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In J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which popularized the orc as known today, orcs are described as almost human height, at most, with many being considerably shorter.

Despite this, many staples of modern fantasy present them as being the same size or bigger than humans.

  • Magic the Gathering:

http://mtg.gamepedia.com/Zurgo

  • Warcraft:

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Even adaptations of Tolkien's works often depict some orcs as quite large.

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When did it become standard for most orcs to be as tall or taller than humans?

  • the black eye also had roughly same to smaller size for orcs as far as I'm aware – Thomas Mar 13 '17 at 15:12
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    why the lord-of-the-rings tag, when this is specifically about the history-of orcs? – Edlothiad Mar 13 '17 at 15:18
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    Because if you're making a movie trilogy and you want people to be excited about it and come watch it in the cinema, what are you gonna put on-screen, a horde of angry midgets with hatchets, or a horde of angry 7-foot tall, 4-foot wide monsters wielding massive battleaxes that can cleave you in half with one swing? – DisturbedNeo Mar 13 '17 at 17:41
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    In all seriousness though, I'd like to point out that the first LOTR example is actually an Uruk-Hai, not an Orc. The second I think is Shadow of Mordor(?) and that big bad Orc is a chieftain, bigger and badder than most, not your average Orc. Not sure about the third one, but I would guess it's some special video game enemy designed to present an actual challenge, and thus not your average Orc. – DisturbedNeo Mar 13 '17 at 17:46
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    I was coincidentally watching the Fellowship of the Ring yesterday, and the actual orcs they show look to be a little smaller than men. It's the Uruk-Hai that are huge. – DCShannon Mar 13 '17 at 23:12
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To set a lower bound: my 1978 edition of the Monster Manual describes orcs as 6'+ tall, well over human average. So this meme definitely predates the LOTR movies by quite a way.

Advanced Dungeons&Dragons Monster Manual 1978 Orcs

Personally, I think this was originally a misunderstanding caused by The Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit) being presented from the viewpoint of hobbits, to whom orcs seemed frighteningly large. You had to be paying quite close attention to realize that this didn't necessarily mean they were larger than humans.

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