Orcs: Forged for War

Orcs: Forged for WarOrcs: Forged for War
Written by: Stan Nicholls, adapted and illustrated by Joe Flood
Publisher: First Second
Format: Softcover, 6 x 9, full color, $17.99
ISBN: 978-1-59643-455-4

Over the last three years First Second Books has impressively distinguished itself as a major publishing firm capable of producing high-quality, classroom-friendly, literary-level graphic novels. In fact, just this year I have recommended a number of First Second graphic novels to teachers and librarians. So when I sat down this month to read one of First Second's latest graphic novels, Orcs: Forged for War, I found myself wondering: "Why are First Second graphic novels not only good reads, but also authentic, literary-level, classroom friendly texts?"

Stan Nicholls's Introduction to Orcs: Forged for War presents teachers and librarians with a few answers to that question. To begin, First Second Books cares about the story behind the story; typical of most of their graphic novels the author supplies an insightful Introduction. In Orcs: Forged for War Nicholls' explains that this graphic novel is actually part of a well-known series of print-text novels he has already written. Similar to his print-text novels Nicholls claims that his goal was to ask readers to think about orcs in a whole new light: "What if orcs were heroes instead of villains?" This "What if . . .?" scenario makes for powerfully remarkable storytelling. To truly answer the "What if . . .?" question Nicholls dives into an unbelievably rich exploration of all the key elements of story, especially in terms of character, setting, plot, and themes. "Why shouldn't orcs," Nicholls writes, "have hopes and dreams, a history, a culture, spiritual beliefs, and a code of honor? . . . I wanted to write about them as sympathetic characters" (p. 2). After all, Nicholls concludes, most of us have felt like an outsider at one time or another. What if the orcs -- just like us -- have simply been misunderstood?

Perhaps another reason why First Second produces such high-quality, literary level graphic novels can be found in their choice of illustrators. Orcs: Forged for War is illustrated by the talented, noteworthy Joe Flood. With diligent respect for Nicholls' "What if?" scenario about the orcs as sympathetic, relatable characters who simply want to preserve their own culture, traditions, and generational future, Flood brilliantly portrays Nicholls' desire to remain true to the orc's impressive battle skills and warrior attitudes.

With a strong nod of respect to Tolkien's depictions of orcs from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Nicholls and Flood offer students, teachers, and librarians some entirely new, postmodern literary conversations to indulge in, conversations that will most likely encourage today's students to think about how they too can rethink and retell traditional stories.

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: Set before Stan Nicholls' popular trilogies Orcs: First Blood trilogy and Orcs: Bad Blood trilogy, Orcs: Forged for War is a visual epic that asks its readers to rethink what they think they know about orcs, especially in light of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Why are orcs typically seen as villainous? What if orcs have their own story to tell?

Setting: Maras-Dantia's various battlefields

Major Characters: Stryker, Haskeer, Jup, Alfray, Coilla, Jennesta, wolverine grunt soldiers, humans, Manis, Unis,

Themes: Leadership, War and Peace, Identity, Democracy and Dictatorship, Friendship, Alliances, Faith and Reason

Traditional and Contemporary Literary Pairing Suggestions: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, Art Spiegelman's Maus, Lois Lowry's The Giver, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Some Teaching Recommendations For High School Readers

Suggested Alignment to the IRA /NCTE Standard(s):

- standard #s correspond to the numbers used by IRA/NCTE (www.ncte.org)

1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Lesson Idea for High School Readers*




 Schema about Orcs:

Go onto the Internet and research "orcs"
as characters


Read the first
half of Orcs:
Forged for War

(stop at
page 97)



Read the second half of Orcs:
Forged for War

(stop at
page 198)


After researching orcs and reading 

Orcs: Forged for War write a short reflection on what you have learned 


Either individually or in groups work through steps 1 – 4. Record your responses in the appropriate column.   






To follow up on Steps 1 – 4, teachers and librarians may also want to ask student to engage in a writing activity. 


Building Upon Your New Knowledge of Orcs

1. If you could write your own story about orcs, would they be heroes or villains? Why or why not?


2. What would happen in your story about orcs? Why? Be sure to reference either your Internet research or your reading of Orcs: Forged for War in order to support your ideas.


3. Imagine someone reading your story about orcs. What would you want your reader to understand about your characterization of orcs? Why? 


When students are finished researching, reading, and writing about orcs encourage them to share their ideas in whole class discussions.

*This graphic novel contains word choice and violence that teachers and librarians may want to preview before distributing to students.

Katie Monnin, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida and author of Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the Secondary ELA Classroom (2010) from Maupin House. To learn more about Teaching Graphic Novels or Katie Monnin, please go to this link: http://www.maupinhouse.com/monnin.php.