Orcs are ugly creatures that first made their appearance in the high fantasy books by J. R. R. Tolkien, and were the main evil force in his stories. They are terrible creatures with an appetite for war, though it is usually their number, and not their skill, that overwhelms a foe. They are always depicted as having an ugly shade of skin, with piercing and marks and scars from battle. Orcs (and the name “orc”) are originally taken from the idea of ogres, but in Tolkien’s universe, they can also be known as monsters and demons.
Orcs have hierarchy in Tolkien’s world, from the smaller goblins that are seen beating drums and calling trolls, to the average orc (or, snaga) that travel around in hordes, and the strongest Uruk-hai, or orc-folk, that possess greater strength and intelligence. Still, these are all orcs, though in varying levels. One of the most notable orcs, or Uruk-hai in Tolkien’s story The Lord of the Rings is the orc captain by the name of Uglúk, who in the live-action films is responsible for the death of the human Boromir and stealing away two halflings. The Uruk-hai orcs are strong and brutal, but committed to their cause.
Other aspects of the orcs as shown by Tolkien is that they are extremely selfish, which comes out in instances such as when an orc named Gorbag argues with another named Shagrat about a Mithril shirt, which begins a huge fight in an orc tower where they slaughter each other, allowing the hobbit Sam to rescue his friend Frodo. Though orcs are stuck in a military-like hierarchy, they are still out for themselves and of course want the best pickings if they can get away with it. Additionally, orcs can also be cannibalistic, eating not only any other races, but also each other.
The concept of the orc became very popular after Tolkien’s invention of them, and these evil and filthy creatures have been used in many fantasy stories since. Fantasy orc names are usually not “pretty” or “beautiful” names, and often use harsh consonants to give the idea that these are not a peaceful people. The consonant “G” seems to be a very popular letter to have in orc names, perhaps because it is considered more ugly. In fact, nearly all Tolkien orc names have the “G” consonant in it.
Orcs tend to be evil no matter where they are. They appear as a playable class in World of Warcraft but are on the “bad” side, the Horde. In World of Warcraft they have more culture and personality than in Tolkien’s universe, but are still fierce and cunning warriors. They are able to practice black magic in the game as well as wield heavy weapons, and there are also female orcs. The origin of orcs is not so easily defined in Tolkien’s works, so World of Warcraft has made the race a bit easier to be grasped, rather than just being the “bad guys” that appeared out of nowhere.
Orc naming seems to follow in the same pattern as Tolkien, using harsh consonants like “G” and “K” in orc names, as well as using apostrophes to give the names harder breaks between syllables. World of Warcraft orc names like Orgrim Doomhammer gives a very distinct feel of the fact that this character should be feared. There are also examples of female orc names in World of Warcraft, because culturally the females are expected to be able to perform just as well as the men. Popular female orcs like Gerona Halforcen are good examples of the roles that female orcs play and the strength that they possess, similar to the male orcs.
As well as appearing in video games, orcs also appear in other role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. They are humanoid creatures and were naturally based off of Tolkien’s race with the same barbaric characteristics. Culturally, they find power in how much land and how many females and children they have, and generally believe that they are above the other races, and of course have made enemies with everyone else. As usual, their strength is mainly in their numbers, and not so much their beauty or intelligence.
It seems to be that orcs are incapable of being a kind and intelligent race, and in most universes that fantasy orcs inhabit, this is true. However, orcs make a bit of an appearance in Terry Pratchett’s popular Discworld series, and instead of being a populous, overflowing race, the orcs are nearly all extinct. The only orc mentioned is an orc named Nutt, who did not know much about his brutal species and instead was raised with some morality and higher thinking, mostly because those around him did not want him to develop the fearsome and brutish personalities as the other orcs are known to have. The character is portrayed as neither good nor bad, but simply ignorant about his race and ignorant still of perhaps what he is truly capable of.
Overall, orcs have a reputation of being harsh, cruel, uncivilized beings that are generally about the same size as men. Orc names contain harsh consonants and they like to have names that are difficult to pronounce. Normally they procreate very quickly so that they can keep their numbers up and become great armies to beat down anyone who stands in their way. Typically, they are not highly favored with any of the other races and are not considered to be able to learn any manners, though stereotypes like this are challenged in stories like Discworld. Orcs live in filth and eat human flesh, and can even be driven to eat the flesh of each other, as seen in The Lord of the Rings. Elsewhere, notable World of Warcraft orcs such as Thrall can become extremely powerful shamans and control a great deal of black magic, naturally putting them at odds with those that practice white or anima magic. Orcs are strong and menacing, and their place as the enemies to the heroes will likely always be secure in fantasy venues.