O Is For Ogre

Ogres are large, hideous, cruel, humanoid monsters.  They are similar to Trolls, Orcs and Goblins.  The most famous ogre is Shrek along with his wife Fiona, who was a beautiful princess placed under a curse that transformed her into an ogress nightly, however after kissing Shrek, she turned into an full-time ogress.  Shrek is seen as being considerably intelligent, compared to the other ogres in Mythological stories, where they are often portrayed as being very dimwitted and unintelligent.  Shrek is actually based on a French man who lived in the 1900’s named Maurice Tillet.  Maurice developed a disease called Acromegaly (hormonal disorder that develops when your pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone during adulthood) which made his bones keep growing and growing.  He became famous as a pro-wrestler in the states and eventually died of a heart attack at age 51.

Stories and myths about ogres go back hundreds of years, and even transcend cultural boundaries. Ogre is the French word for a large, man eating giant, which is thought to have been derived from the Etruscan cannibal god Orcus a god of the underworld.  Some believe ogre refers to the mythical giant Gog who invaded Israel and is mentioned in Ezekiel 38 and both Gog and Magor appear in the Book of Revelation.  Others say that the word ogre might come from the ancient Greek river god named Oiagros who was the father of Marsyas the Phrygian Satyr who invented the music of the flute.  In Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah, both Cain and his younger brother Seth had offspring that consisted of ogres and elves and evil phantoms and the giants.

Ogres are strong and have bad tempers, they are easily frustrated and they have a tendency to throw tantrums, so they end up ruining things, which means that the Hulk could be classified as being an Ogre.  Quasimodo from Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame was deformed at birth and was thought to be an ogre that was awkwardly resembled.  In the Old English epic poem Beowulf the hero overcomes the crazed ogre by the name of Grendel.  In the English fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk by Benjamin Tabart, Jack meets an ogre that says “Fee-fi-fo-fum”.  Jack and the Beanstalk can be traced back to a group of stories classified as The Boy Who Stole Ogre’s Treasure, which was written 5,000 years ago.  In the 13th Century there is a legend of an Irish Wildman known as a gruagach or woodwose who was a hairy, manlike beast, variously referred to as an orc, ogre, troll and wild man.

The Brothers Grimm tale of Tom Thumb was probably where the French writer Charles Perrault got his inspiration to write the fairy tale called Little Thumb where the little boy gets trapped in a house full of ogres.  The Brothers Grimm also wrote Sleeping Beauty and Charles Perrault wrote The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, where Sleeping Beauty’s mother-in-law was a real ogre.  In the classic Puss in Boots, from the Tales of Mother Goose by Charles Perrault a cat outwits a shape-changing ogre.  The Flea is an Italian literary fairy tale written by Giambattista Basile where an ogre decorates his house with the bones of the men he had eaten.  Giambattista Basile also wrote a story titled Petrosinella who is a girl confined to a tower (like Rapunzel) by an ogress.  Ogres are also popular in fantasy fiction, such as C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.

The idea of ogres may have gotten its start way back when prehistoric humans known as Neanderthals roamed Earth before they went extinct roughly 40,000 years ago.  In his book, The Outline of History, H.G. Wells suggested that an ancient cultural memory of the Neanderthals may have survived as the ogres and trolls of folklore.  In Avram Davidson’s story The Ogre, some Neanderthals survived into historical times, the last of them coming to a tragic end in a remote valley of 16th-century Germany.  As new fossil evidence comes to light in Asia, it is conceivable that Asian beliefs in ogres could also be contributed to a collectively shared memory of human ancestors.

Ogres are often categorized with other large, beastly creatures, such as giants, Cyclops and trolls.  Ogres are large, and often have disproportionate features.  Ogres can be several times the size of a human being, or only a few feet taller and some have arms that can extend to any distance.  They are usually solidly built, and their strength is signaled when they arrive on the scene in blasts and whirlwinds.  They have rounded heads, a large stomach, long fingernails and abundant amount of straggly hair and a beard.  They often have large mouths that go from ear to ear which is full of prominent razor sharp teeth, and they are hideous, gruesome, repulsive and ugly, and are accompanied by a horrific smell from their bad breath, body odor, belching and flatulence.

The Japanese oni are usually portrayed as hideous, gigantic creatures with sharp claws, wild hair, and two long horns growing from their heads.  Occasionally, they are shown with unnatural features, such as odd numbers of eyes like the Cyclops of Greek mythology or having extra fingers and toes.  There is a Japanese fairy tale by Yei Theodora Ozaki called The Ogre of Rashomon that tells of a city which is terrorized by a savage ogre.

In Kenya, the ogre is another popular, evil, character that is known to devour whole villages, but is eventually vanquished by the actions of a brother and sister.  The brother cuts the toe off the ogre and all the people it ate come out.  In the Guji Oromo of Ethiopia a brother and sister meet a Bulgu, “cannibal”, a fearsome ogre with four eyes, a head like an axe blade, arms like axe handles, and stocky legs like pestles when they went down to the river to fetch water. The bulgu seizes and devours the boy.  The bulgu searches for the girl, and he wouldn’t have found her if she had not broken wind in fear.  When her parents returned, the only thing left of her was her middle finger.

10 thoughts on “O Is For Ogre

  1. Very interesting! I’ve never seen more than snippets of Shreck, but seems like a good movie. There is a book my kids loved, called “The Funny Little Woman”, by Arlene Mosel. It tells the tale of a little Japanese woman who gets into trouble with the Oni underground, and has to make rice dumplings for them. The book is pretty funny.

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    1. Shrek is a wholesome and humorous tale. It’s been awhile but I think Eddie Murphy is the voice of the ass in it. Not sure who the voices of Shrek or Mrs. Shrek are…

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      1. I see I do remember some reading from the early years. I remember buying a scholastic book club book with woodcut illustrations of the story. It must have stuck.

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