Friday, June 8, 2012

Sagoth Orcs?

Where did pig-nosed orcs come from?

I imagine the answer to this is on a forum somewhere but I can't think of anything less inviting than an rpg internet forum.  I don't think anything to do with Tolkien's orcs would suggest a pig nose.  I suppose it could be just a beastly addition to make them less human and easier to kill without guilt.  I suppose it could have been added to try and make them distinct from the gajillion other humanoids.  Or maybe it was just the whim of a particular artist.
Well, The other day I watched the movie At the Earth's Core which is an adaptation of Burroughs' first Pellucidar book.  In that book the soldier race that serve the evil Mahar are the ape-like Sagoths.  But in the movie they don't look like gorillas, they look like humanoids with pig-noses.  I wonder if this movie might have been where pig-nosed orcs came from.  The Sagoths in the movie act very orc-like: are war-like, brutal, speak a different language, and act on the initiative of a more powerful evil. Coming out in 1976 it pre-dates the Monster Manual and might have been early enough to influence some of the artistic depictions.  I'm curious what other possible origins have been given for pig-nosed orcs.


  1. I saw a thread on Dragonsfoot with quotes from Gary saying he saw orcs as somewhat porcine, but not with pig noses/faces... David Sutherland interpreted Gary's description as pig-nosed orcs.

    Pig-faced people in films go back farther than At the Earth's Core. I'm pretty sure I remember people being turned into half-pigs and sent to the gladiator arenas in Atlantis: The Lost Continent (1961), which in turn probably got the idea from The Island of Lost Souls (1932) or the H G Wells novel The Island of Doctor Moreau. In that same Dragonsfoot thread, someone noted that there is a pig-faced orc in Orlando Furioso (yes, the Italian original has "orco", which is probably better translated as "ogre".)

  2. I believe "Orc" is Gaelic for Pig.

  3. Replies
    1. @anon
      I should not have found that so funny.

  4. Also the pig-faced goblins in Sleeping Beauty (I think one was green too!)

    I remember reading a letter of JRRT's complaining that someone or other (an illustrator? script writer?) was drawing orcs with feathers and beaks ... having assumed 'orcs' was related to 'awks'?

    So maybe the answer is, there is really no single source!

  5. Every time I watch At the Earth's Core I think the same thing...

  6. Some of the Hildebrandt Brothers' Middle Earth paintings of orcs have definite snouts, and a few are pig-like. I don't have the dates handy, but the Hildebrants may well have been influenced by the various movies posted above, and then they in turn influenced (or reinforced the influence on) TSR artists.

    This is of course pure speculation on my part. Nothing to back it up.

  7. Other possibilities: the swine things from House on the Borderlands, the Gamorrean guards from Star Wars, or the trollocs from the Wheel of Time. I like mikemonaco's Disney's Sleeping Beauty theory as well.

    Although maybe those latter three are "symptoms" of the same "cause" as the pig-faced orcs.

  8. Wow, great replies. hanks, everyone.

    @Talysman: I want to go watch those 2 older films now, thanks. I think Dr. Moreau is reaching a bit too far because it could just as easily explain dog, cat, or other beastly orcs. I knew "orc" came from Orland Furioso, but I haven't read it. I'd never heard the orc in it was pig-faced I'm curious now.

    @Zzarchov: My googling shows gealic for pig is "muc" pronounced muck, I guess that could be close depending on a speaker's accent.

    @anon1 & burnedfx: ha, you know it could be as simple as Gygax seeing "orco" in Orlando Furioso and thinking or pork.

    @mikemonaco: I haven't seen Sleeping Beauty in ages, didn't remember there being goblins. Yeah, I have a feeling this kind of thing is related to a broader cultural association.

    @Welleran: Cool, I'm not crazy :)

    @LordGwydion: Thanks, probably related to the general use of poor piggies as beastly things.

    @anon2: Return of the Jedi feels too late to me. But I think you're right about these being symptoms. Again and again, beastly humanoid things are represented as pig-faced so I think it's normal that Gygax and/or Sutherland would just associate pig noses with beastliness when having to draw something that they had no images for. Pigs are associated with gluttony and filth in western culture in ways no other animals are really.

    Cats, dogs, and bears might work for brutal aggressiveness, but they all have competing cuddly cultural images. Now that I think of it a pig snout is pretty unique too. Not as easy to sum up other animals with one piece except maybe antlers or a trunk.

    I'm interested in this kind of thing. I was thinking of doing a post on dragons and how our cultural conception of them has shifted post-Smaug. Almost all dragon depictions these days are the same, giving them horns and little serrations sorta like dinosaurs. Old dragons were way more variable and usually snaky.

  9. William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland, which Gygax almost certainly had read, had pig-nosed grunts boiling up from the underworld.

  10. Sleeping Beauty Goblin minions:

    I am sure some other blogger brought them up before me but can't recall who was the very first . Maybe Zhu?

  11. Hey, thanks.

    @Roger: Anon2 mentioned Hodgson too. That book might be the best explanation for why Gygax thought of orcs as porcine. Then you have to wonder why Hodgson thought of underworld grunts as pig-nosed.

    @Mike: Thanks for the link. Interesting how pig-nosed is one of the varieties on display. Orcs might have been croc-jawed, or bat-headed. Or maybe like is common, chaotic creatures that vary in form. Hmm, if I ever put orcs in my world they'll be like that-- variable.

  12. I'm coming in on this discussion a little late, but I have always associated pig-faced orcs with those pig-faced people in the Twilight Zone episode "Eye of the Beholder." (Google it if you don't recall them, it's a classic.) Just one more pop cultural image that would have been floating around the zeitgeist that Gygax may have tapped into in the 1970s.