303 – The Uruk-Hai

The Uruk-Hai

Here we learn what happened to Merry and Pippin, neatly matching the previous chapter in which their three friends are following.  Where we saw them making deductions about events the two hobbits see and sometimes cause.

From this viewpoint, we learn that there are three bands of Orcs.  At least two of them trusted each other enough to join in the attack on the Fellowship.  These are:

  1. Orcs of Isengard, led by Ugluk.[A] They are large, brave, and equipped like human warriors.
  2. Orcs of Mordor, led by Grishnakh. Also large, but misshapen and much less like humans.
  3. Orcs of Moria. No leader is mentioned.  They are small, and less resistant to daylight.

Only the first two are Uruk-Hai.

We begin with Pippin, who remembers being taken prisoner.  He is surprised at the original foolishness of he and Merry rushing off without precautions to find Frodo.  (Maybe influenced to fit the designs of fate, Tolkien probably intended us to think.)  The Orcs were intent on not killing them, and Merry was able to fight them.  Then Boromir arrived, and his horn alarmed them.  But when no help came, they closed in.

Pippin notes that Merry is hurt, does not know what happened to Boromir and is surprised that they have not been killed.

Like Aragorn, and with more reason, he doubts himself

“’I wish Gandalf had never persuaded Elrond to let us come,’ he thought. ‘What good have I been? Just a nuisance: a passenger, a piece of luggage. And now I have been stolen and I am just a piece of luggage for the Orcs. I hope Strider or someone will come and claim us! But ought I to hope for it? Won’t that throw out all the plans? I wish I could get free!’”

With typical hobbit resilience, he does what he can:

“To take his mind off himself he listened intently to all that he could hear. There were many voices round about, and though orc-speech sounded at all times full of hate and anger, it seemed plain that something like a quarrel had begun, and was getting hotter.

“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.

“’There’s no time to kill them properly,’ said one. ‘No time for play on this trip.’

“’That can’t be helped,’ said another. ‘But why not kill them quick, kill them now? They’re a cursed nuisance, and we’re in a hurry. Evening’s coming on, and we ought to get a move on.’

“’Orders.’ said a third voice in a deep growl. ‘Kill all but not the Halfings; they are to be brought back alive as quickly as possible. That’s my orders.’

“’What are they wanted for?’ asked several voices. ‘Why alive? Do they give good sport?’

“’No! I heard that one of them has got something, something that’s wanted for the War, some elvish plot or other. Anyway they’ll both be questioned.’

“’Is that all you know? Why don’t we search them and find out? We might find something that we could use ourselves.’

“’That is a very interesting remark,’ sneered a voice, softer than the others but more evil. ‘I may have to report that. The prisoners are not to be searched or plundered: those are my orders.’

“’And mine too,’ said the deep voice. ‘Alive and as captured; no spoiling. That’s my orders.’

“’Not our orders!’ said one of the earlier voices. ‘We have come all the way from the Mines to kill, and avenge our folk. I wish to kill, and then go back north.’

“’Then you can wish again,’ said the growling voice. ‘I am Ugluk. I command. I return to Isengard by the shortest road.’

“’Is Saruman the master or the Great Eye?’ said the evil voice. ‘We should go back at once to Lugburz.’

“’If we could cross the Great River, we might,’ said another voice. ‘But there are not enough of us to venture down to the bridges.’

“’I came across,’ said the evil voice. ‘A winged Nazgul awaits us northward on the east-bank.’

“’Maybe, maybe! Then you’ll fly off with our prisoners, and get all the pay and praise in Lugburz, and leave us to foot it as best we can through the Horse-country. No, we must stick together. These lands are dangerous: full of foul rebels and brigands.’”

Tolkien gives Evil its own viewpoint.  They’d accept the notion spread by Morgoth and Sauron that Morgoth was the true maker of the world and that Morgoth’s foes were rebels.  The story Morgoth told to Hurin father of Turin back in the First Age.

Though believing their cause to be right, Orcs have a low opinion of other Orcs outside their own little breed:

“’Aye, we must stick together,’ growled Ugluk. ‘I don’t trust you little swine. You’ve no guts outside your own sties. But for us you’d all have run away. We are the fighting Uruk-hai! We slew the great warrior. We took the prisoners. We are the servants of Saruman the Wise, the White Hand: the Hand that gives us man’s-flesh to eat. We came out of Isengard, and led you here, and we shall lead you back by the way we choose. I am Ugluk. I have spoken.’

“’You have spoken more than enough, Ugluk,’ sneered the evil voice. ‘I wonder how they would like it in Lugburz. They might think that Ugluk’s shoulders needed relieving of a swollen head. They might ask where his strange ideas came from. Did they come from Saruman, perhaps? Who does he think he is, setting up on his own with his filthy white badges? They might agree with me, with Grishnakh their trusted messenger; and I Grishnakh say this: Saruman is a fool. and a dirty treacherous fool. But the Great Eye is on him.

“’Swine is it? How do you folk like being called swine by the muck-rakers of a dirty little wizard? It’s orc-flesh they eat, I’ll warrant.’

“Many loud yells in orc-speech answered him, and the ringing clash of weapons being drawn. Cautiously Pippin rolled over, hoping to see what would happen. His guards had gone to join in the fray. In the twilight he saw a large black Orc, probably Ugluk, standing facing Grishnakh, a short crook-legged creature, very broad and with long arms that hung almost to the ground. Round them were many smaller goblins. Pippin supposed that these were the ones from the North. They had drawn their knives and swords, but hesitated to attack Ugluk.

“Ugluk shouted, and a number of other Orcs of nearly his own size ran up. Then suddenly, without warning, Ugluk sprang forwards, and with two swift strokes swept the heads off two of his opponents. Grishnakh stepped aside and vanished into the shadows. The others gave way, and one stepped backwards and fell over Merry’s prostrate form with a curse. Yet that probably saved his life, for Ugluk’s followers leaped over him and cut down another with their broad-bladed swords. It was the yellow-fanged guard. His body fell right on top of Pippin, still clutching its long saw-edged knife.”

Grishnakh vanishes, and Ugluk is left more or less in control:

“The Orcs were getting ready to march again, but some of the Northerners were still unwilling, and the Isengarders slew two more before the rest were cowed.”

We get a view of Orc politics – leaders expect absolute obedience.  That they have foul thoughts about each other, and freely use insults.  Also that while eating humans is approved of, eating other Orcs would not be acceptable.  But they kill freely, and we now learn details of the five dead Orcs that the Three Hunters found.

Jackson leaves out most of these details, but does have Orcs ready to eat their own kind.  And he leaves out Pippin’s unexpected advance to a heroic role.  In Tolkien’s telling, Pippin now shows that he is indeed as useful as Gandalf originally hoped.  The closest, in fact, to his relative Bilbo, who is also ineffective in the early adventures.  Here, Pippin uses a knife drawn and held by a dead Orc to free the cords on his hand.  And then re-loops them so he still seems tied.

Pippin had been foolish talking in the inn at Bree, and later.  But he has learned, and will manage thing that the brave but unsubtle Merry could not do.  All of which is unlike the film, where he does no more than Merry and nothing very cunning until he rouses the Ents against Saruman in Jackson’s telling.

Orcs, by contrast, lack cunning apart from a few clever leaders:

“’The scouts have come back at last,’ said an Orc close at hand.

“’Well, what did you discover?’ growled the voice of Ugluk.

“’Only a single horseman, and he made off westwards. All’s clear now.’

“’Now, I daresay. But how long? You fools! You should have shot him. He’ll raise the alarm. The cursed horsebreeders will hear of us by morning. Now we’ll have to leg it double quick.’”

He cuts the throngs binding the legs of Merry and Pippin.  Feeds them some hot-tasting medicine: their equivalent of the cordial that Gandalf had given them much earlier.  This and some dark ointment do let them keep up with the Orcs.

We learn also that Orcs can handle daylight, even those of Moria:

“’But what are we going to do at sunrise?’ said some of the Northerners.

“’Go on running,’ said Ugluk. ‘What do you think? Sit on the grass and wait for the Whiteskins to join the picnic?’

“’But we can’t run in the sunlight.’

“’You’ll run with me behind you,’ said Ugluk. ‘Run! Or you’ll never see your beloved holes again. By the White Hand! What’s the use of sending out mountain-maggots on a trip, only half trained. Run, curse you! Run while night lasts!’”

Tolkien must be drawing on what he’d have seen of some of the worst sergeants in the British Army.  He himself as a lieutenant would have been above them, but also not able to change much in the total system.

Meantime Pippin has been thinking:

“Every now and again there came into his mind unbidden a vision of the keen face of Strider bending over a dark trail, and running, running behind. But what could even a Ranger see except a confused trail of orc-feet? His own little prints and Merry’s were overwhelmed by the trampling of the iron-shod shoes before them and behind them and about them…

“A sudden thought leaped into Pippin’s mind, and he acted on it at once. He swerved aside to the right, and dived out of the reach of his clutching guard, headfirst into the mist; he landed sprawling on the grass.

“’Halt!’ yelled Ugluk.

“There was for a moment turmoil and confusion. Pippin sprang up and ran. But the Orcs were after him. Some suddenly loomed up right in front of him.

“’No hope of escape!’ thought Pippin. ‘But there is a hope that I have left some of my own marks unspoilt on the wet ground.’ He groped with his two tied hands at his throat, and unclasped the brooch of his cloak. Just as long arms and hard claws seized him. he let it fall. ‘There I suppose it will lie until the end of time,’ he thought. ‘I don’t know why I did it. If the others have escaped, they’ve probably all gone with Frodo.’”

But the reader knows from the last chapter that Aragorn read his signs correctly.  And this may have helped Aragorn decide to push on rather than join Eomer. This in turn means he will find Gandalf, and perhaps would not have fared well in Edoras had he arrived without the help of the reborn Gandalf.

The differences between the two hobbits are significant.   Merry is brave and Pippin is clever.  Merry fits nicely in Rohan, and Pippin in Gondor. Merry will help banish the Witch-King, and Pippin will save Faramir.

But back then, Pippin is a mere witness to more Orc quarrels:

“There was much shouting and debating among the Orcs; a quarrel seemed on the point of breaking out again between the Northerners and the Isengarders. Some were pointing back away south, and some were pointing eastward.

“’Very well,’ said Ugluk. ‘Leave them to me then! No killing, as I’ve told you before; but if you want to throw away what we’ve come all the way to get, throw it away! I’ll look after it. Let the fighting Uruk-hai do the work, as usual. If you’re afraid of the Whiteskins, run! Run! There’s the forest,’ he shouted, pointing ahead. ‘Get to it! It’s your best hope. Off you go! And quick, before I knock a few more heads off, to put some sense into the others.’

“There was some cursing and scuffling, and then most of the Northerners broke away and dashed off, over a hundred of them, running wildly along the river towards the mountains. The hobbits were left with the Isengarders: a grim dark band, four score at least of large, swart, slant-eyed Orcs with great bows and short broad-bladed swords. A few of the larger and bolder Northerners remained with them.

“’Now we’ll deal with Grishnakh,’ said Ugluk; but some even of his own followers were looking uneasily southwards.

“’I know,’ growled Ugluk. ‘The cursed horse-boys have got wind of us. But that’s all your fault, Snaga. You and the other scouts ought to have your ears cut off. But we are the fighters. We’ll feast on horseflesh yet, or something better.’”

‘Snaga’ is one of two individuals of that name: Sam will encounter another much later.  And from the appendices we learn it means ‘slave’, so it is probably an insult rather than a name.  It is as if a foreigner overhearing talk in the British army thought that there was an individual called Moron or Trash: and similar for almost any other army.

Both individuals called Snaga were lesser warriors, probably with their own personal names and not actual slaves.  If Orcs enslaved other Orcs, they would probably not have been slave-warriors, though these existed in actual history.

“At that moment Pippin saw why some of the troop had been pointing eastward. From that direction there now came hoarse cries, and there was Grishnakh again, and at his back a couple of score of others like him: long-armed crook-legged Orcs. They had a red eye painted on their shields. Ugluk stepped forward to meet them. ‘So you’ve come back?’ he said. ‘Thought better of it, eh?’”

Grishnakh seems not to be carrying a shield (though you could read it either way).  He is evidently an important official: perhaps the Mordor version of a political policeman.  He can command warriors of Mordor, and ranks high enough for Ugluk to be arguing with:

“’I’ve returned to see that Orders are carried out and the prisoners safe,’ answered Grishnakh.

“’Indeed!’ said Ugluk. ‘Waste of effort. I’ll see that orders are carried out in my command. And what else did you come back for? You went in a hurry. Did you leave anything behind?’

“’I left a fool,’ snarled Grishnakh. ‘But there were some stout fellows with him that are too good to lose. I knew you’d lead them into a mess. I’ve come to help them.’

“’Splendid!’ laughed Ugluk. ‘But unless you’ve got some guts for fighting, you’ve taken the wrong way. Lugburz was your road. The Whiteskins are coming. What’s happened to your precious Nazgul? Has he had another mount shot under him? Now, if you’d brought him along, that might have been useful – if these Nazgul are all they make out.’

“’Nazgul, Nazgul,’ said Grishnakh, shivering and licking his lips, as if the word had a foul taste that he savoured painfully. ‘You speak of what is deep beyond the reach of your muddy dreams, Ugluk,’ he said. ‘Nazgul! Ah! All that they make out! One day you’ll wish that you had not said that. Ape!’ he snarled fiercely. ‘You ought to know that they’re the apple of the Great Eye. But the winged Nazgul: not yet, not yet. He won’t let them show themselves across the Great River yet, not too soon. They’re for the War-and other purposes.’

“’You seem to know a lot,’ said Ugluk. ‘More than is good for you, I guess. Perhaps those in Lugburz might wonder how, and why. But in the meantime the Uruk-hai of Isengard can do the dirty work, as usual. Don’t stand slavering there! Get your rabble together! The other swine are legging it to the forest. You’d better follow. You wouldn’t get back to the Great River alive. Right off the mark! Now! I’ll be on your heels.’”

Since there were no Orcs with a red eye painted on their shields in the attack that scattered the company originally, it seems likely that Grishnakh was the only Mordor Orc then present.  That he later found more of his own kind, but is still outnumbered by the Isengarders.

Note also that the hobbit account treats ‘Snaga’ as a personal name.  But Appendix F explains that it means ‘slave’, and is used by greater Orcs to lesser.  It is also used for an Orc of Mordor, as heard and misunderstood by Sam.  Probably neither were actually slaves, since both were lesser warriors.

It also seems odd that the winged Nazgul is not summoned, even for hobbits who might include the Ringbearer.  Or this could be disloyalty by Grishnakh, who knows something of the One Ring and of Gollum, as we learn later.

Orcs seem to keep betraying each other.  Ugluk knows about the discomfort of the Nazgul shot down by Legolas, even though he has never met one.

More broadly, the orcs of Mordor showed a curious failure to put a small force on the East Bank before attacking the Fellowship.  Maybe the main force of Mordor Orcs were not close at the time, with only Grishnakh going ahead.  Perhaps joining and taking command of the Orcs of Moria, and making them work with the Isengarders, but under-estimating Ugluk.  And to move about so much, he possibly has some magic that lets him travel very fast.  But if he’d had a horse, you’d have expected him still to be using it.

We now see Ugluk prepare for a Last Stand.  He is an efficient military leader, brave and loyal, though also cruel and callous and serving a bad cause:

“Night came down without the Riders closing in for battle. Many Orcs had fallen, but fully two hundred remained. In the early darkness the Orcs came to a hillock. The eaves of the forest were very near, probably no more than three furlongs away, but they could go no further. The horsemen had encircled them. A small band disobeyed Ugluk’s command, and ran on towards the forest: only three returned.

“’Well, here we are,’ sneered Grishnakh. ‘Fine leadership! I hope the great Ugluk will lead us out again.’

“’Put those Halflings down!’ ordered Ugluk, taking no notice of Grishnakh. ‘You, Lugdush, get two others and stand guard over them! They’re not to be killed, unless the filthy Whiteskins break through. Understand? As long as I’m alive, I want ’em. But they’re not to cry out, and they’re not to be rescued. Bind their legs!’

“The last part of the order was carried out mercilessly. But Pippin found that for the first time he was close to Merry. The Orcs were making a great deal of noise, shouting and clashing their weapons, and the hobbits managed to whisper together for a while.

“’I don’t think much of this,’ said Merry. ‘I feel nearly done in. Don’t think I could crawl away far, even if I was free.’

“’Lembas!’ whispered Pippin. ‘Lembas: I’ve got some. Have you? I don’t think they’ve taken anything but our swords.’

“’Yes, I had a packet in my pocket,’ answered Merry, ‘but it must be battered to crumbs. Anyway I can’t put my mouth in my pocket!’

“’You won’t have to. I’ve -‘; but just then a savage kick warned Pippin that the noise had died down, and the guards were watchful.

“The night was cold and still. All round the knoll on which the Orcs were gathered little watch-fires sprang up, golden-red in the darkness, a complete ring of them. They were within a long bowshot. but the riders did not show themselves against the light, and the Orcs wasted many arrows shooting at the fires, until Ugluk stopped them. The riders made no sound. Later in the night when the moon came out of the mist, then occasionally they could be seen, shadowy shapes that glinted now and again in the white light, as they moved in ceaseless patrol.

“’They’ll wait for the Sun, curse them!’ growled one of the guards. ‘Why don’t we get together and charge through? What’s old Ugluk think he’s doing, I should like to know?’

“’I daresay you would,’ snarled Ugluk stepping up from behind. ‘Meaning I don’t think at all, eh? Curse you! You’re as bad as the other rabble: the maggots and the apes of Lugburz. No good trying to charge with them. They’d just squeal and bolt, and there are more than enough of these filthy horse-boys to mop up our lot on the flat.

“’There’s only one thing those maggots can do: they can see like gimlets in the dark. But these Whiteskins have better night-eyes than most Men, from all I’ve heard; and don’t forget their horses! They can see the night-breeze, or so it’s said. Still there’s one thing the fine fellows don’t know: Mauhur and his lads are in the forest, and they should turn up any time now.’”

But then the Orcs guarding Merry and Pippin get distracted by a surprise attack.  The hobbits are briefly left unguarded, but then Grishnakh turns up.  And Pippin has the brave and clever idea of tricking him into thinking one of them has the One Ring.  Grishnakh turns out to know something about it and to covet, it perhaps for himself:

“[Merry says] ‘ you haven’t got your prey home yet. And it doesn’t seem to be going your way, whatever happens. If we come to Isengard, it won’t be the great Grishnakh that benefits: Saruman will take all that he can find. If you want anything for yourself, now’s the time to do a deal.’

“Grishnakh began to lose his temper. The name of Saruman seemed specially to enrage him. Time was passing and the disturbance was dying down. Ugluk or the Isengarders might return at any minute.

“’Have you got it – either of you?’ he snarled.

“’Gollum, gollum!’ said Pippin.

“’Untie our legs!’ said Merry.’”

Instead he carries them off, intending to torture and kill them, assuming that at worst he could get the One Ring from their dead bodies.  He (assuming he is male, and we see only the hobbit’s viewpoint) is describes as strong.  But Grishnakh is also human-sized.  The hobbits, half the height of a tall human, would only be one eighth of the weight.  He is carrying about one-quarter of his own body-weight – good but not exceptional.

Grishnakh is brave but unlucky: he must have hoped to slip part the encircling for.  But a Rider spots and kills him, not noticing the Halflings.  Had he seen them he’d have probably taken them for little Orcs, as Treebeard later does, and just killed them.

Pippin, whose hands have not been securely bound since the first quarrel and killing among the Orcs, now uses Grishnakh’s knife to free them both.  Meantime they see the Orc’s relief force defeated, but are in danger from both sides.

But hobbits are resilient.  After nibbling a little Lembas, they are recovered enough for Merry to get a little competitive:

“’You seem to have been doing well, Master Took,’ said Merry. ‘You will get almost a chapter in old Bilbo’s book, if ever I get a chance to report to him. Good work: especially guessing that hairy villain’s little game, and playing up to him. But I wonder if anyone will ever pick up your trail and find that brooch. I should hate to lose mine, but I am afraid yours is gone for good.

“’I shall have to brush up my toes, if I am to get level with you. Indeed Cousin Brandybuck is going in front now. This is where he comes in. I don’t suppose you have much notion where we are; but I spent my time at Rivendell rather better. We are walking west along the Entwash. The butt-end of the Misty Mountains is in front, and Fangorn Forest.’

“Even as he spoke the dark edge of the forest loomed up straight before them. Night seemed to have taken refuge under its great trees, creeping away from the coming Dawn.

“’Lead on, Master Brandybuck!’ said Pippin. ‘Or lead back! We have been warned against Fangorn. But one so knowing will not have forgotten that.’

“’I have not,’ answered Merry; ‘but the forest seems better to me, all the same, than turning back into the middle of a battle.’

“He led the way in under the huge branches of the trees. Old beyond guessing, they seemed. Great trailing beards of lichen hung from them, blowing and swaying in the breeze. Out of the shadows the hobbits peeped, gazing back down the slope: little furtive figures that in the dim light looked like elf-children in the deeps of time peering out of the Wild Wood in wonder at their first Dawn.

“Far over the Great River, and the Brown Lands, leagues upon grey leagues away, the Dawn came, red as flame. Loud rang the hunting-horns to greet it. The Riders of Rohan sprang suddenly to life. Horn answered horn again.”

Before entering Fangorn with its unknown dangers, the hobbits see almost the last of the battle:

“They did not sec the last stand, when Ugluk was overtaken and brought to bay at the very edge of Fangorn. There he was slain at last by Eomer, the Third Marshal of the Mark, who dismounted and fought him sword to sword. And over the wide fields the keen-eyed Riders hunted down the few Orcs that had escaped and still had strength to fly.

“Then when they had laid their fallen comrades in a mound and had sung their praises, the Riders made a great fire and scattered the ashes of their enemies. So ended the raid, and no news of it came ever back either to Mordor or to Isengard; but the smoke of the burning rose high to heaven and was seen by many watchful eyes.”

This last seems odd, since both Saruman and Sauron had Palantirs that should show them the exact outcome.  But if they saw the battle, they might not know the key matter of where the hobbits had gone.  Nor whether they were bearers of the One Ring.

Copyright © Gwydion M. Williams.

[A] More properly Uglúk.  Several Orc names are accented.  But the web was built by Anglos, who mostly don’t use accented letters and mostly built systems that can translate them into something unreadable.  See ASCII – an Unhappy Legacy for Computers, https://gwydionmadawc.com/030-human-dynamics/ascii-an-unhappy-legacy-for-computers/.