Are Tolkien's Orcs Female (or Male)?

JamesV

Legendary Member
Joined
May 4, 2017
Messages
163
Reaction score
518
Note: I understand if this needs the Careful Now tag. For me this is a question about a creative decision compared to canon, and not the motivations behind it, which I actively refuse to speculate on, beyond it being something Amazon thinks will draw viewer interest

So, I guess Amazon's ME orcs come in the female variety, link
Oddly the Variety article doesn't have a pic, but I believe Twitter/IGN came through,
FVytQHBWQAA5PzN.jpg

What's off to me isn't the idea of a female orc per se, just that I was kinda confident Tolkien's orc were genderless/sexless? While they are descended from elves, they've been twisted and distorted by Morgoth, removing much of their identity aside from their subservience to the dark powers. I haven't read in while, but I had the impression orcs are spawned in pits, or some other alternative way. Ultimately it's a non-troversy to me beyond the possibility it's another divergence from the source materials.
 

Lundgren

Legendary Member
Joined
May 23, 2018
Messages
463
Reaction score
862
Now, it's been a while since I read the books (I had a bit of a movie marathon last weekend when I watched both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies).

As far as I recall, he never touched that topic in the books beyond Saruman crossing Orcs with Men (as in humans) and I always had the impression that was done by interbreeding. So that the movies had them born from pits felt off for me, and I took that as a way to dodge a topic quite a few would be uncomfortable with.
 

Brock Savage

Cosmic Barbarian
Joined
Jun 17, 2019
Messages
3,919
Reaction score
10,263
Just because Tolkien didn't mention orc females doesn't mean they didn't exist. Morgoth had breeding pits IIRC. Orc women and children were obviously non-combatants. Considering Tolkien's time and culture he's not going to deep dive into orc mating habits or why elves aren't fucking enough to save their race. Also, half orcs.

Edit: Tolkien was in the Great War and his experiences with war would have influenced him. WW1 was a horrible nightmarish shit show but one small blessing is that for the most part women and children were not involved. No surprise that women and children were not involved in the War of the Ring.
 
Last edited:

Moonglum

Legendary Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2018
Messages
983
Reaction score
2,074
It is a peculiarity of Tolkien's writing that his world contains almost no hint of female identity beyond a couple of second-tier characters who fill niches of iconic femininity out of traditional myths and medieval romances. I imagine he wasn't that fun to talk to at parties.
 

finarvyn

Legendary Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2018
Messages
549
Reaction score
1,136
Tolkien embraced a couple of different philosophies, so depending upon when he wrote stuff you might find a slightly different take on this.

(1) Morgoth or Sauron or Saruman can make orcs. This would presuppose that he could create orcs of whichever gender he wanted. I'm not quite sure how this works but the Peter Jackson movies gave the impression that uruk-hai just stepped out of vats fully formed and dripping slime. This was more the "early Tolkien" model, I believe.

(2) Evil cannot create but can only corrupt. This was where Tolkien was headed later in life and I think that the assumption here is that orcs were at one time elves or humans or something, somehow corrupted to become evil. I would imagine that all genders and ages could be corrupted.

Both models would seem to allow for various genders and ages of orcs in Tolkien's world. Now, the general gaming world seems to have a lot of half-orc races allowed, which to me assumes some sort of procreation process leading to young orcs who grow up to become mature orcs.
 

Nick J

Members Only
Joined
Sep 25, 2017
Messages
836
Reaction score
2,127
I think there something a lot more compelling about the "body horror" approach to representing orcs, goblins, etc. in an RPG, where some evil wizard/demon/whatever can alter a natural-born elf (or man) and corrupt their bodies and mind into whatever an "orc" is. Just saying they are an "evil race" that have a society and kids and whatever the hell else, makes them seem a lot more mundane (and muddies the waters from an ethical/moral standpoint when players inevitably ask the question, "is it OK to throw a sack of orc babies in the river and drown them?")
 

Brock Savage

Cosmic Barbarian
Joined
Jun 17, 2019
Messages
3,919
Reaction score
10,263
"is it OK to throw a sack of orc babies in the river and drown them?")
It depends. The answer is no for modern orcs who are humans in funny suits presented as misunderstood noble savages and gf material for horny bards. If orcs are unequivocally inimical to mankind and pose an extinction threat if left alive, the answer is yes.
 
Last edited:

Simlasa

Legendary Member
Joined
May 4, 2017
Messages
2,488
Reaction score
5,185
I think there something a lot more compelling about the "body horror" approach to representing orcs, goblins, etc. in an RPG, where some evil wizard/demon/whatever can alter a natural-born elf (or man) and corrupt their bodies and mind into whatever an "orc" is. Just saying they are an "evil race" that have a society and kids and whatever the hell else, makes them seem a lot more mundane (and muddies the waters from an ethical/moral standpoint when players inevitably ask the question, "is it OK to throw a sack of orc babies in the river and drown them?")
Yeah, I prefer the idea of 'orcs' being made somehow, rather than the 'evil race' nonsense.
I'd just go with them as being fantasy super-soldiers... vat-grown or magically corrupted. Whatever sex/gender they were doesn't matter much after processing.
And at this point I don't put much concern in whatever Tolkien may have attended.
 

Lofgeornost

Vulpine once more.
Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Messages
1,782
Reaction score
5,061
What about the goblins of The Hobbit? It's been a while since I read it, and I don't think it mentions any female goblins directly (though maybe it does) but the picture of goblin-town seems to be its own society under the mountains. Orc may have begun with Morgoth but they did have some independent existence after him--they aren't always the soldiers of the next Dark Lord wanna-be.
 

Simlasa

Legendary Member
Joined
May 4, 2017
Messages
2,488
Reaction score
5,185
Rankin-Bass animated Orcs/Goblins are clearly still the best Orcs/Goblins.
Yeah, I like those guys a lot too... but I'd use them differently, in a different sort of game. They're somewhat less scary, more fun.

I always took the goblins to be a few steps closer to fairy tales... not entirely mundane... with sex/gender being up to their own whims.
 

DeadBob

Legendary Member
Joined
Jan 6, 2022
Messages
176
Reaction score
296
Isn't the problem, at some level, not Jack Tolkien and The Hobbit/LotR, but Gygax and The Keep on the Borderlands (and the interaction with 1e AD&D paladins, despite that being a Basic D&D module)?
 

Brock Savage

Cosmic Barbarian
Joined
Jun 17, 2019
Messages
3,919
Reaction score
10,263
Isn't the problem, at some level, not Jack Tolkien and The Hobbit/LotR, but Gygax and The Keep on the Borderlands (and the interaction with 1e AD&D paladins, despite that being a Basic D&D module)?
It's only a problem for people for who conflate modern "humans in funny suits" orcs with OG "only good one is a dead one" orcs.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Joined
Jul 9, 2020
Messages
7,568
Reaction score
18,191
It's only a problem for people for conflate modern "humans in funny suits" orcs with OG "only good one is a dead one" orcs.
Meh, humans in funny suits are shit. There's a ton of issues with how people feel about RPGs that can be laid at the feet of that particular canard. Anyway, I don't want to stray into politics so I'll leave my comments pithy and short.
 

DeadBob

Legendary Member
Joined
Jan 6, 2022
Messages
176
Reaction score
296
It's only a problem for people for who conflate modern "humans in funny suits" orcs with OG "only good one is a dead one" orcs.
I kinda mostly agree with this.

I was thinking more about how the insistence on including non-warrior orcs in the mix in tKotB made everything more of a problem than it needed to have been (in D&D specific) gaming over time, probably made worse by handing that off to tweens during the late 70s/early 80s Fad Era of success.
 

Brock Savage

Cosmic Barbarian
Joined
Jun 17, 2019
Messages
3,919
Reaction score
10,263
Meh, humans in funny suits are shit. There's a ton of issues with how people feel about RPGs that can be laid at the feet of that particular canard. Anyway, I don't want to stray into politics so I'll leave my comments pithy and short.
I can only speak for myself and my players, but if adversarial humanoids are just "humans in funny suits" in most cases fighting is the last resort after all efforts at diplomacy have failed. And obviously war crimes are off the table. I think this holds true for many people.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Joined
Jul 9, 2020
Messages
7,568
Reaction score
18,191
I can only speak for myself and my players, but if adversarial humanoids are just "humans in funny suits" in most cases fighting is the last resort after all efforts at diplomacy have failed. And obviously war crimes are off the table. I think this holds true for many people.
My problem is that the notion of humans in funny suits pushes back directly against any notion of alignment. And yes, I know lots of people want to proffer wonderfully culturally relative ideas about this, but I'm not that interested. I like the idea of actual good and evil, at least in spots. Sue me.
 

Brock Savage

Cosmic Barbarian
Joined
Jun 17, 2019
Messages
3,919
Reaction score
10,263
My problem is that the notion of humans in funny suits pushes back directly against any notion of alignment. And yes, I know lots of people want to proffer wonderfully culturally relative ideas about this, but I'm not that interested. I like the idea of actual good and evil, at least in spots. Sue me.
I don't use terms like good and evil objectively but find the idea of running fantasy Star Trek incredibly boring.
 

robertsconley

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2018
Messages
3,727
Reaction score
7,667
My problem is that the notion of humans in funny suits pushes back directly against any notion of alignment. And yes, I know lots of people want to proffer wonderfully culturally relative ideas about this, but I'm not that interested. I like the idea of actual good and evil, at least in spots. Sue me.
In the Majestic Wilderlands, the demon magically altered base humans into the different sentient races found in the Monster Manual except for Elves which are their own thing. They didn't just alter bodies but minds as well. As a result the interaction of Orcs with other cultures is stereotypical for my setting but their back story is pretty tragic. For orcs two of the modification were heightened aggression and being made more receptive to following charismatic individual exhibiting strength or power. They were freed along with the other races after the demon were imprisoned but found they couldn't peacefully coexist.
 

Black Leaf

We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
5,286
Reaction score
14,120
My problem is that the notion of humans in funny suits pushes back directly against any notion of alignment. And yes, I know lots of people want to proffer wonderfully culturally relative ideas about this, but I'm not that interested. I like the idea of actual good and evil, at least in spots. Sue me.
I'm going to write a system that uses Oscar Wilde for alignment.

The axis will be Lawful/Chaotic and Charming/Tedious.
 

DeadBob

Legendary Member
Joined
Jan 6, 2022
Messages
176
Reaction score
296
As is usual at this point, I will mention that, IIRC, in OD&D, Orcs are Chaotic or Neutral. They became less complex over the editions.

( Elves and dwarfs were Lawful or Neutral. Presumably this means that there could have been an Orc-Elf-Dwarf alliance. Which feels more like Oathmark, but I'm pretty okay with that).
 

Moonglum

Legendary Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2018
Messages
983
Reaction score
2,074
Tolkien's Orcs are angry, violent, and pretty asexual. I don't know that the plumbing question is super important.
Honestly, I love Tolkien, but basically everyone in his writing is pretty asexual. And most of them are pretty angry and violent, for that matter!
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Joined
Jul 9, 2020
Messages
7,568
Reaction score
18,191
Honestly, I love Tolkien, but basically everyone in his writing is pretty asexual. And most of them are pretty angry and violent, for that matter!
So let's not worry about it.... ?
 

DeadBob

Legendary Member
Joined
Jan 6, 2022
Messages
176
Reaction score
296
Yeah, I like those guys a lot too... but I'd use them differently, in a different sort of game. They're somewhat less scary, more fun.

I always took the goblins to be a few steps closer to fairy tales... not entirely mundane... with sex/gender being up to their own whims.
These days, that's more the route I'd go with goblins/orcs as well.

Of course I have more of a spectrum going on mentally that's a bit like:

Froud/Henson Goblins-> Rankin-Bass Goblins/Orcs-> GW Orcs/Orks (old) -> Peter Jackson LotR/Hobbit Orcs

I'm not truly sure where I'd place D&D orcs by edition.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Joined
Jul 9, 2020
Messages
7,568
Reaction score
18,191
My personal life doesn't leave me with a lot of sympathy for people who want to silo, conflate, or misconstrue sexuality or 'race'. Fuck those people.
 

JamesV

Legendary Member
Joined
May 4, 2017
Messages
163
Reaction score
518
I guess my personal use of orcs and the like depends on what I'm running. Right now they're not much different from Space Invaders, just green meanies to beat down and loot. But it's a pretty casual game too.
 

Simlasa

Legendary Member
Joined
May 4, 2017
Messages
2,488
Reaction score
5,185
Of course I have more of a spectrum going on mentally that's a bit like:

Froud/Henson Goblins-> Rankin-Bass Goblins/Orcs-> GW Orcs/Orks (old) -> Peter Jackson LotR/Hobbit Orcs

I'm not truly sure where I'd place D&D orcs by edition.
D&D orcs just seem like brutish man-things to me... like the Sagoths in Pellucidar, in service to some cruel notion or roaming around like a pack of wild dogs. Not 'evil'... just greedy and mean... pure Objectivists.
 

Rob Necronomicon

Legendary Member
Joined
May 26, 2018
Messages
807
Reaction score
1,519
The 'super' Orc the Urik Hai seems to have popped out just like clones from the movie (as was said by OP). I just presumed Saruman was messing around with some dark magic and just growing the bastards. And they were bred to be pure evil too (and a twisted reflection of the elves) which makes sense if you're a uber-powerful loony wizard who wants to enslave humanity.

I figured the lesser orcs had females but they were just exceedingly rare and pretty much used just to bear the brood (that was my impression of the books). But I'm no Tolkien scholar.

The way I used orcs in the past was the 'males' did the fighting (and they were tough!) and the females were rare as hen's teeth and were well guarded and rared the younglings. But I did have female witch-like orcs with had 'the sight' and they were technically the leaders. Sure, there was the orc chief but he'd really do what she'd say (as she was closer to the gods). Of course, that was 15 - 20 years ago.

If I was using orcs now. I'd certainly have no problem with female warriors at all. That said, in my game all orcs are bastards. So, if you're playing one you're evil and that's that... Actually, evil is probably the wrong wording (what Simlasa said). But you'd have no empathy for any other race, humans are tasty, you are exceedingly war-like, and believe in the 'survival of the fittest'. Thus you'll probably be considered 'evil' by everyone else, however.

And given the nature of my take on orcs, humans will kill them on sight. That includes orc babies! Dun...Dun...Duuuun!
 

Silverlion

Legendary Member
Joined
Aug 28, 2017
Messages
2,511
Reaction score
3,909
Yeah, I prefer the idea of 'orcs' being made somehow, rather than the 'evil race' nonsense.
I'd just go with them as being fantasy super-soldiers... vat-grown or magically corrupted. Whatever sex/gender they were doesn't matter much after processing.
And at this point I don't put much concern in whatever Tolkien may have attended.
Tolkien waffled a lot, a letter 20 years ago confirmed they had females, but at the same time, he also said in the Silmarillion they were bred from slimes and other dark things from within the Earth, or they're twisted 'elves.'

There isn't an absolutely accurate absolute answer, though this article says 'yes'. I generally lean on the more mythic side of thing in examining Tolkien.
 

David Johansen

Legendary Member
Joined
May 4, 2017
Messages
4,359
Reaction score
7,655
I would expect orcs are ruined things that were created by others and thus reproduce like other animals. I rather believe their society resembles high school. After all, if you want them to be sub human you have to treat them like they're less than human. The other thing Melkor had to work with were Maia and I expect their ability to take on forms was closely involved in the process. I would guess that it doesn't work much like actual genetics. If you read the conversation between the orc captains when Sam is following the company that captures Frodo, there are things that could be interpreted to mean they were around for the wars during the great darkness. That would certainly follow the orcs are elves idea which also mirrors the faerie / goblin, seelee/unseelie divide.

I did a bit on it in my The Angel In The Black Tower story thread. But I'm not Tolkien.
 

Brock Savage

Cosmic Barbarian
Joined
Jun 17, 2019
Messages
3,919
Reaction score
10,263
Orcs and Goblins are actually the same thing. It's the Uruk-Hai that were artificially bred to be soldiers for Sauron's armies.
IIRC goblin was simply another name for orc even though popular opinion has it that goblins = smaller orcs. Maybe one of the Pub's Tolkien lore gurus could shed more light on this.
 
Cthulhu Mythos - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com
Top