Everyone has probably heard of Orcs. They are the classic bad guy race and inspired countless writers to make other green-skinned-races. Like the Greenskins. See the connection?
Anyway, a lot of writers do this. It is up there with Giant Spider Attack and Heroic Charge.
Mostly, Orcs are just evil fighters. Not really anything to them. But have you ever wondered where the creature comes from? Like a lot of Tolkien’s creatures, they are original folkloric creatures that he solidified into a race. Obviously, a lot of their appearance is generally derived from goblins and hobgoblins (more on them later), but those are both types of orcs. Or just other names for orcs, it’s hard to tell.
The name ‘orc’ is actually found in mythology too. It is connected with ogres. The root for these two creatures is actually the god Orcus, a god of the Underworld. Thus, Orcus is connected to demons and hell.
This gives orcs a bit of a different flavor, doesn’t it?
So an orc is a bit like a demon when they get into Beowulf.
Beowulf has the word Orc in the form Orcneas, which C.S. Lewis uses in Narnia. In the context, Orcneas are mentioned as one of the four evil races descended from Cain. The others are eotenas, gigantes, and ylfe. Orcneas is usually translated walking corpses or demon corpses. Eotenas are usually translated Trolls or Ogres. I think they should be translated Ettins, two headed giants. Gigantes are Giants. Ylve are probably elves.
Because of all this, I think Orcs should be in the same category as ogres, and be undead. Those green skinned warriors can be replaced with pigmen and goblins, as those two are often other names for Orcs.
Orcs have always had monsters. That’s part of why it’s so fun to watch them fight. You know that at some point these giant Monsters are gonna come in pushing like a Catapult or Battering Ram. So, let’s go to Tolkien and find our Classic orc monsters.
Wargs. Also called Wolves. They sometimes go crashing around in packs, but a lot of the time the General or the scouts will be riding them. They have their own language, and are pretty cool.
Trolls. Taking it up a level. These guys are basically Shock Troopers. If the battle is going bad, bring in the trolls. One reason these are so popular is because they are funny. You can have them doing Elmo talk: “Oood no like Bad Fang”, and they argue amongst themselves. Thus, they aren’t very smart.
Balrogs: technically these are not orc monsters, and the orcs are scared to death of them. Balrogs are ancient demons and live in caves, so they are the perfect excuse for a scary chase with arrows whizzing right past your ear.
Stone Giants: these guys are pretty typical. Giants made out of stone that throw rocks at each other, and a similar thing is in Narnia. These guys are part of the Wild Nature of Midgard. It isn’t really explained where they come from in his published writings, but in early stuff he said they had been bred by Melkor along with Ogres (orcs?), wicked dwarves (Svartl?) and monsters (cool).
Watcher in the Water: unknown. Presumably a trap set by the dwarves, maybe a Creature From the Depths of Time and one who walked the Mysterious Roads Underground. (like the Non-Canonical gremlins and centipede heads?)
Goblins: Really Orcs. True LOTR scholars know this, but it really doesn’t matter. Anyway, they are a special race of orcs, smaller and more mischievous. They are very popular in Tolkien Fandom, and are one of the most classic enemies. The Boss of that level is the Goblin King, a fallen Maiar (like balrogs)
Fell Beasts: Not Pterodactyls*, not dragons. They are evil creatures used by the Nazgul and are a type of Wraith. Fell Beasts is actually not their name, but they are described thus. Beware the people who think the wraiths are called Nazgul, for they are horribly mistaken.
*which are actually not dinosaurs
Those are the traditional orc beasts. Then we have the Hobbit movie creatures.
In the Battle of the Five Armies, they kind of messed up. They changed the theme of the book into Orcs, when it should be The Adventures of a Little Homesick Hobbit. But, there are a lot of good Creatures fighting around. Guldur Orcs, orc that lived out in the ruins of Dul Guldur. Gundabad Orcs!
Gundabad Bats! (always with the bats, fantasy writers?)
Ogres, those skinny guys that everyone thought were trolls!
Trolls. Oglug Hais, trolls that can survive easily under the sunlight and have spiky armor.
And Were-Worms, a subspecies of Wyrms, which totally remind me of those Moon Worms in Clone Wars,
and Southern Jungle Trolls.
Other Evil Monsters in Arda are Werewolves.
Uruk-Kai, half human.
Morranon orcs, those really ugly (but really big, so don’t tell them I said that) orcs in the Pellenor fields.
Morgul Orcs are smaller orcs, so Sam and Frodo wear their armor when sneaking through Mordor. Snaga were slave orcs.
Gongs were a group of flying orcs. In the poetry Tolkien mentions several spirits like Spectres and the ancient Nameless things. He also mentions good spirits, like Badger Folk, white cows, Sprites, Dryads, Sylphs, and Fell Turtles.
Lastly, Hobgoblins were bigger orcs from the Wilderlands.
RELATIONSHIP WITH GOBLINS, AND GOBLINS THEMSELVES WILL ALSO BE TALKED ABOUT
Goblins are spirits from folklore. They were generally evil, and tended to live in places like old abandoned towers. They are similar to the Kabold, the Imp, and even house fey like Brownies. Although their more house fey type brethren are hobgoblins. The name Hob comes from the word for fireplace, a nice place to sit with your family on cold nights.
Hobgoblins in Lord of the Rings are just big orcs, probably another name for Uruks. But in mythology hobgoblins were often kind and helpful. As you know from the fey authority, Hob creatures are pretty common, and are all house creatures.
Goblins in LOTR are just smaller orcs, cruel and technological. Following this in more modern fantasy, goblins are small and evil, crashing around in packs and building machines that break a lot.
Some recent twists on goblins are Merchants: they go around with wagons and are very good at handling money, like Gringotts goblins.
High goblins: these are taller goblins with flowing long hair, living in the forest.
Crazy Flood of goblins: a plague invented by an evil wizard. These go crashing through the land as a group intelligence. They eat until they pass out, then they explode into ten more, which go and do the same. You can call these Gnoblars.
Kol’ksu are water goblins.
Hogboons are really friendly and helpful goblins.
Kalikanzaros are goblins that only cause mischief on Christmas.
Bogey, or Bogeymen, are really cool guys made out of boogies.
A BRIEF WARHAMMER THING
In Warhammer there are Squigs. Squigs are big guys that look like this and come in many varieties. They are pets, warbeasts, artillery, and sometimes ammunition.
Snotlings are little guys, very cute, who are mischievous.
Savage Orcs are very dumb animal-like orcs.
Zoats are awesome creatures. They are not working with greenskins, but they are so cool I just had to include them.
Well, that was brief right?
These people are just not too detailed in Lord of the Rings. They have green or brownish skin, depending on the species, they often fight each other, they are enslaved by Sauron. Other than that, their background and life cycle aren’t really addressed. This is partly so they are easier to kill. Uruks, or Black Orcs, or Hobgoblins, are dug out of the ground. Orks, in Warhammer, are living and sentient Fungi, thus detailing this.
The rest of the Orcs types seem to have women and children, but we never see them. This is probably because they tend to stay out of the way during the war, so maybe they are still living out in Green-ville out in Wilderland.
Oh yeah, there are cool parts where two orcs will have a conversation showing you their distrust of Sauron, or just talking about how funny it is when Shelob eats people. However, these are between two leaders usually.
Also, all this probably would have been fleshed out more if Tolkien had a better idea of the Orcs origins. His original origin theory, found in his unpublished works and the old version of Arda, was that they were made out of slime and forged by Morgoth in the heat and depths of the earth. This carried over to how Uruks were born.
He abandoned this because only Eru can create new beings. Thus orcs would have to be a copy of something. Thus, the published idea is they were elves, bred into Orcs by Morgoth. He apparently disliked this idea, however, because he made other theories and actually was going to make a new edition with one of them.
Another is that Orcs were animals who attained sentience, thus only saying what Sauron puts in their heads. This he thought was dumb because they sometimes complain, and they were still talking when Sauron was banished into the Void. The idea carried over to the origin of Trolls.
So, Tolkien decided that a lot of Orcs were fallen Maiar, kind of like Balrogs. The Goblin King, for instance. Also, the name Boldog appears quite a lot in stories, it may actually be a species of creatures. Lesser then Balrogs, but better than Orcs.
They may have also been corrupted men, or corrupted men mixed with corrupted elves, or Boldogs mixed with corrupted elves.
MY TAKE ON IT
This is what I think would be a cool way to do Orcs in a setting.
Pigmen are the grunt workers. variant: zombie pigman.
Ogre: Ogres are big and tough. Taking the place of Tolkienesque trolls, because “Ogres” is more related to the word “orc” then the word Troll is.
Orcs: Zombie Ogres!
Orkys: crusty, evil, and cowardly little creatures.
Goblins and Hobgoblins: Related to these creatures, except goblins kept more of the ancient customs. Hobgoblins are more civilized goblins.
Give your thoughts in the comments below!
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