Why Orcs?

So, a few folks on the interbutts looked at Grimluk and said, “if he’s not outright inhuman, why not just be a human?” And this question gets asked by various people of any characters that are non-human that resemble humans at all. I got to thinking about this again after Scott Oden posted The Monster In Us All and addressed the question himself.

And that is the question that has pervaded the criticism of Orc-themed fiction almost since its inception. How are they different from Humans? What sets them apart? And if they’re close enough to Human for Human readers to understand and sympathize with, then why not just make them Human? Why must they be Orcs?

The answer, I imagine, is as unique as every creator. The Orc is a powerful symbol: the ur-Barbarian, the Other who lives and thrives on the edges of polite society. The Orc is cunning, savage, hard to kill. The Orc represents chaos and change; it threatens the status quo and offers nihilism, dystopia, and rapine as valid alternatives. To a writer, there is much to explore within the context of the Orc.

It’s true, we all have our unique reasons, as everyone voiced during Orctober. So why didn’t I make Grimluk a human? Why did I include other races besides humans? On the one hand, because I like my fantasy with different races. I like dwarves and elves and halflings and orcs and their interactions. But that’s not the point.

Why is Grimluk an orc? Because it clicked. Because the big, green-skinned orcs are easy for me to identify with because people look at them and their appearance establishes an immediate expectation of the savage and the monstrous. Because when I was 8, I was a foot taller than everyone else. Because my size created an expectation for a great many things. Because I looked so much older, older kids would torture me on the school bus. Because I was so big, people were surprised that I was so smart. And while I did play sports somewhat, the assumption was always that I “must have been awesome at football.” I wasn’t.

And the size stuff persists today as well. I wear a size 17 shoe, extra wide. It is HARD to find comfortable shoes. In fact, until I bought my current sneakers, I had been wearing a 15 and that was wrong. I’m fat, so I have a big belly, and while it has shrank some over the past two years, I can’t always fit comfortable in booths in restaurants. I once had a hostess, who was going to seat us in the tiny booths near the bar, respond to the request for a table because of my size with a somewhat snotty, “Oh.” I take up a queen-size bed. That’s why Grim asks about “orc rooms” and “orc cups” and why I made a point to describe the furniture in Hunter’s Hollow as huge.

Pictured Above: Some Big Boys

I could also make some points about invisible illnesses and how they tie into expectations based on basic appearance. Again, I look huge and imposing and healthy. I am not healthy. In a great many ways. And then there’s beauty standards. I’m fat. I’ve never been considered Attractive™. I am, in fact, an alright lookin’ dude with gorgeous hair. Green skin, tusks, and animal-like eyes? That’ll get ya called ugly real fast, won’t it? Though, at the least, no one will concern-troll you about Fat unequivocally being Unhealthy.

And Scott’s right, there are aspects we strive to keep. Grimluk, while a working do-gooder, tends to do all his work on the edges, where demons and cultists can work more easily. He is cunning, because demons are cunning. He is savage, because fighting eldritch entities requires savagery. And he is very much hard to kill. Ya know, like taking four bullets to his chest and them being mostly surface wounds. And his people were, long ago, agents of chaos and dystopia and senseless violence, though the choice wasn’t their own.

Ultimately, monsters have reasons for being monstrous sometimes and sometimes, humans can be monstrous. That’s a pretty well understood point. So, why orcs? Because I feel more like an orc sometimes than a human. Because I’ve got the wrong shape sometimes. But the expectations don’t define me. And they don’t define the monsters.

Also because orcs are fucking cool and who doesn’t want to see an orc fight demons? Come on, I’m still a pulp writer at heart.

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