Orville: the rat, the book, the legend.
Long, long ago, before we knew about lockdowns or even how bad the Hobbit movies would turn out to be, a star was born. A small brown rat called Orville was adopted from the New Zealand Rat Rescue by prominent rat enthusiast Elizabeth Heritage.
A call came from the team making the Hobbit movies: they needed brown rats for set dressing. Orville was accepted but he looked too sleek and dapper for the film’s requirements, so to grunge him up a bit he was covered in Marmite.
Orville took naturally to the glamorous world of filmmaking, even deigning to receive a signed photo from Lord of the Rings star John Rhys-Davies.
Heritage says: “When I told this story at the National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, people were thrilled. Although by this point Orville had gone to the great cheese shop in the sky, it was decided that he should be the Ghost of Honour at the next year’s con.”
A short story competition was created as part of the convention the following year, with entries required to include a rat character.
Ōtautahi spec fic author AJ Fitzwater rose to the challenge. Eventually their short story turned into a collection called The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper, published by Queen of Swords Press in the US. Cinrak is a dapper lesbian capybara pirate.
Fitzwater says: “I often thought with that square jaw and a broad chest, a capybara looked like a really handsome butch lesbian, if that butch were a rodent. And the pieces fell into place. Cinrak was born, and Orvillia became her rat queen girlfriend. Many thanks to Orville and his tasty Marmite hobbity fur, though he has now crossed the ratty Rainbow bridge. Little do you know what you started.”
Orville’s cultural legacy reached a milestone this month when The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapperwon Best Collected Work at the Sir Julius Vogel Awards. These national awards recognise excellence in speculative fiction in Aotearoa.
Sources close to Heritage, who has been enthusiastically promoting Orville for years, say: “I mean…we’re all a bit weird about our pets, you know? It’s best just to humour her.”