Orcs, Goblins, and Uruk-Hai: A guest post by The Lady Awdur

I used to be of the opinion that the Lord of the Rings movies were a spectacular adaption from the book, and that somewhere between 2003 and 2012 Peter Jackson suffered a mental collapse. Upon rereading The Lord of the Rings, I have departed from this previous view. I still think the the movies are great adaptations. I still think that PJ went down. But, I think that he was already thinking in a “how can I make this bigger, better and more dramatic” and “How would I like this scene to go, regardless of how Tolkien did it” kind of way when he made the first three. In many changes from the book, it can be traced to a “crowd appeal” idea.
For instance, having Arwen defend Frodo at the Fords of Isen instead of Glorfindel pleases those in the audience who are in favor of “girl power”. Now, I don’t quarrel with this choice too much because it can also be seen as a director simply streamlining the movie by combining characters and omitting the smaller ones. A movie cannot include all that is in the book. Removing Tom Bombadil I think is also not a bad idea; while I love how he diminishes the power of the Ring (showing that there is no evil that good cannot overcome), he is simply too complex for a movie.

I do object to:
  • Wanton disregard for how Tolkien clearly saw a character in favor of PJ’s interpretation of it. Faramir, anyone?! I love Faramir in the book. He does not relentlessly interrogate the hobbits to try to force the truth about the ring from them. “So fear me not! I do not ask you to tell me more. I do not even ask you to tell me whether I now speak nearer the mark.” He does not try to take the ring. I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her. (a line appropriated by PJ for a later scene, after Faramir falls prey to the same temptation as Boromir). And he definitely does NOT force the hobbits into a corner at swordpoint. He is a gentleman and a man of honor!
  • Rearranging events/ changing the set-up of scenes when the book version makes so. Much. More. Sense. For instance, I was always so confused and angry at Frodo in the movie version of the Forbidden Pool scene. Why, why does Frodo not try to explain to Sméagol what is up? Why doesn’t he even seem to realize how Sméagol will take it? The entirety of the lines of the movie scene are: Smeagol, you must trust master. Follow me. Come on. Come. Come, Smeagol. Nice Smeagol. That's it. Come on. And then, once Gollum has been grabbed by soldiers, Don't hurt him! Smeagol, don't struggle. Smeagol, listen to me. Whereas in the book, he says We are in danger. Men will kill you, if they find you here. Come quickly, if you wish to escape death. (The exact sort of things we all agonize for Frodo to say!) And it goes on to say that certainly what Frodo did would seem a treachery to the poor treacherous creature. It would probably be impossible ever to make him understand or believe that Frodo had saved his life in the only way he could.So there still could have been tension between Frodo and Gollum after this point, while keeping to the original [smarter] words of our beloved hobbit.
  • Changing concepts for no particular reason. This, my friends, is the real purpose of this post. PJ’s concept of orcs, goblins and uruks, which is quite different from the book, has created lots of unnecessary confusion which I would like to dispel for all the indignant fans like myself.

First of all, I'll explain the version that the movie presents. (Now it doesn't really present any version, if by those words you think that PJ gives us any definitions). As near as I can tell, the impression we are supposed to get is that orcs, goblins, and Uruk-hai are three separate creatures.

  • Goblins: Live in caves, don't like light, insect-like in appearance and movement. Origin is unknown.
  • Orcs: Extremely disgusting in appearance; light may bother them but not excessively; a littler larger than goblins and more varied in appearance. Origin: Twisted elves. See this scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNMSdxzGQzc
  • Uruk-Hai: Much taller than orcs; when Aragorn is shown fighting one in FotR it appears to be about his height. More uniform in appearance; dark locks and redish brown skin-tone. Sometimes a white hand stamped on their face. Much “beefier” than orcs. Of their origin, it is said that Saruman has “crossed Orcs with goblin men.” A scene in The Fellowship of the Ring shows them being pulled from a mudpit as if breaking out of a cocoon (??).
But actually, according to Tolkien, goblins, orcs, and Uruk-hai are not separate species.

Orcs As Compared to Goblins:
In Letter 131 (to Milton Waldman), he says “Also the Orcs (goblins) and other monsters bred by the First Enemy are not wholly destroyed.” Later on in the letter he again refers to “Orcs (goblins).”
If that isn’t clear enough, this excerpt from Letter 144 to Naomi Mitchison says:

“Orcs (the word is as far as I am concerned actually derived from Old English orc 'demon', but only because of its phonetic suitability)... They are not based on direct experience of mine; but owe, I suppose, a good deal to the goblin tradition (goblin is used as a translation in The Hobbit, where orc only occurs once, I think), especially as it appears in George MacDonald…”
Also significant is the fact that the sword "Orcrist" is translated "Goblin-cleaver," and as "-rist" refers to cutting, then "orc" is simply the word for Goblin.

Orcs As Compared to Uruk-Hai:
  • In Chapter Seven, “Helm’s Deep,” of The Lord of the Rings, It says “The Orcs yelled and jeered. ‘Come down… We are the fighting Uruk-Hai…’(emphasis added). 
  • From Appendix A: “In the last years of Denethor I the race of uruks, black orcs of great strength, firszt appeared out of Mordor…(emphasis added)
  • From Appendix F of The Lord of the Rings: “Orc is the form of the name that other races had for this foul people… Related, no doubt, was the word uruk of the Black Speech, though this was applied as a rule only the great soldier-orcs…”,
  • Quoting again from Letter 144: “The name has the form orch (pl. yrch) in Sindarin and uruk in the Black Speech.”
As “Hai” means folk in the Black Speech, Uruk-Hai simply means “orc-folk.”
However, there are certainly different varieties of Orcs, and it is likely that Saruman did tamper with them to make a stronger breed.
Chapter Three, “The Uruk-Hai” refers to “two or three quite different tribes.”
In Chapter One, “Departure of Boromir”, Aragorn says: “Here lie many that are not folk of Mordor. Some are from the North, from the Misty Mountains, if I know anything of Orcs and their kinds. And here are others strange to me. Their gear is not after the manner of Orcs at all!
It goes on to describe them, “There were four goblin-soldiers of greater stature, swart, slant-eyed, with thick legs and large hands.
In Chapter Four, “Treebeard,” Treebeard says “[Saruman] has been doing something to them; something dangerous. For these Isengarders are more like wicked Men. It is a mark of evil things that came in the Great Darkness that they cannot abide the Sun, but Saruman’s orcs can endure it, even if they hate it.
Chapter Seven, “Helm’s Deep,” refers to “the creatures of Isengard, these half-orcs and goblin-men.”

So in conclusion, the term uruks is simply the Black Speech for orcs, but appears to refer specially to the larger, stronger breeds. It appears that Saruman tampered with them in some way to enable them to bear sun, and possibly to give them greater size/stamina.

Origin of Orcs:
The origin of the Orcs is not entirely clear, as at various times Tolkien seems to have advanced various theories. Quoting from Letter 144 yet again, he says that orcs “are nowhere clearly stated to be of any particular origin. But since they are servants of the Dark Power, and later of Sauron, neither of whom could, or would, produce living things, they must be 'corruptions'.
The earliest theory is mentioned in The Book of Lost Tales, in The Fall of Gondolin, that orcs were made of stone and slime by Morgoth (perhaps this is where Peter Jackson got his ideas for the mud pit thing in the movies?).
The more frequently mentioned idea is that Orcs were made from Elves by Morgoth. Quoting from The Silmarillion:

But of those unhappy ones 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.

So there you go: No matter what Peter Jackson says, Uruks and Goblins = orcs, though there are some differences in breeds.

The Lady Awdur still adores The Lord of the Rings movie, however inaccurate, and could forgive Peter Jackson's liberties if he had not made the hobbit in so disappointing a fashion. She reads some Tolkien every night before bed. Find more posts on Tolkien, cooking, and writing at thepenofawdur.blogspot.com

Many, many thanks to Lady Awdur for this highly informative post.
The conclusion I have drawn (mostly from the Silmarillion [read it]) is that, since (according to Silmarillion) orcs can reproduce, it would also be possible for someone like Morgoth, Sauron, or Saruman to induce some creepy 'master-race' breeding, hence uruks: a stronger, larger kind of orc.
There have been people who told me that they didn't like Tolkien using goblin and orc interchangeably (he doesn't actually do much of it) but we use human and person almost interchangeably.
Personally, I like to think of distinction as being vaguely geographical. The orcs that live in the misty mountains are generally referred to as goblins. The humans that live in Germany are generally referred to as germans. They may tend to have different physique, but that doesn't make them an entirely different creature.
As for origins, Tolkien has realized his dream and created a pretty effective mythology, complete with different stories and interpretations of basically everything that ever happened. I have chosen to go with the origin proposed by the Silmarillion, as it was one of the last things Tolkien ever worked on, and I like to think that it contains his more well-formed ideas on...stuff. And to me, it just makes the most sense, but it is by no means 'the only way'.
In terms of the visual representation of the orcs and uruk-hai, I don't really have any problems with PJs interpretation, though the mud sack thing is all wrong. Don't even get me started on the "goblins" in his hobbit movies.
What do you think? Have you come to different conclusions? If so, what are they?
~ Goldenrod

(Lest there should be any confusion or matter of rights and whatnot, all quotes in this post are from The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, unless otherwise mentioned. There may be slight errors, misspellings, or alternate punctuation in the quotes, and if you notice such, please inform me so that I can speedily remedy them.)

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