NOTE I've edited to add further logic to my question based off the first answer given.

What Seems a Correct Statement

In the LotR movie The Fellowship of the Ring, Aragorn makes the statement upon exiting Moria that they must move quickly, because "by nightfall these hills will be swarming with orcs" (see a few seconds of the clip). This makes sense, given that orcs have issues with sunlight, and so would likely wait until night to move out of Moria.

Now it is granted that orcs can move in sunlight (based off the preceding link), but the article linked to by that link states: "They [orcs] preferred to act at night but they like all living creatures needed light to see by." I'm not sure how official that statement is, but within the movie universe, the scene of the orcs surrounding the group shows none with light on them, indicating they can move and see rather well in the dark.

One answer has ventured that the reference to nightfall had nothing to do with the fact of darkness, but rather the time frame it would take to have the hills swarming. This may be so, but given the rapid movement of orcs in Moria when they surround the group, and that one would generally assume that numerous other cracks and crevices known to the orcs near the exit of Khazad-dûm (whose bridge to the exit had been severed) would not prevent their more "immediate" (rather than by nightfall) swarming of the hills, it seems questionable. So evidence that this delay till nightfall was for reasons other than sunlight needs justification.

What Seems a Questionable Statement

After leaving Lothlórien, and making camp by the riverside at Parth Galen ("on the western shore of [lake] Nen Hithoel"), Aragorn says "we cross the lake at nightfall." Legolas is uneasy and says they must move on, but Aragorn says "No. Orcs patrol the eastern shore [of lake Nen Hithoel]. We must wait for cover of darkness" (watch about 50 seconds of this clip for both statements).

Given orc nature in avoiding sunlight and the apparent ability of orcs to see reasonably well in the pitch dark of a cavern (at least in the movie universe), it would seem to me that darkness is less of a "cover" to orc eyes than daylight, for in daylight the orcs are less likely to even be "outside" to see anything. This is not to mention that the group themselves would be less likely to spot the orc patrols in the dark, not to mention that the orc patrols would likely at least increase in the dark.

My Questions

Is this plot element explainable in the movie universe or is it an error in the movie plot? Does the book have a similar apparent contradiction?

By my logic presented, it appears to be a lapse in Aragorn's judgment (in universe), one to which no one calls him out on. But perhaps there is some logic in universe regarding orc nature or habits that explains Aragorn's statement, making it one of good judgment.

Though the question arises from the movie, answers from the book and other Tolkien lore are acceptable and desired for support of answers.

  • Well, the Uruks CAN move in sunlight, as proven when they take Merry and Pippin through Rohan at speed day and night. When Aragorn says that Orks patrol the eastern shore, I guess he assumes they are of the same kind and cover of darkness can help with getting past them. In the book the three do not yet know the affiliation of the attackers for sure, they begin to guess Saruman's involvement during the chase.
    – BMWurm
    Aug 8, 2014 at 20:26
  • In addition to masdawg's excellent answer, I just wanted to point out that different times call for different strategies. The Fellowship could have used stealth to bypass orc "patrols," but not hills "swarming with orcs." Also, stealth would be preferable the closer and closer they got to Mordor, to keep from arousing any suspicion. Aug 8, 2014 at 21:06
  • @TenthJustice: I can agree fully with your comment, but I'm not arguing against the use of stealth per se. Rather, considering the orcs moved through the darkness of caves without light (at least, the horde that surrounds them earlier in Moria so does), darkness seems less of a "cover" to their eyes than daylight, when they are less likely to even be "outside" to see anything.
    – ScottS
    Aug 8, 2014 at 21:24

3 Answers 3


Aragorn was not making a mistake, for a couple reasons:

He wasn't referencing the time of day as anything of importance in the first quote you shared. He references that "by nightfall these hills will be swarming with orcs" not because they come out at night, but because the orcs are aware of the Fellowship's presence there and will be searching and hunting them.

The second quote is a reference to safety and moving under the cover of darkness. Orcs patrolling during the daytime would easily spot a group of travelers making their way across the river. Waiting till nightfall would give them the safety they needed to cross unseen.

This is in the context of what is said in the movie. Orcs don't only come out at night, based on other parts of the movie series, and also parts of the Hobbit movies.

  • 2
    Regarding your 1st reason, the orcs were hot on their trail already, and though the bridge of Khazad-dum had been destroyed, it seems that other ways to exit and swarm the hills would have been not far. So I'm not entirely convinced the first reference had no relation to orc movement at night. Regarding the 2nd, the new kind of orc, made by Saruman, moves easily/willingly in daylight, but Aragorn does not yet know this. Granting that orcs can move in daylight, normally they emerge at night (and presumably can see well in the dark), so I'm not sure your answer offers enough in its argument.
    – ScottS
    Aug 8, 2014 at 20:47
  • 2
    So though I have +1'd this (as it moves toward a plausible answer), a source reference from Tolkien's lore that the orcs would have needed more time to "get out" of Moria and swarm the hills because the exit via Khazad-dum had no other exits near it (hence why they are not swarming almost immediately) and some reference that orcs do not see much better at night than men (though they live in the dark) would boost your answer significantly. Or any other Tolkien references that might be applicable.
    – ScottS
    Aug 8, 2014 at 21:02
  • Based on Darth Satan's answer from book lore, your answer seems strong enough to warrant my accepting it. Though I disagree that the statement in Moria was not in reference to night (your 1st reason), your 2nd reason seems the most plausible in the movie universe--Aragorn (who obviously knew orcs), in his judgment deemed "cover of darkness" better in this case than day movement that might have less orc activity.
    – ScottS
    Aug 9, 2014 at 16:07
  • 1
    Another reason for emphasizing nightfall is that the Fellowship (or most of it) would have problems moving on at night, and the Orcs would not. So by nightfall they would need to be far enough to be safe for an entire night of attacks.
    – Oldcat
    Dec 22, 2014 at 22:29

The Parth Galen scene is quite different in the book:

  • The company arrive at evening time and camp on the west side of the river.
  • There is no reference to either Orcs or crossing the lake.
  • They sleep for the night, taking turns to watch.
  • During Frodo's watch Aragorn wakes; he is uneasy; Aragorn and Frodo have a short conversation and Frodo draws Sting to see if it can detect Orcs. The edges glow dimly: "'Orcs!' he said. 'Not very near, and yet too near, it seems'".
  • The night passes without incident.
  • In the morning after breakfast they hold a debate to decide which way to go: to Minas Tirith or to Mordor.
  • Frodo asks for some time alone to think; he wanders off.
  • After a while Boromir leaves the others and follows Frodo.
  • The Fellowship Breaks.

A crucial difference between the two is that in the book they had not yet decided which way they were going to go whereas in movie-land Aragorn had already determined that "we approach Mordor from the north".

There is therefore no apparent contradiction regarding the nature of Orcs to be dealt with in the book, because there's nothing to contradict.

For the sake of completeness, Aragorn's statement after Moria was also different in the book and it seems to make sense to provide it:

The Sun sinks early. The Orcs will not, maybe, come out till after dusk, but we must be far away before nightfall. The Moon is almost spent, and it will be dark tonight.

Here there is considerably less sense of urgency, and the company even takes the time to stop and tend Frodo's wound, a scene that takes place within Moria and before Gandalf's fall in the movie.

The unfortunate conclusion is that the movie universe has jumbled up plot elements so much that looking for consistency or explanation is probably futile, and in many cases looking for explanations for movie-plot from the book is definitely futile.

  • 1
    +1 for a good book summary to compare with. There are a few points you note that seem significant with respect to the movie. (1) Aragorn's statement (in book) after Moria lends much more weight to the fact that his "nightfall" statement in the movie is with respect to sunlight and level of darkness conditions. This moves toward invalidating masdawg's first set of reasoning, but not entirely, as your statement about less urgency indicates other reasons as well that they did not expect orcs immediately.
    – ScottS
    Aug 9, 2014 at 13:15
  • (2) In book, they do camp at night in Parth Galen, whether or not the directional decision had been made, which means they chose to not be moving in the dark. This makes more sense to me, and leans toward validating my question of the movie plot at this scene, and leans toward invalidating masdawg's second reason.
    – ScottS
    Aug 9, 2014 at 13:16
  • 1
    Regarding (2) I don't put as much weight on it. In the previous chapter they journey at night down much of the River, and only stop doing so when they come to the rapids which they bypass at daytime. It may be as simple as "that was just the time of day they came to Parth Galen at", and choice may not even have come into it.
    – user8719
    Aug 9, 2014 at 13:48
  • 1
    They were ambushed by Orcs while on the river in the previous chapter too. Seriously: all the textual evidence is against this being a big deal.
    – user8719
    Aug 9, 2014 at 14:10
  • 1
    The only way to approach Mordor at Path Galen is from the North, as the waterfall blocking the river route is well to the North of Mordor. The other alternative is to head south towards Minas Tirith across Rohan.
    – Oldcat
    Dec 22, 2014 at 22:32

I always thought that in Moria they were surrounded by goblins, not orcs, and those are related, but different creatures. By the way goblins are depicted to have large eyes; a sign of a nocturnal creature. Moria is dimly lit because dwarves dug to magma below, and build light-conducting shafts from surface.

After Lothlórien they were chased by Uruk-hai, which are related to orcs, but different creatures. They boast daylight lifecycle and stop to camp by evening.

  • 1
    Goblins = Orcs, basically. See here for the long version regarding the use of the terms.
    – einpoklum
    Aug 9, 2014 at 5:58
  • The article you point at tells "Goblins = Orcs" but all examples in it show that Orc is an encompassing word for goblins, uruk-hai, orcs of Mordor and darkness knows what else. Aug 9, 2014 at 6:59
  • 1
    It's also the case that Orcs = Goblins; there is no difference.
    – user8719
    Aug 9, 2014 at 8:53
  • 1
    There are different "strains" of orc, just as there are different races of Men in the book; but the different strains are all the same creature, just as the Dunedain and the Druedain (the Woses) are both humans. Aug 9, 2014 at 13:40
  • 3
    This really shouldn't be up for discussion. Please note Tolkien's introduction to the Hobbit: Orc is not an English word. It occurs in one or two places but is usually translated goblin (or hobgoblin for the larger kinds) - "goblin" is just a translation of "orc" (in the feigned framework), not a separate species, not a subtype.
    – user8719
    Nov 4, 2014 at 16:12

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