Dark Lord (fiction)
In fiction, Dark Lord (or Evil Overlord) is often used to refer to a powerful villain or 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 represents a bad omen. Such a villain usually seeks to rule or destroy the universe around them.
In a religious context, Dark Lord usually means Satan or other similar entities who hold power over lesser fiendish creatures and seek to disrupt the comfort and lives of people. 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 stemming from the success of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, in which the main antagonist, Sauron, is often referred to as the "Dark Lord". On occasion, the people of Gondor in Middle-earth refer to Sauron as "The Enemy" or "The Nameless Enemy" despite knowing his real name; arguably starting the practice of avoiding pronouncing a Dark Lord's actual name. In Tolkien's legendarium, Sauron is the second Dark Lord; he was the lieutenant of the first Dark Lord, Morgoth (also a title or epithet meaning "dark enemy"), until the latter's defeat. Morgoth's original name was Melkor (he who arises in might). Following the example of Sauron, Dark Lords in fantasy are always depicted as immensely powerful and implacably evil creatures with a great desire for power.
Dark Lords have a negative effect in their universe, throwing them into ruin and despair. Sauron, for example, turned Mordor into a "wasteland where the very air saps one's will". He planned to do the same to all of Middle-Earth. Dark Lords have mostly been male, with few exceptions such as the White Witch of Narnia, who casts the world into an eternal winter but never Christmas.
Dark Lord characters do not often engage in direct conflict with protagonists. They are dark gods, demons, or rulers of lands who exist in other dimensions, and/or maintain a dark, inaccessible fortress. They rely on a vast network of minions, often with an extremely hierarchical structure. In Star Wars, "Dark Lord" is a rank achieved by those who become Sith Lords as in the "Dark Lord of the Sith". The most recognized Dark Lords of Star Wars are Darth Vader and Darth Sidious.The Dark Lord is also a term used the Harry Potter to describe the villan Voldemort.
The frequency in which these cliches occur spawned the Evil Overlord List, a website satirizing the mistakes Dark Lords (and any kind of major villain) make. Frequently, antagonists in fiction will display numerous Dark Lord mannerisms, but will mainly belong to another genre of fictional villain. However, very few are able to balance out more than one genre of fictional villain. An 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 a mad scientist.
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 or a philanthropist, 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 performed publicly.
A most recent example can be found in the television series Once Upon a Time. There is the title of "The Dark One", which identifies somebody with prolific 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 and possesses all the power along with it (his or her name then appears newly branded on the dagger). In this series, the Dark One is immortal and his skin is deformed and golden. The fairy tale character Rumpelstiltskin is depicted as the Dark One in the series for the first few seasons after killing the previous Dark One, Zoso, until the Darkness consumes a young woman and transforms her into the new Dark One, Emma Swan.
Notable Dark Lords
- Arawn Death-Lord from The Chronicles of Prydain
- Darkseid from DC Comics
- Dark Lord from Flint the Time Detective
- Dark Lord Ninetails from the video game Ōkami
- Dracula from the Castlevania series
- Ganon from the Legend of Zelda series
- Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter
- Morgoth from The Silmarillion
- Sauron of The Lord of the Rings
- Sith Lords from Star Wars (which include Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine)
- The Dark One (Shai'tan) of The Wheel of Time
- Jadis, the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia.
- Master Xehanort from the video game Kingdom Hearts series
- Prince Phobos from "W.I.T.C.H."
- "The Silmarillion", J. R. R. Tolkien, editor Christopher Tolkien.