Saturn Devouring his Children (Francisco de Goya)




I could have just as easily named the blog this, as giants and ogres have a similar problem to ogres and trolls, and both have driven me just as mad trying to differentiate them in my own writing over the years. They can be very similar to each other, not just in their appearance but also their role in a given story. There are a few key differences that set them apart, however. One is an issue of origin. Giants can be creatures of fairy tales just like ogres can, but giants can also be found in true mythology. They warred with the gods in both Greco-Roman and Nordic traditions, for example. The second difference is an issue of scale. Giants can vary widely in size, and in many stories their size doesn’t seem that fixed. Consider the Welsh giant-hero Bran, who was big enough to wade the Irish Sea yet short enough to fit inside a chieftain’s hall, with no mention of his size ever actually changing. Finally, there is the simple matter of achievement. Ogres sometimes have a strange and enchanted castle, but giants can build mountains, jump across oceans, and fight Olympus to a draw. Giants are, in almost every sense of the word, grander. It’s enough to give your regular Joe ogre an inferiority complex.

The common ground tends to be on the ogres’ home turf. Giants in fairy tales, while they sometimes retain their more fantastic capabilities, (reshaping the landscape, for example) are often stupid, brutish, and short compared to their mythic counterparts. In other words, more like ogres. Many an Arthurian knight cut his teeth in battle with this sort of giant, so close to ogres that it’d be hard to tell the difference. It’s a goddamned nuisance for a storyteller.

There are a few simple ways you can sort this all out for your story/setting/whatever. The most practical option is to just not have both ogres and giants in the same setting, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, a good fallback is that giants were once a mighty, epic force in the world, and have suffered a decline. Oh, there might be pockets of the old stock here and there, but most have devolved, shrinking in size and intellect, becoming ogres. Maybe some of the magic lingers in the bloodline, so a few ogres here and there have fantastic capabilities, but they’re rare. Or not-so-rare, depending how you like it. In this case, the difference between ogres and giants is largely semantic, but you could always spice it up. Maybe the decline was a natural result of giants being driven back by man and the gods, or maybe it was a curse, or the inner evil of the giants transformed them, or they accidentally cast a spell on themselves. Perhaps ogres are giants who became something like the beastmen I outlined in Part I of this series. Giants are often connected with primordial forces; ogres could simply be the result of a merging between giants and nature, creating something more feral.

Another way to go about it is that ogres are refugees. Giants sometimes have a sort of “giant country” in folktales, a realm of their own that is somewhat removed from ours, a bit like fairyland. Such a place is a wonderful setting for a story, and might be full of larger than life creatures such as trolls and ogres, in addition to giants. Of course, while ogres are bigger than humans, giants are bigger than ogres, and giants aren’t always the nicest beings. Perhaps the ogres humanity run into are sort of the peasant class of giant country. Tired of being trampled underfoot, they come to human territories. In fact, the horrible way ogres often treat humans might just be a reflection of how giants treat them. Such a scenario provides an option that most folktales deny you, that of an ogre homeland, where they might have towns and cities of their own. Plus, the idea of running into a giant who has ogre servants and butlers to do his busywork for him is a nice inversion of the ogre’s expected role.

You could also always go about things from the other direction. Instead of being giants that have become more human-like, perhaps ogres are humans that have become more giant-like. Such a thing could be the result of a spell cast by giants driven from the human world, their last revenge turning us into something like them. Or maybe it’s just caused by human/giant interbreeding, and ogres are essentially half-giants. We’ve talked about how giants are connected with the forces of nature, maybe ogres just come from humans trying to tap into those same forces and ending up a bit more giantish.

As always, the choice is yours, I’m just trying to show you different angles of the history and tradition. Your ogres might be like the Italian orco, or a metaphor for man’s cruelty, or a race of stunted giants, or some bizarre combination of all of the ideas I’ve presented over the course of this series. Hopefully you’ll even think up some other alternative approaches of your own based on the history and fairy tales I’ve talked about. If you can get this much out of as simple a concept as ogres, you can get just as much out of almost anything.

At any rate, this is the last part of this series on ogres. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to start on a new series, which will have more articles, but each of them will be shorter. It’ll be on Slavic vampire lore, so stick around if you like buckets full of blood.



  1. 1 Mason December 29, 2016 at 6:39 am

    Really helpful thank you very much!

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