What Are Orcs and Goblins?


Quick Answer

Orcs are creatures that serve as the primary villains in J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" mythology, while goblins originate from European (primarily Germanic and British) folklore. Orcs were conceived of as evil beings, while goblins are universally understood to be mischievous, if sometimes malicious, mythical creatures.

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What Are Orcs and Goblins?
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Full Answer

Orcs, in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" series, are understood to be vile and unpleasant creatures with nefarious intent. In terms of appearance, orcs are generally smaller than humans, with dark red eyes and sallow skin. While orcs are native to the world of Middle Earth (the setting of Tolkien's mythology), goblins are traditionally European, though similar creatures are found in folklore all over the globe. Universally, goblins are understood as trouble makers rather than as evil doers. J.K. Rowling cast them as bankers the Harry Potter series. But their mischievous nature seems to be the only thing that various traditions agree upon.

In British folklore, goblins are known as redcaps, powries, or dunters. These goblins tend to be described as malevolent and murderous in nature, inhabiting dilapidated castles to which they lure wandering travelers whom they then kill. German goblins are called kobolds, and they are said to haunt mines and other underground dwellings, where they play pranks on humans. Greek tradition calls their goblins kallikantzaros. These live in the ground but surface for a brief period of time during the Christmas season, retreating to their lairs after Epiphany (January 6th).

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