Years ago, I wrote a post on how common people turning into pigs is in mythology and fantasy. More recently, this post on Power of Babel also addressed the theme of pig-people, specifically that of orcs with the heads of pigs. His theory is that the Brothers Hildebrandt, when illustrating J.R.R. Tolkien’s orcs, were inspired by Disney’s Sleeping Beauty to make them pig-headed.
Dungeons and Dragons later codified this connection.
I know it’s pretty typical of D&D to mix in animal traits with fantastic humanoids, like how they made Lord Dunsany’s gnolls part hyena. The connection seems likely enough to me, though. From what I’ve heard, Tolkien’s orcs were mostly inspired by George MacDonald’s goblins, which are described only vaguely as grotesque creatures with human and animal features (and soft feet, but Tolkien purposely avoided this trait).
As Brian points out, orcs in the Dragon Quest games are also pig-faced.
I wondered if there was any connection to Ganon in the Zelda series, who resembles a pig when not in human form. Apparently, before the first Legend of Zelda was released, the working name for the villain was Gyūmaō Hakkai, or “Bull Demon King Hakkai.” This supposedly comes from the Japanese names of two characters from Journey to the West, Chohakkai and Gyumao. Chohakkai is known in Chinese as Zhu Bhajie, Chu Pa’chieh in the translation I read, and Piggy in some English versions. He’s a pig-demon who was given that form as punishment for his gluttony, sloth, and lust.
Gyumao, or the Bull Demon King, disguises himself as Zhu Bhajie at one point.
Certainly Ganon, as he was eventually conceived, doesn’t appear to have any features of a bull. Maybe that was an earlier concept that didn’t make it to the game, sort of like how Bowser was originally drawn with a head that looked more like that of an ox.
Ganon never had horns until Ocarina of Time. The monster form for Ganon in that game not only has horns, but also a long, thick tail that looks nothing like that of a pig or a bull.
I guess it was his imprisonment in the Dark World that made this form more pig-like, or something like that. It could be like how MacDonald’s goblins changed form over time due to their living underground. There is an interesting connection between Nintendo villains in that Bowser and Ganondorf in human form both have red hair.
So does Dr. Robotnik, as seen in his mustache. Is this some kind of Japanese anti-ginger prejudice? I hadn’t heard of the Journey to the West connection before, but it makes sense. That also helps to explain why he fights with a trident, which might be based on Zhu Bhajie’s rake weapon. Four Swords Adventures gives some background for Ganon’s trident, making it the ultimate dark weapon and more or less the opposite of the Master Sword. Since the official timeline places this game on a different branch from most of the others, however, this presumably isn’t the same trident he uses at other times. It might be related, though.
The Legend of Zelda cartoon had Link frequently refer to Ganon as “pig face.” Here, he was consistently colored brown instead of blue. Is this supposed to indicate that Link had already weakened him with the sword?
Really, I never entirely understood how the cartoon fit with the actual game. Ganon is still alive and has the Triforce of Power, while the Triforce of Wisdom is whole and in Zelda’s possession. Did Link manage to get out of Death Mountain without using the silver arrows? There’s also never a finalé, but when we see Hyrule again in Captain N, Zelda has all three Triforces and Ganon is severely weakened and asleep.
Mind you, with the more epic turn the Zelda series has taken since then, Ganon as a somewhat bumbling cartoon villain is a pretty bizarre relic of an earlier time. Bowser, on the other hand, is still pretty similar to how he was portrayed in the cartoons.
Some of the later Zelda games also give the Moblins porcine features, which is odd as they basically started out as bulldog people. Their Japanese name was Moriburin, or “forest goblin,” originally rendered into English as “Molblin.” The now-standard and easier-to-pronounce “Moblin” also suggests a connection with the word “mob,” appropriate for common and not-too-bright mooks. The Wind Waker made these dog-goblins more pig-like, particularly in their noses and feet, and that stuck for later games.
Perhaps there are multiple varieties of Moblin, and the boomerang-throwing Goriyas might also be related to them. I remembered the sprites both sorts of enemies in the original game looking pretty much the same, but looking back there are some key differences, and the official artwork doesn’t make them that similar at all.