The “Which Five Armies?” Debate: Settling It Once and for All …

Orc Army (Dol Guldur)

**SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t read the book yet (really?!), you might want to avoid this article to keep your final film experience intact. To all the rest, carry on!**

– Case Closed

I can start this post by saying, it’s a needless post. The case is pretty much closed as the answer to the question, “Which Five Armies is Tolkien referring to in the Battle of Five Armies?“, can’t be more plainly given than it is in the book.

I’m not sure why the question keeps cropping up, and why people tend to give a variation of solutions to it (most of which, are wrong … seriously wrong).

So I’m hoping to settle this debate once and for all.

Dwarves (on rams)

– What Tolkien said

In the chapter that introduces us to the battle, Tolkien wrote a distinctive image of what the five armies consisted of:

So began a battle that none had expected; and it was called the Battle of Five Armies, and it was very terrible.

The Hobbit; ‘The Clouds Burst’, Chapter 17

So far so good. We’ve established the name of the battle and how horrible it was.

The next sentence goes like this:

Upon one side were the Goblins and the wild Wolves, and upon the other were Elves and Men and Dwarves. 

The Hobbit; ‘The Clouds Burst’, Chapter 17

See, case closed.

– So why does this debate exist?

No doubt that one of the major contributors to people believe that the Orcs and Wargs (wild Wolves) constitute a single army, stems from The Hobbit trilogy.

Peter Jackson’s adaptation has introduced us to the concept of orc hunters riding Wargs in order to travel light and cover great distances whilst hunting down their enemies.

One can quite excuse such a reason. Quite. It makes sense to believe that the two creatures assisted each other; the way we humans might associate ourselves using horses as a means of Wargstransport.

However, if you’ve read your Tolkien well (and I’m referring to The Hobbit), you would realize that the author made a clear distinction between the two.

Whilst they may have assisted each other and had similar motives to capture the Dwarves, they were nonetheless two separate races with their own way of life.

The Wargs and the goblins often helped one another in wicked deeds […]  They often got the Wargs to help and shared the plunder with them. Sometimes they rode on wolves like men do on horses.

The Hobbit; ‘Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire’, Chapter 6

It just so happened that when the event of the Battle of Five Armies was brooding, the Orcs and Wargs shared their rivalry and hate for the Dwarves and decided to assist each other once again; arriving on the battlefield as two distinct armies – THE two armies from the five.

– What about the Eagles?


What about them? Oh yes, now I get it. I’m sure you’re thinking about the Eagles-save-the-day moments in both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films.

More apparent in The Lord of the Rings, some of those who refuse to believe Wargs are a separate army, are insistent on defining the arrival of the Eagles at the Battle of the Five Armies as one of those armies.

First of all, I doubt you could call a flock of birds an “army”. And even if they were, they were not part of the famous Five. For further information, re-read Tolkien’s quote above.

– Final Remarks

And thankfully, that’s the end of the debate. Naturally, you might have other opinions in mind – which I would be very pleased to read about in the comments below.

Otherwise, I think the case of the Five Armies is pretty clear and does not need further analysis.

However, I do urge you to help share this article and spread the word. Let’s banish the erroneous thoughts on this subject forever! 😀

17 thoughts on “The “Which Five Armies?” Debate: Settling It Once and for All …

  1. In the books, Tolkien did have a habit of interchanging Orc and Goblin as well, which you did in your article. But PJ and crew have made a great effort to create very different looks for Orcs and Goblins, so it is my contention that Orcs and Goblins will be labeled the Two armies on the opposing side, and that the Wargs will just be mounts. He has already taken speech from any of the animals, and therefore any semblance of free will and self determination.

    1. I’ve actually thought about that. It is clear that, as you say, in PJ’s version, Orcs and Goblins are two distinct species and I would like to see Goblins present during the battle.

  2. On the one side are the goblins and wolves, on the other elves, dwarves and men. Perhaps these all count as one army and that the other four armies were one a third side. No doubt, Ungoliant was secretly at work here. 😉

  3. While I like the look of the Iron Hills Dwarves atop armoured Rams, I liked that the Dwarves had a uniqueness of not relying on cavalry in combat. I can understand the practicality of the Dwarves wanting to get to the mountain as fast as possible, but something about a horde of 300 uber-Dwarves clad in mail thundering across Middle-earth stirs up something fearsome!

  4. I think that regardless of exactly what the five armies are in the books, what we are going to see in the film is this:

    1. Dwarves
    2. Elves
    3. Men
    4. Orcs (with wargs as part of their army)
    5. Goblins

    The movies have established the Orcs and Goblins as two distinct races, and the movies have only depicted the wargs as basically being the horses of the Orcs, so I can’t imagine that the wargs will be considered their own army in the film.

  5. How ’bout the wizards?

    Although Tolkien doesn’t mention them in the citations that you provided — they are clearly a distinct species — and they are clearly engaged in “the battle”.

    1. Hey David, I doubt one could classify Gandalf as an “army” (Radagast is not present in the book) … it depends on sizes and the reason behind the conflict to classify one as an army 🙂

  6. In the book there are 1. Men 2. Dwarves 3. Elves 4. Goblins 5. Wargs.
    But, there is also Bilbo, Gandalf and Beorn, who are just one on there own, but maybe all 3 could be a miscellaneous army of sorts. And then of course there are the Eagles. So although at the beginning he does state five armies, I think there were more ” Armies” that played a part.And if you think a flock of Eagles can’t be an army, than how are just 13 dwarves an army either?

    1. Thanks Meg for your input! Regarding the Dwarves, well there was an army from the Iron Hills so when you add Thorin’s company in the mix, they surely are a proper army 😉

  7. Aah of course, how on Earth did I forget something so important(the Iron Hill dwarves)?!?!
    I guess a Hobbit re-read is in order:). Anyway, just to clarify, normally 3 “people” would never be an army but Gandalf and Beorn are FAR more powerfully than one member of any of the armies, which is why they might be put into consideration.

  8. Beorn brought a large number of his own people, enough for a small army. Yet I don’t think Tolkien counted them as part of the five armies gathered for war, rather like a local militia as were the eagles. Hence Tolkien’s count of men, dwarves, orcs, elves, and the extra army of Gundabad Orcs (not goblins) brought in by Bolg were the fifth.

    1. I think you might be confusing the book from the film. There was only one orc/goblin army under Bolg, which came from Gundabad and the Misty Mountains – together with an alliance with the Wargs.

      With Regards to Beorn, he was alone at the battle as far as I can recall.

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