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I was thinking about how most beings were stronger in earlier times than in say, the Third Age.

Did this apply to orcs as well? Did the power Morgoth put into the orcs in the First Age make them stronger than the orcs under Sauron/Sauruman?

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    Orcs seem to be stronger in LOTR than when they were called goblins in The Hobbit! Dec 14, 2014 at 0:03
  • Wait. Aren't goblins and orcs different things? I feel like I'm about to learn something.
    – Preston
    Dec 14, 2014 at 0:52
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    @PrestonFitzgerald - For your reading pleasure
    – The Fallen
    Dec 14, 2014 at 0:54
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    Haha thanks. Inconclusive enough as to make me abandon that particular question. @SSumner
    – Preston
    Dec 14, 2014 at 0:59

2 Answers 2

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"Most beings were stronger in earlier times"

I am not sure this premise holds water, and would amend it by saying "Most good things have faded since earlier times." Consider:

  • The light of the Two Trees? Gone!
  • The light of Valinor? Gone!
  • Those living who have looked upon the light of Valinor? Mostly gone!
  • Long lived men descended of Men, Noldor, and Maia? Mostly gone! (Their civilization is definitely gone.)
  • Beleriand? Gone!
  • Cúvienen? Gone!
  • The Elven rings? Not really rocking out.
  • Great Dwarven Kingdom? Balrog!
  • Great Elven Kingdom? Not so much!

By contrast:

  • Power of Sauron? Back and ready to party!
  • Olog-hai? Hello Middle-earth!
  • Uruk-hai? Is that a sword in your pocket or are you just happy to see the Third Age?
  • Nazgûl? Oh hells yes!
  • War machines, particularly the goblin-inspired devices of later years (relative to The Hobbit) useful for killing large numbers of people. Oh mai, oui!
  • Lots of "evil men" allied with Mordor? Check!

Tolkien was much influenced by George MacDonald stories The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel The Princess and Curdie, and the end of the latter tale has a very familiar The World Used To Be Great But These Days Everything's Going To Hell ring to it familiar to Tolkien's readers.

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  • Nicely put @Lexible - I have not thought of those books in a LONG time!
    – user38114
    Dec 14, 2014 at 1:42
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    Your point about the "good" races/things diminishing is certainly correct, but evil creatures have also declined. The elves straight from Valinor could not defeat Morgoth, but their last remnants plus refugees from Numenor defeat Sauron. Most of the great dragons are gone. The last balrog hides and is defeated by an old man. The Witch-king of Angmar is killed by a hobbit. Etc. The magic goes away for everyone.
    – Mark Olson
    Jul 7 at 15:35
  • @MarkOlson Men, and their ilk—including Hobbits—grow stronger. It's not clear that Orcs and Trolls are growing weaker: they are certainly no longer bound by Sauron's organizing into a mighty force in the Fourth Age, but they were helping to menace and threatened to overrun the world in the Third Age.
    – Lexible
    Jul 7 at 15:39
  • @MarkOlson Aside: I would not say Gandalf was accurately characterized as 'an old man': he was an immortal demi-god clothed in the body of an old man for thousands of years.
    – Lexible
    Jul 7 at 15:42
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Physically they were almost definitely not any different at all. They were elves after all and had the same immortality of all their kind and much of the same resistance to wounds and all the rest. Even in the First Age there were differences between Uruks and Uruk-hai — or Goblins and Hob-goblins as they were sometimes called by Tolkien. From materials in The Silmarillion, The History of Middle-earth and Morgoth's Ring it is likely that Saruman did not invent but rediscover Melkor's technique for the creation of Uruk-hai. Interestingly the term 'Goblin' seems almost exclusively to be later applied to the particularly weak and petty groups like those at 'Goblin Gate'.

However, the Orcs as a combined class clearly 'did best' when they were being led by either Melkor himself or one of his appointed servants. Without strong leadership it seems they tended just to mill around and dissolve into internecine quarrels and back-biting. It was actually one way the Wise generally and The White Council in particular could judge the strength of the enemy — by how organized, vicious and successful the current 'Orc problem' was proving. Elrond mentions this several times in LoTR alone. Moreover, this behaviour is seen over and over during The Silmarillion, the various stories in Unfinished Tales and throughout the Appendices.

Examined more closely; obviously once his spider Ungoliant had destroyed The Trees, Melkor himself stolen the Silmarils, and at first together finally made their run for Middle-earth, the Orcs became a terribly dangerous enemy and most importantly started to breed in numbers again. Beforehand, we are told in The Silmarillion that during Melkor's chaining they were little more than a lingering pest to Elwë's people. As the fallen Aratar regained strength, once out of Mandos, the far distant Orcs also began to regroup among the truly ancient ruins of Udûn and Angband. Melian, as was her tendency, recognized this growing danger and counselled her lover Elwë and their Sindar of Doriath to buy a large quantity of arms and armour from the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains. This culminated in Melkor's return and the First Battle — The Battle under The Stars.

Surprisingly little is told directly of the actual end of the First Age, supposedly because the chroniclers of The Silmarillion were not directly involved; the War of Wrath was almost entirely prosecuted by the Host of Valinor alone. Nonetheless it is said that along with the destruction of the majority of Dragons and Balrogs almost the entirety of the Orcish race was also exterminated. Perhaps if the geology of Beleriand had not been so compromised by the downing of Ancalagon by Eärendil and the divine power from so large a clash of Maia and Balrogs it might have been possible to totally reclaim all that had been lost to the Eldar over the previous five hundred years. However, they were tired and had enough of the endless struggle and sorrow and most of the survivors of Fëanor's rebellion went home to Eldamar.

Nonetheless, in Of The Rings of Power and the Third Age along with parts of the Appendices and Unfinished Tales in particular we are shown how for a good half of the Second-Age most of northwestern Middle-earth was left in fair shape. The remaining Noldor, clearly able to prosper without the constant menace of Orc attacks, founding first Lindon under Fingon's child Gil-galad in the bare remnants of Beleriand before the Blue Mountains and then Galadriel's colony of Eregion outside Moria's East Gate. Finally after Celebrimbor's 'bloodless coup' she was still able to evacuate enough of her loyal followers and build them Laurelindórenan itself. All this without the interference one would expect in later times from the evil denizens of the Misty Mountains so close at hand.

Both Unfinished Tales and Of the Rings of Power and The Third Age shows how inevitably, as Sauron began to regather himself, the Orcs also began to wax in strength; culminating first in the War of Elves and Sauron, then the tandem defeats of Sauron initially by Tar-Ciryatan and over a thousand years later by the massive forces of Ar-Pharazôn. Once Sauron was hauled off to Númenor in chains, the orcs left behind began to wane a little... Until the Akallabêth and the pendulum swung once more. Nonetheless this slight respite did give The Exiles just enough of a breathing space to gain a foothold back in Middle-earth again and Anarion be able to hold off Sauron long enough for Isildur and Elendil to gain Gil-galad's support and form the Last Alliance. This ten-year conflict mentioned in almost all of Tolkien's published works to greater or lesser extent seems like it burned through most of the remaining Orcs of the Second Age, and not a few Dúnedain and Noldor/Sindar elves alongside! Once again, with Sauron defeated the few surviving Uruks and Uruk-hai retreated to the shadows under various mountain ranges and left the world alone for another good fifteen hundred years.

From the Appendices we can see how Sauron's next slow but inexorable rise to strength, ending in the War or the Ring was again also once more attended by the increasingly focused Orc bands and their raids. Huge inroads were made for good here and there — after the War of Dwarves and Orcs almost every Uruk in the Misty Mountains was destroyed and a century of nearly total peace followed. However pockets remained around certain cores of Melkorian remnants — such as the Balrog in Moria, a while before this within the Witch Realm of Angmar under the Black Rider Er-Mûrazôr while it lasted and of course around the Necromancer/Sauron at Dol Guldor in Southern Mirkwood... And latterly the rogue Istar Saruman at the southern tip of the misty mountains.

So. In final summary - No. I do not think they were at all stronger in times past. They just had a stronger Lord to focus their malice around and concentrate their efforts for evil.

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    No, actually, we don't.
    – Lexible
    Dec 14, 2014 at 4:15
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    @GemmanAster - HoME 10, Myths Transformed, Orcs material: "Sauron indeed achieved even greater control over his Orcs than Morgoth had done" - Sauron was the stronger lord in this case.
    – user8719
    Dec 14, 2014 at 4:48
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    @GemmanAster - HoME 10, Myths Transformed, Orcs material: "They could be slain, and they were subject to disease; but apart from these ills they died and were not immortal" - it doesn't matter if you disagree or not; this site is not about that kind of discussion. I've been tracking your answers for a few days and you have a bad habit of doing this. Please stop it.
    – user8719
    Dec 14, 2014 at 12:10
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    @Joel - it's debatable if the Silmarillion is a reliable source as it was unfinished on Tolkien's death, and the version we have is an artificial construct. We can use various HoME texts as being reliable indicators of his thinking at certain points in time, however.
    – user8719
    Dec 17, 2014 at 0:05
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    @DarthSatan: you're right of course. Yet, Christopher Tolkien knew much of the intentions of his father for the Silmarillon and also the first chapters were much more finished than the last ones. In those chapters, the orcs are bred long before the awakening of the children of the sun. One thing is certain, for a long time, orcs were tortured elves in Tolkien's mind and he could never really find a logical solution for his late philosophical misgivings about that... so it will remain a mystery. One way or another. For myself, I prefer them being of elvish blood, it makes them much more tragic.
    – Joel
    Dec 17, 2014 at 0:46

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