J.R.R. Tolkien is without question the father of modern fantasy. The influence of his work can be seen in books, TV, movies, games, and every other possible medium where high fantasy can be enjoyed. The mega-hit film series of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit brought Tolkien’s amazing vision to life in a way fans could only dream of. His work is so influential that it is considered the template for most other fantasy worlds. The mountain-dwelling Dwarves, the graceful Elves, the unpredictable nature of Men, and the evil Orcs are all familiar tropes in fantasy that owe a lot of their existence to Tolkien.
The history of Tolkien’s world goes much farther back than the movies, with a vast number of characters and conflicts that shaped the world in the Third Age, which is the age that the books and films take place within. Some of the races have fallen from power almost completely, while others are just now starting to come into their true prominence. Tolkien’s universe contains gods, mortals, demons, and other beings, and fans have long pondered which races are the most powerful.
Updated on June 13th, 2022 by Stuart Kilmartin: With Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings universe set to expand even further with the upcoming Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power series, scheduled to premiere on Amazon Prime in September 2022, now is a perfect time for fans of the series to re-familiarize themselves with the many powerful races of Middle-Earth. The upcoming series is set to feature Elves, Dwarves, Harfoots, and many others, set against the epic backdrop of the second age of Middle-Earth, featuring the iconic forging of the legendary rings, and the rise of Sauron to power.
Of all of the races of Middle-Earth, none are less suited for fighting than Hobbits. By the time of the Third Age, Hobbits rarely reached more than three feet in height. Their culture never changed, as they always had a fondness for farming, food, and parties. Because of this, Hobbits are the least powerful race. However, they are not completely helpless. The Shire sent a company of archers to fight for the King of Angmar during his last stand. None returned, but it isn’t the only time that they have been known to take up archery, as they practice it in sport as a hobby.
They also have remarkable stealth and a reputation for throwing things with great accuracy. Their most famous warrior is Bandobras « Bullroarer » Took, who killed the Orc leader of the forces invading the North-Farthing, causing the rest to flee in dismay. Samwise Gamgee might go down as a famous Hobbit fighter as well, due to single-handedly battling and defeating Shelob and rescuing Frodo.
As a race of smaller, less fearsome types of Orcs, Goblins are some of the most revolting creatures inhabiting the world of Tolkien. Most often preferring to dwell in the mountains– either the Misty Mountains or Moria– Goblins are nocturnal and pose a danger to travelers who choose to take routes through the mountains.
They are a little bigger than Hobbits, but not as big as Orcs, and love fighting. They live in highly tribalized societies, with different clans and chiefs to lead them. Wielding a variety of weapons, a single Goblin may be a threat to an unarmed and untrained Hobbit or Human, but pose little threat to anyone who can defend themselves. Their greatest assets are their huge numbers, as well as their bloodlust. Goblins do not make for ideal soldiers, but with the proper motivation and leadership, they can pose many threats to warriors.
Serving as shock troops for the forces of evil, Trolls are an old race whose creation goes back before the First Age. They come in a variety of sub-species such as Cave, Hill, and Mountain, but all share similar traits. Trolls were created by Melkor in mockery of the Ents, and are unintelligent creatures with limited capability for speech or advanced cognitive skills. They have little culture and are easily manipulated by others.
They have the toughness to match their strength, and a single Troll can be a big problem for a group of warriors who aren’t prepared for it. Their biggest weakness is the fact that they will turn to stone in sunlight, except for a certain breed called Olog-Hai, who are impervious to the sun and somewhat smarter than other Trolls. Though powerful, their limited intellect, low numbers, and inability to unite as a race keep them from earning a higher spot on the list.
The bulk of Sauron’s army is made up of Orcs. They were created by Melkor through corrupting men long ago, and the result was a race of perhaps the most inherently evil of terrestrial beings in Tolkien’s universe. Standing shorter than grown men, but bigger than Hobbits and Goblins, Orcs only occasionally reach a greater height, and those that do become chieftains and war leaders. They are intelligent beings, able to craft weapons and tools reliably.
They also have a natural talent for war, killing, and deception, and make much more dangerous opponents than Goblins. An encounter with an Orc is never a good thing, and an untrained person would likely end up on the losing side. Though numerous and deadly, they are prone to petty squabbles and infighting, making them a poor army that will break down into tribalism unless there is a firm hand to lead them. If they weren’t so unorganized, they would be far more dangerous.
The Uruk-Hai are without a doubt the most strongest troops that the forces of evil have in The War Of The Ring. As a race of bigger and smarter Orcs, the Uruks were created by Saruman. They are massive creatures and are designed specifically for war. As such, they are a fearsome enemy to face because they have a good understanding of war, and are much stronger and more durable than Orcs.
Their armies are highly organized and disciplined, with various ranks, including swordsmen, pikemen, sappers, archers, and the much-feared Berzerkers. Though their weapons and armor can be considered crude, they are still effective and feared by all. An army of ten thousand Uruks broke the previously unbreached walls of Helms Deep. Uruks are a serious threat to the free people of Middle-earth– even in single combat, it would take a well-trained person to have a chance of surviving. However, their numbers are limited, which is the only thing preventing them from earning a higher spot.
As one of the most ancient races, Ents are tree-like beings who ended up on the good side of the conflict between the free peoples and Sauron. Ents are arguably the strongest race in terms of physical power. They are said to be able to bend steel and stone as if it is paper, and their attack on Isengard in The Two Towers shows them to be an unstoppable force. Ents are a dying race, however, as their numbers have steadily declined over the ages, and Treebeard laments that the time of the Ents is almost at its end. The Entwives are no more, and their iconic attack on Isengard is thought to be their last moment of glory.
They have a very different sense of time because of their longevity, and might mistakenly be thought of as slow-witted, but they are extremely intelligent. Ents are peaceful beings who have no love of war or killing, though they do harbor a deep hatred of Orcs and will kill them whenever possible. Overall, they have limited numbers and are a peaceful race.
Among the most feared creatures to ever exist, Dragons are just as formidable in Tolkien’s universe as they are in other fantastical worlds. Created by Morgoth to serve as the ultimate shock troops, Dragons are enormous, winged terrors that are armored in scales that are nearly impenetrable, except on their underside.
They are highly intelligent and inherently evil, relishing in stealing treasures and hoarding them. In essence, it is more pleasurable to a Dragon to take something from someone than to merely find it abandoned. Dragons were never numerous, but many became infamous, such as Smaug. After his death, the Great Dragons were no more. Their fire breath was hot enough to melt Rings of Power, and four of the Dwarven Rings were destroyed this way. Although they were able to reproduce naturally, Dragons never had a huge population, as they seem to be naturally solitary. This is without question a good thing for every other being. A single Dragon is incredibly formidable, but not impossible to kill, as Smaug was brought down with a single arrow.
The Eagles were created to serve as messengers of Manwe, Lord of the Valar. They are noble creatures who have helped the free people of Middle-earth against the forces of evil many times throughout the ages. They are ancient and proud, but like many other beings in Middle-earth, their world does not revolve around the problems of the Fellowship. As such, they are only occasional allies of the free people. Their presence in the series has always been a cause for arguments among Lord of the Rings fans.
The Eagles have a long history of conflict with Orcs and the forces of evil on their own, but couldn’t bring the Frodo to Mordor without ruining the element of surprise. They are vulnerable to anti-aerial weapons and can be taken down by groups of soldiers or siege weapons. Eagles are, however, great allies when called upon, as they are far more agile than Dragons. A Great Eagle can possibly defeat a Dragon in combat, provided it can avoid its flames.
The stout and hardy Dwarves possess many noble traits as well as some that are self-destructive. They are only a little taller than Hobbits but are very strong and durable, able to wield heavy weapons and wear heavy armor. They could live up to 250 years old in the times of the Third Age. Dwarves are known for many things. They are famous for their battle prowess, superb craftsmanship, mining, and high resistance to the corrupting influence of evil. However, they are also fiercely proud, stubborn, and xenophobic.
At the time of the Third Age, the numbers of the various tribes of Dwarves had already started to dwindle, and they suffered a heavy defeat trying to take back Moria from the Balrog. Dwarves are good beings and excellent fighters with no fear, but their numbers and self-destructive traits make them less powerful than Men and Elves.
The Easterlings are a race of Men who inhabit the far Eastern lands of Rhun. They are comprised of many groups of people who have long fought under the banner of Sauron. Little is known about the lands of Rhun, as few Westerners have ever traveled there, but the lands are vast and contain civilizations ranging from empires to nomadic tribes. They are considered the largest and most dangerous army that the free people of Middle-earth must face. Their loyalty to Sauron is unquestioned. In fact, the second in command of the Nazgul was once the King of the Easterlings, Khamul.
They played major part in the War of the Ring, though most of it wasn’t shown on film. The Easterlings fought an alliance of Men and Dwarves at Dale, where the free people were trying to defend the Lonely Mountain. Fortunately, the Eastern army broke after Sauron was defeated. However, had the battle continued, the Easterlings would have certainly won. The Easterlings are feared and respected by all free people, and when united, pose an extreme threat to the lands bordering Rhun.
Of all the races of Middle-earth, Men are the ones who are the most unpredictable. Possessing a high capacity for both good and evil, Men can rise to be great kings and heroes, or they can be corrupted and fall to evil, as the Nazgul did. During the time of The Lord of the Rings, Men are the most numerous, well equipped, and stable of the free people of Middle-earth. It is Men who had to rise to combat the evil of Sauron, not the Elves or Valar who did in ages past. This was a huge risk in the eyes of the Elves and other « higher » beings, as they view Men as weak creatures who are too easily influenced and tempted by evil. However, they also knew the potential that Men have.
In the Third Age, the only real threat to Men besides Sauron were other Men. They had to put aside their differences in order to destroy the Dark Lord. Once he was defeated, the Fourth Age « The Age of Men » began, and it was an era of peace across the land.
The Elves are the oldest and most noble of the sentient races of Middle-Earth. As the closest kin of the Ainur, Elves possess many abilities beyond those of humans, including greatly increased reflexes, speed, and senses. They are immortal and will not die of old age or disease, but can still be killed. Elves eventually are reincarnated, though this takes a long time even by their standards. While the Elves’ time in the Third Age was coming to an end and their numbers were not as they were, they still had no match on the battlefield.
They can be proud and even arrogant, but can always be counted on to battle the forces of evil. Their magical ability, wisdom, leadership, and battle prowess are just some of the reasons why Elves are invaluable allies. There have been many famous Elves across the ages, the most prominent being Glorfindel, who killed a Balrog single-handedly. The Third Age was the time of their decline and they have passed from this world, but not before they helped to take down Sauron.
Also known as the Valaraukar, the Balrogs are some of the most ancient creatures in all of Arda. They are actually Maiar who were corrupted by Melkor long ago and were turned into the twisted, fiery demons we know them as now. The Balrogs fought under Melkor during the War of Wrath, which brought about the end of the First Age. When he was defeated, the Balrogs were as well, though an unknown number managed to escape and hide deep in the Earth, such as the one in Moria.
There is some debate as to how many Balrogs existed, but regardless, even a single Balrog is strong enough to take down an army of mortal beings. Taking the form of massive, demonic entities of living fire and shadow, Balrogs are immune to mortal weapons. It takes the power of a Maiar to even stand a chance at taking one down, so the best strategy is to never cross a Balrog for any reason whatsoever. The most famous and powerful Balrog in history was Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs, who died in the First Age.
As the lesser half of the Ainur, the Maiar are extremely powerful beings who make up characters that fans may recognize, including all Wizards (Istari) and Balrogs. In the Third Age, spirits of Maiar were sent to Middle-earth to aid the free peoples against the coming conflict with Sauron, who was a servant of Melkor, who took over the role of Dark Lord. They were Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, and two Blue Wizards. Though they are the less powerful of the Ainur, they take a more direct role in the affairs of Middle-earth and thus have more impact than the Valar.
All Maiar are strong, but they were given specific instructions not to interfere directly by using their power. Instead, they were instructed to influence the world of Men and guide them on the path to defeating Sauron. The most powerful Maiar at the time was Saruman the White, the leader of the five. However, Gandalf and the Balrog Durin’s Bane are also incredibly powerful. Though they are immortal spirits, the bodies that they inhabit can be killed easily, which is evident when Gríma Wormtongue kills Saruman with a simple knife.
The Valar are one of two races that encompass the Ainur. They are extremely powerful beings who were created by the supreme deity of Arda, Eru Iluvatar. There were 15 Valar, including the first Dark Lord, Melkor, the prime evil of the First Age. For all intents and purposes, the Valar are gods, with powers far beyond that of any other race besides Eru himself. The Valar were unseen during the Third Age, as they chose to remain hidden. This was likely because of the destruction reaped by their war with Melkor, which resulted in the destruction of much of Middle-earth.
They discovered that the more directly they are involved, the worse things are for Middle-earth. Thus they opted to send their lesser halves, the Maiar, to deal with the affairs of the world while they watched. The Valar are essentially the hands pulling the strings in The Lord of the Rings, and their involvement is limited to the instructions given to Maiar. Their power is almost immeasurable but too great to be used.