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Are orcs over used?

WooHooMan

Auror
I just.... always have to wonder if the Tolkien books I've read are the same as the ones everyone else has. I suppose the problem is that most people who have read LOTR haven't read The Silmarillion. But honestly, "uniformly pretty" and "prissy"? I just don't know where people get that impression from, unless it's the movies. (Curse Peter Jackson!) Elves are not "favored" by God over Men, though probably over Dwarves. Both Elves and Men are the "Children of Illuvatar". They are different, but neither is meant to be "better" than the other. People tend to view the "immortality" of the Elves as making them "better" but that isn't the case. In fact, mortality is called the "Gift of Men". And it was the envy of that immortality among certain Men that led to much death and suffering and the destruction of Numenor.

And orcs are not the "polar opposite" of Elves. They are a corruption of Elves and Men on an essential level. That is part of the terror of Sauron. Those armies of orcs and half-orcs are the future for any people that falls under his dominion.

I have read the Silmarillion. Or rather, I've read the "History of Middle-Earth" set. Even casual Tolkien readers probably know that Tolkien's Elves weren't all prissy or how Orcs are corrupted Elves/Men.

I was talking about the average person's perception of Elves and Orcs - be they Tolkien-created or Tolkien-influenced. I could have just as easily been talking about the races of Dungeon & Dragons or whatever. I was trying to keep it broad.

What I was trying to get across is that Orcs are the "bad guys" and sometimes people like rooting for the bad guys.
Elves, on the other hand, are the "good guys". As such, you can see Orcs as an opposite to Elves. In Middle-Earth, Orcs also happen to be an opposite to Men and Dwarves. I just used Elves in my explanation because portrayals of Elves in fiction tend to be as formulaic (for lack of a better word) as portrayals of Orcs. And the formula for Elves tend to be "pretty and prissy".
 
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SeverinR

Vala
My orcs are the Klingons of fantasy. They are a war tribe, only the strongest leads, but that doesn't mean they are stupid.
But if they were overly inteligent they would be more of a threat to civilized society. Part of their weakness is distrust of other bands of orcs, so banding a group of orcs together would be tough and very limited.
Remember the toughest are looking to move up in ranks, they don't want to compete with another tribe of orcs to do so.

The nomad nature and continued fighting to gain rank limits the power of the orcs. My orcs are the Vikings and nomad indians of history. They depend on raiding and pillaging to survive. War wounds add up and conituous moving is hard on the babies.
They are very smart in the martial arts. Thus they are not stupid enough to trust their lives to a rusty sword.
 

Bearman1

Scribe
Something I would like to see in a story are orcs that are genuinely scary. Almost all books I have read the orcs are fairly useless, only posing a threat in large numbers or against characters who cannot defend themselves. Considering most orc cultures are centred around fighting and war I find it frustrating that the heroes normally easily defeat them.

So i would say if you are going to use orcs in your novel try and make them a fearful force. Just an idea to make them a bit refreshing :)
 

Jabrosky

Banned
Something I would like to see in a story are orcs that are genuinely scary. Almost all books I have read the orcs are fairly useless, only posing a threat in large numbers or against characters who cannot defend themselves. Considering most orc cultures are centred around fighting and war I find it frustrating that the heroes normally easily defeat them.
Funny you say that, for I always imagined orcs as physically bigger and stronger than humans. I don't base this image off any existing mythos like Tolkien or Warcraft, but instead figured that a race of fierce barbarian warriors would need an advantage in brute strength to compensate for their more primitive technology.

Now that I think about it, if orcs are indeed formidable warriors in their own right, might certain nations find them handy as mercenaries? The Romans would hire Northern European tribesmen for that purpose, just as the Egyptians before them hired Sea People and the Sudanese Medjay. I recall the orcs in Stan Nicholls' books are almost like mercenaries for the villain, but it would be interesting to see orcish mercenaries working for the stereotypically "nobler" races.
 

WooHooMan

Auror
Funny you say that, for I always imagined orcs as physically bigger and stronger than humans. I don't base this image off any existing mythos like Tolkien or Warcraft, but instead figured that a race of fierce barbarian warriors would need an advantage in brute strength to compensate for their more primitive technology.

Now that I think about it, if orcs are indeed formidable warriors in their own right, might certain nations find them handy as mercenaries? The Romans would hire Northern European tribesmen for that purpose, just as the Egyptians before them hired Sea People and the Sudanese Medjay. I recall the orcs in Stan Nicholls' books are almost like mercenaries for the villain, but it would be interesting to see orcish mercenaries working for the stereotypically "nobler" races.

I think this was the thought process of the Elder Scrolls' orcs.
They're an interesting case: they started-out as Elves, were "cursed" and turned into traditional orc-monsters, then became a respectable and well-integrated warrior race because the Roman-esque Empire was impressed with their martial prowess. Now, despite their traditionalist/barbaric attitude, they're one of the most well-integrated races in the setting.

While we're on the subject of big, tough orcs: does anyone see a difference between orcs and ogres?
As far as I can tell, Tolkien invented the word "orc" as a fictional root word for ogre so I kind of wonder if you can call them either or and have it not make any difference in how the audience sees them.
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
Something I would like to see in a story are orcs that are genuinely scary. Almost all books I have read the orcs are fairly useless, only posing a threat in large numbers or against characters who cannot defend themselves. Considering most orc cultures are centred around fighting and war I find it frustrating that the heroes normally easily defeat them.

So i would say if you are going to use orcs in your novel try and make them a fearful force. Just an idea to make them a bit refreshing

I have something like this going in my world, though its goblins and hobgoblins rather than orcs (I decided orcs were too closely linked to Tolkien and AD&D).

The goblins of my world(s) are short, fairly wimpy creatures. Put a normal human up against a normal goblin, same weapons and armor, and there's a better than even chance the human will win. Goblins are mostly sneaks and scavengers. In larger groups...well...'organized mob' or 'well drilled militia' about sums it up.

Hobgoblins, though, are much bigger, tougher, and stronger than goblins...and most humans. Match an ordinary hobgoblin against an ordinary human, same weapons and armor, and odds are the hobgoblin will come out on top. Plus their military units tend to be very well trained and organized, comparable to the old roman legions.

My Toki / Hock-Nar stories (appearing mostly in the 'Iron Pen' Challenges in the 'Challenge' sub-forum) chronicle some of the exploits of a petty human mage soul bound to a hobgoblin warrior.
 
Personally, I think they are overused in respect to being the bad guys...

I agree. Orcs have been around a long time, obviously playing fundamental roles in Tolkien's work, if not before. It seems that they have become a cliché stock character much like the hard-boiled and world weary detective or the hooker with the heart of gold or the Russian spy. Of course, one could make the same argument about vampires, for example.

Any of them, though, redone with enough imagination or a unique twist can render an old thing new again. The writing style and skill level notwithstanding, Twilight is an example of a unique twist on a very worn out cliche character. Wait a minute...what about an Orc in love, with a vampire, in a high school in Nebraska?
 

WooHooMan

Auror
I have something like this going in my world, though its goblins and hobgoblins rather than orcs (I decided orcs were too closely linked to Tolkien and AD&D).

The goblins of my world(s) are short, fairly wimpy creatures. Put a normal human up against a normal goblin, same weapons and armor, and there's a better than even chance the human will win. Goblins are mostly sneaks and scavengers. In larger groups...well...'organized mob' or 'well drilled militia' about sums it up.

Hobgoblins, though, are much bigger, tougher, and stronger than goblins...and most humans. Match an ordinary hobgoblin against an ordinary human, same weapons and armor, and odds are the hobgoblin will come out on top. Plus their military units tend to be very well trained and organized, comparable to the old roman legions.

I think that's a pretty cool idea. Gives a little diversity to the race. I actually think the Troll-Ogre-Orc-Goblin-Hobgoblin race family is an interesting convention of fantasy that more writers should try exploring.
In fact, I'm doing something similar but with ogres and goblins. In that setting, Ogres and Goblins are sometimes collectively called "Orcs". Hobgoblins are also there but they don't usually count since they have their own culture.

Also, did you know that the prefix "hob" generally denotes smallness. Hence "Hobbit". In mythology, Hobgoblins were always depicted as tiny, even compared to Goblins. I'm not saying it's wrong that they're portrayed as taller in modern fantasy; I just think it's interesting how the defining characteristic of a Hobgoblin has completely changed.
I think it just goes to show the roots of a fantasy race (be they folklore or a single writer) doesn't matter as much as how people use them.

what about an Orc in love, with a vampire, in a high school in Nebraska?

I'd read it
 

Warrioress

Scribe
I think orcs can be over used especially if they are the MAIN foe in a story as in my opinion that had already been done in LOTR.
If they are used sparingly i think they can be effective.
 

Schwarzseher

Dreamer
a generic foe for the heroes to fight before the main antagonist, usually these are orcs. This seems to be the 'safe' option for many fantasy writers out there but whenever someone does try to leave this cliche cult then they're whipped for it unless they do it correctly, and few do! Whatsmore over the years orcs have evolved in fantasy, from being the evil lackeys of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings with no emotion other than hate, to viewpoint characters of new novels that are heroic and morally good. I suppose my question is... are orcs overused and if so how could I change people's perception of them in my novel?
Why should a "generic foe" not be "heroic and morally good"?
Your Orcs might be fiersome, even cruel warriors. But they still can adhere to complex ethics within their own society. Such ethics are not necessarily applied to the Orcs' enemies. Why should they after all?

Such a "neutral" setting allows you to explore. The Orcs might fight for perfectly viable reasons: They might live under harsh conditions, maybe they are nomads. Suddenly some farmers start to build fences at the Orcs' ancient hunting grounds or pastures. At the same time, the farmers' actions are perfectly justified as well: They need that land to feed themselves too.
Figuratively: The deer considers the wolf to be evil, for he kills his kin. The hungry puppy has a different perspective. It thinks that its parents, that aunts and uncles are "heroic and morally good".

Both sides having moral values also allows them to take the perspective of the adversary. They might realise that they are not as different as they initially thought. There might be some situations where they keep a brief peace, where they might even show compassion for the foe. Like in WW1 when British and German soldiers celebrated Christmas together. But they were parts of a machinery way larger than themselves. Thus they had to to kill each other one day later.

In your scenario, an Orc and a human might develop respect and friendship. But they still might need to fight each other in the next battle. You canestablish an ethical conflict by this: The positive value of friendship vs. the positive value loyalty to one's own kin. Such a "tragic conflict" has depth, it is emotionally and philosophically challenging for the reader - in contrast to the shallow, or rather empty "good guys vs. bad guys"...
 

pmmg

Vala
Generic foe, I would use, Orcs...no. They belong to Tolkien.

As for why...well, they can be anything that suits. Sometimes it is just useful, or allows for some type of discovery to have them be depraved. I suppose the question I would ask is, do the generic foe love their children too? If the answer is no because they dont have children and are raised out of muck pits instead...go ahead and call em evil ;)
 
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Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
One issue I have is that just the idea of a fantasy race, "like a human but also...", screams Tolkein and D&D and the like. Having an "evil" race of pigmen instead of orcs is not more creative or a way to stand out. It's a surface difference. It's still a very Tolkeinesque idea. Your version of Middle(-Ages) Earth has a slightly different group of races. It's not groundbreaking. So if you like orcs, just use them. That's not the question that matters.

I've got orcs, elves and dwarves in Smughitter, but, those kinds of fantasy races aren't the point. They're there for tertiary reasons. I don't want to take the time to introduce a new "Slackmarr" pigpeople race to fill the role if I'm not going to take the time to explore them.
 

pmmg

Vala
Whether they are or they are not, it does seems Orcs have entered the public domain, but still... If you are going to have a fantasy race that is not orcs, it does compel one to show why they are different. It is a regret of my early tales that I used elves and such. I wish now that I had not, and just used men. But....that world is shaped now. Are those baddies Orcs? certainly not. They dont come from much, or twisted elves, and they dont look like pigs.
 

Miles Lacey

Maester
It's true that orcs are over used but the same could be said of dwarves, elves, werewolves, vampires, witches, wizards, mages and dragons. That's because there's not a lot of effort put into changing the roles these races play. (Too many D & D and Tolkien fans among fantasy writers in my opinion.

It's up to writers as to how they use orcs. In my work in progress orcs don't exist because my work in progress is being written in the style of a 1930s-style pulp fiction smutty adventure story set in a maritime tropical environment. Orcs, smuttiness and the tropics just don't do it for me I'm afraid.

However, I could picture them as seafarers. I could also see them scattered in ports around the world working as ship builders, merchants, warehouse owners and workers, gangsters (Mafia rather than MS-13) and tavern and bar owners. Orcish fishmongers and fishermen would be a fearsome sight indeed. And I'm convinced that orcs singing sea shanties would sound much better.
 

buyjupiter

Maester
I'm using orcs as police constables in my murder mystery. Mostly because they're strong & strength may be needed in their line of work. I also like that they're neither good nor bad, they just exist in my world like any other creature.
 

Aldarion

Inkling
I'd say that Tolkienian orcs are overused, although they seem to be overtaken by Warhammerian orcs recently. But orcs themselves are not a problem, problem is that modern fantasy writers all too often take things from Big Bag of Fantasy Tropes, or directly from other fantasy writers, rather than going to the source - history and mythology.
 

Queshire

Auror
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What's the history and mythology of Orcs? Seems to be just standard evil bugaboos with the word coming from Orcus of all things.
 

pmmg

Vala
How can orcs be overused? Cant they be as wide and varied as any other race? Dont all stories really center around the human condition, and dont these just bring something new to it? Orcs are juts a thing, no different than swords, and horses, and draw bridges. Use when needed.

Tolkien created orcs out of Orcneas, a creature briefly mentioned in the story of Beowulf. Everything after is a mutation of that. D&D added the Orcus factor.

I dont know if orcs are in the public domain, but it seems like it would be useless to try to prevent them at this point. Since Tolkien created orcs, I think to be a true orc, one must be formed of fallen elves, or in a muck pit. Orcs of the Dungeons and Dragons variety with females and little orc children and little orc villages are probably something different from orcs, but no one will complain anymore.
 

Aldarion

Inkling
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What's the history and mythology of Orcs? Seems to be just standard evil bugaboos with the word coming from Orcus of all things.
Basically, Orcs would be low-level demons to my understanding. We have a lot of orc-like races in the mythology, even if most of them aren't called orcs.
 
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