Dark Lord (fiction)

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In fiction, Dark Lord (also known as an Evil Overlord) is a name often used to refer to a powerful villain/antagonist with evil henchmen. In particular, it is used as a moniker in universes where it is thought that pronouncing the villain's real name will bring bad luck or represent a bad omen. Such a villain usually seeks to rule or destroy the entire universe around them.

About Dark Lords[edit]

In a religious context, it usually means Satan or other similar entities who hold power over lesser fiendish creatures and seek to disrupt the comfort and lives of people, sometimes tragically, and definitely maliciously.

Many of the clichés of a dark lord came from totalitarian states with a fascist propaganda and ideology. In a modern setting, they are sometimes megalomaniac dictators whose minions are depicted in outfits resembling Nazi troop uniforms, and the architecture is often in the geometric, modernist style common in the former Soviet Union.

In fantasy novels, Dark Lords have become something of a cliché following the success of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, in which the Dark Lord is Sauron. Sauron was also the beginning of the habit of characters being too afraid to mention a Dark Lord by name. As a rule, the Gondorians of Middle-earth never refer to Sauron by his true name: they always call him either "The Enemy" or "The Nameless Enemy", although his true name is known to them. In Tolkien's legendarium, Sauron is actually the second Dark Lord; he was the lieutenant of the first Dark Lord, Morgoth, until the latter's defeat. Morgoth's original name was Melkor, "He who arises in might"; "Morgoth" is a title or epithet meaning "dark enemy".[1]

Following the example of Sauron, Dark Lords in fantasy are always depicted as immensely powerful, implacably evil creatures with an insatiable lust for power. Only by their ultimate destruction can peace be restored.

In Star Wars, Dark Lord is an actual rank that is achieved by those who become Sith Lords. The most well-known Dark Lords of Star Wars are Darth Vader and Darth Sidious. The full title is "Dark Lord of the Sith".

Dark Lords often do not actually engage in direct conflict with the heroes; frequently, they are dark gods, demons, or rulers of lands who exist in other dimensions, and/or maintain a dark, inaccessible fortress. They usually rely on a vast, shadowy network of minions, often with an extremely hierarchical structure.

The frequency in which these cliches occur spawned the Evil Overlord List, a popular web site satirizing the mistakes Dark Lords (and any kind of major villain) make.

Frequently, villainous characters in fiction will display numerous Dark Lord mannerisms, but will mainly belong to another genre of fictional villain. However, very few villains in fiction are able to balance out more than one genre of fictional villain. One such rare example is Davros from Doctor Who, whose position as creator of the Daleks and later ruler of their empire marks him both as a Dark Lord and as a mad scientist. However generally, villains are either one or the other, not both.

These conditions are usually caused either by the format of the story in which the villain appears, or because of the villain’s modus operandi. For example, Ming the Merciless, Thanos and Darkseid are alien despots and could fall under the category of alien invaders. However, they exist within stories of such operatic nature, with elements of swashbuckling adventure and mythological analogy, that they are considered specifically to be Dark Lords. Alternatively, comic book villains The Kingpin and the 1990-era Lex Luthor could be considered modern-day versions of a Dark Lord, but more closely fall under the categories of a crime lord or a mad scientist, respectively. This is mostly due to these characters both traditionally seeking a public identity as a businessman, even a philanthropist at time, while keeping their criminal activities secret. This is at odds with one of the hallmarks of a Dark Lord, which is that they act from or deliberately seek out a position of legal authority, albeit often self-appointed, and even their most nefarious deeds are often public knowledge. However, Luthor and the Kingpin would both be sought out by the authorities if their activities ever came to light.

Another example could be found in the television series Once Upon a Time. Here, there is the title of "The Dark One" (Dark Lord in some translations), which identifies somebody with huge magical powers whose life and powers are bound to a dagger which reports the name of the person on it. Whoever possesses the dagger can control the Dark One. If someone kills the Dark One with it, he or she becomes the new Dark One where they get all the power, and his name appears on the dagger. Also, the Dark One is immortal and his skin is deformed. The fairy tale character Rumpelstiltskin is the main Dark One in the series after killing the previous Dark One called Zoso. The Dark One is the most powerful and feared creature of all the world.

Dark Lords tend to have a negative effect on the lands they inhabit, throwing them into ruin and despair. Sauron, for example, corrupted Mordor into a wasteland where the very air saps one's will. He plans to do this to all of Middle-Earth as well. He is a bit of a subversion, however, as much of Mordor is actually fertile farmland so as he can feed his armies. Jadis, the White Witch of Narnia is a less extreme example, casting the world into an eternal winter but never Christmas.

Dark Lords are usually male, but occasionally are female and just as evil and dangerous as the male versions. A notable example is the aforementioned White Witch.

Notable Dark Lords[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Silmarillion", J. R. R. Tolkien, editor Christopher Tolkien.

External links[edit]