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Magnus-Strindboem's avatar

To the Death: Masterminds

So I couldn’t resist to play around with the Pacific Northwest ecology, and some more of the Beautiful Creatures setting. The forest is completely 3D created and rendered in DAZ Studio.

Orcs, at least in my concept, don’t have names. They use nicknames, but those can change, depending on mood, role and just fashion.

Master and Bitch

Master (more contemporary folks might also call him ‘Sarge’ or something like that) is old for a male orc. Not in the human sense, they’re elves after all, he just managed not to get himself killed.

You note that I made him much more like a distorted elf than some kind of brutish pig-snout dimwit. That was on purpose...

Bitch might just have been another chubby street urchin with a foreseeable choice of careers. Her abrasive temper and her lack of respect for property got her into increasingly severe trouble. When the streets of her hometown became too hot for her to walk barefoot, she ran off to join with some highwaymen or other, that she heard tales off.

She found more than she expected, but she stuck with her resolve. Her knowledge of human security and how to circumvent it, and some talent on raids and heists on top made her kind of, well, uhm…

Usually, archaeologists use some religious term when they have no clue about what is going on, so we call her ‘war priestess’? All right? Yes, I guess we can go with that.

So in between them, they plan the raids and expeditions the tribe makes into human territory. With (my) orcs, a female doesn’t fight except as a last resolve, being judged too valuable for this kind of abuse. So Bitch is more strategically occupied, while Master and the boys do the footwork. Whatever she may look like from the outside, Bitch has long gone native. If you get on her wrong side, she is ‘just as bad as an orc’.


Excuse to the old man.

Now, if I come across a bit mean in regards of old Professor Tolkien and his treatment of races and genders, it’s not targeted at him or his work, but rather an incentive to improve world building. Him, he was interested in shifts of fricatives, Nordic prose and the changes brought upon mankind by industrialization and the Great War, among many things. C’mon, I dare you to do better in his place, but the wall of text on this topic has been raised high enough already without me placing some more bricks on top.

A blind spot?

So let’s get back to our favourite other species, the Elves. Or more specifically, their much maligned Orc cousins. In creating them from Avari by capture and torture, he made a bold move, which would raise all kind of questions for the future.  

Unfortunately (this is my personal opinion, mind you), with his moral roots firmly resting in Christianity, he made a few moves too far on the world building chessboard, probably off on the nordic heathen tangent. Oh my.

His creation myth simply doesn’t justify the existence of a basically evil race of nonentities that the heroes could slaughter with impunity. Says I. 

The Avari, the dark elves never had their fall from grace. At which point? Because they wouldn’t trust either of the dubious demi-gods which told them contradicting tales in all kind of weird shapes to go or not go and leave their homelands under the stars? Yes, Elves had their moment, the disobedience towards the Valar and the kinslaying at Aqualonde. But the Avari were not involved, it was the Feanorians.

They (all Elves at that) may have been flawed from the beginning – just like the original sin of mankind – but considering that Tolkien did leave out all the more important items – they don’t have an afterlife. Elves technically reincarnate. So no purgatory and no judgement. And there is no saviour in the lore. So Tolkien screwed them on all three sides, so to speak. And he knew it.

Afaik he wasn’t really happy and tried to weasel out of it, but the genie was already out of the bottle. Now, to be to perfectly clear – the Orcs work pretty good in their intended role in the book, which covers only a limited period of time and points of view. But overall, questions remain.

And those questions give them so much potential. Maybe more so than your generic Elves.

The Oliphaunt in the room.

There is of course another huge elephant in the room. Tolkien left out both Orc women and any explanation for their ability to multiply quickly. Tolkien mused that there should be Orc women, but women were a difficult topic for guys being born firmly in the Victorian Age, it seems.

But while they are at least supposed to be there in the case of humans, hobbits and elves (and leaving out dwarves as not to increase weirdness), with orcs there are exactly zilch ever described, mentioned or poetically hinted at.

But more on that later!

And the answer is:

Yes. You wanted to ask it all the time, didn’t you?

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sodacan's avatar

Great imagery. Nice. He's kind of on the thing side for an Orc isn't he?.... :) It's wierd, I have the entire Lord of the Rings Movie set. Never watched it.

Magnus-Strindboem's avatar

Oh I really like it. They probably did the best job possible. It has a number of those idiot Hollywood-taste changes the audience is supposed to like better, that's to be expected.

The orcs are one of the more interesting creations in the lore, with a lot of questions attached (and Tolkien being aware of that). So I'm just having fun taking off with this and trying to put some depth in to them.

sodacan's avatar

Seems like every time I'm ready to watch it, I end up watching something else....

Slofkosky's avatar

Always just so incredible in imagery, concepts and story.

Magnus-Strindboem's avatar

Hey, thanks. I just love that Ultrascenery set.

Markkus3D's avatar

Das Wald ist gut gelungen, man muss herein gehen (zoom) um zu sehen das es 3D ist...

Die Beide sind auch interessant, sie habe ein tolles storyline...

Magnus-Strindboem's avatar

Der Wald ist wirklich gut, das beste Set, das bisher herausgekommen ist, noch besser als das Australien-Set.

Vielleicht mache ich noch mehr Bilder mit den Orcs...

Markkus3D's avatar

Naja, dann warte ich auf die Wielde Orcs im Wald :D

Borderbumble's avatar

I wasn't expecting such an interesting display of ideology, but you fascinate me! Tolkien is merely human, not godlike, therefore will sin and make mistakes.

If elves do not have an afterlife, is that why they all seem the same? No real drive for global/future improvement of their race's fate?

Keep in mind that Tolkien was just a Victorian Era bard, not a biologist. He wouldn't talk about reproduction or sex in general.

Keep up the great work!! I want to hear more!

Magnus-Strindboem's avatar

Thanks. Of course this is pretty much tongue-in-cheek and not to scare of the casual reader with too much theory.

As with Tolkien, he DID struggle with his creation of the orcs. He himself wrote that they were difficult to integrate into his lore, and he even goes so far as to claim that his witnesses are erring, to get out of the orc-elven trap. But trying to turn them into some Siri-Imbued kind of animals, just because maybe, just maybe Finrod was right and HE, Tolkien himself had put a taint on his heroes when he had them slaughter their own abused kind without regret?

Considering the argument of talk not being a sign of intelligence, this is clinging to a straw, compare the Turing-Test of intelligence. I say it does not hold.

And the last mention that any elven spirits they may have had are held forever in prison in the halls of Mandos? He was much more lenient on humans following the dark powers, even with much more of a choice, see the Oliphaunt episode.

So, yes, in my opinon, he flunked and he was aware of it. Even though this will get the fanboys out with pikes and torches, his stance towards orcs has some 'questionable' elements.

Now I'm not saying like HAHA the elves were the bad guys and the orcs the good ones, it's all racist. But it's got a scent. They just HAVE to be evil subhumans in relation to their elven cousins, even if the story wouldn't have suffered from a different approach (as the dialogue with Finrod shows).

And yes of course he was a product of his time. You have to give him that he does have a few strong female characters, that outdo their male counterparts on many occasions, like Melian, Tinuviel or Galadriel. And of course both in history as in fantasy role models existed that simply had their reasons due to the neccessities of time, like high child and child-bed death rates or an overwhelming importance of specific manual labour, so they can be believably applied even if they don't hold true today anymore. But there's no doubt Tolkien has his head full of some romantic Victorian conceit when Eowyn suddenly has her flash of enlightment that she wants to become a healer and do some Ikebana for a hobby. C'mon :D

OneOut's avatar

So after all, how does immortality work for the elves? I will grumble a lot about this because in almost every setting where they are pushed there is a certain elven immortality. Often, the authors themselves do not know how it works, just automatically attribute this property.

Magnus-Strindboem's avatar

I mostly try and think how this could be interesting in a plot and worldbuilding sense. I assume that elves/orcs reincarnate and that the number of souls is limited. So being immortal is more in one sense. Even if they die, they just keep coming back.

And orcs die and come back a lot. Maybe the don't like it?

From a world building point of view, if the population can't increase over a fixed number set by a soul limit, immortality would be less of a problem.

Or if the would exceed it, there would be some penalty. No immortality, degeneration. I think it would be some control on them, from a balance point of view.

I've never used orcs in writing, only in rpg campaigns. Maybe I just want to get drunk and write some orc shit.

OneOut's avatar

We come to the most interesting part. How do they get back? The explanations end when it comes to the mechanism for bringing the immortal races back to life. It is especially difficult when the immortal race is similar to humans and their society.

Well, for example, let's say conditional elves retain the memory of a past life. Babies are born with a past-life personality. This means that the concept of family is impossible for such a race, because children and parents will always be strangers to each other.

Example two. There is some device that brings the conditional elves back to life. But then it's not immortality, it's a clone factory. If you take away their device, their immortality will disappear. It turns out that this is just a fiction.

Thus, each of my arguments comes to a dead end. You can't be like humans and be immortal at the same time.

Magnus-Strindboem's avatar

Of course they aren't human. In LOTR these are completely unrelated species, but then again, LOTR is a spiritual construct, not a scientific one.

On the other hand, while orcs are theoretically immortal, their usual lifespan is shorter than that of humans. Only very rare, powerful and clever specimen manage not to get themselves killed quickly. So they are much closer in this to humans than elves.

As for reincarnation -

Yes I'd assume 'free' souls are needed to produce free willed children.

Some evil gods or other may be able to clone orcs via magic, but they wouldn't feature in my setting, being a thing of the past.

I'd also assume they have no memories (or only very vague and conditional ones), but they would have the same characteristics.

Like when you would play some rpg game. While you can create one character after another and they don't (or shouldn't) have your memory and knowledge. Yet in the end, they would behave a bit similar, because the will behind them is the same.

I don't mean to say it's like that, just to explain how the reincarnates my share some similar traits, despite having different memories.

OneOut's avatar

This was my most tricky question about the fantasy worlds.

Children may inherit character or temperament from their parents, but this is not an incarnation or immortality. In this sense, any form of life is immortal because it can pass on its dna to its offspring. If orcs and elves have a limit on the number of souls, then they will only die out, but this is definitely not immortality.:sherlock:

When I'm drunk, I'm drawn to philosophy.

Magnus-Strindboem's avatar

With the limit I meant, once the supply is used, first someone has to die and be available for reincarnation.

While there may be some workarounds or magic here, basically that's the rule.

As for the temperament, this depends on the concept. If you assume that there is an independent soul necessary apart from DNA (which is not a given in a fantasy setting), than it could work a bit like the aforementioned player.

Also it's of course a matter of belief. If the orcs believe they will be reincarnated, even if the actual effects are few, they will take a completely different stance on dying, for example.

And if they think it's a curse, they will believe it even harder, because people like to believe they're screwed.

Also, they they will want to get drunk, too.

I considered sending them a missionary monk, that they decided not to eat him, because he brought the recipe to spirit as well as spirituality.

JordieVerse21's avatar

“Where are the women?”

“In the kitchen.”

That’s always been my response to anyone asking where the females of any fantasy or science fiction race are (when they aren’t seen on screen and seem to have been deliberately left out). This is a problem that didn’t start with Tolkien and didn’t end with him, either. So many fantasy writers just plain forget to tell us how their made-up race reproduces, and we’re left wondering if they actually aren’t some sort of fungus that just grows on the ground, given that there seems to be no one giving birth to them. Fans shouldn’t have to press that hard to get you to admit that yes, there probably are some vagina-havers in this race somewhere.

“Fungus aliens” that don’t “need” women also seem to have been a convenient escape clause for sexist writers who just didn’t want to write women, full stop. The conversation about dwarven women in the films smells of blaming the author’s negative stereotyping on the reader. (“They have beards, and sexist humans just can’t tell the difference.”) You might even say his depiction of dwarves insults simple, country-dwelling, blue-collar people for having “ugly” women covered in dirt and body hair who can’t be told apart from their men. And while I’m at it, let’s throw in a long-standing anti-Semitic dwarven stereotype (small, ugly, hairy people obsessed with money or treasure) that we can definitely attribute to Tolkien.

I’m not trying to say that Tolkein wasn’t a good fantasy writer. What he contributed to the genre was important, and I still enjoy it. But like most writers of his time, his politics don’t stand up to scrutiny today. The deeper you look into it, the more the truth stands out: Middle-earth was created by a guy who thought the perfect society was homogeneously white, Christian, and patriarchal. The people who don’t fit those labels get screwed hard in his lore. Women? They don’t exist, except when convenient for breaking those ancient curses with tricky specific wording. Black people and Jews? Savages, barbarians, and greedy little pygmies. I could go on. Does it bother me? Not any more than it should—I’d be here all day if I was going to get upset about every Victorian and early 20th century author who wasn’t very good at predicting future political schools of thought. But fans closing ranks to protect the Great Loremaster from such criticism and saying the elves can’t be Aryan propaganda because some of them have dark hair… ugh. As I say of fetish art on this site, you can put tits on an 8-year-old, but that doesn’t make her a grown woman.

Magnus-Strindboem's avatar

Ha. I see that struck a nerve. It's a hornets nest and an almost impossible task to set apart hen and egg, ideology, mythology or creator and fans. For example it's difficult to blame Tolkien for Aryan propaganda, because a lot of the basic setup was already in place before Aryanism was invented or at least becoming publicised.

But of course they were both products of the same time and the same mindset. I'd also wonder about the dwarven issue. We've got one of the large medieval (and earlier) mine sites near - it's easy to see other sources for those myths. But that doesn't make a later connection to anti-semitism impossible. We have the Easterlings and Southrons that appear constantly on the stage as enemies. But in the scene with the Oliphaunt, it's clear that Tolkien does not chose to sub-humanize them. I could be mean and argue that since humans, elves and dwarves are different species, it can't technically be racism to put one over the other. Only elves and orcs have that issue, since they're races from the same species. And that's just playing around with this little item a bit.

I read Tolkien as teenager for years on continuous loop. We still had 'Cold War' back then and you might guess, common world view was quite different from today. If there were annoying immigrants, those were usually Italians... but of course there was a strong latent anti-semitism in place EVEN though there weren't any left that someone could meet on the street. But it was much easier to put a finger on. And clearly, by todays standards, everybody was racist. It's almost inbelievable how much more homogenous society was back then. But that's just a shadow of Victorian England. So I don't trust those judging the past today to have been better back then themselves.

But of course, if we take the material to work with it today, we have to do by todays standards. Not because it's better on all accounts (taking your last sentence or a lot of profiling and commercial moralism of today), but it's pointless, except for academic navel gazing, to do otherwise. Trying to argue on theological grounds about issues in Tolkiens world building to a materialist audience doesn't work - even if they theoretically know the items.

So I ran off with the girls and orcs theme. And that is a wonderfully controversial minefield. Am I too nice? Am I serving tropes, even in between the lines? Am I even in the position to use the setting as a white man? And for what audience?

I got a different concept on orcs from Benjamin (mekheke) that is much more in line with classical fantasy. Maybe I should just stick with his. But then again, what purpose could these serve in my setup...

JordieVerse21's avatar

Yeah, it's a touchy one with me. But don't take it the wrong way. I don't drop text walls for just anything. Your ideas are interesting and they get me thinking, and you absolutely should continue with this story. Already, it looks like your orcs treat their women more fairly than a lot of "civilised" cultures and exclude them from dangerous jobs for more practical reasons, such as not sabotaging an already low birth rate. Meanwhile, there's a guy out there who thinks women shouldn't have combat jobs because the enemy troops will be able to smell their periods. That's a real thing I saw someone say once. You would think we "know better" than that by now, but IMO, a plentiful "progressive" society is in fact the perfect place for the really stupid racist/sexist ideas to grow. Barbarian women fight when there aren't that many barbarian men, and someone has to do it if they don't want their entire culture to be wiped out. See Elder Scrolls orcs. (They're also technically elves.) Orcish women are generally wives of chieftains, caretakers of offspring, and medicinal wise women, but because there aren't that many of them in overall, female warriors and mercenaries aren't that unusual. Unfortunately, they don't stand out very much when the writers are loath to admit that any of their made-up cultures have sexist ideas. In that world, the orcs do in fact seem pretty backwards, but only when compared to knockoffs of the Roman Empire or Nazi Germany that apparently never NEEDED a suffragist movement.

I once had a friend who worshipped Tolkien and strongly patterned his own fictional work on his lore. It wasn't fan fiction, but had enough points in common that more than once I told him he needed to be more original if he wanted to publish this stuff. All his characters were straight and white, except for possibly the orc knockoffs, which were coded as (most likely) non-white barbarians. It was his only deviation from reader expectation and, therefore, his only interesting idea: the orcs were invaders and servants of whomever was his stand-in for Sauron, and a number of them had been inserted as sleeper agents into the guard of an enemy city. No one could tell what they were because their helms covered their faces. Once the truth was known, the main character would recall seeing the orc guards playing with the enemy's kids. Later, when the main characters broke into one of their strongholds, they'd see orc women and children. In this case, "women and children" were being played to invoke reader sympathy for the male warriors ("hey, they're not so bad after all!"), but it's still more than we usually get from Tolkien.

I'm not here to bully artists for creating what they want or are most familiar with. A lot of the fantasy I enjoyed as a child came from King Arthur lore or was based on Norse or Irish legends. Not a lot of black people to be found there. But when that guy said "I'm going to deny all 'headcanons' that people come up with about my work", I heard "I don't want my readers ruining my perfect white, straight fictional paradise with their silly ideas that there are black and gay people in it." After all, people making up "headcanons" about your work doesn't change what you wrote. Hermione Granger is not black. That sentence alone would get me bullied off a lot of Harry Potter fan sites. Black readers are free to enjoy the character and write fan fiction about a black Hermione if they want to, because that's what free speech is. Scary how free speech is becoming a radical idea. But it doesn't change what the author wrote or the decision of the casting directors for 8 Harry Potter films, in which Hermione Granger is portrayed by a white actress.

The idea that people whinging about antique politics in fiction wouldn't have been any better themselves if they had lived during that time was at the front of my mind when I created the Jaeger family. The father, Bruno, is the embodiment of all the things I hate about the men in my (white, gentile, Dutch/German) family. He's an arrogant, misogynistic wife-beater whom even other Nazis dislike because of his puritanical lifestyle. The legitimate son, Conrad, is myself if I had been born with the "right" qualities. Like Draco Malfoy, he's meant to be the subject of a conversation about how much you can blame a person for having horrible politics when it's obvious their politics are 100% inherited from a horrible parent. The bastard son, Gabi, is also myself, more as I am now-- a non-Aryan, socially unacceptable person. In all stories I've written Gabi, he becomes much happier and more confident once he finds a space where he is accepted, and the question of Gabi's Jewishness is deliberately left unanswered in order to force the reader to judge him based on his own merits. Unfortunately, I'm not nearly brave enough to put those characters way out there where THIS Internet can see them. I've already had one person accuse me of being anti-Semitic, though I suspect that had nothing to do with actual anti-Semitic characters I've written. So, I've just been writing them in an RP that no one but @Taliesin573 and myself reads.

The way I see it, if people can't find one "problematic" thing in my work, I'm not doing my job as a writer/artist. Fiction is meant to entertain, but I also believe that the best and most entertaining fiction is the kind that asks questions. So, ask me your questions, I will answer, and we can have a conversation about it. I only start to get uncomfortable when the conversation progresses from "problematic ideas" to "problematic creator" and there's talk of "cancelling" that creator. H. P. Lovecraft was racist. J. K. Rowling is transphobic. Deal with it. Go read someone else's work if theirs makes you uncomfortable. No one is saving you HAVE to read it and enjoy it. But if you erase all the icky stuff that doesn't quite measure up to politics today, you just pave the way for old, barbaric ideas to become popular again once everyone's forgotten what happened the first time.

I think fantasy races like these are a good way for white creators to take part in a conversation about the treatment of diverse peoples in fiction. People may still complain that we don't understand "their struggle", but when the characters/races they're complaining about aren't actually real, it's hard to make a case that writing them is harmful to minority peoples in the real world. It's also possible for the reader to see more of a commentary on real life race/gender/religious issues than the author intended. In that case, it's possible that neither is wrong. All writers are human and are drawing on their experiences as a human being in our world. Sometimes our world isn't much fun, and we all write worlds that are better or at least more entertaining than the one we live in.

I did this for a university assignment. The class was about media representation of cultures and minorities, and the idea I was working with was "stereotyping and its effects". Apparently, it got a good mark, and from some very critical teachers too. Sadly, I don't know what it was, as I was forced to drop out of university before the marks were returned. But I'd be interested to know what you think.

Witches Against Workplace Harassment
Magnus-Strindboem's avatar

I'm always wary about diversity/wokeness/racism etc labels, since some of this has a bad scent of divide and conquer about it, and drowning out underlying issues, otherwise this stuff wouldn't be so heartily embraced. And it seems to me kind of attending to the symptoms and not the causes. It has turned into a crude and misused club that is getting ever more nerf added. But - some clubbing can be necessary and helpful at times, no doubt, that's why I dare to mention it from time to time.

But being a old white male with Dutch-German ancestry (and Brits, too, to make it worse and half of the family being Russian) I've given up on ever learning how to be political correct. Anyways, I can agree with what you wrote for the most parts. So I'm just condensing the input and some of the Tolkien letters on the topic and put in some of the results under the next iteration, which also has a cute(?) Orc in it.

JordieVerse21's avatar

Sorry. I know my replies can be overwhelming. X'D My teachers liked me. Other students usually didn't.

The current political climate frustrates me too and makes me not want to share my work, at least the bits that I know are touchy. However, predicting everything someone will jump on for being politically incorrect is impossible, and I can either let it silence me completely or try to cope. Art helps keep me sane, and I just hope that the worst I have to put up with is some idiot whining at me on occasion for intentionally writing an offensive or edgy character (because all stories need villains). I don't know how I'd cope with people brigading and actually trying to get me shut down. That's already happened to a number of people I'm friends with on dA. :(

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