3/20/14: I have updated this page with new images and information (including where to order replicas), and will continue to do so as more is revealed. (New info near the bottom of the page).
It is ironic that Thorin Oakenshield’s famous sword was not forged by dwarves at all, but by elves of the First Age, and was originally made for the warriors of Gondolin. It was called Orcrist, or Orc-cleaver, and though it had fallen into obscurity by the time Thorin found it, the fear it could strike into the hearts of goblins had not waned with age. They named it Biter, and hated its new owner all the more for bringing it back to the light.
- The Great Goblin, by John Howe
It was discovered, along with two other Gondolin blades, in a troll hoard (the owners having been turned to stone by the cunning of Gandalf). Gandalf and Thorin were attracted to the weapons “because of their beautiful scabbards and jeweled hilts.” But neither knew the long pedigree which their swords possessed. Only Elrond was able to identify them with certainty:
“They are old swords, very old swords of the High Elves of the West, my kin. They were made in Gondolin for the Goblin-wars. They must have come from a dragon’s hoard or goblin plunder, for dragons and goblins destroyed that city many ages ago. This, Thorin, the runes name Orcrist, the Goblin-cleaver in the ancient tongue of Gondolin; it was a famous blade. This, Gandalf, was Glamdring, Foe-hammer that the king of Gondolin once wore. Keep them well!” (Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007)
With its history partially revealed, Thorin said of Orcrist, “I will keep this sword in honor. May it soon cleave goblins once again!”
Bilbo also claimed a smaller blade out of the troll’s cache, but not being as flashy as the two swords, it escaped the attentions of all but the hobbit. Later he would learn that it shared the same properties as Glamdring and Orcrist, in that it glowed with blue fire when enemies were near.
Orcrist would again taste the blood of goblins, though the sword was fated to return to elven hands before beginning its eternal duty protecting the Kingdom under the Mountain.
There is little description given of Orcrist, aside from having a jeweled hilt, being etched with runes, and gleaming “in the dark if foes approached.” Though not readily apparent, the film version of Orcrist has jewels on the pommel, but much like film Glamdring, it requires a close-up view to see them. Images of the United Cutlery version reveals the pommel has four stones, both honoring and adding to the book’s description, since these gems are part of the heraldry of Ecthelion of the Fountain [as mentioned in the description of the UC sword further down]. This is in keeping with some educated guesses on who the early owner of Orcrist might have been.
The film version also has runes on the guard which spell O R KH R I S T in Elvish, according to Gwaith-i-Phethdain.
For the overall shape, the designers have chosen a literal interpretation of the name “cleaver”, and styled the blade to reflect this in form and function. David Stokes explains how a conversation with Weta swordsmith Peter Lyon revealed, “…they went single edged because its the Goblin CLEAVER… so they took that as meaning single edged….”
The average kitchen cleaver has a thick blade with a tough edge, and it relies more on momentum of the cut rather than sharpness, thus reducing possibility of fracture. Of course, film Orcrist is far more attractive than a butcher’s blade, but it is as cleaver-like as a sword can be while still retaining an elven aesthetic.
The design is unique, and I have not found an exact real-world match for it yet, but it shares elements of European falchions, and Chinese dao, both of which are single-edged and broad bladed. There is a wide variety of form even within these weapon groups, but the ones pictured below are the closest I came to the Orcrist shape.
- The Conyers Falchion
- A Chinese Dao
Like Orcrist, the grip of the dao is often curved (though not in the same direction).
These types of single-edged swords, with a wide distal end, function rather like axes and machetes. While their curving edge makes them good at slashing like a sabre, the acute angle of the blade allows a strike to cut deeper into the target without having to draw the blade across it. Most falchions and dao do have a slight curve to the spine (the falchion pictured above is one of the few surviving examples which does not), while Orcrist is straight along the spine.
Keeping the spine straighter means it should also function well as a thrusting weapon. With this in mind, movie version Orcrist is surprisingly versatile, and well-suited to a dwarf. One may presume that a stout dwarf could wield it with the force needed to cut through nearly any orc-made armor. Michael Martinez of Xenite.org wrote an interesting article which questions whether or not any dwarf could be able to use a sword made for the much taller Elves of the First Age.
We now know the grip is made of a large tooth capped in a metal pommel. The runes running along the blade have been translated on Elendilion.pl as being NAGOL E-LŶG or ‘Tooth of-Snake [or Dragon]’. Weta confirms that the inscription reads “The Serpent’s Tooth”.
There are also runes on the scabbard, which are readable in this image, originally from the Weta Collectors Forum:
- Just what these runes mean is a current topic on http://www.Elendilion.pl. Weta reveals that the translation is “Born from the Maws of Dragons I am Always Hungry and Thirsty”.
- The styling of Orcrist’s guard, blade, and engraving are similar to Sting, while neither weapon shares much in common with Glamdring. In the film the three swords are found together in the troll cave, as they are in the book, but only Sting has the characteristic blue glow when enemies are near.
Anyway, now that you are better acquainted with Orcrist, you are probably thinking “I want that!” Weta Workshop is making a very limited, hand crafted version from its Master Swordsmith line [details at the end of the page].
But if a sword the price of a small car isn’t in your budget, fear not, because United Cutlery is offering a very reasonably priced option. The blade is made of stainless steel. In the past, UC typically released more than one version of its replicas, such as the Museum Collection editions, which featured high carbon blades. As of Feb. 2014 there is talk of making a limited edition of Orcrist for collectors but nothing definite. The scabbard of Orcrist is much larger than that of Sting, and very ornate, all factors that make it less likely to be mass produced in metal and wood. As it turns out, UC has produced a replica in polyresin (details further down). It is also probably too much to hope for an affordable replica of the belt that matches the scabbard, but perhaps if there is enough demand…
Another view showing more prominent blue coloring.
The description of the replica from the final product spec sheet is as follows:
In Third Age of Middle-earth, Thorin Oakenshield and his Company of Dwarves came upon a troll lair in Rhûdaur. There Thorin found an ancient Elven sword named Orcrist, forged by the high Elves of the West, in Gondolin. Thorin claimed Orcrist for his own and vowed to cleave Goblins with it once again. He wielded the sword through most of the Quest for Erebor, using it against the Goblins of the Misty Mountains. The Goblins called it “Biter” and hated and feared it.
The blade of Orcrist features a curved leaf shape on one side, and a straight edge on the other, a fitting design for a blade meant to cleave Orcs and Goblins. Adorning the pommel is an emblem of the heraldry of Ecthelion of the Fountain. The hilt is shaped from the tooth of a dragon. It is unknown if the tooth was acquired prior to the fifth battle of the First Age, or added to the sword with the inscription in the millennia after the Fall of Gondolin, most likely by the Dwarves of the North.
Inscriptions on the sword in Elven runes:
On the guard is the name Orcrist “Goblin-cleaver”.
Blade Inscription (both sides): “The serpent’s tooth”.
This authentically detailed replica is a reproduction of the actual filming prop built by Weta Workshop of New Zealand and used in the motion picture, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. United Cutlery, industry leader in fine movie reproductions, has meticulously recreated the prop using only the finest grade materials and craftsmanship. Close attention to detail was a top priority. The sword is 38 3/4″ long and features a stainless steel blade with an etched runic inscription. The hilt is crafted with solid metal parts, simulated gem stones, and an acrylic resin grip cast from the original prop. It is presented with a wood wall display and includes a certificate of authenticity.
UC2928 Orcrist – Sword of Thorin Oakenshield
Includes a parchment certificate of authenticity.
Overall Length: 38-3/4″
Blade Length: 26-7/8″ [Note: Blade length is one inch longer than previously released dimensions, most text descriptions list it as 25-7/8". -DJ]
Blade Material: AUS-6 Stainless Steel with Etched Runes in the Elven Language
Handle Material: Acrylic Resin
Display: Wood with Wood Grain Finish and Silk Screen Graphic
You may notice the overall size of this sword is not very large. This tells me it is made to the scale that would be used by elven actors like Orlando Bloom (such as when Legolas is seen wearing it in vlog 8). The Weta Master Swordsmith’s version is larger (49.2″ long overall), and I’m guessing that is scaled to dwarf size, so that it still looks large even in the hands of Richard Armitage (this is in keeping with their decision to make Sting in the large scale that would have been used by Elijah Wood).
CFGriffith.com has posted lots of images of unboxing the United Cutlery version of Orcrist.
The Noble Collection is offering its own replica of Orcrist. It is 39.5″ overall and made of stainless steel:
A high-res image of their version looks to have a CG inscription along the blade, perhaps because the final model wasn’t finished yet.
Update 12/18/12: April73 just got her Noble Collection replica and has pictures of the final product here.
Noble Collection is also making letter opener sized collectibles of the Hobbit Swords, Orcrist included.
If you are into LARP, or want a safer or more affordable alternative to steel for costuming, you may want to look into this latex over rubber version from Wicked Replicas. Measures 101 cm.
There is a new interview with Peter Lyon showing the different scale versions of Orcrist.
Update 2/1/13: Weta Workshop has released its Master Swordsmith version of Orcrist in a limited edition of 50 made-to-order pieces, with the possibility of purchasing the scabbard and belt in addition to the sword (but I am assuming not separately). Before you get too excited, keep in mind the price for the sword alone is $9,900 USD (plus shipping). Didn’t flinch at that? Fine then, read on.
Forged long ago in the lost Elf kingdom of Gondolin, Orcrist, the ‘goblin cleaver’, was a legendary blade, well known to the wise of Middle-earth and infamous among their enemies.
Having disappeared for centuries, the sword would reappear in, of all places, a Troll hoard, where, among the detritus and ruin, it catches the eye of Thorin Oakenshield. To the Dwarf, well versed in the crafting of fine weapons, it is a sword of peerless craft, but it is Elrond, lord and lore-master of Rivendell, who is able to name the blade and tell Thorin of its prestigious lineage.
No finer sword could a king of any race wish for. [Wetanz.com]
The following dimensions, details, and images are from Weta:
The blade is made from tempered spring steel and the dragon’s tooth grip is cast from CC60 urethane, painted and sealed under resin.
- Blade length: 37.0 in (940 mm)
- Total length: 49.2 in (1250 mm)
- Total Width: 7.9 in (200 mm)
- Weight: 6.4 lbs (2.92 kg)
On the cross is the name “Orcrist” etched in runes and the gently curvaceous blade, ground from spring steel, features etched elven runes stating “The Serpent’s Tooth”. On the pommel are four cubic zirconia gemstones inlaid.
The scabbard is made from a combination of white oak and steel and connects to the leather belt with leather straps and buckles. The inscription translates as “Born from the Maws of Dragons I am Always Hungry and Thirsty”.
The belt is made from embossed leather with steel buckle, loop and tip. It features straps for attaching the scabbard.
Update: 2/11/13: Designer Paul Tobin and swordsmith Peter Lyon offer their thoughts about the design of Orcrist, and the making of the scabbard for the Master Swordsmith’s edition replica.
Update: 12/13/13: The Royal Armouries in Leeds, UK now has a Master Swordsmith Orcrist in their collection.
Update: 2/24/14: The Orcrist scabbard made by UC is finally shipping from Amazon.com, but you may want to read reviews to avoid disappointment. It is made of polyresin, not metal or wood.
This authentically detailed scabbard collectible is a reproduction of the actual filming prop. The Orcrist Scabbard is 30″(76.2cm) overall, crafted in polyresin with a metal and wood grain patterned finish, Elven vine and leaf motifs, a built-in belt loop, and felt-lined interior. Close attention to detail was a top priority, right down to the engraved runic inscriptions. Includes a certificate of authenticity.
Rubie’s is now selling an inexpensive plastic version of Orcrist for costume use:
Paul Tobin shares the creation process behind Orcrist on his blog.