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In the film The Fellowship of the Ring, Saruman says of Orcs:

They were Elves once. Taken by the Dark Powers... tortured and mutilated... a ruined and terrible form of life.

This origin of Orcs is explained in The Silmarillion, but I gather this book wasn't allowed to be used as a source due to the studio not being able to secure the rights.

I don't remember it ever being explained in either The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. Is this possible origin of Orcs given anywhere in these books, or did Peter Jackson cheat a little here and use something from elsewhere?

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    That's not how copyright works. Unless he lifted an entire plot wholesale or a substantial portion of the text verbatim, it doesn't infringe copyright. He could have made his orcs erupt from the stomachs of captured enemies without infringing the copyright of Alien.
    – DavidW
    Aug 11 at 18:12
  • There are even parts of the movie taken from LotR! ;) Anyways, there are things like the first scene of the movie, the battle of The Last Alliance, which isn't actually found in LotR other than Elrond summarizing the events. But it is actually from the last "book" in Silmarillion.
    – Amarth
    Aug 11 at 18:29
  • Should be noted that while this is the origin presented in the SIlmarillion, Tolkien's final thoughts on the matter was that Orcs were corrupted from Men (and that Men also awoke much earlier). See this related question.
    – ibid
    Aug 11 at 19:59
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    @Amarth - It's also found in Appendixes A and B. Not a lot of info, but enough for the movie's purposes.
    – ibid
    Aug 11 at 20:15
  • @DavidW Though there is a whole weird copyright dispute where most Sherlock Holmes material is in the public domain but the Conan Doyle Estate will sue if you give your Sherlock "warmer" personality traits that Doyle added to the character starting in 1923. Aug 13 at 18:22
39

Within The Lord of the Rings, the following three explanations are given:

You do not know, perhaps, how strong we are. Maybe you have heard of Trolls? They are mighty strong. But Trolls are only counterfeits, made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, in mockery of Ents, as Orcs were of Elves. We are stronger than Trolls. We are made of the bones of the earth. We can split stone like the roots of trees, only quicker, far quicker, if our minds are roused! If we are not hewn down, or destroyed by fire or blast of sorcery, we could split Isengard into splinters and crack its walls into rubble.
The Lord of the Rings - Book III Chapter 4 - Treebeard

`No, they eat and drink, Sam. The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. I don’t think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them; and if they are to live at all, they have to live like other living creatures. Foul waters and foul meats they’ll take, if they can get no better, but not poison. They’ve fed me, and so I’m better off than you. There must be food and water somewhere in this place.’
The Lord of the Rings - Book VI Chapter 1 - The Tower of Cirith Ungol

The Orcs were first bred by the Dark Power of the North in the Elder Days. It is said that they had no language of their own, but took what they could of other tongues and perverted it to their own liking; yet they made only brutal jargons, scarcely sufficient even for their own needs, unless it were for curses and abuse. .... But at the end of the Third Age a troll-race not before seen appeared in southern Mirkwood and in the mountain borders of Mordor. they were called in the Black Speech. That Sauron bred them [the Olog-hai] none doubted, though from what stock was not known. Some held that they were not Trolls but giant Orcs; but the Olog-hai were in fashion of body and mind quite unlike even the largest of Orc-kind, whom they far surpassed in size and power.
The Lord of the Rings - Appendix F - Of Other Races

It should be noted however, that although this is what is said in The Lord of the Rings itself, Tolkien's final views on the matter were that Orcs were corrupted Men.

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    +1 Do you have a source about "Tolkien's finals views on the matter was that Orcs were corrupted Men."?
    – Lexible
    Aug 11 at 20:19
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    @Lexible Last I knew Tolkien never settled on anything, but he's been posting a bunch of stuff from The Nature of Middle-Earth in a bunch of questions. I have not read it yet, but maybe he found something in there. Aug 11 at 20:24
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    @Lexible - Christopher presents the various late writings concerning the origin of orcs in the "Myths Transformed" section of Morgoth's Ring. Tolkien's later writings settle on Men as the most likely origin and later writings, such as "Of Dwarves and Men", proceed to use that origin. Also the only major problem that Tolkien had with the Men version is that it would require the timeline to be reworked (to move the awakening of Men earlier than the first appearance of Orcs), and the various time schemes in Nature of Middle-earth show that Tolkien had clearly decided to make this change.
    – ibid
    Aug 11 at 20:37
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    @Lexible - See also user8719's answer to this question.
    – ibid
    Aug 11 at 20:38
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    Great answer. So it seems the final answer is more or less "no"; to me, these passages suggest that orc were made and bred "in mockery" of elves in the Elder days, but not actually made from Elves. Knowing what we know it is clear that this is what is actually meant, but you cannot really infer it from this text alone.
    – Wade
    Aug 11 at 21:25
8

LoTR Book V, chapter 1, The Tower of Cirith Ungol; Frodo to Sam:

“No, [orcs] eat and drink, Sam. The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. I don’t think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them; and if they are to live at all, they have to live like other living creatures. Foul waters and foul meats they’ll take, if they can get no better, but not poison. They’ve fed me, and so I’m better off than you. There must be food and water somewhere in this place.”

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  • Anything about elves?
    – Valorum
    Aug 11 at 19:56

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