Lok’tar, Orc-fans! Earlier this week I started to discuss why I think the Orcs of the Warcraft universe are one of the coolest fictional creations ever. I looked at their difficult history, including their corruption and their subsequent gruelling battle for redemption. I also considered Grom Hellscream in particular as the embodiment of the very worst and best of Orcish nature, and how I admire the innate strength of personality that he and the Orcish people as a whole can represent. In this post I’m going to talk about other aspects of Orcishness I admire, including the blending of violence with wisdom, the shamanistic traditions, and poking peons.
Power and Responsibility
In my last post I looked at the innate strength possessed by Orcs, not just physically but in terms of personality. Orcs have a force of characer that I greatly admire. No soul-seeking or praying to the light for them, they simply know who they are, and what’s more they’re willing to fight for it. This is what made corrupted Orcs so dangerous, but its also what makes the redeemed Orcs so cool, that brute force of will. I discussed previously how Grom Hellscream was a perfect example of this, but of course many Orcs exhibit this trait. This brings me nicely to the next hero I wish to discuss: Varok Saurfang. Saurfang demonstrates not only the strength and power an Orc can possess but also how this can be tempered with wisdom and humility. Whilst Hellscream redeemed the Orcs through battle and sacrifice, Saurfang embodies the redemption of the Orcs by ensuring that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
Saurfang’s contribution to the Horde has not only been as an incredible general but more importantly as an advisor to the Horde leadership. When Garrosh rants on about war with the Alliance, it is Saurfang who holds him back. When Thrall despairs after the Battle for the Undercity, it is Saurfang who reassures the young Warchief that he can hold the Horde together. Plus this is after his son has been murdered by the Forsaken, so really he’s an amazingly level-headed Orc! The reason Saurfang can embody the two identities of soldier and peacemaker at once is because he has lived through the darkest chapters of Horde history. He has had to come to terms with not only the atrocities committed by his people, but by himself. Yet he lives as a powerful example that someone can make the future better by learning from the mistakes of the past, something rare in both real life as well as Warcraft. He can never atone for the people he murdered, but he has made an oath to prevent the Orcs from becoming monsters once again.
This is a big part of why I find orcs compelling, they occupy a tumultuous existence in the moral grey area between their former dark selves and the noble people they aspire to be. Many Orcs like Saurfang struggle with their inner demons but ultimately have learnt to combine their warrior hearts with a sense of moral responsibility. As a powerful people they have a special role to play that must not be abused. Of course there are other Orcs who are not so enlightened and treat violence as a way of life rather than an unfortunate necessity. This is the enthralling nature of Orcs, an embodiment of the inner battle we all experience between good and evil.
A Primal Path
The redemption theme also overlaps with my all-time favourite Warcraft character, Thrall. Thrall is of course the primary reason the Orcs are still around at all, for it was he who led them out of slavery and replaced their addiction to demonic magic by reconnecting them with their shamanistic roots. I’ll skip going into how cool Thrall is and all the good things he’s done for his people, cos I’ve mostly already covered that in terms of Orc history, but he certainly makes for fascinating reading if you’re interested. What I do want to mention is how Thrall reintroduced shamanism to the Horde and how it plays into their identity very nicely.
The Orcs are hardly what you would call a technological civilisation. They possess a very rugged identity, being hunter-gatherers who live off the land and share a strong connection to nature and the elements. Some would mistakenly call this way of life primitive; I call it a simpler purer way of existence for the Orcs are clearly an advanced people, they just don’t need super-advanced technology to prove it (the same can be said of the Tauren and the Night Elves). Central to this primal path is the philosophy of shamanism, the spiritual connection with the elemental forces of Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, Air and Wilds. I say philosophy because although Shamans do gain supernatural powers from their beliefs, it isn’t so much of a religion as that would involve the worship of the elements, revering them as gods. Shamanism is more about communicating with these spirits and forming a lasting bond with them. A shaman cannot command the elements, he can only ask them for his assistance. As such they act as spiritual ambassadors of a kind, feeling the ebb and flow of the elements which are all around us and trying to channel their energies into something positive. I find this philosophy incredibly inspiring. It’s almost Taoist, in that it requires an understanding of one’s place in the universe and how to live as a functioning part of it.
By reconnecting his people with their shamanistic heritage, Thrall restored to the Orcs a key element of their identity. Shamanism embodies that marvellous trait I mentioned earlier, strength tempered with wisdom. It is the fusion of the power of the natural world with the responsibility to use it wisely. When the Orc Shamans on Draenor started trying to use their powers to attack the Draenei, they found their connection to the elements drained away from them. It is not a way of life which rewards selfish acts or unjustified violence. I’ll try to avoid repeating myself here, but I find the idea of a people who exhibit a simple ay of life, built on physical and emotional strength, but goes against unnecessary violence or selfishness, an incredibly appealing one.
No Half Measures
Of course, I am by no means saying all Orcs are wonderful and never unnecessarily violent. That would be blatantly inaccurate and not what I am trying to get across. What I am talking about is those Orcs who remain true to their origins, the standard by which many Orcs now try to return to. Whenever Orcs have strayed from these values, attempting selfish gains or exerting strength simply for its own rewards, those Orcs have found themselves trapped on a terrible path. Yet those Orcs like Saurfang, Thrall, and often us player characters, who do embrace the old Orcish ways of simple living and the path of the honourable warrior, are truly to be admired. I think this is again evocative of the innate force of Orcish personality, they either fight as powerful heroes or as twisted villains. For an Orc, there are no half-measures. Which at the end of the day is why they are so very, very cool.