Literary Archetypes: The Dark Lord

11/08/2014 Literature 2

In the ‘Literary Archetypes’ series I’ll be looking at various examples of classic character types within fiction. And my first victim is…the fantasy Dark Lord!

‘The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power, the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…’

From Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling.

Every fantasy series needs one: a black cloak wearing, all seeing, all powerful Dark Lord with an army of orcs/trolls/goblins/Death Eaters, whose fate is entangled with that of the hero (or heroine!).

From Tolkien’s Sauron onwards we’ve seen various incarnations, from Feist’s magical mordehel warrior Murmandamas in the Riftwar Saga (which I have just finished!) to Harry Potter’s nose-less nemesis Voldemort and Inkheart’s literally straight-out-of-a-fantasy-book villain, Capricorn. After all, the good-hearted, brave hero/heroine needs a foil to make him/her look even better, and who fits the bill better than the ultimate manifestation of evil?

One fantasy series where this archetype is avoided is, of course, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The ‘shades of grey’ aspect that all Martin’s characters have lends itself to evading archetypes, meaning the closest we come to any kind of Dark Lord is the utilitarian Tywin Lannister. Cold? Check. Ambitious? Check. Ruthless? Check. Inherently evil? I wouldn’t say so. After all, he ‘mislikes the word’ plotting (the very life-force of most Dark Lords!), would rather kill ‘a dozen at dinner’ as opposed to everyone in his path, and is more likely to be found holding council in the Tower of the Hand than cackling and killing kittens in the Dark Tower.

And besides, if Tywin Lannister is the evil double to some brave hero in A Song of Ice and Fire…then who is that hero?

So what do you think of the Dark Lord archetype? What are some of your favourite ‘Dark Lord’ characters?

2 Responses to “Literary Archetypes: The Dark Lord”

  1. Rick @

    I guess The Others fit the bill in A Song of Ice and Fire. At least they’re the most “black” on the black-and-white scale.

    With the success of ASoIaF, it’ll be interesting to see how “evil” is portrayed in future series’. I think it’s going to have a major, MAJOR, impact on the genre.

    Also, welcome to the blog world! I’ll be following.

  2. Laura

    I hadn’t thought of the Others actually, so that’s a good point! And I definitely agree that ASoIaF will be a game-changer in terms of characterisation in fantasy. After reading the series it has become more noticeable to me when characters are a bit flat or are stereotypes in other fantasy books!
    Thanks for the welcome!

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