The Bestiary #1: Orcs

Welcome to a brand new series imaginatively entitled ‘The Bestiary’. In said series, we’re going to be looking at fantasy races and creatures and documenting them as if we’re some sort of fantasy David Attenborough. Why are halflings so short? Do dragons ever get burnt tongues? How many ogres does it take to change a light bulb? I’ll offer you my theories and thoughts alongside a great big slice of hard scientific evidence and fact.

Ok, maybe not scientific fact. More like fantatific fact. Or is that just facts about orange-flavour fizzy drinks? Hmm…

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Ukrug gar bethk u skog!

That means ‘Good day, my fine fellow. How is the weather?’ in Orcish. Or does it? In fact, I just made that up. Here’s a ‘proper’ orc phrase from Mr. Tolkien:

Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai!

Which (roughly) means: ‘Uglúk to the dung-pit with stinking Saruman-filth, pig-guts, gah!’

Aren’t orcs just a bunch of lovely individuals?

No? OK, fair enough. But they are a race with a long and varied history, complete with their own language and intricate tribal customs. That depends on what particular type of orc you’re talking about, of course. If we’re talking Warcraft, then you’ll find orc shamans, orc cities and even orc diplomacy. If you’re talking Warhammer, then you’ll be lucky if you can get so much as a ‘WAAAGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!’ out of your average orc as it picks its nose and eats mud soup from a human skull.

Orcs are curious creatures, then. Humanoid, but not human. Sometimes they’re depicted as an ancestor or offshoot of the human race; other times they’re sentient globs of green space phlegm and others they are corrupt versions of elves. This makes determining just what the heck they are supposed to be a little tricky. Personally, I always consider them a distant ancestor of humankind, kind of like Neanderthals or something. Just don’t ask me to explain the green skin and tusks (maybe they cross-bred with diseased mammoths at some point, who knows?).

Orc Warrior

Now, again, depending on which universe you’re talking about, orcs use a variety of different weapons and ride a variety of different creatures into battle. Tolkien probably did it best by showing us the relationship between the wargs and orcs of Middle-earth and then it was only another short leap of imagination for us to believe that the orcs then rode those same wargs as humans rode horses. In other works of fiction, orcs ride all manner of beasts, from gigantic wolves and wild boars to plain old horses and sometimes even more exotic creatures.

Just check out a game series like the Elder Scrolls (or any traditional fantasy RPG) and you’re sure to find an orc blacksmith or two. Orcs love fighting and they love weapons, so why do orc-crafted weapons always look so damn crude and ugly? If they just took a little more time and effort… well, you get the idea.

Hmm, hold on one second…

  1. Enjoys fighting
  2. Loves pointy/bashy weaponry
  3. Often unintelligible

Remind you of anyone else? Yep, you guessed it… dwarves.

And that segues nicely into our introduction for the next instalment of ‘The Bestiary’!

The mountain slopes are alive with the sound of feasting, of drinking… and of war! Secreted safely away in their subterranean strongholds, the dwarves have many foes but fear none. They may be short, but they’re ferocious fighters. And whatever you do don’t tug a dwarf’s beard! And never, under any circumstances, stroll into town and proclaim: ‘Yo! Where the women at?’

Some things are better left uncovered.

Got anything to say about orcs? How about an interesting fact? Oh, do share!

Imagination and What To Do When It Runs Away


I thought I would write about imagination today. It’s not a subject I’ve touched on before, but it is a crucial part of writing. The reason I chose to blog about this today is because I was sent a link to an eBook (link at the end of the post) called Everflame, which I thought was exceptionally imaginative.

Now, sometimes I feel as if my own writing loses its sense of imagination as I progress with it. I have all these fantastic ideas in the planning stage of my story, but they get lost along the way and I end up with something far more grounded and ‘human’ that I’d planned. Usually, this really annoys me. I do want strange fantasy creatures and stunning magical battles, but some part of me says: ‘No, we’re sticking to humans, gritty realism and a realistic plot.’

The only trouble with this, however, is that if I’m not careful, I end up writing something that’s not really fantasy, but modern-day people with weird names, wearing weird clothes and living in a carbon copy of Earth. As a fantasy writer and reader, it’s not fun writing this sort of story. I soon get tired with the banality of it all and long for at least some element of fantasy to rear its head. That’s when things start to fall apart. That’s when I stick in a dragon. You know the trouble with doing this? It scuttles any sense of plot that you had and it causes the story to plunge to the murky depths of your mind, never to return.

With my current project, however, I’m pleased to say I’ve made a change. I started out with the plot and the setting. Then I began to incorporate some original, not over-the-top, fantasy species (not races – Africans and Europeans are races, elves and dwarves are not… well, they could be, if you explain it as an evolutionary change). Next, I make sure that these species truly fit into the world. If not, they’re gone. What I mean by this is having dragons in your world but no history to make them believable or a suitable environment to sustain them. Only once all the above was done, did I start to write. Now, I have an interesting, truly fantasy world with a halfway decent plot to match.

Next time your imagination ‘runs away’ (i.e. abandons you mid-story), stop and take a look at your project as a whole. Figure out what’s missing and try to weave it into the world so it doesn’t feel out of place. Don’t stick in a dragon for the sake of it and certainly don’t try to make your story something that it’s not.

Until next time, adieu.

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