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. Additional embellishments are rare, but they may sometimes have two heads. 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 horses up to elephants, rhinos, 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.
While this trope most often refers to the roc bird itself, other mythical giant birds of prey of a similar nature from other nationalities may also fall under this trope, with examples including the Native American Thunderbird, the Jewish Ziz, the Hindu Garuda, or the Chinese Peng.
See also Rent-a-Zilla, Giant Flyer, Feathered Fiend, Dire Beast, and Kidnapping Bird of Prey. Not to be confused with the rook, a Real Life crow-like bird from Eurasia (although the chess piece known as the rook may have been inspired by the roc, and in German castling is called "Rochade").
- Magic: The Gathering: Rocs have appeared throughout the history of the game as large and powerful Bird creatures. In later sets especially they tend to be depicted as enormous golden eagles.
- The first roc, Roc of Kher Ridges, was released in the very first set ever printed.
- Two cards, Rukh Egg and Roc Egg, depicted inert eggs (weak, 0/3 creatures in-game) that on dying "break" open to create a much larger bird (a 4/4 and 3/3 creature with flying). The rukhs, also called "stonefeathers" and resembling bat-winged rocs, are supposed in-universe to descend from "a phoenix that sacrificed its flame for a body of stone".
- On Ravnica, rocs were among the creatures that managed to endure the plane becoming covered by a single, endless city far in the past. In the modern day they perch on the world-city's spires instead, occasionally tearing off whole roofs when they forget to loosen their claws when taking off; many are also used by the Boros Legion as flying mounts and as a way of apprehending criminals by the simple means of snatching them up in their talons and carrying them off into the sky.
- Rocs are also found on the plane of Kaladesh, where at least some have four wings.
- Tarkir has its own native rocs, which after the altering of the timeline become competitors to the dragons.
- Equestria Divided: House Stormwing uses rocs, huge predatory birds worshiped by griffons as the living embodiments of the skies' wrath, as powerful flying units.
- 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.
- Megami no Hanabira: One of Sara's demons, though she ever only uses it once for the purpose of transporting her and her girlfriend Kaede: it's huge and imposing, but those same qualities make it a massive target, as the two of them learn when every enemy on the battlefield turns their attention to it and shoot it out of the sky.
- 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.
- 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.
- The 7th Voyage of Sinbad features a two-headed roc brought to life by Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion effects.
- Aladdin (2019): Towards the movie's climax, Jafar turns his parrot henchman Iago into a rukh that chases after Aladdin and Jasmine through Agrabah to retrieve the lamp.
- The Magic Crane: The titular crane is a giant bird which is used as a steed for the main characters. It is however a Gentle Giant.
- The Arabian 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.
- Within the story of Sinbad himself, the roc appears in two specific parts:
- 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 Richard Burton's famous English translation), 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.
- Within the story of Sinbad himself, the roc appears in two specific parts:
- Baudolino: Rocs are raised by the Hashashin, and used by the protagonists in their escape.
- Book of Imaginary Beings: The rukh, or roc, is a vast exaggeration of an eagle or vulture typically found in the Indian Ocean. It may have been inspired by condors blown far from home, or may be a wholly fictitious creation. It is large enough to feed on elephants and on enormous serpents that prey on the former, and was encountered by Sinbad and described by Marco Polo.
- 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.
- In Journey to the West there are two Peng demons (see below) which sometimes are translated as Rocs. The first plays a marginal role and is the Peng Demon King, one of Sun Wukong's friends and bearer of the title of "Great Sage who Muddles the Heaven". The second one is known as either the "1000 Li-Travelling Peng" or "Great Golden-Winged Peng Bird" and is one of the three Demon Kings of the Lion Camel Mountain Range. Essentially a humanoid Roc wearing armor and wielding a Fàngtianji (Squared Heaven Halbeard) and is one of the few enemies good enough to be a match for Sun Wukong, who's forced to seek the help of Buddha to submit him.
- 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.
- Ology Series: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A less well-known but arguably even more impressive mythic Middle-Eastern bird is the Ziz of Jewish mythology, said to be large enough to be able to block out the sun with its wingspan. As Behemoth is the said to be king of land creatures and Leviathan the king of sea creatures, so is Ziz said to be the king of birds. A similar role is ascribed by rabbis to the weirder-looking Simurgh of Persian lore, a Mix-and-Match Critter which is gigantic enough to carry off an elephant or a whale and has the body of a peacock, the head of a dog, and the claws of a lion.
- The Thunderbird, as seen in various Native American mythologies, is similar in nature to the Roc, but also carries supernatural power often related to storms. So massive is it that it is said to create thunder by flapping its wings, and some accounts depict them hunting whales, which try to drown the birds by diving once they've been grabbed. In cryptozoology, the Thunderbird has since been appropriated to refer to rumored sightings of giant flying birds in the skies above North America, with theories ranging from misinterpretations of existing birds of prey to late-surviving teratorns and even pterosaurs that have somehow escaped extinction. Generally, though, the notion of a giant undiscovered bird of prey has been dismissed as unlikely - with so many birdwatchers in the U.S., one would think they'd have found out about such a bird by now if it actually existed.
- Chinese folklore gives us the Peng, which has been regarded as a synonym of the Roc by some translators of its original description in the Daoist classic Zhuangzi. According to this account, it has a back which "measures I don't know how many thousand li across" and wings "like clouds all over the sky", and transforms from a fish called the Kun. The original account heavily contrasts the Peng with the dramatically smaller dove and quail, the latter of which sees the Peng flying south and is so awed by its immense size and ability to traverse great distances so quickly that it can't help but wonder where it is going.
- The Garuda of Hindu mythology is sometimes depicted as a gigantic bird of prey, large enough to serve as a flying mount of Vishnu; other depictions showcase it as being noticeably smaller and with a mix of human and avian features. It's included here because it's sometimes described to be the king of birds, like the Ziz listed above, and also because its Chinese name translates to "Great Peng, the Golden-Winged Illumination King", referring to the Peng bird also listed above.
- Polynesian lore has the Poukai, a massive eagle sometimes capable of preying on humans, which is depicted in early rock-shelter paintings in South Canterbury. Unlike most of the above examples, it actually does have a real-world precedent in the form of the now-extinct Haast's eagle, which did not become extinct until around two hundred years after the arrival of the native Māori and, being built for taking down 500-pound moa birds, could easily add small children to its menu.
- They appear as one of the Tales in Tales of the Arabian Nights.
- Chess: An indirect appearance: the name of the bird in Persian (rukh) is the same as an old word for chariot. This was applied to one of the pieces of chess in the Middle Ages, which became the rook in modern English.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Rocs have appeared since the game's first edition as birds of prey large enough to carry off elephants in their claws. They are often associated with giants, who tame them as aerial mounts, although wild rocs will hunt giants. In fact, 5th edition lore says the giants' chief god Annam created rocs as air support in the giants' ancient war against the dragons.
- In Al-Qadim, it should come as no surprise that they are a prominent part of the setting, given the "Arabian Nights" Days theme. In fact the setting has three variations. Asides from the common roc found in other settings, there are also the intelligent great rocs and the evil-aligned two-headed rocs (based on the Ray Harryhausen one from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad).
- In 4th Edition, The Phoenix and Thunderbird (or Thunderhawk in the implied setting) are considered species of rocs native to the Elemental Chaos (and possessing the elemental powers that come with such an origin).
- Exalted: Rocs are condor-like birds with wingspans in excess of sixty feet. They do not seem to grow old — none have ever died of old age — and breed very rarely. A number roost on the floating island of Mount Metagalapa, whose people sometimes ride them. Rocs are very proud, however, and only rarely consent to take a rider.
- GURPS Fantasy Bestiary lists the Roc as a bird of prey so vast that its beak alone is the size of an ox. It lives on an island in the middle of the ocean, and people can use it as a means of transport by tying themselves to its legs and waiting for it to fly away — while the Roc could easily destroy a human hitchhiker, its sheer size means that it has trouble even noticing the presence of such tiny beings.
- 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 (a Shout-Out to the Ray Harryhausen version from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad listed above). 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.
- Shadowrun: Lesser rocs are Awakened albatrosses with a six-meter wingspan, and adapted for carnivory. Greater rocs are quite a lot bigger and can kill elephants.
- Warhammer: The coastline of Eataine, one of the kingdoms of the High Elves' homeland of Ulthuan, is populated by the Swiftfeather Rocs, blue-feathered raptors about the same size as the giant eagles found elsewhere in the world. They're among the various species of giant flyers allied to the elves, and in times of war are employed as both advance scouts and to pull the airborne Skycutter Chariots.
- Age of Mythology's Egyptian faction has the option of worshiping Hathor to gain access to Rocs, which carry a huge basket to act as flying transports.
- Age of Wonders: A high-tier Nomad unit rides a roc, depicted as an eagle-like bird that, while gigantic compared to any regular avian, is much smaller than traditional rocs.
- 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.
- Final Fantasy IX: Rocs are giant birds with spikes running down their backs and bellies and long bony tails, and are very powerful and dangerous enemies. They come in a number of varieties besides the basic grey roc, including ones named after the Diatryma, the suzaku and the ouzelum bird.
- God of War: Rocs appear as enemies, despite the games otherwise having no ties to Arabic myth. They're essentially giant eagles, although they don't reach the sizes of their mythical counterparts.
- 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 II has Rocs as a Wizard creature. III makes them a Stronghold army creature (upgradeable to Thunderbird). IV has Thunderbirds in the Might faction.
- 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.
- Saiyuki: Journey West: The villain Garda is heavily inspired by the Garuda bird of Hindu lore. While her normal form is a silver/red-haired girl with red wings on her back, her true Devil form is a gigantic fiery bird that better fits the spirit of this trope.
- 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.
- In The Order of the Stick, a drunken wizard teleports the Order into a roc's nest. Fortunately, the roc eats the wizard first, becomes drunk itself, and passes out. In a later strip, when the characters are passing by airship through a high mountain pass, hazard signs are visible warning of falling rocks and falling rocs.
- Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic: In the "Arabian Nights" Days part of the comic, while crossing the desert, a roc captures princess Sahar and bring her to its aerie. This roc happens to be two-headed and sapient (as well as chatty).
- 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 tries 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.
- Obviously, no flying bird in real life approaches the size of the mythical Roc. However, there is a theory that the myth was inspired by sightings of the extinct elephant bird of Madagascar, which died out around the year 1200. The name "elephant bird" even comes from Marco Polo's description of a giant bird on Madagascar big enough to carry off an elephant. Elephant birds, of course, could not fly, but they could have been mistaken for the babies of a much larger bird.
- Another extinct Madagascan bird, the Malagasy crowned eagle, may have also inspired the Roc myth, not unlike the Poukai noted under Myths & Religion being inspired by the Haast's eagle. This large bird of prey had a wingspan of up to six feet, and was one of the chief apex predators of the island until going extinct by around 1500. They may have been mixed up with accounts of the aforementioned elephant birds, which over time, would have resulted in rumors of gargantuan eagle-like birds living on Madagascar.
- Historically, supposed roc feathers were often given as gifts to kings. Marco Polo claimed to have seen one given to Kublai Khan and describes them in his accounts as being twice the width of a man's hand. Many believe that these were probably actually the leaves of the raffia palm.