Concerning Goblins (Orcs) in The Hobbit

by Arien-(Valar)
October 29, 2008

Orcs > goblins in "The Hobbit"

I. Location

According to the German addition to “The Map of Tolkien’s Middle-earth” (published by Klett-Cotta in 1995 with text by Brian Sibley and Illustrations by John Howe) the High Pass by which the Dwarves with Gandalf and Bilbo left lay due east high above Rivendell. It was part of the Hithaeglir, the Misty Mountains, and let down to the Old Ford which crossed the Anduin into Mirkwood. The impression I got by reading the Chapter “Over Hill and Under Hill” (Harper – Collins Children’s books, 1998) is that these mountains are fairly steep and craggy, at least at this particular pass and the path seems very sleety, steep and narrow. Tolkien writes “It was a hard path and a dangerous path, a crooked way and a long.” As a general description we are informed by the author “most of the passes were infested by evil things and dreadful dangers”. As most high mountain ranges, the Hithaeglir were subject to violent weather changes which could be extremely bad. 

II. Their way of life

The Goblins lived in a tunnel system that was linked to a large cave that opened up to the High Pass taken by the travelling party. Their main settlement is named “Goblin Town” in the book and was deep under the pass itself, probably not too far from the exit on the other side. 

The Goblins had a King, which they called “The Great Goblin”, likely a post that was held by the one who proved stronger than the one who held it before. Their behaviour was that of uneducated outlaws – violent, dirty, lazy and foulmouthed. I quote again “ The goblins were very rough and pinched unmercifully and chuckled and laughed in their horrible stony voices”. Also they were “shaking their prisoners as well”, as they were walking down to Goblin Town.

Goblin Town itself was a large cave area that was lit by a fire in the centre and torches along the wall. The Great Goblin sat at the back of the cave in the shadows on a flat stone. 

Goblins knew music, if you can call it such. They certainly sang, as they did when they led the prisoners down to their settlement. However, their songs were not very melodious, fairly rhythm orientated and reflected their violent nature. 

Else we are informed in this chapters that goblins were (or could be) good miners, as they dug out most of the tunnels within the mountains if they didn’t capture them from dwarves. They also were clever weaponsmiths, they could make “hammers, swords, daggers, pickaxes, tongs and instruments of torture”. I find it interesting that Tolkien thinks “that they invented some of the machines that since tortured the world, especially the ones that kill a large number of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them”.  So it is not unlikely they had a hang to engineering or would get it, but as Tolkien writes “in Bilbo’s days they were not that advanced, as people call it.” 

What else do we get to know about goblins? 

Tolkien writes in the Hobbit that they "hated each and every one”, and “did not do more with their own hands than was strictly necessary”, so it is quite likely that they held prisoners and slaves in Goblin Town or dungeon cells in a darker part of the tunnel system. Else we get the impression that they were dirty and untidy.

Sources used were “The Map of Tolkien’s Middle-earth”, German edition, published by  Klett – Cotta in 1995 and “The Hobbit” published by HarperCollins Children’s books in 1998, chapter 4.