History of fantasy - orcs

What with the new Lord of the Rings movie coming out, I was curious about orcs.

In much modern fantasy, orcs are green-skinned pig-like creatures, but yet I thought orcs came from Tolkien (where orcs are NOT like this, and the distinction between orcs and goblins seems nearly nonexistent). Where did the green piggish orc come from? Where did it first pop up in literature – or did it simply arise from Dungeons and Dragons?

While orcs are mythological, was there ever a fantasy race of orcs used in literature before Tolkien?

Lastly, isn’t there one of those green piggy orcs in Star Wars (I’ve seen the action figure, I might even have it)? Is it called an orc in Lucas’ fantasy universe, or is it called another race (while still looking orcish)?

Do you mean Jabba’s guards? They have a name, which I can’t recall. Definitely a seperate reace, though.

I have never seen orcs in works before Tolkien, but my opinion is never the be-all-and-end-all. Couple that with the fact that I haven’t read that much fantasy written before that anyway…you get the idea. My 2c.

IIRC–orcs were called goblins in “The Hobbit” which was published in the late 1930’s. The LOTR was published much later (mid Sixties) and the goblins had become orcs.

I believe Gandalf’s sword, found in the Troll’s den in the “Hobbit” was named Orchrist. Off the top of my head–that translates as orc/goblin cleaver. Or was it Thoren’s sword? The other sword was Glamdring (or something) and wasn’t it broke when fighting the Balrog in TLOR? I might have this wrong. I think Thoren’s sword was buried with him and Gandalf kept the other. But when Gandalf rescues Bilbo and the dwarves, the goblins/orcs recognize the Elven blade and fear it.

Still, I remember “orcs” first from Tolkien, and then from D and D, which came later. But I was very young (like 5th grade) when I first read Tolkien’s books and I didn’t get the goblin=orc thing at first.

I don’t think the Star Wars creatures were called orcs at any point.

Glamdring (which means “Foe Hammer”) doesn’t break in the book; only the Balrog’s flaming sword does. In fact, Gandalf is mentioned as having it at the very end, and presumably he takes it with him back across the seas.

As for the other points: I remember reading somewhere that Tolkein did invent the term “Orc,” because he felt that “Goblin” conjured up the wrong image. I think that, in the books, the term goblin is just supposed to be a coloquial term for orcs, or perhaps a term referring to the smaller breeds of orcs that live in the Misty Mountains.

Diceman–Thanks for the info. I was thinking I had wrong–being from memory long ago.

The pig guards are called Gamorrians. I’m not exactly sure of the spelling.

tolkien did a lot of writing about the origins of the orcs, both their name and their concept, in many of his letters. Unfortunately I’m not at home, so can’t access my volumes of HOMES and others. But I believe he’d created the concept by the mid 1920’s at the latest, when he was writing the Silmarillion. bartman you out there?

BTW, in the Hobbit, Gandalf referred to “goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs” at one point

Qadgop the Mercotan.

I wonder how my name would translate into Quenya?

A quote I tracked down from Tolkein himself, in “Morgoth’s Ring”:

There is an Anglo-Saxon word “orcneas” (with a caret-type mark over the ea that I cannot recreate). It is exactly cognate with our modern term “orca” and refers to a whale/sea monster. It is found in Beowulf 11, line 112; “orc” was used as term for a generalized sea monster in Paradise Lost by Milton. It seems to be ultimately derived from the Latin “orcus” meaning “hell, death” and so is a very appropriate term for a breed of demons or hell-spawned monsters.

The old philologist loved his words. They were all right.

In “Orlando Furioso” by Lodovico Ariosto, the orc is a sea monster. I know this isn’t the answer you were looking for, I just thought I’d bring that up. The orc in that story plays the same role (sort of) as the sea serpent in the Andromeda myth.

Ingres did a painting of it. There is nudity in the painting, so I linked to a gallery page of paintings. You will have to select the painting, “Roger and Angelica” to see it.

Hope this is okay with the mods.
If it isn’t, please don’t shoot!

As I understand it, orcs and goblins are two different words for the same creature.

In The Hobbit, the word “goblin” is mainly used, with two exceptions: once, the narrator refers to the “orcs of the mountains”, a larger breed, and later when Gandalf says that the grey mountains are “stiff with goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs of every kind.” Again, I think these are all the same basic type of creature, just different breeds (much like dogs can be bred small or large, but different breeds of dog are not different species, as long as they can still interbreed)

The Lord of the Rings mostly uses the word “orc.” This really threw me off at first. My dad read me these books when I was twelve, starting with The Hobbit. For awhile, I asked him to substitute the word “orc” with “goblin” wherever he found it, but both of us soon got tired of that. I think “orc” derives from the Elvish word “orch” (plural “yrch”) that Legolas keeps using. The word “goblin” is mentioned once or twice to refer to smaller breeds of orcs. I think in the “Ugluk” chapter of the Two Towers, the half-orc Ugluk is said to be surrounded by “smaller goblins” from Moria, who are confronting him. One learns from this chapter that the Orcs of the Misty Mountains are smaller, better in tunnels, and hate sunlight; the Mordor Uruks (the main breed of warrior Orcs) are larger and hardier for battle but still hate sunlight; finally, Saruman’s Uruk-hai range from looking almost human (the mysterious Southerner in Bree, also the ruffians in “Scouring of the Shire”) to being of tall human stature but with orclike features (Ugluk himself).

And don’t forget the two hunters deep in Mordor, the warrior and the small, sniffing tracker.

End of ramble. What I’m saying is that all these creatures are of the same type, “race” if you will, but are of many different subtypes.

In Charles Kingsley’s book Water Babies he mentions a creature called an orc. I always pictured it as some kind of sea creature.

In Greg and Tim Hildebrandt’s Tolkien calenders they picture the orcs as pig like creatures. Maybe thats where they got the idea for the movie orcs.

IIRC, the small “tracker” orc was referred to as a “Slave Orc.” I think hobgoblins were supposed to be larger than goblins, but we never meet one in the books.

shudder The brothers Hildebrandt should have their hands wrapped in duct tape until they repent of the insults they heaped on Tolkien’s vision with their blowzy elves and badly rendered every-other-creature. eeeeeulchh

Thanks for all the answers! Does anyone have information on where the pig-like orc idea originated? I know I can’t think of any that predate D&D, but I know very little about how material for the game was drawn up.

I also recall that in The Hobbit, Gollum is mentioned as having recently dined on a “goblin-imp,” which I have always presumed to mean a young goblin, but which I suppose could also mean some sort of hybrid creature.

Orcrist did indeed mean “orc cleaver.”

I always assumed the term “orc” pre-dated Tolkien’s use of it because the Tolkien Estate didn’t make TSR stop using the term at the same time they came down like the hammer of god and made them switch Ent to Treant, and Hobbit to Halfling.

RenMan et al are correct that in The Hobbit, they’re referred to as “Orcs”. However, there are a couple of times in LOTR (Maybe “Fellowship of the Rings”…my memory is shot) where Legolas referrs to “Orcs” in Elvish as “Urks”. As Elivsh could be an older language than “common speech” (I think this was also mentioned in the books somewhere in the back - really! In the back of “Return of the King”), then it would follow that in Middle Earth the word “Orc” is derived from “Urk”. Tolkien was a professor of ancient languages; perhaps “Orc” comes from the Elvish “Urk”. Just my two cents:)

What a sorry bunch of geeks we are. Here are the answers, from some real hobbit-heads:


Having recently (in the past two months) re-read The Hobbit and The Fellowship…, I can vouch that the usage in Hobbit is, indeed, “goblin” for the most part, whereas in LotR it’s “orc.” The term “goblin” is used by some of the hobbits in the fellowship as a colloquial term for “orc”, as might be expected, since the hobbits serve in many ways as a mirror of provincial Englishmen, and–save for Bilbo–have had few dealings with anyone in the world outside their own Shire (including Orcs) for generations.

The earliest example I’ve come across is Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. The Evil Fairy Maleficent has a Palace Guard of bestial soldiers, including quite a few pigs. When Return of the Jedi came out, some people accused Lucas of ripping off Disney for his Gamorrean Guards.

On the history of “Orcs”, see Lin Carter’s book on The Lord of the Rings.