Elements of Fantasy: Ogres and Ogresses
What was your worst nightmare? Did he have an enormous head and wiry hair? Well that, my friend, was an ogre trying to consume you.
An ogre is a grotesque creature with animalistic strength that eats human flesh. The Latin term, orcus, referred to the god of the underworld. They were the brainless wits who clobbered people for no apparent reason and hoarded their victims’ valuables. Oftentimes, their posture was horrendous and they had stiff movements.
Where did they come from? What was their origin? Perhaps it was the description of mentally handicapped individuals with severe behavior issues. Aggression was common among those with moderate to severe mental retardation. Without medication and proper care, such individuals would likely have been purged from their community and left to fend for themselves outside the city walls.
Or could ogres have personified offensive behavior capable by every man? Antisocial conduct stemming from deep within man’s psyche surfaced in man’s first records. Similar terms to ogre and ogress were in Biblical references of civilizations that will form near the end of the world, Gog and Magog. After joining other armies, Gog and Magog will attack Israel and God. The evil Gog and Magog will lose and Israel will be redeemed in preparation for the last judgment day.
Folklore claimed ogres were derived from Hongrios, the humanoid creatures who originated in Hungary. They were believed to have migrated northeast long before civilizations existed. Neanderthal in nature, hideously ugly ogres inhabited Great Britain prior to human settlement.
The Greeks told some great fantasies, one of which was about Oeagrus, the river god of Thrace. Thrace was located in southeastern Europe where Bulgaria later developed, on the opposite side of the Aegean Sea from Greece. Oeagrus was rumored to been a powerful ruler over the regions of Edonian, Mygdonia, Pieria, and Hebrus River. He was the father of Orpheus and son of Atlas.
Oftentimes, fantasies called for a barbaric evil-doer who lacked enough intelligence to question his master. Various forms of giant slaves kidnapped vixens and enslaved heroes. These generic monsters called ogres originated in French folklore as far back as the 1200s.
A Japanese legend told of a teen boy who decided to journey to Ogre Island to destroy the many ogres who kidnapped and stole from the townspeople. He also planned to claim their treasure. With the help of a monkey, a pheasant, and a dog, three animals that normally didn’t get along, the boy succeeded in making his family rich.
Bern, Switzerland erected an Ogre Fountain in 1544. The centerpiece was a tall figure dressed in a carnival costume who is eating live babies. The statue originally represented a religious sect believed to have murdered babies during ceremonies.
In 1697, Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault was published in France. One character in the story was an ogre portrayed as a wealthy landowner living in a castle. When Puss approached the ogre with the intention of stealing all his property, the ogre transformed into a lion. Clever puss tricked the hapless ogre into changing into a mouse and devoured him.
While ogres were the male figures, the female version, ogress, evolved from the fairytale, Sleeping Beauty. Charles Perrault wrote a version where the handsome prince’s step-mother was an ogress. She intended to kill the sleeping beauty along with the prince, but the cook switched the poison with lamb. When the ogress discovered the substitute, she threatened to cut the cook’s throat and throw her into a pit of vipers. Thankfully, the ogress threw herself into the pit and everyone lived happily ever after.
Ogres represented man’s need to defeat his inner demons in order to find his riches or true soul. In the 1818, classic, Frankenstein by Mary Shelly, despite the ogre type character’s clumsy movements and limited reasoning, his violent behavior was redeemed when he received love from a child. The portrayal of ogres in fantasies exposed man’s evil nature while teaching him to tame his dark side according to civilized behavior.
Shrek movies glorified gluttony and redefined ogres as being introverted, down to earth, strong giants. All ogres wanted was peace and quiet. When a princess chose seclusion over beauty and riches, the ogre and ogress lived happily ever after. The offspring of an ogre and an ogress was referred to as an ogree, which was what filled their home in the following movies.
Ogres played a critical psychological role within society. The giant cannibals stalked their victims and attack sleeping children. They consumed human beings without guilt. They were the first sociopaths. Throughout literature, ogres served two roles by sometimes being a metaphor of man’s enemies and other times revealing weaknesses in the good guy. Any object or person someone avoids having contact with was considered to be ogreish.
Political oppression during the twentieth century placed ogres in satires where they morphed into bullying governments. Caricatures of thick-headed ogres dominating children and vulnerable people flooded wartime reports. Images of Goliath-type figures with animalistic impulses to kill humans represented the evil elements of humanoids that overpowered the innocent due to their being brainless and emotionless. Basically, when man felt vulnerable and unable to control his enemies, ogres materialized.
Ogres took on any form of existence that exploits and abuses defenseless humans. They showed man the frailties and foolishness within the human nature. Dreaming about ogres meant you were searching for discipline and felt you needed to improve yourself. Take note of where ogres surfaced within literature and the media, for without realizing it, the author revealed his greatest fears.
Title image by sandara.