Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Of Ancient Orcish Animosity

Two Orcs | Tim Kirk | 1975
Presently two orcs came into view. One was clad in ragged brown and was armed with a bow of horn; it was of a small breed, black-skinned, with wide and snuffling nostrils: evidently a tracker of some kind. The other was a big fighting-orc, like those of Shagrat’s company, bearing the token of the Eye. He also had a bow at his back and carried a short broad-headed spear. As usual they were quarrelling, and being of different breeds they used the Common Speech after their fashion.

J.R.R. Tolkien - The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King. 1955

Jon Peterson has unearthed what may be the first published fantasy wargame rules, by Leonard Patt in his "Rules for Middle Earth" (RfME) as published in The Courier the newsletter of the New England Wargamers Association devised way back in 1970.

Leonard Patt Rules for Middle Earth 1970
One thing stood out to me in reading Jons assessment of RfME focusing mainly on it's textual and conceptual influence on Gary Gygax and Jeff Perrens Chainmail - that this is also, very likely, the first instance of a rule for determining the effects of inter-goblinoid animosity, the bane of every Orc generals life, and a mainstay of fantasy tabletop gaming for 40 odd years.

Patt writes “Orcs were basically very obnoxious and disagreeable even to each other” and when they “approach within four inches of one another, 1 die is thrown to see how they react.” On a roll of 1, the orcs will fall on each other in a bloody mass of loathing and combat.

Chainmail 3rd Edtion

In Chainmail (1971-1975), which up until the discovery of RfME was long considered to be the first published fantasy wargames rules, Gygax and Perren have it that "if Orcs of different kinds approach within a charge move of each other, and they are not meleed by the enemy, they will attack each other unless a score of 4 or better is rolled on an  obedience die." Chainmail of course, is the daddy of Dungeons & Dragons - the game that would dominate fantasy gaming throughout the late 70s and early 80s, and in the AD&D Monster Manual (1977) had quarrelsome Orcs with a chance of fighting among themselves 75% of the time.

Middle Earth Wargames Rules  by SELWG  (1976) declares "all Orcs / Man-Orcs / Uruks will quarrel among themselves." Then gives a 1/6 chance of a quarrel breaking out. On the subsequent turn casualties are rolled for, with a 1/3 saving throw. Presence of a Nazgûl or an enemy unit mitigates the unruly behavior, and the Orcs just do as they're told. It's nice that Tolkiens language is echoed here in the use of the word quarrel, and it's also interesting that MEWR uses RfME's less likely 1/6 than Chainmails 1/2 chance.

Of the ancient fantasy wargaming tomes I have laying around, Tony Bath's Setting up a Wargames Campaign (1973) Mike & Sheila Gilberts Archworld (1977), don't have rules for goblin quarreling - these being somewhat less Tolkienesque settings, and neither do they appear in Richard Halliwell and Rick Priestly's Reaper (1981) nor John Treadaways esteemed Lidless Eye army lists (1984) for WRG 6th Ed, which make no mention of inter-goblinoid fighting, nor does WRG 4th Edition's "Suggested adaptions for Sword & Sorcery fanatics" (1973).

Warhammer 1st Edition | John Blanche | 1983
1st edition Warhammer (1983) also has no rules for misbehaving goblins. However, in he supplement Forces of Fantasy (1984)  this oversight is fixed with the introduction of the infamous inter-goblinoid animosity table. And whilst this applies to Goblins, not Orcs (although we must acknowledge the fluidity of the terms, creatures previously known as Red Orc are now termed Red Goblins, etc.) the basis and mainstay of Orcish psychology in the Warhammer game for the rest of  its shelf-life from 2nd-8th edition is lain down here. In FoF a basic 1/6 chance is given of Animosity taking over, then a second die-roll to determine the Orcs behaviors, from no discernible effect to charging friendly troops. The behavior roll has several situational modifiers, from the ability of any unit leaders that may be present, to the presence of the enemy.  The rules also suggest tracking animosity points, so that after a number of infractions, the regiments will hate each other and attack on sight - the rules as narrative generator, feeding grudges into battle.

As such Warhammer seems to follow the structure of MEWR - roll for the chance of animosity happening, then roll for the effect. Rather than RfME or Chainmails single roll then subsequent inevitable infighting. Somewhat predictably, 2nd Edition Warhammer then turns this on it's head, having a single die roll 1/6 followed by a leadership test to rally the troops. 3rd edition has a single roll modified by the ld score, and later editions  return to the mayhem of 1st edition.

War of the Ring  | Tim Kirk | FGU 1977

 To Pippin's surprise he found that much of the talk was intelligible many of the Orcs were using ordinary language. Apparently the members of two or three quite different tribes were present, and they could not understand one another's orc-speech. There was an angry debate concerning what they were to do now: which way they were to take and what should be done with the prisoners.
J.R.R. Tolkien - The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers 1955
Tolkiens Orcs, be they skirting the southern the edges of Fangorn forest, taking the Hobbits to Isengard, or running amok in the tower of Cirith Ungol are not simply fighting amongst themselves because they hate each other (which they do, no doubt) but arguing about who gets the spoils of war - the prize of Hobbit captives, alive or dead, or the Bagginses Mithril shirt. This  suggests a more Tolkienesque model of Orcish behavior would have them be narratively motivated - the attainment of some prize or objective by one unit of Orcs, triggering the attempt to steal or usurp that prize by others nearby, so they may hope to earn glory from their masters. Similarly the clash of Orcs at the Isenmouthe that allowed Frodo and Sam to slip away causes minor scuffles and confusion, caused by different groups of Orcs trying to follow orders to occupy the same space, rather than bloodshed.

Still, just rolling dice to have your own troops bash each other is a venerable conceit, emerging from the dawn of the fantasy wargaming hobby, and certainly adds to the colour.


  1. When I was younger I hated the animosity rules but I've come to accept and enjoy that aspect; orcs are supposed to be chaotic and unpredictable, and of they lose you the battle because they are too busy beating each other up, then so be it.

    1. Maybe in Tolkiens original conception the Orcs are closer to representing "might equals right" and in some ways the occasional struggles for dominance that such a mindset would engender if not otherwise dominated. They are Lawful Evil in AD&D after all!

      Around 2nd/3rd edtion Warhammer did toy with giving animosity to Norse and Dwarves (Norse Dwarves?) in an attempt to annoy even more young Kelvins.

  2. Good analysis. And of course some of the Orcs in Rohan band together even after the inter-orc violence occurs: some "larger and bolder" Northerners stay with the Isengarders. And Grishnakh praises either the Isengarders or the bigger Northerners or both as "stout fellows".

    One thing that's worth noting is that gamers have tended to introduce a distinction between "Uruks" and "Orcs" that Tolkien didn't create. In Tolkien's writings, not all Orcs are Uruks, but all Uruks are Orcs. And Uruks are almost always simply described as "Orcs" in the narrative voice. Only a few exceptions occur in LotR: Pippin remembers "the clutches of the Uruk-hai" and the bigger whip-wielders and aggressive column that inadvertently helps Sam and Frodo to escape are described as uruks. The term is also used a few times in The Battle of the Fords of the Isen. But on the overwhelming majority of occasions, the narrator describes Uruks simply as "Orcs". The context for this, of course, is that Uruks have been around for a considerable time by the events of LotR and have formed whole armies (sacking Osgiliath, etc.). It's a fair bet that most of the Orcs we encounter in the narrative are Uruks (the exceptions would be most but not all of the Northerners, the brace of Snagas, the tracker, and the troop of smaller Orcs that Sam and Frodo join. But the armies of Mordor and Isengard seem to largely consist of Uruks. They are, after all, the great soldier-orcs that Sauron and Saruman have bred to do their fighting.

    1. Interesting notes there JC. The Uruk/Orc split is in SELWG, and most seem to have smaller goblins, larger orcs (which has some textual support). I think it is fair to say that Tolkiens use of 'Uruk', 'orc' or 'goblin' is quite fluid. Different physical and linguistic groups are noted but these are not generally specifically pinned down by the narrator (who we can assume is Frodo, Bilbo or Sam) who would know very little about the ways of Orcs, and so paint them with a broad brush. Add to that Tolkien never quite made his mind up what they were.

      Also regarding Orcish identity and animosity, When Éomer first meets the Three Hunters, he believes them to be Orcs, and even close up the riders draw their weapons over their differences.

    2. I don't think there's any support for "smaller goblins/larger orcs" in LotR (there are arguably some ghosts of the abandoned concept in The Hobbit, although "goblin" is presented as a translation of "orc" and used to describe the biggest orcs in that book).

      But here's the thing: the biggest orcs - the Uruk-hai of Isengard - are described as goblins in The Lord of the Rings - and more than once. So not only are Uruks orcs, but they're also goblins! Gamers have tended to ignore or overlook this over the years, for various reasons. Here's another odd but interesting fact. George MacDonald Fraser (the Flashman author) was involved in an argument with his fellow Glasgow Herald sub-editors as to whether orcs and goblins were the same thing. They resolved it by writing to Tolkien - who confirmed that they were!

      One more thing: in Tolkien's linguistic conception (always the most important aspect with him, I think) Uruk simply means Orc in Black Speech. The interesting point is that is generally reserved only for the big soldier-orcs (something that has historical parallels: they are people, but we are The People).

      Anyway, many thanks for your fascinating blog post, which has got me writing a screed on gamers' distortion of Tolkien which I hope to post on the Lead Adventure Forum tonight.

    3. Aha, good luck with the screed!

      Regards textual support - I was thinking of Grishnákh (who is described as short), arguing with Uglúk, where the narrator has it "Round them were many smaller goblins." This doesn't, to my mind, indicate that goblins were a separate smaller race to Orcs, just that the word goblin is being used in a diminutive context. When talking about larger creatures, 'goblin' tends to be qualified: Uruk-hai are 'goblin-men' and there are 'goblin-soldiers') and that this may have influenced gamers.

      On the other hand, there are various types of Orc of different builds, and the various terminology Orc/Goblin/Hob/Black/Red is a handy way of differentiating.

    4. Cheers!

      Grishnakh is "short" but "very broad". The point I'd make about "round them were many smaller goblins" is that it distinguishes the BIGGER goblins (from Mordor and Isengard) from the smaller goblin from the North. We know that Grishnahk is a "goblin" because he's called one twice (later in that chapter). And we already know that Ugluk is a goblin because his type have been described as "goblin-soldiers" and (presumably) his head is a "great goblin head" (if it's not his, it's either Mauhur's or one of their men: it's the head of an Isengard uruk in any case). So the sentence is not distinguishing between goblins and orcs, but between different sizes of goblin.

      Also, I don't think the Uruk-hai are called "goblin-men" - that seems to describe the "Orc-men" (man-high with horrible goblin faces - like Bill Ferny's friend and the ruffians in the Shire) that also fight in Saruman's armies. The line from Gamling is confusing, though, as it's only afterwards that we learn about the battalions of these creatures marching out from Isengard.

      The Uruk-hai ARE called "goblin-soldiers", though - and the head on the stake in Rohan is a "great goblin head". And, given that, the "smaller goblins" implicitly tells us that Grishnakh and Ugluk are larger goblins - i..e it's "smaller" that's important here, not "goblin" - again, we know or learn that both U and G are goblins.

      I can't see that there's any distinction between "goblin-soldiers" and "soldier-orcs" or "fighting orcs" - especially as Tolkien explicitly states that the words are synonyms.

      Now, the orc/goblin distinction is a commonplace of gaming. But it really doesn't exist in The Lord of the Rings. One more example: Azog is both a "goblin" (without qualification") and a "great orc". He's obviously a great goblin too - though not THE Great Goblin!

    5. Screed posted! In the LAF fantasy forum, as "Orcs and the gamefication of Middle Earth".

    6. Nice screed! I'll link here for anyone following: Orcs and the gamefication of Middle Earth

      I agree largely with the points you make there. Certainly there is no distinction between goblin and orc, where there is distinction between soldier- and baseline, that's a later interpretation and use.

      I'm not all that sure about identifying the southerners as Orcs. Sam suggests Bill Fernys friend looks like half a goblin, but at that point has no experience of what a goblin looks like (so we can either assume this is redacted text and/or the word 'goblin' is applied ideologically rather than taxonomically). When squint-eyed ruffians are seen in the shire, Sam doesn't note similarity with any orcish type he has met, referring only to the southerner, only Pippin does (the isengard types) - whereas Uruk-hai are mentioned by Mordor Orcs, suggesting the -hai is meerly an honorific, and not specifically related to Sarumans troops.

    7. Cheers!

      Here's the description of the troops I meant (from Flotsam and Jetsam):

      "He emptied Isengard. I saw the enemy go: endless lines of marching Orcs; and troops of them mounted on great wolves. And there were battalions of Men, too. Many of them carried torches, and... I could see their faces. Most of them were ordinary men, rather tall and dark-haired, and grim but not particularly evil-looking. But there were some others that were horrible: man-high, but with goblin-faces, sallow, leering, squint-eyed.... they reminded me at once of that Southerner at Bree: only he was not so obviously orc-like as most of these were.'

      'I thought of him too,' said Aragorn. 'We had many of these half-orcs to deal with at Helm's Deep'"

      I don't quite follow on Sam - the point, surely, is that Pippin has seen half-orcs (who are "Men", as in the quote above), whereas Sam has only seen Orcs (uruks and other types). No one is reminded of either Ugluk or Shagrat!

      I agree that the -hai suffix is probably not exclusive to the Isengarders. It's generally assumed to mean "folk" or something like that. Christopher Tolkien says that "uruks" is an Anglicisation of Black Speech "Uruk-hai", and that's good enough for me. And yes, I agree that the tracker's use of "Uruk-hai", in apparent reference to Gorbag's troops, indicates that it's a current term to refer to Mordor fighters. When Sam hears Shagrat talk about the "poor Uruks", the ring is translating it for him; presumably Shagrat actually said "Uruk-hai".

    8. Ah - perhaps I put the misconceptions oddly in my screed! The bits in italics are the *myths* as I see them, with the textual truth (as I see it) in bold.


    9. Ah, no the screed is perfectly clear.

      The point I'm making with Sam is that he is labelling the Southerner 'goblin like' without any experience or understanding of what a 'goblin' is, so the word 'goblin' when used by Hobbits isn't to be taken at face value. The words orc, goblin, half-orc, uruk-hai etc. do not have fixed referents and the meanings are dependant on the knowledge and language community of the character speaking rather than what they are describing. The tendency in Tolkien adaptations and fandom, including gaming, is to treat descriptive nomenclature as independent taxonomic categories rather than looking at the names as socially-constructed linguistic artefacts within the narrative, to codify.

      For example, you can trace the 'half-orcs' of the Scouring, back from Pippin who is told the term from Aragorn, who gets it from Gamling. At Helms Deep, the creatures referred to self-identify as 'Uruk-hai' - which we agree just means 'warrior-orcs', and isn't a specific name for the Isengardian 'half-orc', as is often taken as the case. However, Sam, Gamling, Aragorn, Merry and Pippin have no knowledge of Saurumans supposed genetic experimentation (Gamlings use of 'goblin' puts him in a similar language community as the hobbits, certainly not a loremaster as Gandalf), and their label 'half-orc' is purely descriptive of physiological characteristics (much like the hobbitish construction 'black riders'). Further we can consider reasons why Merry and Pippin may wish to orc-ify the Men (as Pippin described them to be before being instructed otherwise by Aragorn) they kill in the Shire for their telling of the tale.

      I do think CT is simplifying matters a little. Yes Uruk-hai might be literally 'orc-folk' but what we have in the text is multiple terms being used by different speakers at different times, and it's only by looking at the speakers, the contexts and the language community that can understand what they mean. An Uruk, a goblin and an Uruk-hai may have the same referent at times, and different referents at other times, but the usage foremostly constructs the speaker.

    10. I couldn't agree more with your first paragraph (on the fannish tendency to consider terms as taxonyms), except that I think hobbits probably do have an idea of what orcs look like: the Shire was invaded by orcs in the past, after all, and one would expect the leisurely and rather refined hobbits to have a good tradition of illustration: they certainly have books! Bilbo seemed to have no doubt that goblins in the Misty Mountains were goblins!

      As far as Gamling goes, I think his "half-orcs and goblin-men" isn't taxonomic, but here, if I had to guess, I'd suggest he means Saruman's Mannish Orcs (his uruks) and his Orcish Men (the Orc-Men of the Isen, Isengard and the Shire). His phrase echoes that of Morgoth's Ring: "Man-Orcs, large and cunning, and Orc-Men, treacherous and vile." And of course it matches the Fords of the Isen text too, which distinguishes very clearly between "black uruks" and "Men or Orc-Men", who are armed with axes. Now, it's Saruman's Orcs who shout "We are the fighting Uruk-hai", not his Men. The thing that's consistent throughout is that the Uruk-hai of Isengard (squat, broad, thick legs, swart, large hands, etc.) are described as "Orcs", whereas the half-orcs/Men-Orcs/goblin-men are generally described as "Men". Gambling's phrase groups them together (as, we can surmise, the two types of creature that Saruman created), just as Morgoth's Ring does, but all the other texts distinguish between them as Orcs on the one hand and Men on the other.

      Remember that Merry and Pippin have heard some speculation about Saruman's "genetic experiments" from Treebeard. Also, Saruman has been at war with the Rohirrim for some time, so Gamling is likely have knowledge of his forces. Eomer certainly does. I think turning Merry and Pippin into unreliable narrators who are orcifying normal humans to justify their deaths is a BIT of a stretch. ;)

      "Goblin" is used in LotR mainly to refer to large soldier-orcs (Uruks) - not, I think, because it has an especial connotation of size and bellicosity, but because most of the Orcs encountered in LotR are big soldier-orcs. And Tolkien explicitly says it's just a synonym for orc several times. One more thing: it's worth noting that "Uruk-hai" never appears as a singular ("an Uruk-hai"). That strengthens the case for its simply being the Black Speech for Uruks - or at least Uruk-folk. Tolkien seems to use the terms interchangeably for the large-soldier orcs. *Etymologically*, "uruk" just means "goblin", but JRRT says that it's reserved as a rule for the big fighting goblins.

    11. I think that's where my path diverges. The West Book of Westmarch is a Hobbits history, the entire text is intentionally unreliable - Tolkiens professional familiarity with the Anglosaxon Chronicles as a deeply biased, constructed text and Beowulf and the Eddas as a multi-author redacted texts, is I think sound reasoning for considering this approach. So from my point of view trying to codify a world (or a bestiary or an encycopedia) is largely pointless. Yes Treebeard suggests saruman has been doing something that makes the Orcs more like Men... but guess what? we only have Merry and Pippins word for this, which I'd say supports their part in the construction of the concept rather than undermines it. I've left some other notes dotted around the comments in Matthew Sullivans read along which I'll collate at some point. Ah, well It amuses me to read the text in that way anyway :-)

      Gamling might well have had experience of Orcs, but not as far as I can see, not access to the workings of Isengard. The Rohirrim mistake the Three Hunters for Orcs suggesting their knowledge is partial and far from perfect, but worth weaving through.

      We have no textual evidence of depictions of Goblins, so occams razor suggests not adding them in for convenience. What we do have tho is Gandalfs 'goblin-barker' fireworks, which suggests goblins aren't really taken too seriously by hobbit-folk, (consider what the Daily Mail would say about a firework being sold as a 'jihadi-shouter').

      Secondary sources are problematical, even if by the same author, IIRC Morgoths Ring (Myths Transformed) was fabricated quite late, and really just shows how little Tolkien had fixed his ideas about what goblins may be which no doubt changes over time. I'm actually against reading The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings as anything but separate texts, which finds very little traction in fandom.


    12. Oddly enough, I just posted some of my ancient Citadel orcs (painted in a pallid "fish-white" hue that owes a debt to Alan Garner's svarts) on the LAF thread and commented that they'd be perfectly appropriate for gaming the Battle of the Five Armies as they contradict nothing in the text of The Hobbit.

      On unreliable narrators: I agree to some extent (and Tolkien does play games with this to get his story straight: see the revisions to The Hobbit). But if you treat everything as unreliable, then any contention based on the text collapses (including your excellent observations on animosity!). It could all have just been made up (as of course it was - though by JRRT himself!).

      Given that, I think it's really unarguable that Saruman has three main types of soldier in his armies: large orcs (some mounted on great wolves, who call themselves the fighting Uruk-hai); Men of Dunland; and other "Men" with horrible orcish features. Where Tolkien seems to have vacillated is whether the Uruk-hai were products of a breeding programme or of special training. I suspect he went back and forth on this, or the concept grew in the writing, until he he settled the matter in the Morgoth's Ring essay (on which I agree with what you say about secondary sources). But the differences between the somewhat Mannish orcs and the rather Orcish Men are clear throughout the text - barring Gamling's line, which is confusing because we haven't yet been told about the "horrible" Men - though we are told later that there were lots of them at Helm's Deep.

      RE: the Shire and goblins, what we can say is that hobbits seem to know an orc when they see one. That seems a constant throughout The Hobbit and LotR. That's something that I think Peter Jackson didn't capture in his films - there wasn't much of a consistent orcish look (outwith his outsized uruks, at least). No illustrations are mentioned, of course, but I think it's reasonable to assume that in a highly developed civilisation like the Shire, people (hobbits!) have the wherewithal to convey the appearance of an ancient foe. Indeed, if we play the Red Book of Westermarch game for a bit, aren't there illustrations there - on some of the maps at least? I don't think Tolkien ever drew an orc, but he does indicate that hobbits knew what orcs looked like. As to the fireworks, given that the orcish invasion of the Shire was long ago, wouldn't "Saracen shouter" be more appropriate? There might well be pubs in the Shire called "The goblin's head" ...

      As for the three hunters - aren't they partially concealed in their Elven cloaks at the time? One is of roughly Orcish stature, and another is not human. Also, Eomer seems to know quite a bit about different types of orcs - from Mordor horse-thieves to the Isengarders and their idiosyncrasies.

      I do agree with you on The Hobbit and LotR - although Tolkien did make an effort to reconcile them, and you can trace some of the evolution of his ideas through the text. There is a weird fannish urge to try to smooth things together. I've even seen this attempted with the books and the films: people editing descriptions taken from the books to harmonise them with the films - insisting that uruks are as tall as men and used crossbows and so forth - or that they, rather than the Orc-men, killed Theodred. All very rum.

      I'm guiltily reminded, too, of M John Harrison's famous assertion:

      "For instance, the moment you begin to ask (or rather to answer) questions like, “Yes, but what did Sauron look like?”; or, “Just how might an Orc regiment organise itself?”; the moment you concern yourself with the economic geography of pseudo-feudal societies, with the real way to use swords, with the politics of courts, you have diluted the poetic power of Tolkien’s images."

      He's right, of course, though Tolkien does tempt you into that game. And - in a wargaming context - it's just such *fun*!


    13. Ah, Wargaming on Alderley Edge, eh? Just finished Elidor last week. Garner is the real deal. Nice Svart alfar. I was going to say nice Dark Elves, but we've broken down enough taxonomic barriers for one day!

      Thanks for the reference to M John Harrisons essay. I'd not read that, and agree with what he's saying.

      Of course the text doesn't collapse if we acknowledge the bias of the frame story authors, what collapses is the idea that the their narrative points to a single referent, an external truth, a "Middle earth" that is being described, which, of course there isn't - the map is not the territory! For me the question isn't 'what happened' rather 'why is this story being told?' Tolkien's characters themselves actively engage in myth production throughout the text, and even go as far as to make self-referential remarks about this. Yep, I'm on a one man quest to claim Tolkien for the postmodernists!

      So 'assuming' things that don't appear in the text (goblin imagery in Hobbit books, 'goblin head' pubs, economies of the Shire, orcish 'training' programs or anything like that) is kind of obscuring the text, and I'd say leads to the fannish smoothing over that you rightly mention. For me, there is simply no textual support for Sam knowing what goblins look like, and that is that. There is textual evidence for Sam learning the term Uruks (from Gandalf in Moria) but not Uruk-hai (which may suggest why the ring doesn't translate that), and that's interesting, because it shows how language and transation works. There is text where Pippin engages in both creating and then reproducing the concept of the 'half-orc' and also learning, then using the term Uruk-hai, which again is interesting because it shows how concpts are pieced together from fragmentary experiences and then codified into language. There is no evidence the Rohirrim possess any orc-lore, their presentation of them as plunderers of black horses serves to highlight what their society values, underlining the Rohirrims moral foci, not the orcs (which again, is interesting). In the final analysis, Orcs may be nothing but black mirrors of those that oppose them.

      The observation that Orcish Animosity in Tolkien is motivated by greed, cowardice and sucking-up to their over-lords, rather than unmotivated random factors, as wargamers have it, isn't invalidated by acknowledging that these traits are presented in the story because they reflect what Hobbits perceive as 'evil'.

      Unlike M J Harrsson I see hope, that a less codified reading of LoTR can be introduced into traditional (war)gaming, such as my suggestion that random, mechanical, animosity can be transformed into objectives. There are games like Cubicle 7's Hobbit Tales with it's story-telling mechanism or ICE's Fellowship of the Ring with it's hidden identities and rumour mechanic that hew closer to Tolkien than traditional gaming generally has.

    14. Oh yes. The Three Hunters - of course, they were hidden by their cloaks and then popped up out of the grass - Eomer's reaction was probably justified by the location. Still, most Orcs are short enough for hobbits to pretend to be them without drawing attention to themselves!


    15. The textual support for Sam (and all the other hobbits) knowing what goblins look like is simply the fact that they do! They also know what dragons look like - even, as in Bilbo's case, when not preceded by draconic fireworks - and, most pertinently, what WOLVES look like. I think the wolf and goblin parallel is pretty clear. Both are past invaders of the Shire; both feature in hobbit stories and histories; and both are recognised on sight. The same goes for trolls.

      Now there are creatures that the hobbits clearly DON'T know on sight: wraiths, fell beasts, the watcher, the balrog. But there's clearly something about orcs that allows a hobbit to know one when he sees one.

    16. We're going to have to differ on this I'm afraid! The Hobbits call things goblin-like, which is a different matter entirely. There is textual reference to Hobbits goblin-lore, both historical and the nursery-tale kind - but no reference of description or representation. As far as close reading goes, it's either there or not. It's significant to reflect on where Tolkien was coming from - we don't know what Grendel looked like. And as Tolkien says of the lore and traditions displayed by the Beowulf author:

      "...only by learning and training could such things be acquired, they were no more born naturally into an Englishman of the seventh or eighth centuries, by simple virtue of being an 'Anglo-Saxon', than ready-made knowledge of poetry and history is inherited at birth by modern children."

      I think it unlikely Hobbits are thought to be naturally imbued with knowledge (even the Istari must learn).

      Wolves are interesting also, as the Fell Winter was just past 'living memory' and 'wolvish' is used adjectivally, to denote expression and infer character, suggesting that 'goblin'-like is probably used in a similar way, to vaugely denote something ugly and disapproved of (hence 'goblin-barkers' - nasty noisy things I'd guess!) - rather than pin-point a specific type of creature or genetic lineage (indeed, goblin retains it's vague quality throughout the text). 'Wolf' is also one of the names of Farmer Maggots dogs - obviously intended to be fearsome, but not taboo, and like the firework names, somewhat domesticated.

    17. Hmm. I think your point on Grendel is excellent - the Beowulf poet's vagueness certainly guides Tolkien throughout. Think of the cave troll in Moria - just a scaly foot and arm to suggest the whole (and much better done than the film's lumbering comic turn).

      On close reading: we take what is given in the text; all else is interpretation. Now, what the text tells us is that hobbits know what goblins, wolves, trolls and elves look like. If a hobbit can say "he looks more than half like a goblin", that's either because he knows what a goblin looks like or because he and his listeners *think* they know what a goblin looks like. We can assume transmission of knowledge in a conventional fashion without being handed the specifics. The hobbits don't need eagles or bears explained to them either.

      In that respect, I'd hold that the parallel with wolves is more exact than you allow. The Fell Winter may have been just beyond living memory; but dwarvish veterans of the Goblin Wars visited the Shire from time to time. Wolves and goblins were clearly familiar concepts: Thorin's family history doesn't need footnotes. And, as you say, "goblin" and "wolf" were both terms to be conjured with in an everyday context.

      I also think it unlikely that hobbits were naturally imbued with knowledge. But I also think that characters in a novel can be credited with sufficient backstory to explain the knowledge that they seem to display.

      On a semi-related note, one of my beefs with the Peter Jackson films was that an orcish "look" wasn't quite established. To my mind, the orcs of the films were too disparate in appearance. The text suggests that there was a definite "goblin look" that characters could recognise; the films don't really capture this.

      Hope your weekend has been good - and many thanks for this absorbing discussion!


    18. Yeah good weekend so far - and thank you too, good food for thought!

      But I'm not getting drawn into PJs adaptation, it's just his MERP LARP movie, lol!

      Of course, when William Gibson started Neuromancer with “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." We knew exactly what static grey he meant, now, dead channels are just black (on my TV at least, probably different on other devices), so the specific meaning has moved on, it still communicates and the poetry still works...

      I'm afraid we're just going in circles on the epistemology and semantics of Tolkiens goblin, 'in-universe' explanations aren't really my bag, as you say we take what is in the text, then interpret, not take the text, invent what we imagine is missing from the text to make it make sense as an independent reality then interpret. We know Tolkiens interests in myth-creation, and habit of filling-in-the-gaps, chasing the mysteries, Why Dökkálfar and Ljósálfar? hence Calaquendi and Moriquendi. What are eotenas ond ylfe ond orcneas? hence Ents, Elves and Orcs. What's that catalogue of Dwarves about - and why is there an elf with them? Hence Thorins Co. with Gandalf. Tolkien is exploring these ideas and gaps in scholarship through his stories and his characters. It's all just text, and text about text.

      Intertextuality is my bag tho, so it would be interesting to look at what visual reference Tolkien might have being referring to when he used the word 'goblin' - if any - and to be honest I think Tolkien was knowingly using the word as a floating signifier with vague fairy-tale overtones of unpleasant creatures. Maybe something from Arthur Rackham or Henry Justice Ford - who did Langs Fairy Books, which Tolkien took inspiration from, although Tolkien did say "However good in themselves, illustrations do little good to fairy-stories." so perhaps he wasn't a fan. There are a few other books that had 'goblins' in that Tolkien knew and may have expected his readership to follow - George MacDonalds Princess and the Goblin is one, I'm sure Anderson, Flieger, Drout and that lot have some source studies that might be worth digging out for accompanying illustrations that reflect. Similarly illustrated editions of Beowulf.

    19. Forgive me for one more round on hobbits and what they know or can recognise - this quote from The Hobbit:

      "But they were trolls. Obviously trolls. Even Bilbo, who had led a sheltered life, could see that: from the great heavy faces of them, and their size, and the shape of their legs, not to mention their language, which was not drawing-room fashion at all, at all."

      On George MacDonald and goblins - yes! Tolkien at one point says that his goblins are identical to MacDonald's, except for the soft feet, which he "never believed". Later, though, he shifts away from that, IIRC, though he still acknowledges the debt.

      The illustrations with which The Princess and the Goblin was originally (I'm sure I checked this in the past, but I could be wrong!) published show goblins that are essentially malevolent, ugly dwarves. One or two (the Queen?) are especially ugly. I suspect Tolkien's conception may have been quite close to that, and his goblins - who are introduced as occasional allies of "wicked dwarves" - might well have been distinguished in his minds' eye from dwarves largely by less facial hair and less pleasant looks. The short stature and the great strength are certainly in MacDonald's text - along with the good mining skills.

    20. I don't think The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings can be treated as a single text, although most fans do this. The narrator in the Hobbit says all manner of contemporary things - pop-guns, steam engines, golf - that appear to be otherwise external to the narrative (they aren't given further context in the story). I dare say a close reading of how 'goblins' are constructed in The Hobbit would show a quite different process to that in The Rings, closer to the rhetoric of the nursery-tale (actively including the listener in the knowledge community) than the construction of history.

      That aside I'll admit it does show Tolkien having self-evidential racial construction in his word-hoard, but notice that he does make a specific point of it in this case.

      We do also have Tolkiens drawing of goblins from his Father Christmas letter of 1933, which, containing Elbereth/Ilbereth and examples of Quenya are as 'Middle-earth' as anything else Tolkien wrote, although again, this isn't a popular view in fandom as it disrupts their attempts to create a coherent referent.

      Indeed MacDonolds goblins are very much what we'd associate with dwarves, but back in the 1900s the divisions between such things were much less rigid. Also stumbled across this image of grendel I cannot say I know it's provenance, date or authorship. The overall impression matches very much with Tolkiens descriptions of goblins in Lord of the Rings (hunched, slant eyed, apeish) and the (I assume) artists initials in the bottom left corner are quite intriguing!

    21. That desire to "create a coherent referent" can reach bizarre heights. I've seen plenty of really odd things on wikis, where people seem to be actively smoothing over the differences between the books and the films (which were not my cup of tea ...) to create a unifying whole. Oddly, it's stuff from the books that tends to be "filed off" (as a crank might file the corners off the Great Pyramids to make them fit a UFO theory).

      And yes, I agree that The Hobbit and LotR aren't congruent. The waters are muddied to an extent, though, by Tolkien's own attempts to make them fit together.

      Actually, I think you could argue that LotR isn't entirely internally consistent either. I suspect, for example, that the Uruk-hai shifted from being specially trained goblins to somewhat Mannish goblins over the course of the writing - and the half-orcs seem to be an afterthought or even *a turn of phrase* that is then fleshed out considerably.

      To expand on that last point: when one reads Gamling's "half-orcs and goblin-men", one reads it as a reference to the Uruk-hai (especially in light of Treebeard's comments). But a chapter or two later, we are told that there were many other creatures at Helm's Deep that were neither Orcs nor normal Men, but something with a a bit of both. And we are told that these are "half-orcs", which throws a different light on Gamling's comment. Now, it might be that Tolkien intended a "gradual reveal" (it was, after all, dark at Helm's Deep, and the enemy are seen at first as silhouettes: "tall and grim" and "squat and broad"). But it could well be that he was making it up as he went along - as most novelists do, of course: but that's something that "fandom" might be reluctant to acknowledge!

      There is an allusion to an express train in LotR - so that is actually something that links it to The Hobbit with its golf and pop-guns; and of course Pippin discusses "bed and breakfast" with Ugluk!

      I think your point on the lack of rigid divisions between supernatural creatures is important. To Tolkien's audiences of the time, there might well be little or no difference in connotation between "goblin", "dwarf" and "elf". It's all a bit "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote", but it's clear that many contemporary readers come to texts with a D&D/Warhammer-ish set of rigid distinctions between fantastical species - even if those readers have never been near a polyhedral die.

      I've seen that Grendel somewhere before, but God knows where! It's certainly an intriguing find. Something I've always wondered is whether Tolkien ever saw Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen, and specifically the second part, Kriemhild's Revenge. It's on YouTube - and it features some very Orcish Huns and a most Ugluk-like Attila. As in the Nibelungenlied, the Nibelungs defend the Hun's own hall from their hosts: when I saw it a few years ago, I immediately
      thought "that's Helm's Deep"!

    22. Almost too much to get into it all!

      Thank you very much for the reference to Fritz Langs Die Nibelungen - I had seen the first half (lovely wildmen-dwarves at the beginning) but must admit I've never watched part 2. The Monogolians as Orcs is brilliant, and ties in to both Tolkiens "unlovely mongolians" (and 'perhaps' he was referencing cinematic mongolians, not national geographic ones) and the Fighting Fantasy Orc.

      Yes there is a train in LoTR, but my point is that these are clearly the narrators asides rather than things the characters interact with. If we take the Red Book of Westmarch device 'seriously' - as I expect Tolkien intended - these references were added by the modern interpreter. 'bed & breakfast' - a world with inns and hospitible hobbits it may well be supposed as a translation of the "guest house" concept. It's not quite Father Christmas and golf.

      There is no doubt Tolkien made it up as he went along, there was no master plan (having read through HoME more than once) But I think the multiple-drafing and revisiting themes and motifs in different texts was a deliberate attempt to build multiple-document, layered, multi-redacted fragmentary texts similar to those Tolkien was used to studying.

      We are told that Peregrin connected many 'shire words' with rohirric. Why? Perhaps it suggests a connexion between Gamgee and Gamlings goblin men / half-a-goblin constructions. And we can also consider something like Uruk-hai meaning "goblin-folk" perhaps in a similar way as we might use "country-folk", or indeed "country-men". You are right tho' that there is a shift in emphasis and meaning through the LoTR. I choose to read that as a deliberate refelction of the halflings, and readers, 'education' in orc-lore through their adventures.

      The desire to have everything in neat, organised categories is a deep tendancy in fantasy gaming, from the Monster Manual through to Warhammers racial army constructions. Perhaps the monsterous marriage of referent to signifier goes back to the medieval bestiaries (which, packaged with Beowulf, Tolkein cannot have been ignorant of), and the abberition is really just a product of the lacksidasical authors of victorian childrens literature. Tweed jackets and pipes to the ready!

  3. Great post, Zhu! Thanks also for the tip-off to Jon Peterson's blog! This is all very timely because I was setting up a Chainmail game for tonight with Britains. As a side question - have you played the s.e.l.w.g. set? Is it worth tracking down (which is a ridiculous question that I find the manic completist in me asking)?

    1. Cheers private w! Glad you enjoyed it.

      I've not yet played Selwg Middle Earth It's very focused on Third Age, for example its combat tables have Mordor / Evil down one side and Free Peoples / Good down the other, so inter-elf wars or Halfligh / Ent wars (my favourite 'period') aren't possible out of the box. The rules place a lot of emphasis in calculating factors to work out morale, and it expects written orders. There aren't any illustrations other than the cover. Maybe I should write up a proper review!

      There are a couple of copies for sale on BBG at the moment and Pete Brown has linked a scan of his copy. On a legal POV it's a bit of an odd one as it seems to have passed under Tolkien Enterpises radar (unlike Chainmail / D&D!).