There’s this certain group of people with whom a close associate of mine is part of their circle. Friends of a friend, to be specific, the likes of whom we have taken to affectionately calling “a bunch of orcs.”
In my Fantasy Brain, comparing living people in my life to orcs is more a thing about demeanor and attitude (say, in comparison to calling someone a hobbit or a harpy…) and much less about physical appearance. It is not a form of disparagement or dehumanization, just a simple lens through which my mind observes the world.
Orcs are not known for their warmth in popular fantasy, characterized most commonly by jutting, boar-like teeth, green/gray/brown or even red skin, and, in some cases, upturned pig-like noses (early incarnations showed them in fact to basically be men with pig heads). They’re often depicted as primitive, savage, brutishly strong and generally unpleasant to be around. They’re common enemies in many settings, supplying players and protagonists with fodder for spells and weapons. But dig a little, and sometimes the lore of a given orc tribe will reveal a deep sense of loyalty, honor code, tradition and rich shamanistic and/or animistic culture.
Whether they’re categorized as resembling Tolkienien Orcs or Blizzard Orcs, they make for convenient enemies and obstacles. Personally I find their use in fiction to be tacky and lazy; they feel over done in most fantasy.
In describing people I’ve met as “orcish,” what I mean is that they seem to follow the beat of their own drum, shirking what might otherwise be considered the norms of society and are generally unafraid to embrace the concept of “the human animal.” The true concept of orcs (if such a thing were ever to be considered true) is of course lost with the borderline-insulting parallels my brain makes between living people and fantasy tropes. When speaking of the specific group of people I met, I lean closer towards the Blizzard orcs, with their sense of honor and tradition.
Among the orcs I met were the equivalent of the shamans; philosophizers, theists, politically aware and well-read people whose conversation is more than worth the time to sit down and listen. I had the pleasure of observing one such individual, let’s imaginatively call him the Shaman, tell stories and weave his debates with the alacrity of a seasoned elder. The guy seemed to be one of those ‘integral players’ of the tribe; not that the party would be lacking in his absence, not exactly, but his presence is the type that helps determine what kind of night it will turn out to be. I felt an enriching aura exuded from the man.
Another individual, let’s call him the Chieftain, radiated a calm confidence that marked him, in my eyes, as the leader of this band of orcs, though not in an authoritative, commanding sort of way. He was the outdoorsman, the one who just as naturally cut wood for the fire with his hand ax as some host of a dinner party might fetch wine for his guests from the cellar. His mate, also present, complemented him as a lady of the woods, taking it upon herself to routinely stoke the fire and ever lay more fuel to our night’s source of heat and light and comfort. I in fact helped with each of these tasks, able to exchange a few words with the orc Chieftain and his mate, and both (having met the Chieftain on one other occasion) were positively charming, welcoming people.
Granted, I would never have found myself in their presence were it not for being brought by another associate of mine – who I do not identify as an orc himself, but certainly a fire-bearded wildman capable of easily blending among them – and in chopping wood or stoking the fire they most certainly did not need my help. But seeing things like this in play reminded me of my younger days, having my own group of friends visiting – most of them not knowing the first thing about making and tending to fires in the woods – and it was my duty and pleasure to keep the fire going. The orcs obviously had everything well in hand, but it evoked old muscles and memories to partake in the ritual, triggering old woodsman instincts that had long since laid mostly dormant.
Perhaps most interesting of my observations of the Chieftain was the care and effort he had put into preparing the evening meal. Most folks had brought beer, and I, with my own dietary restrictions, had managed to brew up and share a meager portion of spicy vegetarian ramen soup. Most unOrcish. But more than the meal itself, the Chieftain prepared a couple of cornish hens (or something) in a large aluminum pan, and after hours of delicate patience and attentative cooking, he cut the pan in half, setting one portion aside for the tribe. The other half he took with him a safe distance away, where he and his mate enjoyed the delicacy. Those orcs who did not hear the designation were reminded.
“This one is ours,” he had said. The message was clear, and bereft of any negative inflection; the Chieftain had simply prepared a meal and by his generosity, had offered some of it up for the tribe, but this portion was designated for only himself and his mate. It was law, it was clear, and it was respected without the slightest hint of chagrin.
No one in their right minds (and many of the orcs were drunk, by the way), would question him – as might be seen in otherwise “normal” society – but it was entirely out of respect, rather than fear of embarrassment or reproach. It simply was, just as the orcs simply were.
I found watching that tiny exchange, the gesture of respect not only towards the Chieftain, but the respect the Chieftain showed towards his mate, to be a fascinating and overwhelmingly romantic thing to observe.
You won’t be finding bankers and CEO’s around this campfire. And while some of these “orcish” traits might be akin to “dwarvish” tendencies, the difference, I find, is attitude:
- People who I’d recognize as “dwarven,” while just as capable of being wild and unpredictable and unconcerned with laying on bare earth, I see them as having much less of a propensity to go out and drink in the woods. People with classical dwarven tendencies would, in my mind, much prefer being rowdy and drunk in a tavern or a home, somewhere close to civilization and society.
- Orcs, on the other hand, do it wherever the hell they want – but they prefer the company of trees and campfires simply because it’s more convenient for them to avoid otherwise less-than-cooperative authorities. There is more freedom the further away from other people you set foot. There is much more of a collective, tribal sense of “us” and “the rest of the world out there.”
Gatherings like this are things you may not recognize as common in your area, wherever you are, dear reader, but where I am as of this writing, it’s really not that unusual. The group I sat amongst consisted of around ten people, but I’ve been told the tribe has reached numbers as high as thirty-five closely connected individuals. You won’t find kindred folk like this in an office.
But what I’ve really come to recognize, and respect, is the simple genuineness of these people. These were folk with whom I confess I may not be able to mesh easily, but I easily get along with. I witnessed a group of friends who simply were who they were; I witnessed a complete absence of obeying typical societal polite discourse – they spoke their minds (did not dance around topics), they did not inhibit their flatulence, they lost their tempers in debates and quickly made amends over a drink not long after, and (I suspect) their dating/mating rituals probably don’t follow the same rules as set by society either. For all the rowdiness and self-indulgence I witnessed (and this event was comparatively tame), absolutely no one was phony. They were themselves, and whether by circumstance or mutual influence, they became who they were, and gathered, and shared stories, liquor, and laughs atop that mountain.
They also did not seem to give a damn that an outsider, some quietly observing bard such as myself, sat among them, partaking in the laughter, the jokes, the comfort.
I’ll tell this: these people seemed, as far as I could tell, largely unconcerned, and thus unconstrained, by ideas such as putting on a show in order to “fit in.” With ideas of being politically correct for fear of offending someone (or, as was the topic of that particular night, perhaps they were simply venting suppressed un-PC things out into the night and to the stars). Even ideas of appearance, of society-deemed ‘style’ and ‘cool.’ People wore what they wanted, whether it was practical and worn or looked good and well-kept, and it’s not so much that I’m surprised by any of these traits – I’m simply impressed.
These are the kinds of people who will survive if society collapses, and not only because of their practical skills and familiarity with the wilds, but for their sense of community – cliche as that might sound.
There isn’t much room for orcs in the cities; there are too many laws and constraints. One of my closest friends growing up could best be described this way; when last I saw him, years ago (after perhaps half a decade of not seeing him before that), he had become significantly more orcish. It was a lifestyle that diverged our paths back in the day, his on his, mine on mine; and while I don’t consider myself one of them – I’m not nearly physically strong enough and far too preoccupied with keeping my hat clean – I do feel a kinship with them. Common roots, perhaps, sprouting into different trees.
There are much worse things than considering one’s self a friend of orcs.
Today’s track is brought to you by the Elder Scrolls VI: Skyrim – “02 – Awake.” This bit isn’t so much meant to pertain to the orcs with whom I shared company, per say, but rather the gorgeous sunrise we witnessed at 4:30am the following morning from the cliff near which we camped. Yes, you could play as an orc in that game (kudos to them), but this short track makes for an excellent start to many things – the start of a game, yes, or the start of a novel, a day, or a new chapter in one’s life.