Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

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Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Sun Aug 07, 2011 2:43 am

I was thinking about the the chief orc of the Uruk Hai in Fellowship, the one who kills Boromir and then takes on Aragorn. And it occured to me that the Uruks in the film were considerably larger and stronger than I had imagined them. Unless that one in particular is a giant among Uruks then they stand about the six foot or more mark and are stronger than a strong human (assuming Aragorn to be a strong human).
Yet in RotK (book) Denethor questions Bromirs death with the words "..and only orcs to withstand him." As if fighting mere orcs was not something which should have troubled him. And if the Uruk-Hai were that large and that strong could they really have been fended off at Helms Deep or elsewhere?
I can't remember offhand but does the book describe the height of the Uruks?

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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Eldorion on Sun Aug 07, 2011 3:06 am

This is an interesting question, and one that touches on a few deeper lore issues. I went ahead and flipped through my books a bit. Razz

The Two Towers, Flotsam and Jetsam wrote:"[Saruman] emptied Isengard. I saw the enemy go: endless lines of Orcs; and troops of them mounted on great wolves. And there were battalions of men too. Many of them carried torches, and in the flare 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 others that were horrible: man-high, but with goblin-faces, sallow leering, squint-eyed..."

Merry is the one speaking in the quote, and Aragorn goes on to display the evil-looking men as "half orcs". The meaning of the term "Uruk-hai" is somewhat confused, as has been discussed both here and on the old forum, but PJ conflates it with the idea of Saruman breeding half-orcs through Gandalf's line in FOTR that Saruman is "breeding orcs with goblin-men" (or something to that effect). Again, the terminology is quite confused and not really what Tolkien had in mind, but I think the meaning is clear: PJ's Uruk-hai are the half-orcs discussed by Merry and Pippin.

Also worth noting is that the term "man-high" has a quite precise meaning in Middle-earth. In Unfinished Tales, Disaster of the Gladden Fields, in the appendice on measurements, Tolkien notes that the term "man-high" was derived from the Dunedain and equates to six feet four inches (a bit less than 2 meters) in our system. This was not necessarily an accurate average for Dunedain height but was a common expression since it was equal to two rangar, which was a Numenorean-derived unit of length. Therefore, Merry's statement that the half-orcs he saw were "man-high" can be read as saying they were slightly over six feet tall, a description that PJ's Uruk-hai seem to fit.

As for Denethor, I think that his statement can be explained by his shock/grief and arrogance. Boromir was a great warrior. In fact, the Uruks posthumously the great warrior and cite their slaying of him as a difficult feat which could only be achieved through great strength (not to mention numbers), something I always thought was a nice touch. Furthmore, since ordinary orcs were not as powerful as the Uruks, Denethor was not entirely baseless in his doubting that Boromir could be slain by orcs.

On the point of Helm's Deep, it's worth noting that (as stated by Merry in the quote at the beginning of this post) Saruman's army in the books was not entirely Uruk-hai. There were many ordinary orcs and ordinary men mixed in. Nonetheless, Saruman's army was very powerful (and truly massive) by the standards of Middle-earth, but at the same time Helm's Deep was a powerful fortress and men of Rohan were not the weaklings that the films made them out to be (the weakness of human fighters as well as the general "men are weak" theme that runs throughout the trilogy is one of my biggest pet peeves with it).

I think that PJ was actually pretty close to the book with the Uruk-hai's appearance (terminology changes aside). I think the biggest change was making Saruman's army entirely Uruk-hai, as well as having them "spawned" fully grown and on the eve of war.
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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Sun Aug 07, 2011 3:19 am

Whilst your point about man height and Numenoreans is quite right is it not also true however that men have dwindled in many ways including height? Would Merry's use of the term as a description really be based on the old Numerorean definition or would he not just be making a reference in relation to other men he has seen, such as Butterbur or others in Bree?

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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Elthir on Sun Aug 07, 2011 2:45 pm

As far as the books go Uruk-hai means 'Orc-folk' according to Tolkien's Words, Phrases and Passages, and since Tolkien had also published a distinction between uruk and snaga as far as usage, one could arguably read Uruk-hai as meaning 'great soldier-orc folk' (even though the English seems a bit odd) as uruk 'orc' became a term for a 'great soldier orc' compared to lesser kinds.

I don't know what Jackson intended his Uruk-hai to be, but if considered as the great soldier-orcs of the book, I would agree his 'Uruk-hai' are too large. Or course, some readers are of the opinion that the Uruk-hai are half-orcs, or at least have a measure of mannish blood, so there's that even if the books are raised.

I also don't think Tolkien's description of 'man high' (from a note in Unfinished Tales) was necessarily in play when he wrote The Lord of the Rings, or that when Tolkien wrote the rangar description, he necessarily made sure this agreed well with his employment of the term 'man high' years before. There might be something that proves my doubt here is off the path, but I don't recall anything at the moment. And of course, my doubt on this point is just that, and only that, and proves nothing -- but so far I rather think Tolkien originally meant 'man high' to be the average height of a man.


Anyway, I note that even the huge orc-chieftain in Moria, for example, was nearly 'man high' -- and to my mind he must be one of the Uruks of Mordor noted in the chapter. I think the half-orcs are distinct from the Uruks, and were taller, generally as tall as the average man.


My doubt on 'man high' is based on (what I feel is) a general inconsistency when it comes to Tolkien and the heights of his characters; and given that it looks like Tolkien changed his mind about how tall he imagined his Elves and Numenoreans (with respect to certain commentary only published by Christopher Tolkien or Hammond and Scull), this makes the matter a bit more confusing when we add orcs or half orcs into the mix.

In any case, again, I have no real evidence to say 'man high' doesn't always mean six foot four.
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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Sun Aug 07, 2011 3:37 pm

As I said above I think context has a part to say in this. I doubt the term 'man-high' as a settled Numenoreon measurmement would be known or in use in the Shire. It is Merry who describes them as man-high and I think it more likely means the average height of Men he knows, the few that have been in the Shire, those in Bree, Aragorn and Boromir (who are both tall but I'm sure Merry would have noticed they were taller than most of the other men he has seen) so I think the term here is more of an average- between 5 and 6 foot say.
But my other problem with PJ's version is relative strength. Aragorn is no weakling and exceptionally fit and from the line of Isildur yet one Uruk very nearly overpowers him and displays not only considerable strength but considerable resistance to pain, even losing an arm only seem to annoy him (reminiscent of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail!). And given there are thousands of them at Helm's Deep it would seem to me it should have been a very short fight if the Uruks were as PJ represents them.

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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Eldorion on Sun Aug 07, 2011 5:44 pm

Pettytyrant101 wrote:Whilst your point about man height and Numenoreans is quite right is it not also true however that men have dwindled in many ways including height?

Tolkien addresses the issue of dwindling in UT, stating that the average of six feet four inches came from "a later date, when the stature of the Dunedain appears to have decreased, and also was not intended to be an accurate statement of the observed average of male stature among them, but was an approximate length expressed in the well-known unit ranga." Tolkien goes on to state that the Numenoreans of old were actually considerably taller than "man-high", but in any event, the designation "man-high" should be taken as an abstraction rather than a demographic statement.

I doubt the term 'man-high' as a settled Numenoreon measurmement would be known or in use in the Shire. It is Merry who describes them as man-high and I think it more likely means the average height of Men he knows

I think you underestimate the cultural influence of the Dunedain on the rest of Middle-earth. The emergence of the term "man-high" post-dated the destruction of Numenor, and thus almost certainly came at a time when the Dunedain were the dominant force on that part of the continent. Their dominance is reflected in both the physical - the major roads and bridges, including the Greenway near Bree and several roads through the Shire were all of Dunedain construction from the heyday of their kingdoms - and the non-physical; the "common tongue" spoken by practically all the free peoples of Middle-earth was directly derived from the native language of Numenor (Adunaic).

Also keep in mind that the Hobbits had lived in the Dunedain's cultural zone for thousands of years and in fact been granted the charter by a Dunedain King. I don't think it's a stretch to say that Merry, particularly as an educated, intellectual Hobbit, would be familiar with Numenorean units of measurement. Even if "man-high" was a more obscure term, all the characters appeared to understand what leagues were, despite those also being a Dunedain unit, and one commonly expressed in ranga, just like "man-high". Razz

I'm not aware of any evidence as to whether or not Tolkien had his established meaning of "man-high" in mind when he wrote and revised "Flotsam and Jetsam", though I think that Tolkien was very deliberate with his choice of words. He certainly claimed to be, asserting in Letter 131 that "[h]ardly a word in its [LotR's] 600,000 or more has been unconsidered. And the placing, size, style, and contribution to the whole of all the features, incidents, and chapters has been laboriously pondered." Whether or not Tolkien actually lived up to that is, I suppose, a personal opinion. Smile
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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Eldorion on Sun Aug 07, 2011 5:53 pm

Elthir wrote:I don't know what Jackson intended his Uruk-hai to be, but if considered as the great soldier-orcs of the book, I would agree his 'Uruk-hai' are too large. Or course, some readers are of the opinion that the Uruk-hai are half-orcs, or at least have a measure of mannish blood, so there's that even if the books are raised.

I would agree with that, though I am wary of trying to draw correlations between PJ's orc-types and Tolkien's since PJ changed them considerably. One of the supplementary volumes to the films, Weapons and Warfare, explicitly states that there are "three different types of Orcs: Uruk-hai, Orc, and Moria Goblin." Whether W&W can be considered part of the film's canon is not something I can say; author Chris Smith had access to lots of previously unreleased material but he also attempted to shoe-horn in book lore even when it created inconsistencies with the films. However, the films do clearly present three very distinct looking classes of orcs, so I wouldn't be surprised if Smith's types were an invention of the film-makers.

Clearly, this is very different from the book's sub-divisions of orcs, which is why I am wary of trying to apply Tolkien's ideas to Jackson's setting. This is of course a major difference from the book, and a mark in the category of 'unfaithful adaptation'. However, I think that Jackson intended the Uruk-hai to be the half-orcs that Tolkien described but simply confused the terminology. I think the Uruk-hai of the films more or less match the description of the half-orcs of the book, and they are presented as a creation of Saruman, like the half-orcs, but unlike the Uruks of the book! So despite my criticism of Jackson for mucking up the definitions (and the spawning, let us not forget the spawning! Evil or Very Mad), I think that visually he did a pretty good job.

I said that I suspect confusion rather than deliberate change since PJ never did seem to clear on a lot of the nuances of Tolkien's lore, and I know plenty of fans (myself included) have been confused by the differences between Saruman's Uruk-hai and his half-orcs. In the end, I don't think PJ really had any of these issues in his head but rather just wanted to make some cool monsters like the ones described in the books. That said, if he intended his Uruk-hai to be purely orcish, then he made them too big. I think that Gandalf's line in Rivendell that I mentioned in my first post, as well as the similarities outlined in the preceding paragraph, suggest that PJ had the half-orcs in mind instead (if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck ... Very Happy).
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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Elthir on Sun Aug 07, 2011 6:03 pm

Eldorion wrote: 'I'm not aware of any evidence as to whether or not Tolkien had his established meaning of "man-high" in mind when he wrote and revised "Flotsam and Jetsam", though I think that Tolkien was very deliberate with his choice of words. He certainly claimed to be, asserting in Letter 131 that "[h]ardly a word in its [LotR's] 600,000 or more has been unconsidered. And the placing, size, style, and contribution to the whole of all the features, incidents, and chapters has been laboriously pondered."

That's true, and I don't recall if Tolkien said this again somewhere, but this letter was written probably late 1951 (according to the book 'Letters' itself), and the note that actually explains 'man high' is said to be associated with a much later text. If this late description hadn't been imagined yet, then at the time even a deliberate and considered choice of man high need only have meant that the term represented a general observation (in any case the reader of The Lord of the Rings was not otherwise informed of anything specific, as far as that goes anyway).

Off topic alert: the following isn't all about orcs, especially Jackson's, but it might be good to note the relative tallness of Elves and Men here too -- and I had this already written out in any case!

Elves and Men (post 1950s anyway, and Numenorean Men more particularly)

In the archived thread ('A matter of height') the Unfinished Tales references are raised, and rightly so, but Tolkien had various things to say about the relative tallness of his characters, even in his later years (skipping for now the external history of the relative heights of Elves and Men):

As Eldorion correctly noted, Unfinished Tales implies Elendil the Tall is nearly 8 feet tall (and states Galadriel is 6 foot 4) -- and yet seemingly, Thingol should be taller than 8 feet for example, as the tallest of the Children of Eru -- but which Elendil is he taller than (considering another description below)? From a more general perspective, a late text has this to say:

'They were called 'Halflings'; but this refers to the normal height of Men of Numenorean descent and of the Eldar (especially those of Noldorin descent), which appears to have been about seven of our feet.' JRRT, Of Dwarves And Men '1968 or later'

Here the Eldar are generally quite tall, especially the Noldor and the normal Numenorean. Elendil at nearly 8 feet tall is considerably taller still, assuming the note on the rangar is meant to be compatable with this. But again if Thingol, and arguably Argon and Turgon, should be taller than this, maybe Tolkien changed his mind here, and went generally shorter. Another late note reads:


'The Quendi were in origin a tall people. The Eldar (...) they were in general the stronger and taller members of the Elvish folk at that time. In Eldarin tradition it was said that even their women were seldom less than six feet in height; their full-grown elfmen no less than six and a half feet, while some of the great kings and leaders were taller.' JRRT, late manuscript, The Lord of the Rings Reader's Companion, Hammond and scull, p. 107

While the great kings and leaders were taller, here the average Elf-man was about 6 and a half feet, not seven as in the former citation. And concerning the Numenoreans...

'... the Numenoreans before the Downfall were a people of great stature and strength, the Kings of men; their full grown men were commonly seven feet tall, especially in the royal and noble houses. In the North where men of other kinds were fewer and their race remained purer this stature remained more frequent, though in both Arnor and Gondor apart from mixture of race the Numenoreans showed a dwindling of height and of longevity in Middle-earth that became more marked as the Third Age passed. Aragorn, direct descendant of Elendil and his son Isildur, both of whom had been seven feet tall, must nonetheless have been a very tall man…, probably at least 6 ft. 6; and Boromir, of high Númenorean lineage, not much shorter (say 6 ft. 4).'

Now I've no idea if these late notes published by Hammond and Scull are earlier or later than the late statement from Of Dwarves And Men (in which the Eldar seem generally taller), but in any case here Elendil the Tall appears shorter than in Unfinished Tales, at 'only' seven feet, and Isildur matches him it would seem. Aragorn is probably 'at least' 6 foot 6 here, and given his nicknames and the description of him at his crowning, I think 6 foot 8 would not be out of the question.

If the shorter notion was actually later, I think Galadriel as 6 foot 4 (to mix citations!) works well, and not only for her but for Celeborn, as Tolkien may have forgotten that he had published that Galadriel was no less tall than Celeborn. But Celeborn at 6 foot 4 seems too short within the conception of the average Elda being 7 feet tall -- if we go back to Of Dwarves And Men for that -- though granted another isolated note explains that the Lindar were somewhat shorter, if Celeborn (thought of as one of the Lindar of Valinor when this note was written), whose very name meant 'Silver-tall', himself was 6 foot 4, then one imagines the average Linda as shorter...

... and 6 foot 2 (let's say) isn't somewhat shorter than 7 feet in my opinion, but considerably shorter! But anyway, this is a 'mixing' of certain texts to see how they might work together, and I don't know that Tolkien necessarily wrote one with the other in mind, except to say that the new citations published by Hammond and Scull appear to be from the same set of texts -- Tolkien's commentary inspired by an illustration of the Fellowship.

Back to orcs (if not Jackson's)

I'm not sure what Tolkien thought about First Age Orcs if the uruks were supposed to be a relatively new kind, as they are described. In other words, if the uruks appeared in the Third Age, and if even the huge ones were still only nearly man high (and if man high is just an average, general sort of measure!), then how tall were the orcs of the First Age?

Admittedly some ifs there Very Happy

Tolkien did introduce the Maiar-orcs, though not in great numbers; or maybe he envisioned that early Orcs were taller, and there was dwindling over the long years before the uruks came on the scene. Or maybe he just didn't consider this question. I stumbled across an interesting note from the 1930s, the early-ish decade being notable here because we are still well enough away from a finished, published The Lord of the Rings (1954, 1955). The note reads...

'... sometimes translated 'goblins' but they were of nearly human stature.'

JRRT, 1930s wordlist, The Lost Road And Other Writings

My guess is that Tolkien had not worked it all out yet (and in the 1930s the Uruks of The Lord of the Rings were yet to be imagined of course), but I get the feeling he envisioned even the larger of these corrupted beings as somewhat shorter than men.
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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Biffo Banks on Mon Aug 08, 2011 4:38 am

Eye thunk mi great nuncle mita bein a gooblen...
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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon Aug 08, 2011 7:02 am

Good digging out of info Elthir. A little shorter than a man and a bit bulker and broader than the average man is how I saw the Uruks.

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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Ringdrotten on Mon Aug 08, 2011 8:45 am

Biffo Banks wrote:Eye thunk mi great nuncle mita bein a gooblen...

I don't doubt it lol!

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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Elthir on Mon Sep 24, 2012 4:45 pm

I just checked the drafts for the only two 'man-high' references in The Lord of the Rings (that I'm currently aware of anyway), as the new Hobbit film raises the matter of how large Tolkien's goblins were. Nothing at these two draft instances at least, and it seems doubtful, if possible, that it's noted elsewhere in the drafts or in commentary.

As both Boromir and Galadriel were 6 feet 4, and Boromir's height is seemingly connected to his Numenorean lineage, it seems doubtful to me that even a huge uruk should be 'almost' equal to Boromir, and the man-high goblin-men actually equal to Boromir (or Galadriel).

And I note that in the description of Galadriel it's said that she was man-high but it is noted, according to the measure and so on, regarding the Dunedain... possibly as if to say, if this was not noted then 'man-high' would not mean 6 foot 4, and thus wrongly imply that Galadriel was shorter.
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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Orwell on Tue Sep 25, 2012 11:47 pm

What is it with you, Elthir... first it's height, then it's colours --- what next.... .... ... ummm.... what else is there, I wonder? scratch

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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Lorient Avandi on Wed Sep 26, 2012 5:27 pm

PJ's Uruks are definitely too big. After reading the books they seem like they may look more like orc-looking humans rather than full on orcs.

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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by Elthir on Thu Sep 27, 2012 4:04 am

Orwell wrote:What is it with you, Elthir... first it's height, then it's colours --- what next.... .... ... ummm.... what else is there, I wonder? scratch


There is plenty else. There are many things under the Sun that interest me... including the Sun itself, like the colour of the Sun and how high it is in the sky; or how it shines on grey horses, or brightens even the golden locks of Finarfin.

Think of an Ent with no height nor colour! I can't and I won't good Sir.
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Re: Are PJ's Uruks to Fearsome?

Post by azriel on Wed Oct 31, 2012 6:27 pm

Well,I always felt a pang of pity for Lawrence Makoare, He played the Witch king, Gothmog AND Lurtz. He got little credit, that I can see,for playing those parts. He went thru a lot, I think, putting on a massive costume to play Lurtz. I dont think there was anything left of him that WASNT costumised, from the contacts in his eyes down to his feet. As a actor/stuntman he did very well,having to put up with hours of "make up" & then hours getting it off !

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