Fantasy Kindreds of Saynim: Giants and Ogres

Giants and ogres are found in practically every culture in the world. If you discount magically adept creatures like the frost and fire giants of Norse mythology (which I think are better accounted for as trolls), they are almost always savage, backward, and even cannibalistic. Their defining characteristics are incredible size and brutish demeanor. They aren’t truly members of Saynim society, but are sometimes pressed into service by a powerful master.

As I envision them, these beings all share a common ancestor in Homo erectus soloensis, a hominin from Indonesia that is a late variant of Homo erectus with a larger cranial capacity and an unusually advanced culture compared to other erectus subspecies. Giants and ogres share certain physiological features with soloensis, including:

  • A have a wide, flat face with thick bones, heavy brow ridges, and large teeth. Their foreheads are shallow, sloping back from the brow ridges.
  • A brain case is more elongated from front to back and less spherical than that of H. sapiens.
  • Limb bones that are indistinguishable from modern H. sapiens.
  • Differences in the upper respiratory tract, especially the mechanisms of breathing control, that result in a different approach to language. Generally speaking, these beings are not capable of uttering long sentences. Nor can they vary vocal intensity, pitch, or tone to the same degree that humans do. They are thus generally soft-spoken individuals whose voices don’t always convey emotion in ways that humans can decipher.

GIANT (Homo giganticus)

Giants range from 9–14 feet tall and are usually brutish and non-magical—although they may still have great resistance to magic being performed upon them. Apart from a far more robust, dense bone structure to anchor their impressive musculature, giants are anatomically much like humans, only larger.

To a greater or lesser extent, all large hominins (8’ or taller: mainly giants, ogres, and the largest trolls) share the same adaptations to extreme size. Working from the bottom up, one might mention the following:

• Short, stubby feet with a distinct leg structure. Long, plantigrade feet like a human’s prove inefficient for larger bodies. For hominins in the 7–10’ range, the changes to leg structure are minimal, but they become more pronounced as size increases.

Like elephants, the largest hominins have stubby feet that create a more columnar lower-leg structure that is not employed in lift and propulsion but rather is ideal for supporting their terrific weight.

This adaptation has several effects on limb structure and locomotion. The foot musculature (anchored to the shin) is reduced, lowering the overall weight of the limb and thus making movement more efficient. This structure also decreases foot mobility, however, limiting stride length and overall gracility. Some of these effects are countered by the elongated thigh region, which can swing the shortened lower leg over great distances with every step.

• Shorter, thicker legs. Compared to an average human, in which leg length is approximately half of total height, legs of the largest hominins are somewhat shorter. In ogres and large trolls, leg length is roughly 0.47–0.48 total body length. In true giants, leg length is roughly 0.45–0.46 total body length.

Despite their shorter legs, large humanoids have normally proportioned arms (0.34–0.35 body length), leading to a relatively higher intermembral index (forelimb/hindlimb x 100). A normal human has an intermembral index of 68–70; Australopithecus had an index of about 88; chimpanzees, about 106. By comparison, ogres and large trolls have an index of 71–74, while true giants have an index of 74–78.

• Maximized bone strength and stiffness with minimized bone mass and volume. Like birds, giant bones have greater density than normal mammalian bones, providing strong, stiff, but relatively lightweight support.

• A body frame that is wider at the hip than the chest. This puts more of the giant’s muscle mass in its lower limbs where it is most needed for locomotion.

• A higher overall percentage of muscle tissue. Giants are more robustly built than a normal human that has merely been scaled up to incredible height. This is a necessary adaptation to be able to function at all.

• A larger and more efficient heart and circulatory system. This is necessary to bring oxygen to every part of the giant’s enormous body in an efficient manner.

• A relatively smaller head. All animals tend to show a disproportionate reduction in skull length with respect to body mass. The same is true of giant hominins: the larger ones generally have proportionally smaller heads than the smaller ones.

As sizes rise above 10’ or so, certain weaknesses also come into play:

• Bone weakness. Giant bones are stronger than those of humans but must move around far more weight proportionally. By way of comparison, elephants have been known to break bones simply from tripping and falling over. The same can happen to giants.

• Slowness. Giants are unable to run—that is, to lift both feet off the ground at the same time—without incurring serious trauma. Their long strides make them capable of surprising speed at a leisurely gait, however. Giants can “speed-walk” at about 16 miles per hour for short bursts.

OGRE (Homo atrox)

Ogres are the only hominins to regularly prey upon other hominins. They are at least human-sized and often quite a bit larger—though not as large as true giants. They are distinguished from the other hominin species by their animalistic nature.

The tallest ogres range from 8–11 feet tall. They are neither magically potent nor overly intelligent, although most can use glamour on an instinctive level to alter their appearance, and some may have a single additional magical talent they can use to their advantage. Their linguistic capacities are largely the same as that of giants.

Human-sized ogres are sometimes called bogeymen. Distinct subspecies populations can be as small as pygmies or as tall as the Maasai of East Africa. Despite their relative weakness, they can still be a threat to unsupervised human children.