In Book V of The Return of the King, in "The Black Gate Opens," as the Captains approach the Gate, Tolkien makes this statement (phrase in question bolded by me):

North amid their noisome pits lay the first of the great heaps and hills of slag and broken rock and blasted earth, the vomit of the maggot-folk of Mordor; but south and now near loomed the great rampart of Cirith Gorgor, and the Black Gate amidmost, and the two Towers of the Teeth tall and dark upon either side.

North of the Black Gate is actually outside Mordor, but obviously the landscape north of it was affected by these "maggot-folk of Mordor." The question I have specifically is if "maggot-folk" is merely a general, descriptive, collective term referring to all the various "peoples" of Mordor (orcs, trolls, evil men, etc.) or is there some evidence in other writing that Tolkien is here making an identification of a specific people group that were part of Mordor who terraformed the landscape in such a destructive way?

2 Answers 2


Probably orcs

"Maggots" suggest creatures that are small, which would rule out Trolls and the large Uruks of Mordor.

The closest I can come to a quote that answers your question is when Frodo and Sam approach the Black Gate.

Across the mouth of the pass, from cliff to cliff, the Dark Lord had built a rampart of stone. In it there was a single gate of iron, and upon its battlement sentinels paced unceasingly. Beneath the hills on either side the rock was bored into a hundred caves and maggot-holes; there a host of orcs lurked, ready at a signal to issue forth like black ants going to war.

The Lord of the Rings Book 4, Chapter 3: The Black Gate is Closed

This could be said, by analogy, to equate orcs to maggots (as well as to ants).

There are also plenty of places where orcs refer to each other as "maggots". This includes during the arguments between Saruman's Uruk-Hai and the smaller orcs of the Misty Mountains.

In the afternoon Uglúk’s troop overtook the Northerners. They were flagging in the rays of the bright sun, winter sun shining in a pale cool sky though it was; their heads were down and their tongues lolling out.

‘Maggots!’ jeered the Isengarders. ‘You’re cooked. The Whiteskins will catch you and eat you. They’re coming!’

The Lord of the Rings Book 3, Chapter 3: The Uruk-Hai

On the whole, I think it most likely that Tolkien had orcs (the smaller breeds rather than the larger Uruks) in mind when he referred to the "maggot-folk of Mordor".

  • 1
    Your first quote does it for me, as the remnants of "rock [that] was bored" to make the "maggot-holes" of the orcs fits precisely with "hills of slag and broken rock and blasted earth" from my quote that was from the "maggot-folk." The residue of tunneling in Morder by the orcs is apparently left on top of the land just north of the Black Gate by the orcs.
    – ScottS
    Dec 12, 2016 at 20:28
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    I now begin to think that Tolkien did not like Orcs at all.
    – void_ptr
    Dec 12, 2016 at 21:16
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    The earliest draft for the quote is "No rampart, or wall, or bars of stone or iron were laid across the Morannon; for the rock on either side was bored and tunnelled into a hundred caves and maggot-holes." This was written shortly after Tolkien moved Cirith Ungol from being in/around the Morannon. At this stage, CU still had lots of spiders in it. It is possible that maggots were pictured as living alongside the spiders in the hills around the Black Gate and that "maggot-folk" is merely a remnant of early ideas that didn't pan out.
    – isanae
    Dec 13, 2016 at 0:46

I would say maggot-folk of Mordor are Uruk-hai. As written on LOTR wiki

The Uruks first appeared about the year TA 2475, when they conquered Ithilien and destroyed the city of Osgiliath. The Uruks in the service of Barad-dûr, the folk of Mordor, used the symbol of the red Eye of Sauron.

Also the is descripition

Sauron's uruks, seen in The Return of the King, have noticeably rougher features than Saruman's. They are shown in the movie as being released from a kind of membrane in the mud deep under Isengard (special commentary on the DVD edition explained that they were trying to base the scene on an early description of Tolkien's that orcs "worm their way out of the ground like maggots")

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    That second quote doesn't make sense to me. Wouldn't the uruks being born under Isengard be Saruman's? Dec 12, 2016 at 20:08
  • That is because I have taken quote out of context. I suggest you head on to website I provided and read whole quote for yourself :) It is first part under Portrayal in adaptations Dec 12, 2016 at 20:12
  • There is no such "early description", so either the wiki or the commentary is wrong. The closest I can find from an early draft is a description of Gollum: "he wormed his way in like a maggot in the heart of the hills, and disappeared from all knowledge." The final text in FotR is similar. In fact, Gollum was called "the Spider's worm" in early drafts.
    – isanae
    Dec 13, 2016 at 0:37

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