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Titanic birds of prey originating from Arabic and Persian folklore.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
Theriocephalus on Aug 8th 2018 at 11:21:40 AM
Last Edited By:
Theriocephalus on Aug 18th 2018 at 2:43:10 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/edward_julius_detmold49.jpg

A very specific form of Giant Flyer hailing from Arabic and Persian folklore, the roc (sometimes spelled ruk or rukh) typically takes the form of an eagle of stupefying size. Rocs are universally much bigger than the usual brand of predatory flying monsters, which tend to be "merely" big enough to carry off a man in their talons. The rocs' size is usually brought to deliberate extremes; generally, they are in the same size range as flying dragons or airplanes.

The rocs' mind-boggling dimensions are sometimes used to emphasize the strangeness, wonder and exoticness of the areas they are found in — something so huge, such as vast and exaggerated version of a common animal, is so unlike anything one could find in a normal, familiar setting that the presence of a roc leaves no doubt that the story has crossed into somewhere strange and wondrous. As such, rocs are often placed in unexplored areas ripe for adventure stories — the Island of Mystery is a particularly common nesting spot — especially ones tied to "Arabian Nights" Days, Sim Sim Salabim and neighboring locations in the Hollywood Atlas.

Their size also allows rocs to play an exaggerated version of the role of the Kidnapping Bird of Prey; they traditionally prey on large animals, from cattle and rhinoceri up to elephants and whales, and may sometimes prey upon other large monsters. They rarely target individual human-sized characters due the sheer size difference, but may easily be able to carry away an entire ship or boat in their talons.

These creatures are especially likely to appear in stories associated with Sinbad the Sailor. Humor may sometimes be derived from the similarity between the words "roc" and "rock", whether in the form of rocs made out of actual rocks or characters confusing one word for the other.

See also Rent-a-Zilla, Giant Flyer, Feathered Fiend and Kidnapping Bird of Prey. Not to be confused with the rook, a Real Life crow-like bird from Eurasia.


    open/close all folders 
    Card Games 

    Fanfic 
  • The Life and Times of a Winning Pony: Rocs resemble an eagle twenty times larger than normal, and are fully capable of carrying off a grown pony in their talons.
  • The Palaververse: Rocs, in the tradition of the show's pun-based creatures, are literally made of living rock. Some tribes of Diamond Jackals hollow them out into living, flying fortresses.

    Film — Animated 
  • Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas features a rather creative take on the Roc — depicted as one of Eris' "pets", the Roc is a giant, owl-like monster that can control ice. Its mere arrival on the island the crew shows up on changes it from a tropical paradise to a snowy tundra in seconds. Additionally, it's given claws on its wings not unlike those of a bat or a pterosaur, and it briefly uses those claws to crawl around with. According to Word of God, they researched real life snowy owls to get a feel for how the bird would look and move.

    Film — Live-Action 

    Folklore and Mythology 
  • Rocs originate in Middle Eastern folklore, where they're often depicted as nesting on remote islands, either on a large island to the south, usually identified as Madagascar, or in the seas around China.
    • Madagascar, in particular, is linked to a possible origin for the roc myth. Travelers to that area, which in the Middle Ages was at the very southern edge of the explored Arab world, could have encountered flightless elephant birds, the largest birds to live in modern times, until these went extinct at the start of the second millennium. As elephant birds, like most flightless birds, are rather neotenic in appearance (i.e., they retain a lot of features normally associated with young animals), those travelers might have concluded that these must be the ugly, three-meters-tall, flightless chicks of a truly ginormous bird.
    • The Thousand And One Nights is the Trope Codifier: while rocs appear in many older legends, this is the work where the most widely known and referenced story featuring them — that of the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor — was penned. The roc appears in two specific parts of the story:
      • In Sinbad's second voyage, he becomes stranded on an island inhabited by rocs. He escapes by attaching himself to one of the enormous birds when it flies away and lets it carry him to the mainland, where it lands after reaching a valley home to monstrous snakes large enough to swallow an elephant whole — these snakes being the rocs' main prey.
      • In Sinbad's fifth voyage, he and his crew land on an island where they discover a gigantic roc egg taller than a man. They break it despite Sinbad's warnings, and the unborn chick provides enough meat to feed the whole crew. This comes to bite the crew shortly thereafter when they try to leave: the furious parents chase them and bombard their ship with massive boulders, sinking it.
    • The Roc bird ("rukh" in Burton), whose eggs are fifty feet broad and who is strong enough to carry a piece of mountain in his claws, also appears in "Abd Al-Rahman the Maghribi's Story of the Rukh".
    • The original Aladdin story ends when the Big Bad (the previous Big Bad's brother) manipulates Aladdin's wife into thinking a roc's egg is the only decoration missing from their palace. Aladdin asks the genie of the lamp to get one, and the genie launches into a sudden vitriolic speech about how, after basically solving all of Aladdin's problems, he should now put his master in chains to serve as decoration. Exactly how an egg (or a giant bird, at that) can be a genie's master is never explained.
      The genie gave such a loud and terrible shriek that the hall shook. "Wretch!" he cried, "is it not enough that I have done everything for you, but you must command me to bring my master and hang him up in the midst of this dome? You and your wife and your palace deserve to be burnt to ashes, but that this request does not come from you, but from the brother of the African magician, whom you destroyed. He is now in your palace disguised as the holy woman, whom he murdered. He it was who put that wish into your wife's head. Take care of yourself, for he means to kill you." So saying, the genie disappeared.

    Literature 
  • Baudolino: Rocs are raised by the Hashashin, and used by the protagonists in their escape.
  • Dragonology: Monsterology includes the roc in the chapter dedicated to flying beasts. It's a raptorial bird large enough to carry off an elephant in one talon, is native to the Arabian peninsula, and is noted to have once been confused with the wyvern, the largest dragon in the books.
  • The Goat Named Ivan Ivanovich, from the Alice, Girl from the Future series, has Alice, during her travel to The Age of Myth, sail with Sinbad the Sailor on a route where it is rumored they might meet a Roc. They do meet... an albatross, which people of that time do apparently call a Roc, and which Sinbad handles easily by throwing it some fish. Then the sequel, Lilac Sphere, features a real Roc and its egg.
  • Known Space: The short story "Safe at Any Speed" features rocs in the form of gigantic alien birds large enough to swallow a car whole.
  • Redwall: While not called a roc, the Wild King MacPhearsome (an eagle) fits the image, what with the otter protagonist being the size of his leg. He guards the Flower from the Mountaintop, and actually flies the otter back to Redwall Abbey in time to save everyone from a plague.
  • In The Travels of Marco Polo, in what is quite possibly one of the earliest accounts of the creatures in Europe, Marco Polo describes rocs as eagle-like birds from Madagascar so large that their feathers alone are twelve paces long. They hunt by gripping elephants in their talons and dropping them to ground, before swooping down to feed on the smashed remains.

    Let's Play 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Rocs have appeared since the game's first edition as birds of prey large enough to carry off elephants in their claws. Al-Qadim also includes two-headed rocs.
  • Pathfinder: Rocs are highly territorial, mountain-nesting raptors that grow so large that they can dwarf full-grown dragons. They typically hunt by snatching up their prey, carrying them high into the air and dropping them to ground, before flying down to eat the remains. Roc eggs fetch tremendous prices and are especially prized by cloud and storm giants, who use the giant birds as guard animals and flying mounts.
    • Rukhs appear as a separate, although related, type of creatures resembling giant two-headed vultures. Unlike their more predatory cousins, they are scavengers and hunters of small prey (which given their size still means things like camels and humans).
    • According to Qadiran worshippers of Sarenrae, the first phoenixes — which in Pathfinder are around the same size as rocs — were created when the goddess awakened a flock of rocs to sapience, blessing them with her fires when the newly intelligent birds pledged themselves to her service.

    Videogames 
  • Dwarf Fortress: Rocs are a type of megabeast, a group of extremely rare, large and powerful creatures that will attack you fortress when certain conditions are met and are generally capable of wrecking fortresses on their own. They are the third largest creatures in the game behind fully-grown dragons (which take fifty times as long to reach their full size) and giant sperm whales, and the biggest flying creatures of all. A newly hatched roc is as big as a fully-grown giant eagle.
  • Final Fantasy: In various games, you get the Zuu — gigantic birdlike monsters — as random encounters. The Rukh are a more powerful palette swapped Zuu.
  • Golden Sun:
    • Golden Sun: The Lost Age: Rocs appear in the second game as common enemies, being merely man-sized birds.
    • Golden Sun: Dark Dawn: The Mountain Roc is large enough to carry off human prey when Amiti recalls indirectly encountering it as a child, to be worshipped as a god the nation of Morgal, to force the camera to zoom out during your boss fight against it (and you still don't get the whole thing on your screen) and that its gizzard acts as a Womb Level, albeit a short one.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic 3 has Rocs as a Stronghold army creature (upgradeable to Thunderbird).
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening: The Roc itself never appears, but the Roc's Feather shows up as an item that allows the otherwise ground-bound Link to jump.
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has the Helmaroc King, a giant bird with a metal mask over its face that serves as Ganondorf's Dragon. At the start of the game it kidnaps Link's sister Aryll, kicking off the main plot. There are also the Kargarocs, smaller (though still man-sized) mook variants of the same species.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Roc (sometimes Rukh) is frequently a demon in the series and its spinoffs. It is usually a member of the Avian or Flight race, and is usually portrayed as a giant bird with a rocky skin texture to emphasize its size, making it look like a flying mountain.
  • Skies of Arcadia: One of the Bonus Boss ship battles is against a Roc. It is large enough to dwarf Vyse's ship, the Delphinus, which is one of the largest craft in the game. You can also find it's nest nearby, a single egg from which is said to be enough to feed an entire town for a lunar cycle.
  • Sonic and the Secret Rings: The Rukhs double as a sky-based sort of Turtle Island in that a civilization had been built on the backs of a flock of Rukhs in the past, each of them carrying roughly a city block's worth. Appropriately, they are found only in the stage known as Levitated Ruin.

    Western Animation 
  • Aladdin: The Series: In one episode, the villain Abis Mal uses magical feathers from a baby roc to turn his men into walking tornadoes and loot Agrabah (and indirectly frames Aladdin's friend Abu), so Aladdin tires to free the baby roc and sends Genie to find the mother. There's also running gag where people keep mistaking "roc" and "rock" in conversation.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Molt Down", while in the Everfree Forest, the smell Spike is emitting as part of his molt attracts a roc; it promptly tries to eat him and the ponies he's with, strafing its ground-bound targets and trying to carry them off in its talons. It's stated that rocs, alongside hydras and tatzlwurms, are the biggest danger faced by young, molting dragons newly kicked out of their homes, tracking them down through the smell they produce and stopping at nearly nothing to devour them. There's also a moment of confusion early on when Smolder is explaining this to Spike, and he thinks she's talking about rocks instead.
    Smolder: That molt stench is a magnet for predators. Tatzlwurms, hydras, rocs...
    Spike: Dragons are scared of rocks?
    Smolder: R-O-C-S. Rocs? Humongous birds of prey that can snack on a molting dragon like candy!
  • In Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor, Sindbad has a roc bird that he commands to sink Popeye's ship and bring Olive Oyl to him. Later, he commands it to kill Popeye, so the roc takes him to a volcano. Popeye returns with the roc on a giant plate, roasted with gravy.

Feedback: 37 replies

Aug 8th 2018 at 12:31:19 PM

One possible origin is travelers seeing ostriches (or other giant flightless birds such as the elephant bird of Madagascar) and concluding that these must be the ugly flightless chicks of a truly ginormous bird.

  • Baudolino: Rocs are raised by the Hashashin, and used by the protagonists in their escape.
  • Golden Sun: Rocs appear in the second game as common enemies, being merely man-sized birds.

Aug 8th 2018 at 1:05:24 PM

You should include that Rocs were also in an episode of the Disney Aladdin animated series for TV. Abis Mal, the bad guy from Aladdin 2 voiced by Jason Alexander, used magical feathers from a baby Roc in order to turn his men into walking tornadoes and loot Agrabah (and indirectly framed Aladdin's friend Abu). So Aladdin tires to free the baby Roc and sends Genie to find the mother.

Also there's this funny running gag where people kept mistaking a Roc for a rock in conversation.

Aug 8th 2018 at 3:26:15 PM

In Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor, Sindbad has a Roc bird that he commands to sink Popeye's ship and bring Olive Oyl to him. Later, he commands it to kill Popeye, so the Roc takes him to a volcano. Popeye returns with the Roc on a giant plate, roasted with gravy.

Aug 8th 2018 at 7:37:54 PM

Not sure if this counts...

Aug 8th 2018 at 7:51:52 PM

Laconic is too descriptive. Doesn't match the name.

This would go with other fantasy birds like Phoenixes, and Thunderbirds.

Aug 8th 2018 at 10:11:21 PM

^^ I'll add it for now; I can always trim it later if it doesn't seem to fit.

^ I shortened to laconic, but I'm not sure what you mean by it not matching the name.

In regards to other fantasy birds, what do you mean by "it would go with"? That it would be a related or sister trope or that it should be a single trope?

Aug 9th 2018 at 1:27:57 AM

In Final Fantasy, you get the Zuu as random encounters. The Rukh are a more powerful palette swapped Zuu.

Aug 9th 2018 at 2:52:44 AM

The Legend Of Zelda The Wind Waker has the Helmaroc King, a giant bird with a metal mask over it's face that serves as Ganondorf's Dragon. At the start of the game it kidnaps Link's sister Aryll, kicking off the main plot. Link eventually kills it during his second trip to the Forsaken Fortress. There are also the Kargarocs, smaller (though still man-sized) mook variants of the same species.

Aug 9th 2018 at 3:12:38 AM

While not called a roc, the Wild King Mac Phearsome (an eagle) in Redwall fits the image, what with the otter protagonist being the size of his leg. He guards the Flower From The Mountaintop, and actually flies the otter back to Redwall Abbey in time to save everyone from a plague.

Aug 9th 2018 at 3:46:37 AM

There is an Arabian Nights example listed under Giant Flyer. I've copied it.

  • The Arabian Nights: The Roc bird ("rukh" in Burton), whose eggs are fifty feet broad and is strong enough to carry a piece of mountain in his claws. ("Abd Al-Rahman the Maghribi's Story of the Rukh").

Aug 9th 2018 at 4:01:12 AM

@OP - I mean that there's nothing in the title about the bird needing to be giant, or Arabic, etc.

This is Our Monsters Are Different, but just for Rocs, right?

Just call it Our Rocs Are Different?


And by "it would go with", I meant that all those fall under the Fantasy Bird concept, and should be in such an index, if it exists.

Ah... Avian Tropes.

Aug 9th 2018 at 4:57:07 AM

  • Heroes Of Might And Magic 3 has Rocs as a Stroghold army creature (upgradeable to Thunderbird).
  • The book The Goat named Ivan Ivanovich from the Alice Girl From The Future series has Alice, during her travel to The Age Of Myth, sail with Sinbad the Sailor on a route where it is rumored they might meet a Roc. They do meet... an albatross, which people of that time do apparently call a Roc, and which Sinbad handles easily by throwing it some fish. Then the sequel, Lilac Sphere, features a real Roc and its egg.

Aug 9th 2018 at 5:21:13 AM

Not to be confused with the Rock Bird...

Aug 9th 2018 at 6:03:45 AM

@ Malady: I'd considered something like Our Rocs Are Different, but I didn't know if that would be excessive snowclone usage. If it wouldn't be an issue, I have no problem with changing the title to that. My hesitation comes from how there's a number of fictional creatures tropes — The Phoenix, Unicorn, Pegasus, Wendigo, Basilisk And Cockatrice, The Jersey Devil, etc. — that don't use that template.

Avian Tropes sounds like an appropriate index, yeah. Index Of Fictional Creatures, also.

Aug 9th 2018 at 6:26:14 AM

Ah. Our Monsters Are Different seems to be for when there's a lot of variability in how monsters are presented.

Like how Vampires may, or may not have a garlic weakness, what powers they have, etc.

Rocs at least, seem to have at least the "Is A Big Bird" bit, as a constant, although, if there's more consistency than that, I don't know.

But I don't think so?? It just seems like Roc is a name used when a big bird is needed, unlike The Phoenix, which is "Flaming Bird".

Aug 9th 2018 at 6:49:41 AM

Just call it Roc or The Roc (alternatively, Rukh or The Rukhnote ). Also, link to the Wikipedia article.

Aug 9th 2018 at 9:39:18 AM

I think The Roc Bird is a fine name - as it indicates it's a type of bird. The "roc" spelling seems to be more common than "rukh" in English, so The Rukh Bird may be a redirect.

Aug 9th 2018 at 10:13:57 AM

  • Sinbad Legend Of The Seven Seas features a rather creative take on the Roc—depicted as one of Eris' "pets", the Roc is a giant, owl-like monster that can control ice. Its mere arrival on the island the crew shows up on changes it from a tropical paradise to a snowy tundra in seconds. Additionally, it's given claws on its wings not unlike those of a bat or a pterosaur, and it briefly uses those claws to crawl around with. According to Word Of God, they researched real life snowy owls to get a feel for how the bird would look and move.

I'm totally onboard with this bird getting itself a trope page—Rocs are underappreciated.

Does Chuggaconroy naming his Archeops after this bird count as an example?

Aug 9th 2018 at 10:20:31 AM

  • Roc (sometimes Rukh) is frequently a demon in the Mons-genre series Shin Megami Tensei and its spinoffs. It is usually a member of the Avian or Flight race, and usually portrayed as a giant bird with a rocky skin texture to emphasize its size, making it look like a flying mountain.

Aug 9th 2018 at 3:04:39 PM

^^ Regarding Chuggaconroy... maybe. It would certainly count as an invoking of the trope, even though it isn't a straight example. I'll add it for now.

Right. At this point, I feel there are enough examples accumulating to start worrying about trope identity. One thing I want to avoid is to make this a The Same But More Specific version of Giant Flyer, since that's not good grounds on which to build a trope. I personally think it's important, when drafting a trope about a type of fantasy or mythological creature, to keep a consistent narrative identity evident to warrant it being its own thing — like when I launched Treants, I wanted to avoid it just being "Plant Person that's a tree".

So, with the roc, while I don't think all characteristics need to apply, I think proper examples would have at least a couple of the traits that seem evident to me about portrayals of rocs in myth and fiction:

  • To begin with, the creature directly being called a roc, rukh, ruk or similar.
  • Some link to Arabia, Persia, or the the "Orient"/Indian Ocean in general, their cultures and folklores, Fantasy Counterpart Cultures thereof, and/or more specifically Sinbad the Sailor.
  • Found beyond the metaphorical edge of the map — one of the things one finds in exotic and unexplored locales beyond the bounds of familiar civilization.
  • Very, very, very big.
  • A tendency to prey with relative impunity on things generally though beyond predation, especially from flying raptors — rhinoceri, elephants, dragons, that sort of thing.
Again, not all — or most, really — traits need apply, but the more the merrier, so to speak.

And incidental rather than diagnostic, but a couple traits I'm noticing seem to include:

  • Two heads. Not sure why this crops up, but it does every now and then.
  • Puns and/or confusion based on "roc" and "rock".

Aug 9th 2018 at 10:08:00 PM

The listing for Magic: The Gathering should include the "Rukh Egg" card from the Arabian Nights expansion. Although it's only a egg (a weak, 0/3 creature), "breaking" it open creates a much larger bird (a 3/3 creature with flying).

Aug 9th 2018 at 10:35:08 PM

  • The original Aladdin story ends when the Big Bad (the previous Big Bad's brother) manipulates Aladdin's wife into thinking a roc's egg is the only decoration missing from their palace. Aladdin asks the genie of the lamp to get one, and the genie launches into a sudden vitriolic speech about how after basically solving all of Aladdin's problems, the genie should now put his master in chains to serve as decoration. Exactly how an egg (or a giant bird, at that) can be a genie's master is never explained.
    The genie gave such a loud and terrible shriek that the hall shook. "Wretch!" he cried, "is it not enough that I have done everything for you, but you must command me to bring my master and hang him up in the midst of this dome? You and your wife and your palace deserve to be burnt to ashes, but that this request does not come from you, but from the brother of the African magician, whom you destroyed. He is now in your palace disguised as the holy woman, whom he murdered. He it was who put that wish into your wife's head. Take care of yourself, for he means to kill you." So saying, the genie disappeared.

Aug 10th 2018 at 12:09:49 AM

  • Skies Of Arcadia: One of the Bonus Boss ship battles is against a Roc. It is large enough to dwarf Vyse's ship, the Delphinus, which is one of the largest craft in the game. You can also find it's nest nearby, a single egg from which is said to be enough to feed an entire town for a lunar cycle.

Aug 10th 2018 at 3:21:49 PM

Not to be confused with the rook, which is Real Life crow-like bird from Eurasia.

Aug 12th 2018 at 8:06:30 PM

Title still doesn't match laconic...

Big Arabic Roc could work... Or Big Arabic Roc Bird...

Aug 12th 2018 at 11:24:20 PM

^ Eeeh... I'm not convinced. Those names sound clunky and awkward, and in any case it doesn't match how this sort of tropes are usually named — when a trope is made about a mythological being, that being's name is usually used without any other frills. I don't need to make a long-winded title to explain that The Phoenix is fiery, avian and rebirths from its ashes, that the Kitsune is nine-tailed, a trickster and a fox or that the Wendigo is a cannibal giant that Was Once A Man — those things are sort of implicit in the creatures themselves.

I mean, if tropes about mythical creatures tend to be named Unicorn and The Phoenix rather than, oh, Pure Elusive Unicorn or Fiery Immortal Phoenix, I think there's a reason.

Aug 12th 2018 at 11:58:14 PM

I agree, the title is fine as is.

Aug 13th 2018 at 2:43:11 AM

I like current title already.

Aug 13th 2018 at 5:01:10 AM

^^^ - Well, I don't like it, 'cause Rocs don't have that level of common knowledge like Phoenixes, Unicorns, and Kitsune do...

But I guess that's on me, 'cause Kitsune wouldn't be as known to me, if I didn't read Japanese-works...

That Laconic though... Not sure I like how it's forcing a regional focus... Unlike The Phoenix, which says: "A bird of flame that is revived upon dying."

We're supposed to be international and not isolating tropes to specific regions unless there's a really good reason for it...

The Roc doesn't have many unifying characteristics, like I've said previously. It's basically used as another name for any Giant Flyer variant? There's usually no connection to Arabia / Persia?


Typo: Stroghold > Stronghold

Aug 13th 2018 at 10:46:21 AM

Dropping the "The" in favour of "Roc" or "Roc Bird" would make it easier to link to.

Aug 16th 2018 at 9:43:02 PM

^ Maybe. "Roc Bird" sounds kind of award to me, but if it sounds fine to others I'll change it to that or just to "Roc".

If there's nothing else, I'll probably launch this tomorrow.

Aug 16th 2018 at 9:43:03 PM

^ Maybe. "Roc Bird" sounds kind of award to me, but if it sounds fine to others I'll change it to that or just to "Roc".

If there's nothing else, I'll probably launch this tomorrow.

Aug 17th 2018 at 6:12:19 PM

Hatted. Roc Bird sounds fine to me; “the” seems to imply there’s only the one.

Aug 17th 2018 at 8:43:36 PM

I vote for the title Roc Bird.

Aug 17th 2018 at 11:55:42 PM

Fair enough, title changed. Anything else?

Aug 18th 2018 at 2:43:10 AM

This looks like it's okay to launch.

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