Popular posts from the past: Ogre

Traveling in the Perilous Realm you’re likely, sooner or later, to meet ogres. They have become more and more familiar denizens of Story these days, no doubt largely as a result of computer and roleplaying games like World of Warcraft, in which they appear quite often. In these games, and the guidebooks and manuals that have spun off from them, ogres have been catalogued by way of various species, tribes, races, etc. You can, for example, encounter an “ogre mage,” which is surprising, given that ogres are traditionally thought of as brutish hateful creatures without much in the way of brains. Rarely (if ever) in stories does a hero go to consult a wise old ogre.

The word ogre itself is interesting. Looking into its etymology, one finds that the word first appears in French literature, in a 12th century poem about the Aruthurian knight Percival, where these lines appear:

et s'est escrit que il ert ancore
que toz li reaumes de Logres,
qui ja dis fu la terre as ogres,
ert destruite par cele lance …

Which translates roughly to something like: “and there will come a time / when the kingdom of Logres [England], / which was once the land of ogres / shall be destroyed by that spear …”

It almost seems likely the poet invented the word ogre in order to find something to rhyme with an odd word like Logres. From there, however, the word ogre shows up more and more frequently in poems and stories through the ages, usually to describe some sort of large, savage, nasty being, somewhere in size between a goblin and a giant. 

I used to wonder why there were no ogres in Tolkien’s books, only trolls, until I discovered that his word for goblin, orc, may have been derived from the Italian word for ogre, orco, which may itself come from a far older word for some sort of evil creature. So he didn't want both orcs and ogres in his stories if they're really the same thing, at least etymologically. As usual with Professor Tolkien, it was an interesting old word that sparked his imagination and led to the creation of a new creature. 

Sometimes that's how the realm of Story grows: the word comes first, then something has to be imagined to fit it.

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