An ogre (feminine ogress) is a term used in myth and folk tales for a variety of abominable and brutish hominid monsters, informally large, unpleasant, grotesque, predatory, and typically cannibalistic towards normal human beings, infants, and children. Ogres and similar creatures feature in mythology, folklore, and fiction around the world, appearing in many classic works of literature and fairy tales.
Ogres vary in size depending on the depiction, ranging from moderately large and heavyset by human standards to inhuman and disproportionate giants. Common features include disproportionately large heads, abundant hair, unusually colored skin, strong body, a voracious appetite, and a generally hideous appearance, odor, and manner. Ogres overlap heavily with giants in mythology and may be considered a subtype thereof; they also overlap with human cannibals in fiction. The villainous giant in "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Jack the Giant Killer" matches an ogre in description and is sometimes directly termed an ogre in variants, and other man-eating giants such as those in The BFG and the Giant Despair in The Pilgrim's Progress are highly comparable.
Further examples of famous folktales featuring ogres include "Puss in Boots" and "Hop-o'-My-Thumb"; while the most famous ogres in modern fiction are the eponymous main character Shrek and his wife Fiona from the animated comedy film series of the same name. Other characters and monsters sometimes comparable to or described as ogres in trait include the titular husband in "Bluebeard", the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, Grendel from Beowulf, the Cyclops Polyphemus from Homer's Odyssey, the related cyclops in the tales of Sinbad the Sailor, and the oni of Japanese folklore.
The word ogre is of French origin, originally derived from the Etruscan god Orcus, who fed on human flesh. Its earliest attestation is in Chrétien de Troyes' late 12th-century verse romance Perceval, li contes del graal, which contains the lines:
Et s'est escrit que il ert ancore
que toz li reaumes de Logres,
qui jadis fu la terre as ogres,
ert destruite par cele lance.
"And it is written that he will come again,
to all the realms of Logres,
known as the land of ogres,
and destroy them with that lance."
The ogres in this rhyme may refer to the ogres who were, in the pseudohistorical work History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, the inhabitants of Britain prior to human settlement. The Italian author Giambattista Basile (1575–1632) used the related Neapolitan word uerco, or in standard Italian, orco in some of his tales. This word is documented in earlier Italian works (Fazio degli Uberti, 14th century; Luigi Pulci, 15th century; Ludovico Ariosto, 15th–16th centuries) and has even older cognates with the Latin orcus and the Old English orcnēas found in Beowulf lines 112–113, which inspired J.R.R. Tolkien's Orc. All these words may derive from a shared Indo-European mythological concept (as Tolkien himself speculated, as cited by Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth, 45). The Dictionary of the Academy of France alternatively states that the name is derived from the word Hongrois, which means Hungarian, as of western cultures referred to Hungarians as a kind of monstrosity. Ogre could possibly also derive from the biblical Og, last of the giants (or from the Greek river god Oiagros, father of Orpheus).
The word ogre came into wider usage in the works of Charles Perrault (1628–1703) or Marie-Catherine Jumelle de Berneville, Comtesse d' Aulnoy (1650–1705), both of whom were French authors. The first appearance of the word ogre in Perrault's work occurred in his Histoires ou Contes du temps Passé (1696). It later appeared in several of his other fairy tales, many of which were based on the Neapolitan tales of Basile. The first example of a female ogre being referred to as an ogress is found in his version of Sleeping Beauty, where it is spelled ogresse. Madame d'Aulnoy first employed the word ogre in her story L'Orangier et l'Abeille (1698), and was the first to use the word ogree to refer to the creature's offspring.
Fairy tales that feature ogres
- Puss in Boots
- Sleeping Beauty
- The Bee and the Orange Tree
- Finette Cendron or Cunning Cinders
- Tale of the Ogre
- The Flea
- The Enchanted Doe
- The Dove
- The Three Crowns
- Liisa and the Prince
- Mr Miacca
- Puss-cat Mew
- The Selfish Giant
- The Red Ogre Who Cried
- The Adventures of Pinocchio
Ogres in popular culture
- An ogre named Golithos is the major antagonist in The Marvellous Land of Snergs.
- Ogres exist as a major faction in Warhammer Fantasy Battle and its successor Warhammer: Age of Sigmar as well as in Warhammer 40,000, except they're named Ogryns.
- Ogres appear in the fairy tales of The Shire in The Hobbit.
- Ogres appear in The History of Middle-earth in the book of lost tales parts one and two where they are cannibalistic monsters bred by Melkor.
- Ogres make an appearance in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe film, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe book and Prince Caspian. They are faithful and dependable servants of the White Witch, serving as soldiers and prison guards. In Prince Caspian, they are revealed to still exist in Narnia, but are distrusted by the Narnians.
- Shrek is the eponymous ogre protagonist in the Shrek series of comedy films. Shrek engages in typical ogre behaviors like washing in mud and eating insects, but otherwise isn't monstrous, and only feigns nastiness and claims to eat people as a way to deter trespassers in his swamp, which is the backbone of the first movie's plot.
- An ogre named Mulgarath is the main antagonist in The Spiderwick Chronicles, wherein the shapeshifting ability from the Puss in Boots story is shared by all ogres.
- Ogres are units for the Orc faction in Warlords Battlecry video games.
- Ogres are a barbaric race in the Warcraft franchise. One of its main characters, Rexxar, is a half-orc/half-ogre.
- Ogres are enemies in The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, and The Elder Scrolls Online.
- Ogres make an appearance as shock troops and pillagers from Mount Gundabad in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
- Ogres are a race in the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game.
- Ogres are the monsters in Creepy issue #2 story "Ogre's Castle".
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's Translation of Beowulf, ogres are described as the offspring of Cain alongside goblins, Grendel, and his mother.
- An ogre is the eponymous giant robot tank from Ogre, a tabletop game designed by Steve Jackson.
Gustave Doré: Illustration for Le Petit Poucet, 1862
Alexander Zick (1845–1907): Illustration for Der kleine Däumling
The ogre and his wife, illustration for Hop-o'-My-Thumb from a late-19th-century German fairy tale book
Anne Anderson (1874–1952): Illustration for Beauty and the Beast
An oni in pilgrim's clothing
Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831–1889): An oni in wandering Buddhist priest's robes, 1864
Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849): An oni being chased away by scattered beans, detail of a print
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Media related to Ogre at Wikimedia Commons
- Rose, Carol. Giants, Monsters, & Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. ISBN 0-393-32211-4
- Shippey, Tom. The Road to Middle-earth. London: HarperCollins, 1992 (rev.). ISBN 0-261-10275-3
- South, Malcolm, ed. Mythical and Fabulous Creatures: A Source Book and Research Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987. Reprint, New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1988. ISBN 0-87226-208-1
- Kathrine Mary Briggs The Fairies in Tradition and Literature
- "Ogre." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 15 May 2006, search.eb.com