JRR Tolkien is the father of fantasy, having shaped the genre with his descriptions of elves, wizards, dwarves and men. However, among all the characters that we have met in The Lord of the Rings movies, and Amazon’s TV series The Rings of Power, a constant enemy has been the leather-skinned and sharp-toothed Orcs.
Let’s be clear, despite their evil disposition and appetite for ‘man-flesh’, Orcs are downright iconic, and are a staple part of Middle-earth. They have been around since the First Age, and we’ve seen them in films, series, and even video games over the years. So then, why is there so much confusion about the Orcs’ history and fate in Middle-earth, despite them playing such a large role in all the conflict that dominates the epic saga of Tolkien?
Well, The Digital Fix is here to shine a light on these creatures of the dark. Here we give you an Orcs explained guide, complete with a summary of their origins, lives and ultimate demise.
Where do Orcs come from?
Ok, here is where it gets dicey. There is no strict canon answer as to where Orcs come from. Tolkien wrote down many origin stories for the creation of Orcs, and so the creatures’ history is often the topic of debate in the fandom. However, the most popular answer to the ‘where do Orcs come from?’ question is recorded in The Silmarillion.
In Tolkien’s novel; it is said that Orcs were originally Elves who were tortured and corrupted by the big bad of the series Morgoth. Under Morgoth’s twisted power, the Elves morphed into dark creatures that would later be the ancestors of the Orcs that we have come to know in the epic fantasy adventure.
This theory makes a ton of sense as Morgoth hated the Valar ( the sub-gods in Valinor). He also was pretty salty that he couldn’t create life himself. So, the next best thing would be to ruin the work of the supreme creator-god Eru Ilúvatar, who designed Elves in the Valar’s image.
Other theories of the Orcs’ origins include Morgoth making Orcs out of mud and stone in the Elves’ likeness and the foul monsters actually originating from Men instead of the fair kin of Middle-earth. However, in The Rings of Power, one of the new characters, Adar, is revealed to be one of the Sons of the Dark, which were the first Elves to be turned into Orcs by Morgoth.
So in Amazon’s fantasy series anyway, it looks like the Orcs’ history and creation follow the Silmarillion’s description.
Orcs during the First Age
After creating Orcs, Morgoth went on to breed them during the First Age in Angband – an ancient fortress and the villain’s stronghold during the War of Wrath. Orcs were used for Morgoth’s vast armies and were continually bred for thousands of years, born to be soldiers of the Dark Lord in his quest for world domination.
But, once Morgoth was ultimately defeated, it was then hunting season of the Orcs, who saw their numbers dwindle as Elves and Men came after their black blood. But, as we all know, the twisted race managed to survive. The Orcs who made it out of the War of Wrath alive fled to the Mountains of Angmar, the Grey Mountains and the Red Mountains, where they would regroup, reproduce and lie in wait.
Orcs during the Second and Third Age
Once Sauron, the follower of Morgoth, reappeared, so did the presence of the Orcs in Middle-earth. Like his master before him, Orcs became the primary force of Sauron’s army. Throughout the Second Age, they were led by Sauron as well as their hatred for Elves and Men and fought for evil once again.
After Sauron’s defeat with the War of the Last Alliance (remember how he was bested by Isildur, King of Arnor and Gondor), Mordor was abandoned for some time, and the Orcs headed to the Misty Mountains.
However, as we all know from the Lord of the Rings movies, Sauron wasn’t totally defeated in the Second Age, and in The Third Age, Orcs became tougher and stronger to aid in their master’s revenge.
In the Third Age, Black Uruk‘s were bred, which were designed to fight and kill Men. The Orcs from the North were constantly clashing with the Dwarves, and the wizard Saruman, an ally to Sauron, even created the Uruk-hai – the strongest types of Orcs yet, which were bred in Isengard
But even with these upgrades, ultimately, the Orcs never got the upper hand and would perish along with their masters. After Frodo destroyed the One Ring at the end of the Third Age, Orc numbers dwindled. And eventually, the race was hunted to extinction, marking the end of their time and Morgoth’s contribution to Middle-earth in the Fourth Age.
You can now watch The Rings of Power on Amazon Prime Video. For more magic, here is our guide to the best fantasy movies of all time, or if you want to know more about Middle-earth, you can check out our article about Rings of Power season 2. Still, if you want to learn more about the people of the Second Age, check out our list of the best Rings of Power characters. If that’s not enough, we’ve also got a guide breaking down the Rings of Power cast.