Nathan (vovat) wrote,

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Ork: The Other Featherless Bird

As I'm sure you've gathered by now even if you haven't actually read the books, Oz and the surrounding fairylands are full of strange creatures. One of the most interesting is the Ork, a sort of bird-like creature with a propeller tail and no feathers, aside from a plume on top of its head. An Ork has tough skin and four legs, and four wings shaped like inverted bowls, which it uses in combination with its tail to fly. The most famous Ork in the Oz series is Flipper, who accompanied Trot and Cap'n Bill to Oz in The Scarecrow of Oz. The odd thing is that, even though Baum gave the character a name, he only mentions it once. Most of the time, he just calls the character "the Ork," which is fine until some other Orks arrive on the scene. Maybe by the time he reached that point, he'd forgotten he'd given that particular Ork a name.

The Ork homeland is Orkland, where they are "the absolute rulers of all living things, from ants to elephants," and which has no known human inhabitants. Flipper mentions that it is "not far" from Oz, and the James E. Haff/Dick Martin map shows it as a small island near Hiland and Loland, right next to the Island of Civilized Monkeys. Since the Ork initially thinks that the island on which Oz is located (which he describes as "almost a continent") might be Orkland, I have to wonder if Baum thought of it as bigger than that. Then again, maybe it was just a matter of skewed perspective on the Ork's part.

The most likely derivation that I've heard for the name "Ork" is that it's basically just "stork" without the first two letters, which seems particularly likely since Baum compares the Ork's legs to those of a stork. Baum's Orks have nothing to do with Tolkien's Orcs, a term that the British author apparently took from an Old English term for a demon or ogre. There are also types of dolphins called orcs, and the name of the most famous Ork might cause a modern reader to think of dolphins, but Baum wouldn't have had this association. The Ork is first discovered by Trot and Cap'n Bill in the water, but while Orks can swim, they prefer not to.
Tags: books, oz, tolkien
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