Orcs can be slayed with very little effort even by the un-warrior humans, despite their fully developed figures, average-to-tall heights, muscular bodies. (See The Hobbit series, where a dwarf would dive into a herd of orcs and come out un-wounded and killing most of them). What could be the technical explanation?

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    Can you list some examples? The only example you did list was literally of warrior un-humans, not un-warrior humans. When do we see any non-warrior humans fight against Orcs?
    – user31178
    Jan 4, 2015 at 19:14
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    Oh dear...as with most movie answers: 'cause Peter Jackson. Jan 4, 2015 at 19:48
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    So, you weren't satisfied with the way events in the movie were Orc-estrated?
    – user31178
    Jan 4, 2015 at 22:00
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    Orcs are the bad guys. They die easy for the same reason the Stormtroopers in Star Wars have terrible aim and get massacred by Ewoks.
    – Daft
    Jan 5, 2015 at 10:33
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    Personally, I think it's a rather silly question as asked. The orcs are muscular and in shape, therefore how are they killed so easily? A sword to the gut will kill the biggest athlete out there just as easily as it would the skinny nerd.
    – Omegacron
    Jan 5, 2015 at 16:26

4 Answers 4


I must admit that it's true in the movies they look like having a hopeless advantage. BUT...

Spoilers follow:

  1. Most of the battle orcs depicted in the movie seem to be Uruk-hai, the bigger breed of orcs from Mordor or Orthanc. But in the book, they were not, only the usual smaller breed of orcs, like we actually see in the second wave in the movie, the one conducted by Bolg. Men and elves are much bigger and stronger than those orc races. Also, orcs don't have good equipment like we see in the movie... they are not disciplined...

  2. They don't have all those big monster trolls, and those pterodactyl like big war birds, which are in fact much smaller bats in the book, even though they are big for bats and numerous enough to be like clouds which bring terror to the battlefield, they don't actually have the kind of size or raw power shown in the movie. (Thanks to Keen for raising the point about the bats, which I had forgotten.)

  3. They don't have those earth eaters worms (probably inspired by Dune) or I don't know what Peter Jackson calls them in English.

  4. In the book, the men from Lake Town in the battle are trained warriors, not civilians. This is a part of Middle-earth called "The Wild", and it's a very dangerous place, not a peaceful setting. Men living there are used to battle.

  5. As depicted in the movie, dwarves in Tolkien's world are redoubtable warriors, with much steadfastness... they are really strong and can endure a lot. They are disciplined and they are masters of iron work, so they have really good equipment.

  6. In the book, the elves, dwarves and men know the orcs are coming and have time to prepare, Gandalf, Thranduil, Bard and Dáin devise a plan of attack, they array their troops on the heights north and south of the valley and the orcs don't enter the battlefield by tunnels, but in a frontal attack by the mouth of the valley without much strategy as is their custom, and are attacked on both sides, first by the elves, then by the dwarves and men on the other side. The orcs are massacred right there and would be crushed if it wasn't for the second wave that then came attacking the spurs from the top of the mountain after a climb of the other side.

But what would then maybe have been a lost battle for the dwarves, men, and elves is saved by the arrival of the eagles and Beorn (the man shape shifter who is also a big bear). Beorn gets to kill Bolg, the orc supreme general, and the battle is won there.

So, yes, there is much "Peter Jackson" in this battle, Hollywood style - Tolkien was way more realistic.

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    I stopped reading after #3. Please wrap it in a spoiler tag since it's specific to the latest film.
    – RLH
    Jan 5, 2015 at 12:23
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    @DevSolar: Uruks are first bred by Sauron in TA 2475, right after his return.
    – Joel
    Jan 5, 2015 at 14:13
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    Did anyone else find it ironic how the ancient wise elven king charges in on a giant elk lopping off heads, while the mad dog Azog stays back to command his troops from a safe vantage point? Jan 6, 2015 at 10:33
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    "[...]those earth eaters worms (probably inspired by Dune)[...]" I would say "blatantly plagiarized from Dune" instead. Jan 6, 2015 at 20:15
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    Jackson's work in Trilogy is passable but poor. His work on the Hobit, as this post illustrates, completely undermines the story and makes a mockery of it.
    – nick
    May 28, 2015 at 23:34

Though this may have been more exaggerated in the movies, this is the case in the LOTR books as well. Recall Gimli's and and Legolas's contest at Helm's Deep which Gimli won 42-41 (or 43-42 in the movie).

Possible reasons for the individual inferiority (perceived or actual) of orcs:

  • Orcs are ugly, half-crippled, corrupted spawn of Morgoth's making. It's not surprising if they are less skilled than a elf, man, or dwarf. Eru/Aulë did better than Morgoth.

  • Throughout the LOTR/Hobbit movies and books, Sauron relies on surprise and overwhelming numbers in battles, not skill or finesse. He and his generals have little regard for the value of an orcish life, and they frequently strategize for Pyrrhic victories.

  • Orcs are greedy, selfish, disloyal, and lazy. You can expect them to fight more like rabble and less like a well-organized army.

  • In the LOTR, orcs attack fortified positions. Man-to-man (or man-to-orc), that is a significant disadvantage.

  • Our heros, with the exception of perhaps the hobbits, are not ordinary warriors. Gandalf is a Maiar and one of only 5 wizards. Legolas is an immortal elf and son of King Thranduil. Thorin is the heir to line of Thror. Bard is a descendent of the Lord of Dale. Boromir is the son of the steward of Gondor. And so on. In the Tolkien-verse, royalty such as these are significantly more powerful (in battle and otherwise) than a random peasant.

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    Originally Morgoth made them, not Sauron.
    – OrangeDog
    Jan 4, 2015 at 20:10
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    I would put more emphasis on the lack of skill/finesse. The depiction of Orcs during Sam's POV when Frodo is captured in Mordor shows them as greedy, selfish, and maybe even lazy. These aren't really qualities that lend themselves to disciplined training and combat practice.
    – user31178
    Jan 4, 2015 at 20:52
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    I wouldn't agree orcs are generally "less powerful than elf, man of dwarf". Recall how Uglúks company (even the smaller mountain goblins therein) outruns the pursuit by Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli (who each were certainly rather powerful amongst their kind); so at least in terms of endurance-running orcs pretty much excel. They're also described (albeit by hobbits) as "terribly strong" and with quick reflexes. The main weakness of groups of orcs is always their horrible social behaviour. Jan 5, 2015 at 1:23
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    @leftaroundabout, running faster doesn't mean much. By that measure, horses would be even more powerful. Jan 5, 2015 at 1:27
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    leftaroundabout has a point there... it's true that Tolkien made explicit that orcs have great endurance and are quite strong. But ordinary orcs are still no match for elves, dwarves and human warriors, so they always rely on greater numbers. Uruks are something else, but will still be defeated in equal numbers by high elves or numenoreans/dunedains. But even then, they still trail far behind in terms of tactics and strategy. Which in the end is often the main decisive elements in winning or losing battles between sizable armed forces.
    – Joel
    Jan 5, 2015 at 3:24

There is much evidence that the original orcs would be closer to what we usually call goblins. Tolkien did not differentiate between the two words and treated them as synonymous; the official explanation being (in the preface to The Hobbit) that 'orc' was the hobbit word and 'goblin' was the human one.

Perhaps that helps you to imagine the original race not as man sized hulking beings like those who have become Uruk-Hai, but as a somewhat more chaotic and physically weaker lot.


Also bear in mind even the larger Uruk-hai orcs were not (in the book) particularly large relative to men. They are described as being 'almost man-sized' when their great size was spoken of, which means normal orcs were considerably smaller than humans and possibly dwarves also.

The movies tend to follow the hollywood formula of one hero or a few heroes overcoming masses of bad guys. In the book the battle scenes were not so simplistic. The only time I can recall the characters taking major risks was when they were attacked in Moria in the Chamber of Mazarbul, where they hoped a quick, spirited attack may surprise the orcs temporarily and thereby buy them some time to escape, and when Aragorn led his army to Mordor to initiate an attack. When they were attacked on the banks of the Anduin, they had no option but to defend themselves, and some survived because the orcs hot-footed away with their prizes (Merry and Pippin).

Orcs may not have been the most disciplined, but they had numbers and a strong miltary culture. There were formidable enemies and your question is more a reflection on the unbelievably ridiculous action scenes we have to endure in all hollywood movies.

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