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Dates
Bred by Saruman in the years before the War of the Ring1
Location
Originated in Isengard
Origins
Created by Saruman, apparently by breeding Goblins and Men
Race
Perhaps a hybrid of Orcs and Men, or simply Men with Orc-like traits
Other names
Apparently a type of Half-orc, or a creature of similar kind; related to (or possibly synonymous with) Orc-men

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About this entry:

  • Updated 26 September 2022
  • This entry is complete

Goblin-men

Creatures bred by Saruman as his servants

"But these creatures of Isengard, these half-orcs and goblin-men that the foul craft of Saruman has bred, they will not quail at the sun..."
Words of Gamling
from The Two Towers III 7
Helm's Deep

A name given to certain of the servants of Saruman who fought during the War of the Ring. The name (and the related 'Orc-men' or 'Half-orcs') suggests Men with Orc-like qualities, but how literally this was intended remains unclear. They may represent a literal melding of the races of Orcs and Men to breed soldiers who could withstand the light of the Sun (as true Orcs could not) and this would certainly make sense if Saruman had the capability of creating beings like this.2 On an alternative reading, though, terms like 'Goblin-men' and 'Half-orcs' were simply intended as insulting terms by their enemies, for Men who associated with Orcs, or happened to have Orc-like habits or an Orc-like appearance.

Our closest view of such a creature was a spy of Saruman in Bree, identified only as a squint-eyed Southerner, who is described as having an Orc-like appearance. In The Hunt for the Ring in Unfinished Tales, he is revealed to be a Dunlending, but one who was rumoured to have Orc-blood. This tells us at least that the merging of Orcs and Men was not considered impossible, but for such a thing to be the subject of rumour, it presumably was not commonplace.

It is notable that Gamling of Rohan was apparently able to distinguish Goblin-men from Half-orcs (at least, he named them separately as if they were distinct types of being). No explanation is offered to account for this distinction, but perhaps we're to take it that 'Half-orcs' were literally half-Man and half-Orc, while 'Goblin-men' were those with some Goblin ancestry that was more remote, but still detectable, as in the case of the Southerner encountered in Bree.

Whatever their nature, the Goblin-men were evidently useful to Saruman as spies and infiltrators. They were also numerous, and at the Battle of the Hornburg the Rohirrim were forced to defend themselves against huge numbers of these Goblin-men among the true Orcs and Dunlendings that made up Saruman's forces. The Rohirrim were ultimately victorious, and the Goblin-men were either slain or surrendered.3


Notes

1

Goblin-men are only ever identified by name on one occasion - at the Battle of the Hornburg on the night of 3 March III 3019. Even then, the term is only ever used by Gamling of Rohan, who would hardly be expected to have a detailed knowledge of Saruman's breeding programmes. For that reason, we cannot be certain that 'goblin-men' existed as a separate type of creature: they may have been no more than a variation of the Half-orcs, or something else beyond Gamling's knowledge.

Though Tolkien is far from definitive on the origins of Goblin-men (see note 2 below), he does offer a possible timeframe during with such experimentation might have occurred. The need to keep his activities secret meant that Saruman could not have considered such actions before about III 2990 (that is, about thirty years before the War of the Ring).

2

Gamling's comment that the Half-orcs and Goblin-men were literally bred by the arts of Saruman is strongly suggestive, though he can hardly be considered a reliable source. Tolkien himself seems equivocal on this point, though he does mention that there was 'possibly special breeding' of Orcs in Isengard (Unfinished Tales Part Four I, The Palantíri). Whether this 'special breeding' relates to the Goblin-men, or perhaps to other cases like the Saruman's Uruks, is not explored.

3

It is perhaps notable that there is no separate mention of the Goblin-men in the aftermath of the Battle of the Hornburg. We're told what happened to the Orcs (who suffered the full wrath of the Ents) and to the hillmen of Dunland (of whom the survivors gave themselves up) but there is no separate mention of any Goblin-men or Half-orcs. Perhaps they were so Orc-like that they were slain beside the other Orcs, or perhaps (like the Southerner at Bree) they were merely Orc-like soldiers in the Dunlending army, and so survived as prisoners.

See also...

Half-orcs, Saruman

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About this entry:

  • Updated 26 September 2022
  • This entry is complete

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