Today continues the April A-Z Challenge. This month, I'll be blogging (almost) daily about a different speculative fiction trope, one for each letter of the alphabet. Today's entry is on yet another Tolkien propagated fantasy trope, Orcs.
They were depicted as a hateful, animalistic lot with natural tendencies toward violence, chaos, and bloodshed. Even before the dark lord's rise, they were feared and despised by the free folk of Middle-earth, driven into the recesses of mountains and caves.
Since Tolkien's influence, orcs have been seen in countless works of fantasy (and even some science fiction). They almost always feature the warlike demeanor of their literary progenitors, though their origins and level of civilization vary from writer to writer. They usually remain an antagonistic force, opposed to the human protagonists of the worlds they inhabit, but some works of fiction have featured orcs that have integrated with larger society and found peace (often begrudgingly).
My favorite though, has to be the Orsimer of the Elder Scrolls series. This race of orcs descended from elves, but their appearance and demeanor became corrupt when the god they worshiped was cursed and remade.
In my own fantasy worlds, I've made an attempt to stray from the typical mold of character races. It's not that I have anything against orcs, elves, or halflings. In the right hands, these character tropes can still be put to good use in a riveting story. As a reader, I still get a kick out of the Tolkien mold. But, I don't think you need ghoulish monsters for conflict in a fantasy world--man can be monstrous enough to fill that role. It's not pointy ears or green skin that make fantasy stories what they are; it's the compelling spirit of a story too enchanting to take place in the real world. It's that pulse of magic you feel beneath the world when you're engaging it.
Still, I never rule anything out. And if there's one thing about orcs . . . they always seem to invade when you least expect them.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Thraxas by Martin Scott
Orcs: First Blood by Stan Nichols
The Lord of the Rings
The Elder Scrolls series
Orcs Must Die!