Monday, April 27, 2020

Blood for Bacon - Another Ecology of the Orc For Old School Campaigns

Much of what follows in my wake is taken from the Wiki entry on orcs
Ever since I was growing up going up in the Seventies I've been hearing about how 'orcs are racist' & how its wrong to paint them as merely evil's cogs & parts that act as a mechanism for slaughter of PC's & the forces that commit genocide on campaign settings. To which I say, "bull shite". Orcs have been with the grand game since its beginning in original Dungeons & Dragons. I know that these have been there because I've had countless PC's slaughtered by the Porky Pig faced bastards. But the origins of these pig faced horrors goes back into the dark recesses of mythology besides Tolkien;"Tolkien began the modern use of the English term "orc" to denote a race of evil, humanoid creatures. His earliest Elvish dictionaries include the entry Ork (orq-) "monster", "ogre", "demon", together with orqindi and "ogresse". He sometimes used the plural form orqui in his early texts.[f] He stated that the Elvish words for orc were derived from a root ruku, "fear, horror"; in Quenyaorco, plural orkor; in Sindarin orch, plurals yrch and Orchoth (as a class).[T 2][T 1] They had similar names in other Middle-earth languages: uruk in Black Speech (restricted to the larger soldier-orcs);[T 1] in the language of the Drúedain gorgûn, "ork-folk"; in Khuzdul rukhs, plural rakhâs; and in the language of Rohan and in the Common Speechorka.[T 2]
Tolkien stated in a letter to the novelist Naomi Mitchison that his Orcs had been influenced by George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin.[T 1] He explained that his "orc" was "derived from Old English orc 'demon', but only because of its phonetic suitability",[T 3] and
I originally took the word from Old English orc (Beowulf 112 orc-neas and the gloss orcþyrs ('ogre'), heldeofol ('hell-devil')).[g] This is supposed not to be connected with modern English orcork, a name applied to various sea-beasts of the dolphin order".[T 4]
Tolkien also observed a connection with the Latin word orcus, noting that "the word used in translation of Q[uenya] urko, S[indarin] orch is Orc. But that is because of the similarity of the ancient English word orc, 'evil spirit or bogey', to the Elvish words. There is possibly no connextion (sic) between them."
That's right going all of the way back into the beginning of Tolkien's work. But for me orcs have always been the 'other'. The other in this instance isn't a particular race,person, or thing but something utterly alien. Orcs to me are the inversion of mankind & a mockery of everything that it means to be human. This all comes down for me in Gary Gygax's B2 Keep on the Borderlands. 

Orcs are the evil monsters that along with a slew of other evil humanoid monsters in the Caves of Chaos are intent on slaughtering every human they can get a hold of. Its almost as though the orcs were created & bred for murder whole cloth. And that's exactly what they are. Don't believe me?! Again from the wiki on orcs; 

"The scholars of English literature William N. Rogers II and Michael R. Underwood note that a widespread element of late 19th century Western culture was fear of moral decline and degeneration; this led to eugenics.[17] In The Two Towers, the Ent Treebeard says:[T 16]
It is a mark of evil things that came in the Great Darkness that they cannot abide the Sun; but Saruman's Orcs can endure it, even if they hate it. I wonder what he has done? Are they Men he has ruined, or has he blended the races of Orcs and Men? That would be a black evil![T 16]
The film-maker Andrew Stewart, writing in CounterPunch, cites this speech as an instance of "mid-twentieth century scientific racism .. which alarmingly spells out the notion of 'race mixing' as a great sin".[18] Stewart notes, too, that the geography of Middle-earth deliberately pits the good West against the evil East;[18] John Magoun, writing in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, concurs, supposing that Middle-earth has a "moral geography".[16] Any moral bias towards a north-western geography, however, was directly addressed by Tolkien himself in a letter to Charlotte and Denis Plimmer, who had recently interviewed him in 1967:
Auden has asserted that for me 'the North is a sacred direction'. That is not true. The North-west of Europe, where I (and most of my ancestors) have lived, has my affection, as a man's home should. I love its atmosphere, and know more of its histories and languages than I do of other parts; but it is not 'sacred', nor does it exhaust my affections. I do have, for instance, a particular fondness for the Latin language, and among its descendants for Spanish. That is untrue for my story, a mere reading of the synopses should show. The North was the seat of the fortresses of the Devil [ie. Morgoth].[T 17]
In a private letter, Tolkien describes orcs as:[T 18]
squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes: in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types.
 A variety of critics and commentators have noted that orcs are somewhat like caricatures of non-Europeans. The journalist David Ibata writes that the orcs in Peter Jackson's Tolkien films look much like "the worst depictions of the Japanese drawn by American and British illustrators during World War II."[19] The literary critic Jenny Turner, writing in the London Review of Books, endorses Andrew O'Hehir's comment on that orcs are "by design and intention a northern European's paranoid caricature of the races he has dimly heard about".[20][21] O'Hehir describes orcs as "a subhuman race bred by Morgoth and/or Sauron (although not created by them) that is morally irredeemable and deserves only death. They are dark-skinned and slant-eyed, and although they possess reason, speech, social organization and, as Shippey mentions, a sort of moral sensibility, they are inherently evil."[21] He notes Tolkien's own description of them (quoted above), saying it could scarcely be more revealing of his attitude to the "Other", but excuses him saying that "it is also the product of his background and era, like most of our inescapable prejudices. At the level of conscious intention, he was not a racist or an anti-Semite" and mentions his letters to this effect.[21] In a letter to his son, Christopher who was serving in the RAF in the Second World War, Tolkien wrote of orcs as appearing on both sides of the conflict:
Yes, I think the orcs as real a creation as anything in 'realistic' fiction ... only in real life they are on both sides, of course. For 'romance' has grown out of 'allegory', and its wars are still derived from the 'inner war' of allegory in which good is on one side and various modes of badness on the other. In real (exterior) life men are on both sides: which means a motley alliance of orcs, beasts, demons, plain naturally honest men, and angels.[T 19]
The scholar of English literature Robert Tally describes the orcs as a demonized enemy, despite (he writes) Tolkien's own objections to demonization of the enemy in the two World Wars.[22] The Germanic studies scholar Sandra Ballif Straubhaar however argues against the "recurring accusations" of racism, stating that "a polycultured, polylingual world is absolutely central" to Middle-earth, and that readers and filmgoers will easily see that.[2] The historian and Tolkien scholar Jared Lobdell likewise disagreed with any notions of racism inherent or latent in Tolkien's works, and wondered "if there were a way of writing epic fantasy about a battle against an evil spirit and his monstrous servants without its being subject to speculation of racist intent""

The origins of the 'Orc' for me are much deeper stretch back further then Tolkein & his works of high fantasy. No for me the orcs go all the way back to William Hope Hodgeson's 'House on the Borderlands'.
"The House on the Borderland (1908) is a supernatural horror novel by British fantasist William Hope Hodgson. The novel is a hallucinatory account of a recluse's stay at a remote house, and his experiences of supernatural creatures and otherworldly dimensions."

The swine things that ravage, plague, & harrow the recluse are the perfect demonic Lovecraftian or is it Hodgesonian monsters that would be progenitors for the orc race. These are not a race that can be reasoned with or sat down to have tea with. These are murderous things intent on corrupting, destroying, & ravaging everything around them. Nightmare given flesh!

In 2000, DC Comics’ mature reader imprint Vertigo published a 96-page color graphic-novel adaptation The House on the Borderland, with story by Simon Revelstroke and art by Richard Corben.

The Vertigo imprint version of The House on the Borderland by Simon Revelstroke and art by Richard Corben takes some very heady liberties with the original source material. There's a very good review of The House on the Borderland & the Vertigo version of The House on the Borderland by Simon Revelstroke and art by Richard Corben on the Old Wine in New Wine Skins blog here. 
The truth is that we get a very alien & utterly demonic horror that seems at times to be a reflection of the evil or perversion of man. This is the other that William Hope Hodgeson brings to bare on his protagonist in the House on the Borderland. Wayne Douglas Barlow does an incredible job in his Barlowe's Guide to Fantasy portraying the Swine Things. Its implied in The House on the Borderland & The Hog both by William Hope Hodgeson that the Swine Things are appendages for some greater cosmic being or god.

For my campaigns the swine things are the 'other' & their rutting, invading, etc. are the source for the orc infestation across the multiverse. Want an OSR set of stats for the Swine Things the Throne of Salt blog has those here.  How are the orcs getting across planes?! Wizards, dark clerics, necromancers,etc. use the essence of the Swine Things & then begin spawning orcs in gene pools & the like. These things are programmed for destruction straight outta the artificial womb. They don't care about the niceties of mankind only its destruction!
“I’ve heard it. A sort of swinish clamouring melody that grunts and roars and shrieks in chunks of grunting sounds, all tied together with squealings and shot through with pig howls. I’ve sometimes thought there was a definite beat in it; for every now and again there comes a gargantuan GRUNT, breaking through the million pig-voiced roaring—a stupendous GRUNT that comes in with a beat. Can you understand me?”William Hope Hodgson’s “The Hog,” first published in Weird Tales in 1947 but certainly written much earlier since the author died in 1918.

Orcs are not simply evil but the essence of it. Their life is anti nature & they are hell bent on your PC's destruction. Make no bones about it. There's no racism about it only bloodshed, murder, & mayhem of any adventuring party that enters their domain. And if you think that this has nothing to do with Tolkien may I refer back to the orc wiki entry & what follows;"The Tolkien critic Tom Shippey writes that the orcs in The Lord of the Rings were almost certainly created just to equip Middle-earth with "a continual supply of enemies over whom one need feel no compunction",[24] or in Tolkien's words from The Monsters and the Critics "the infantry of the old war" ready to be slaughtered.[24] Shippey states that all the same, orcs share the human concept of good and evil, with a familiar sense of morality, though he notes that, like many people, orcs are quite unable to apply their morals to themselves. In his view, Tolkien, as a Roman Catholic, took it as a given that "evil cannot make, only mock", so orcs could not have an equal and opposite morality to that of men or elves.[25] Shippey notes that in The Two Towers, the orc Gorbag disapproves of the "regular elvish trick" of seeming to abandon a comrade, as he wrongly supposes Sam has done with Frodo. Shippey describes the implied view of evil as Boethian, that evil is the absence of good; he notes however that Tolkien did not agree with that point of view, believing that evil had to be actively combatted, with war if necessary, the Manichean position"

There's good reason to slaughter those Pork Pig faced bastards in your Dungeons & Dragons games. Don't let orcs gain an inch in your campaigns or you may be dealing with a far greater & deadlier evil then your party of adventurers expects!

Otherworld Miniatures Orc Warband 

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