Friday, September 16, 2011

In Progress: Orc Romance

I'm writing a short story. A romance, I suspect. An Orc Romance.

Now, those of you who follow the blog fairly closely might remember when I discussed my lack of appreciation for mythical beasts-- centaurs, satyrs, hydras, etc. I just don't find them all that compelling as a writer. Yes, I did write a story for Ariadne and the Minotaur in Crete. It was an exception, and really, the more fascinating element to me was Ariadne's struggle against Minos. But the problem is, that lack of appreciation for GREEK mythical beasts and monsters? It totally extends to things like Orcs, Goblins, Trolls, Elves, Fairies, etc. Some people can write them well, and make them interesting to me, but for the most part, I'm just not interested in digging into that myself. Elves are too perfect, Goblins and Orcs and Trolls are too boringly evil, it's just all been done and done-over, I don't have anything new to contribute. In fact, I even swore to myself I'd never write fantasy of that nature.

And now.
Now I'm writing an Orc Romance.

I'm not entirely sure why I'm doing this to myself. The what-if kind of took over my brain, I guess. But the end result is that I'm meditating on the semi-fluid definition of what makes an Orc an Orc.

Giovanni Lanfranco Norandino and Lucina Discovered by the Ogre
this ogre is totally Cyclops-esque
There's the Warcraft definition-- the green-skinned brutes kind of reminiscent of Gamorrean Guards, right down to their tusky-teeth. When I was little, I called them pig-men. But if you go back further, there's Tolkien, and the SILMARILLION tells us that Orcs were elves once, stolen by Morgoth when they wandered too far afield into shadow, and twisted into evil and darkness by torture. In mannerism and behavior, you can see clearly the relationship between Tolkien's Orc and the traditional Ogre of the human consciousness. They're vicious things that like to snack on naughty children when you get down to it.  Not too dissimilar to the idea of the Cyclops of Greek Myth, but with two working eyes, though we imagine them, generally, to be a whole lot uglier.
Affreschi romani - polifemo presenza galatea - pompei
Polyphemus, the cyclops from the Odyssey (Roman Fresco)

But isn't that the nature of dark things moving beyond our sight? That what we imagine them to be is often worse than the truth of what they are? An Ogre or a Cyclops has no real redemption. It is what it is, and it is bound by its nature and, in the case of the Cyclops, the gods. But Tolkien's Orcs are something else. They were, once, all that was good and beautiful.

Why didn't he ever use that?

Or maybe the better question is: Can I?

We'll find out shortly, I guess! Orc Romance, here I come.


  1. I've always wondered about the Tolkien-interpretation... exactly as you said, why didn't he use that? An Orc, somewhere-somehow who isn't completely all evil despite everything. You already know my thoughts on Warcraft Orcs, their loyalty, honor above all else, they're completely awesome in every way.

    I'm -thrilled- that you decided to write this, and I'm even more thrilled that I'm getting to read it! What you have so far is capturing everything I love about the fantasy genre, and you're doing it so well!! I love the angle you've taken with the hero so far and I'm beyond curious about where it's going. :D

    Lok'tar! Go team Orc!!!

  2. I think that Tolkien, in sticking with the translation of mythology, chose a very black and white approach. The good people were really good, and the evil people were just irredeemably evil. No one is ever looking for the good in the people who team up on evil's side. MAYBE they'll accept it's existence in the neutral parties, but they certainly aren't going out of their way to find it.

    But it's so strange that he would give them that kind of an origin story and then not USE it. It feels like a missed opportunity -- but then, too, if his evil minions were not all evil, it lessons the triumph of the heroes, I guess.

  3. I think though, despite the great triumph, the black-and-white angle is exactly why Tolkien isn't a very-favorite of mine. I read through the Lord of the Rings trilogy but it took me forever to get through it, I was bored half the time, and I have no desire to re-read it ever. I much prefer The Hobbit and the way Tolkien showed the corruptibility of a "good" and innocent little being, and also his redemption, despite being forever tainted.

    I guess that's one of the reasons I'm intrigued by the setup in your story. I can already see how the main characters are anything but black and white, and it's only the first chapter!

  4. You can't have Heroic Bloodshed if those that are being slaughtered don't really deserve it.

    Mind you, Odysseus really got what he deserved due to his pride. Which makes the Cyclops a bit of a victim.

  5. Ralfast: Sometimes I feel like everyone in Greek mythology is a victim, honestly. Playthings of the gods.

    Di: I felt the same thing about Lord of the Rings. It was just a slog for me to read and I didn't enjoy it at all. I think most of my problem was that I found the hobbits completely disinteresting, but pretty much everything is narrated through their eyes so it was just... meh.

  6. I don't think Tolkien is totally black and white. There are some characters that are multi-layered, first of all Smeagol/Gollum - remember the scene where Gandalf and Frodo discuss the value of pity versus 'deserving death' and later Frodo's hope to redeem Gollum. Saruman and Wormtongue are two others, and even Boromir, while ultimately heroic, has his moment of weakness.

    There's also that bit of monologue about the fallen Haradrim mumak rider, in the book said by Sam, in the movie given to Faramir, "I wonder if he was really evil at heart ..." In The Hobbit, the 'good' elves of Mirkwood treat the captive dwarves quite shabbily, for example, and the Silmarillion has its share of flawed and grey characters.

    Though yes, the Orcs get the bad guy treatment.

  7. Well I love this idea! It's fascinating to take a bad character and round him out. There is very little true evil in nature, IMO. It's really all perspective. But hey, I'm the chick who wrote a fanfic on Clan of the Cave Bear and chose BROUD of all people.

    It's been a while since the last post here, I'm hoping you choose to develop this idea, I'd love to see how it goes.

    1. Thank you!! I'm kind of in love with the book I ended up with, and Bolthorn. It was so much fun to write and research.


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