footsoldiers of the Dark Lords – Morgoth and Sauron.

[edit] History

[edit] Origins and early years

The Orcs were bred by Melkor in mockery of the Elves, sometime during the Great Darkness.[4][5]

The Origin of the Orc John Howe – Orc Swordsman

It is unclear exactly when Orcs were created, but it certainly happened before the War for Sake of the Elves in his stronghold of Utumno. Whether the Orcs were at this time a capable fighting force against the host of Valinor is not known. But at least some of them survived this war, probably hidden in the deep vaults of Angband, and multiplied, waiting for their master.

When Melkor (now known as Morgoth) returned to Middle-earth, he created new hordes of Orcs and invaded Beleriand, where the First Battle of Beleriand took place. Orcs also fought in Dagor-nuin-Giliath.

[edit] First Age

Orcs appear in the First Age as the core force of Morgoth. Hundreds of thousands of Orcs were bred in Angband to participate in the Battles of Beleriand, which lasted 587 years.

Orcs first appear in the First Age in the Battle of the Lammoth, where they were defeated by Fingolfin and his Noldor.

Orcs participated in battles such as the Dagor Aglareb, Dagor Bragollach, Nirnaeth Arnoediad, Fall of the Falas, and finally in the War of Wrath, where they were almost extinguished.

Those that survived the defeat fled eastwards and hid probably in the Mountains of Angmar and the Ered Mithrin.

[edit] Second Age

What is the true origin of the orcs?

Update: 29th May 2014

The late essay Of Dwarves and Men contains what seem to have been Tolkien's final thoughts on the matter.

Christopher Tolkien dates this to at least 1969, based on strong evidence (“It was written on printed papers supplied by Allen and Unwin, of which the latest date is September 1969”) and the bulk of it was printed in History of Middle-earth 12, but the relevant section was extracted to form part of the Drúedain material in Unfinished Tales.

An author's note (note 5) to this material states:

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 is 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.

This, of course, never made it into the main stories and was ommitted from the published Silmarillion because of that.

The only final interpretation that seems reasonable to me is that:

  • There is no known “true origin” for Orcs within Middle-earth; what we're presented with is a bunch of in-universe theories.
  • One of those theories is that Orcs were bred from corrupted Elves.
  • Another is that they were bred from Men.

The__Origin__of__Orcs

  • The published “Silmarillion”    
  • In the first mention of Orcs in the Quenta Silmarillion of the published Silmarillion, the Origin of Orcs is explained:
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.”
The Silmarillion
  1. But throughout the history of his Legendarium – and even long after The Lord of the Rings had been published – Tolkien took several approaches to this issue, of which I shall try to give an overview here.
  2. The History    
  3. The Fall of Gondolin    
  4. In “The Fall of Gondolin”, one of the earliest written tales in The Book of Lost Tales 2 (HoMeII) – where the names Orcs and Goblins are alternatively used – the “origin” of Orcs (there described as “Melko's goblins”) is very different. They were bred by Melko of the subterranean heats and slime, although already there the idea appears, that some of them were Noldoli (=Noldor), twisted to the evil of Melko and mingled among these Orcs:
See also:  What is the fibonacci sequence and why is it famous?
How it came ever that among Men the Noldoli have been confused with the Orcs who are Melko's goblins, I know not, unless it be that certain of the Noldoli were twisted to the evil of Melko and mingled among these Orcs, for all that race were bred by Melko 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.
HoMeII – “The Fall of Gondolin”
The Quenta    

In the “The Quenta” (HoMeIV) (abbrev.: Q) (which followed the earliest drafts called “The Earliest Silmarillion – The Sketch of a Mythology” and probably was written for the better part in 1930) (abbrev.: S) the origin of Orcs is slightly different and so is the timing (their making happened already before the awakening of the Quendi):

The hordes of the Orcs he made of stone, but their hearts of hatred. Glamhoth, people of hate, the Gnomes have called them. Goblins may they be called, but in ancient days they were strong and cruel and fell.
  • Earliest Annals of Beleriand    
  • In the opening section of the “Earliest Annals of Beleriand” (ibid.) this theory seemed already omitted:

And in the Annotations an attempt for an explanation about the different dating of the first appearance of Orc in the “Annals of Valinor” (abbrev.: AV) and the “Annals of Beleriand” (abbrev.: AB) is given:

There is here the remarkable statement that Morgoth 'devises the Balrogs and the Orcs', implying that it was only now that they came into being. In Q ($2), following S, they originated (if the Balrogs were not already in existence) in the ancient darkness after the overthrow of the Lamps, and when Morgoth returned to Angband 'countless became the number of the hosts of his Orcs and demons' ($4); similarly in AV (p. 315) he 'bred and gathered once more his evil servants, Orcs and Balrogs'. A note written against the passage in Q $4 directs, however, that the making of the Orcs should be brought in here rather than earlier (note 8): and in the version of 'The Silmarillion' that followed Q (later than these Annals) this was in fact done: when Morgoth returned,
countless became the hosts of his beasts and demons; and he brought into being the race of the Orcs, and they grew and multiplied in the bowels of the earth.
(The subsequent elaboration of the origin of the Orcs is extremely complex and cannot be entered into here.) It is clear, therefore, that these words in AB I, despite the fact of its being evidently earlier than AV, look forward to the later idea (itself impermanent) that the Orcs were not made until after Morgoth's return from Valinor.

According to AV Morgoth escaped in the course of the Valian Years 2990 – 1; some century and a half of later time elapsed, then, between the first making of the Orcs and the beginning of their raids, referred to under the first of the annals dated 50.

The Fall of Númenor    

Probably written in 1936, there is IMO a noticeable change in the concept, the idea that has first appeared in the earliest “The Fall of Gondolin” is taken up again. Here Orcs are separated from the other demons and dragons and monsters and now only – as a “mockery” – related to the “Children of Ilúvatar”. In “The Fall of Númenor” (in HoMeV) he states:

And Men were troubled by many evil things that Morgoth had made in the days of his dominion: demons and dragons and monsters, and Orcs, that are mockeries of the creatures of Iluvatar; and their lot was unhappy.
  1. Later Annals of Valinor    
  2. In another chapter, the “Later Annals of Valinor” an attempt to resolve the discrepancy of the timing is made:
Morgoth was hunted by the Valar, but he escaped into the North of Middle-earth, and re-established there his strong places, and bred and gathered once more his evil servants, Orcs and Balrogs.
  • Quenta Silmarillion    
  • In the “Quenta Silmarillion” as suggested for publication in 1937 are two entries concerning the Origin of Orcs:
But in that time Morgoth made many monsters of divers kinds and shapes that long troubled the world; yet the Orcs were not made until he had looked upon the Elves, and he made them in mockery of the Children of Iluvatar.
There countless became the hosts of his beasts and demons; and he brought into being the race of the Orcs, and they grew and multiplied in the bowels of the earth. These Orcs Morgoth made in envy and mockery of the Elves, and they were made of stone, but their hearts of hatred. Glamhoth, the hosts of hate, the Gnomes have called them. Goblins they may be called, but in ancient days they were strong and fell.
  1. Here the earliest theory – Orcs made of Stone – appears again, and it seems not quite clear whether this happend purposely or accidently.
  2. The Annals of Aman    
  3. In “The Annals of Aman” (abbrev.: AAm)(HoMeX, probably written 1958) the text of the quotation of the top of this page appears for the first time (exactly as in the published Silmarillion) and the last quotation above reads there:

Know Your LotRO Lore: Origins of the Orc

So, did J.R.R. Tolkien invent the Orc as we know it today? Well, yes and no. Although the word “orc” is actually derived from the Old English “orcneas” as it first appeared in Beowulf, Tolkien only used the word itself to describe a creature he invented, because of its “phonetic suitability”.

He also described another influence for the word deriving from the Latin name Orcus, who was the god of the underworld.As any Tolkien fan may realize, the man changed his mind quite often.

While he initially spelled the word “orc”, he later showed interest in changing the spelling to “ork” in all of his books, although that never happened.

In The Hobbit, the Orcs were known as goblins. Yet later, Tolkien made the distinction between the two, calling goblins separate from Orcs.

He is also careful to dismiss any connection with sea mammals with the same name: “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.

” Another name for the Orc in his writings originated as “hobgoblins”, which he meant to describe the larger version of the goblins. Upon further research, he realized that using “hob” was a mistake, as it traditionally meant smaller, not larger.

Tolkien always stood by his story that nothing in Middle-earth was inherently evil. This includes the Orcs and goblins, as both were mainly seen as slaves to Saruman. They hated themselves, they hated each other and it's even said that they hated Saruman and Sauron.

So where did they come from, exactly? This is another highly-debatable topic among Tolkien fans. While there was no mention of female Orcs in any of the books, Tolkien did later say that they did exist.

We see proof of offsping as Gollum devours a young Orc child in The Hobbit. As disturbing as the thought might be, in the Silmarillion it is said that Orcs “breed after the manner of Elves and Men”.

I don't even want to think about how Half-orcs were made.

Some theories state Orcs were created from the ground. In The Book of Lost Tales, it is said that Orcs were “bred from the heats and slimes of the earth” through the sorcery of Morgoth. Again, Tolkien later changed this, as Morgoth could not create life on his own. This led to the most popular theory that Orcs were created from corrupted Elves. This brings into account the whole immortality of Elves and Orcs issue, but most people agree that this theory is Tolkien's final word on the subject. It is believed that the corruption of the Elves captured by Morgoth involved eating the flesh of fellow Elves, therefore losing their immortality and becoming horribly disfigured as punishment.

Other theories do exist, such as Orcs simply being sentient beasts, but not actually humanoid. Of course we could talk all day about parallel ideas, but these mentioned here are the most popular, and cited by Tolkien himself.>

Orcs

Obscure, but apparently bred from Elves or Men
Black Speech; Orkish dialects; Westron
Uruk-hai, Half-orc, Hobgoblins,Mordor Orcs, Goblins

Most common servants of evil

Almost man-high, or short

Sallow, green, brown, grey, black

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 foot soldiers of the Dark Lords' 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 tortured them, twisting them into the first Orcs.[1]

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 who reported them to King Thingol, the High King of the Sindar, causing the latter to seek weapons of war for the first time.[2] 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 organised 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.

Contents

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History

Before the First Age

They were Elves once. Taken by the Dark Powers…tortured and mutilated…a ruined and terrible form of life…
— Saruman

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” if they strayed too far, and the elves later believed these were
brought to Utumno, where they were cruelly tortured and twisted into Orcs.

First Age

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, where they and their master won crushing victories against the free peoples. They were nearly destroyed in the War of Wrath, and those that survived fled eastwards into the Mountains of Angmar and the Grey Mountains.

Second Age and on

Orcs of Mordor in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films

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.

Until Sauron's final downfall in the Third Age, Orcs remained the backbone of the armies of Mordor, and of Isengard when Saruman ruled it.

Characteristics

For all that race were bred by Melko 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

Orcs of Mordor as depicted by John Howe

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.[3] 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.

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