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Thread: Orcs before Tolkien

  1. #1
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    Orcs before Tolkien

    I know this may sound like a funny question, but were there orcs before Tolkien? In the folk tales of England, were there ever such creatures as Tolkiens orcs, or did he invent them? The mithology of my country has no such creature... we have pixies, and elves, and spirits of rivers, trees and such, but I have never found any exsistence of anything like an orc. When I was reading some old Scottish folktales, again I didn't find anything that even resembles an orc.
    So, does anybody know, or can even guess, where did our beloved Tolkien get his idea of orcs?
    The moon, the moon, so silver and cold,
    Her fickle temper has oft been told,
    Now shade--now bright and sunny--
    But of all the lunar things that change,
    The one that shows most fickle and strange,
    And takes the most eccentric range,
    Is the moon--so called--of honey!
    T. Hood

  2. #2
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    Throughout "The Hobbit" Tolkien seems to prefer the term "Goblin" rather than "Orc", IMO this is where he started before he gave his Orcs a history of their own in the Silmarillion. And Goblins are not seldomly found in mythology...
    fa' zoccu hai di fari e li fatti d'àutru nun guardari....

  3. #3
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    True, goblins are found in mithology. but they seem always to act alone, or as a very small group, doing small mischief. I haven't found anything (yet) where goblins are acting together as a huge band trying to concquer something like a city.
    The moon, the moon, so silver and cold,
    Her fickle temper has oft been told,
    Now shade--now bright and sunny--
    But of all the lunar things that change,
    The one that shows most fickle and strange,
    And takes the most eccentric range,
    Is the moon--so called--of honey!
    T. Hood

  4. #4
    Eol of Doriath Guest
    Orcs are purely a Tolkien thing...anything after that using the term Orc is derived from JRT. There was a discussion quite a few years ago in a Video Game magazine that discussed about the discription of Orcs and the use of Orcs in Warcraft and other such games.

    Goblins on the other hand are loners...Think the three billygoats. Anything now were goblins are working in groups is a fantasy cliche.

    In another forum, someone was discussing their oponions about how Tolkien realized that people will use their secular ideas of elves, dwarves and monsters. Tolkien wanted to do something to indicate to the reader that these are not typical elves or dwarves. He did in a sense, but the name still holds the stigmata.

  5. #5
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    orcs

    Orc is a term found in Beowulf, for Tolkien something as bedtime literature probably in Old-English. Orca the latin name for killerwhale is derived from it .
    to quote:
    orcne noun m.evil spirits of the dead pl.orcne-as
    seem to have originated from the practice of necromancy, by which evil spirits were conjured by means of corpses back from the dead.

    Thanon untydas ealle onwocon
    eotenas ond ylfe ond orcne-as
    swylce gigantas tha with Gode wunnon
    lange thrage

    From him sprang every misbegotten thing
    monsters and elves and walking dead
    and also the giants who fought against God
    time and again

    this theme of necromancy looks a lot like what Saruman is doing in creating the Urak-hai Orcs were originally not created by corrupting elves but from elvin corpses. Tolkien didn't have to delve into his bookshelves to find what I quoted.

  6. #6
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    "Orc (the word is as far as I am concerned actually derived from Old English orc 'demon', but only because of its phonetic suitability) are nowhere clearly stated to be of any particular origin." JRRT

    "They are not based on direct experiences of mine; but owe, I suppose, a good deal to the goblin tradition (goblin is used as a translation in The Hobbit, where orc only occurs once, I think), especially as it appears in George MacDonald, except for the soft feet which I never believed in. The name has the form orch (pl. yrch) in Sindarin and uruk in the Black Speech." JRRT

    Both from Letters

  7. #7
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    So, by all that was written here, I presume that Tolkien did invent the word Orc to mean goblin-like creatures, or in fact goblines themselves; only his word orc was in fact what people of ME used for goblins.
    The moon, the moon, so silver and cold,
    Her fickle temper has oft been told,
    Now shade--now bright and sunny--
    But of all the lunar things that change,
    The one that shows most fickle and strange,
    And takes the most eccentric range,
    Is the moon--so called--of honey!
    T. Hood

  8. #8
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    Originally posted by Eol of Doriath
    Orcs are purely a Tolkien thing...anything after that using the term Orc is derived from JRT. There was a discussion quite a few years ago in a Video Game magazine that discussed about the discription of Orcs and the use of Orcs in Warcraft and other such games.
    Yay for warcraft. Anyone here ever get on B.net, or have WC2 for that matter? I wonder if anyone else ever posted about it, or if mine was the post Eol was referring to...

  9. #9
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    Re: Orcs before Tolkien

    I wonder if there is any real linguistic connection between the "neas" (as in Orc-neas in Beowulf) and the Nisse and/or Nessie of the Loch Nesse.

  10. #10
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    Re: Orcs before Tolkien

    Stumbled on this forum while searching for orcneas as a folklore term/concept/creature from more modern times of Middle Earth (ie n/w Europe). The reference from Bear Wolf Saga (I like the name translated) is interesting.
    Notably Sauron is known as "The Necromancer"

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