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Uruk-hai

Content
Brief Description   
Explanations and Background   
Further Readings   
Comments and Annotations   


Brief Description    

BlackSpeech: Uruk-folk, Uruk-people, Uruk-race. sing.: Uruk (Anglicized plural is Uruks),

Uruk-hai is a generic name for a race, group or class of Orcs stronger than - or generally superior to - other Orcs. They were probably first bred by Sauron in Mordor during the ThirdAge and seem to have served mostly as "soldier-orcs". Lateron another class or group of Uruk-hai appeared in Saruman's service, which seems to have been able to endure sunlight more easily.

Also called the GreatOrcs.


Explanations and Background    

Some explanations are found in the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings:

In the last years of Denethor I the race of Uruks, black Orcs of great strength, first appeared out of Mordor, and in 2475 they swept across Ithilien and took Osgiliath.
LotR - Appendix A

Others also came down from the Misty Mountains, many being great uruks in the service of Saruman, though it was long before that was suspected.
ibid.

Orcs and the Black Speech. Orc is the form of the name that other races had for this foul people as it was in the language of Rohan. In Sindarin it was orch. Related, no doubt, was the word uruk of the Black Speech, though this was applied as a rule only to the great soldier-Orcs that at this time issued from Mordor and Isengard. The lesser kinds were called, especially by the Uruk-hai, snaga 'slave'.
LotR - Appendix F

In the index of Unfinished Tales we find:

Uruks Anglicised form of Uruk-hai of the BlackSpeech; a race of Orcs of great size and strength

Other - etymological - explanations of uruk can be found in HoMeXI (p.389-91).

The suffix -hai, most probably denoting a certain race or group is also found in Olog-hai (a breed of trolls) and Oghor-hai (Dr˙edain).

In The Lord of the Rings "Uruk-hai" is mostly used by certain Uruks referring to themselves (as a group). In the Unfinished Tales (index) and in Letters #78 Tolkien uses the terms "Uruks" and "Uruk-hai" interchangeably.

From all this it would appear that the terms Uruks and Uruk-hai are interchangeable and that Uruks is indeed just the anglicised form of Uruk-hai. However, there exists another - disputed - theory, according to which the term Uruk-hai denotes only those Uruks which were bred by Saruman in Isengard.

See also: Orcs, The Origin of Orcs


Further Readings    

  • A lengthy thread on TTF [1]
  • Another lengthy thread on TTF [2]
  • An excellent summary of this issue by jallan [3]

ChW
Comments and Annotations    

I think it's important to distinguish between "Uruk-hai" which appear in TT and the "Half-orcs"* which feature in both FR and RK (*as Foster notes, this term is not used in the books). Robert Foster is himself ambivalent on this issue: he suggests that Saruman's "Chief's Men" and his spies in Bree may be Uruk-hai, but then he places the Chief's Men under a separate entry for "Half-orcs" and declares that these are definitely NOT Uruk-hai. Given Tolkien's descriptions of the Chief's Men and the "squint-eyed Southerner" at Bree, the second proposal seems the most likely.

In his book The Complete Tolkien Companion, J. E. A. Tyler equates "Uruk-hai" with "Uruks" (agreeing with Foster), and argues that it was Sauron--not Saruman--who first bred them as a superior strain of Orc, unleashing them on Osgiliath in TA 2475 (see "Appendix A" to LR). It is unclear (though entirely possible) whether Sauron bred them from a mixture of Orcs and Men. In any case, while a great many Uruks/Uruk-hai came into Saruman's service, it is unlikely that he actually succeeded in breeding any uber-Orcs of his own. Saruman, though powerful, remained a poor imitator of Sauron and (minus the Ring) much his inferior. His attempts at mingling the races of Uruk-hai and Men, Tyler suggests, resulted in the creation of the degenerate Half-orcs we see in the Shire and Bree: far too weak, dull and disorganized to function as soldiers, but useful as spies and bovver-boys because of their human-like characteristics.

-- MattStott


An "Orc" is a humanoid resembling a cross between an ape and a warthog.

The smaller "wild orcs", who typically lived in mountain caves without coherent leadership, were causally referred to as "goblins". Where Tolkien mixed the terms "orcs" and "goblins" he referred to the distinction between larger and smaller ones.

"Orcs" were the light infantry of armies that (directly or indirectly) obeyed the Shadow. The Origin of Orcs

"Uruks" are large intelligent orcs bred for heavy infantry and support roles, such as operating siege engines, or occupying watch towers on Mordor's frontiers.

Saruman crossed orcs with humans, producing a highly intelligent, and very psychologically disadvantaged race.

He sent the orc-men who looked most human into Eriador, to help maintain his supply lines.

-- PhlIp


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