Why I Dislike Using Orcs In My Fantasy Worlds

By Charles Moffat

I have orcs in some of my fantasy worlds, but not all of them. Furthermore, I don't like using orcs except in very specific circumstances where I portray them in a certain way (similar to how orcs are portrayed in Skyrim is my preference, spliced with Tolkien-esque orcs).

Writers and artists in the 21st century, in my opinion, have a responsibility to avoid using racist stereotypes - especially when portraying fantasy races like orcs. Or if they do use a stereotype, they also have an obligation to subvert it so that the meaning is changed.

J. R. R. Tolkien popularized orcs in fantasy fiction, but he was using them as a metaphor to represent the Nazis and to be representational of the horrors of war.

Since then however many critics of Tolkien's work have pushed the idea that his orcs represent people of colour or so-called "primitive cultures". This portrayal of orcs as something loaded with racism and cultural superiority is something I actively want to avoid, and thus even in my settings where orcs do exist (eg. Korovia) they primarily live in Loqland, in the city of Molloch (which is itself a reference to the film "Metropolis").

Thus my orcs are essentially a mixture of the workers of Metropolis who serve their evil overlords, the warfare themed orcs of Tolkien, and also like the orcs of Skyrim, where they are more technologically advanced and intelligent. So smart orcs, still brimming with the thirst for war, but serving their evil overlords in the factory city of Molloch... But not necessarily evil themselves and some of them do break away or flee from Molloch. (But that is another story...)

So yes, they exist, but I am deliberately avoiding using them except in the right circumstances. Eg. There are some time traveling orcs that appear in one short story: "A Hound Named Hunter", which I admit doesn't sound like a time travel story, but you have to read it to understand.

The other problem with orcs is that they are so tied to Tolkien's work that if you use them too much then it draws comparisons to his books.

But if I use a different kind of humanoid race, like minotaurs, then I don't really have that same problem. This is why when I create Korovia in 1999 I made minotaurs to be one of major races of the region. (That and I really like minotaurs, having previously used minotaurs in 3 novels I wrote during the 1990s.)

And again, my minotaurs are an intelligent and technologically advanced race... Plus in Korovia they're usually vegans, pacifists, spiritual and practice martial arts. Eg. Check out the four minotaurs that appear in my novel "The Coven's Wolves".

Are all minotaurs in Korovia pacifists and vegans? Nope. There are those who 'break from tradition', so to speak, like one such minotaur in my upcoming book "The Exorcist's Dagger" who forsakes his vows as an Ironskin and becomes a prizefighter.

How we portray races in our books is important. Even the races we normally wouldn't think about as being potentially racist.

Eg. Elves and halflings.

In my book "The Demon's Sacrifice" the elf Gyburn and the halfling Kaeto don't get along, with both characters being racist against the other. What happens to the two characters during the novel is meaningful in my opinion. No spoilers here. You will have to buy the book to see what happens.

Civilization versus 'perceived barbarism' is an ongoing theme within the Adventures of Wrathgar, wherein the main character is a so-called barbarian from the Snowfell Mountains and he is traveling through the civilized regions of Korovia looking for his missing father. People often see him as a dumb barbarian and treat him as such, despite his intelligence and skills. Wrathgar, to his credit, doesn't lose his temper when dealing with such people. Despite his name, he rarely ever loses his temper. (But when he does it is spectacular...)

As a writer I feel my work has meaning, and while I use fantasy as the method to convey that meaning, I could just as easily be writing science fiction or westerns to convey the same meaning. The setting doesn't matter so much as the message I am trying to get across to the reader.


Writers and artists in the 21st century, in my opinion, have a responsibility to avoid using racist stereotypes - especially when portraying fantasy races like orcs.


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