It’s not quite Halloween, but if you want to keep your head, then any time is the right time to pay homage to such dangerous adversaries as Lord Voldemort and Morgan Le Fay.
J.R.R.R. (Jim) Hardison, author of the wickedly funny epic fantasy Fish Wielder, is here to tell you about 13 Dark Lords and Ladies you may want to start honoring before they make their inevitable return. Some of them might be gone, but are they ever truly dead?
About ‘Fish Wielder’
Fish Wielder is kind of like Lord of the Rings, set in Narnia, if it was written by the guys who made Monty Python and the Holy Grail while they were listening to the music of They Might Be Giants.
In ancient times, the Dark Lord Mauron cooked the most powerful magic chocolate dessert ever made, the Pudding of Power. One thousand and two years later, the evil leader of the Bad Religion, the Heartless One, is trying to recover the lost pudding in order to enslave the peoples of Grome. Only the depressed barbarian warrior Thoral Might Fist and his best friend, Brad the talking Koi fish, have a chance to save the world of Grome from destruction, but that’s going to take a ridiculous amount of magic and mayhem. Thus begins the epically silly epic fantasy of epic proportions, Fish Wielder — book one of the Fish Wielder Trilogy.
10 13 terrifying dark lords (and ladies) by J.R.R.R. Hardison
A proper Dark Lord (or Dark Lady) would be disappointed by a standard top 10 list. Heck, a Dark Lord (or Lady) would probably run molten lead through my bowels and flay the skin from my bones if I were to bring him (or her) a standard top 10 list. That’s why this one goes above and beyond, all the way past 12 to the much more evil 13. Thirteen is so evil, most hotels don’t have a 13th floor and most airplanes don’t have a row 13.
Epic fantasy is packed full of deadly Dark Lords and Ladies (often with massive supernatural powers) busily working to subjugate their worlds, often while worrying vaguely about pesky prophecies concerning their individual dooms and downfalls. Clearly, Satan was the model Tolkien was working from when he wrote about Morgoth in The Silmarillion, but it was really his character, Sauron, who crossed over in The Lord of the Rings and created the Dark Lord category that is so popular and cliché in fantasy fiction today.
What does it take to be an effective Dark Lord or Lady? Well, you have to be:
- Evil (for starters).
- Supernatural or magical. (If you aren’t magical, then you’re just a regular badguy.)
- Alive beyond your allotted span of years and/or the destruction of your physical body. (It helps if you have channeled your soul, or part of it, into some kind of artifact.)
Now, there are tons of excellent Dark Lords and Ladies — far too many to narrow down to a list of just 13 — but that’s my job. Sorry if I’ve neglected one of your favorites, but here are some of mine.
- Arawn/Achren — I’ll start with a Dark Lord and Lady combo from The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. At the beginning of the series, Arawn is the dread and deathless Dark Lord of Annuvin, and Achren is the spiteful Queen of Spiral Castle. Why’s she so spiteful? Because she taught Arawn everything he knows about being bad and enabled him to create an army of zombie-like Cauldron Borne soldiers before he usurped her throne and made himself Dark Lord. That’s the trouble with Dark Lords…you just can’t trust them.
- Beloved — The insane Dark Lady of the Unicorn Chronicles by Bruce Coville. Her goal is to destroy all unicorns and anyone who gets in her way in that quest. She is centuries old and immortal, but only because the broken tip of a unicorn horn has pierced her heart. It puts her in unendurable and continuous pain, but it also incessantly heals her — which is why she’s so freaky and stark raving mad.
- The Beast — While we’re playing with tragically insane characters, we should probably deal with The Beast from the Magician’s Trilogy by Lev Grossman. I don’t want to give anything away, but The Beast is a powerful Dark Lord from the magical land of Fillory — which is itself a thinly veiled reference to Narnia. The Beast sacrificed his humanity to remain forever in the magical world.
- The Duke of Ch’in — This guy is not just a centuries old, ruthlessly evil practitioner of the dark arts and the first ruler of ancient China, he’s also a lich! What’s a lich, you ask? Why, it’s a dead person who remains sentient and animate by transferring his (or her) soul into a phylactery. What’s a phylactery, you ask? Well, it’s a protective amulet, object or container that holds the soul of a lich. Technically, the Duke of Ch’in actually had his heart taken out and put in a phylactery, but let’s not quibble when dealing with Dark Lords, shall we? The Duke of Ch’in is a splendidly evil Dark Lord whom you can find in the pages of the excellent A Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart.
- David Lo Pan — And while we’re on ancient China, we have to deal with my favorite Dark Lord of that realm. Big Trouble in Little China’s ancient evil sorcerer is over 2,000 years old and splits his time between inhabiting a decrepit, wheel-chair-bound husk of a body and floating around as a seven-foot-tall ghost who can shoot beams of light out of his eyes and mouth. Cursed by the first emperor of China to live eternally without flesh until he can marry a green-eyed girl (and then sacrifice her), Lo Pan is a classic, but hilarious, Dark Lord.
- Evil Harry Dread — While we’re covering funny Dark Lords, we can’t forget Evil Harry Dread, Dark Lord of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld universe. As Dark Lords go, he’s a strict adherent to the genre clichés that the Evil Overlord List was designed to end. He always hires stupid henchmen, he always monologues until his victims can get away and he makes sure his minions wear helmets that cover their entire faces so that heroes can easily disguise themselves and sneak up on him.
- Queen Jadis — Have you figured it out yet? I’m doing the list alphabetically so I don’t get on the bad side of any of the Dark Lords (or Ladies) by slighting them in the standings. Which brings me to “J” and Queen Jadis (also known as the White Witch of Narnia). Seven feet tall, gorgeously beautiful and capable of breaking iron with her bare hands, Jadis is so evil, she killed all life on her home planet, Charn, except for herself. After that, she found her way to Narnia, where she became immortal, installed herself as queen and ruled for a hundred years in which it was always winter but never Christmas.
- The Lich from Adventure Time — Yes, I’m including him! It’s my list! And if you look past all of the ridiculously hilarious stuff that happens on the show, Adventure Time actually has a very dark and serious story going on under the surface. The Lich (also known as Sweet Pig Trunks — after he gets turned into a baby) is the ultimate evil and bent on a single goal — to destroy all life. The Lich is immortal, can possess people, can shoot green fire from his hands, can control people’s minds from a distance and exudes an aura of death that causes living things around him to die and rot. Oddly, he doesn’t seem to have his soul stored in a phylactery, which may mean that The Lich is not actually a lich in the classic sense — although this may yet be revealed.
- Ming the Merciless — The Dark Lord of the planet Mongo and enemy to Flash Gordon! There are lots of incarnations of Ming, from comic strips, comic pages, film serials and animated kids’ shows, but my favorite is the Max von Sydow version from the 1980 movie Flash Gordon. While you can’t dispute that Ming is a merciless evil dude (after all, he’s a vicious despot who destroys planets just for fun), you might argue that he uses dark science rather than magic. But he actually appears to use a kind of hybrid of science and magic — especially in the 1980 movie. And, upon his apparent death, he seems to possibly still be alive but residing within his own magic ring. Lich much? So, I’m including him whether you like it or not.
- Morgana — One of the foundational Dark Ladies of Legend, Morgana (or Morgan Le Fay) is an evil enchantress (although not in all versions), half sister of King Arthur, apprentice of Merlin (until she betrays him) and enemy of the Knights of the Round Table. In some tales, like the excellent film Excalibur by John Boorman and the 15th century romance the movie is based on, Le Mort D’Arthur by Thomas Mallory, she even seduces Arthur and conceives his evil son Mordred, who (of course) kills him.
- Sauron — The ODL (Original Dark Lord), ruler of Mordor and creator of the One Ring — the ring of power “to rule them all.” This guy was Morgoth’s lieutenant until Morgoth was cast from the world into the outer void, where he’s still probably hanging out with Azathoth (but that’s a name for a top 10 list of evil gods). In order to make his ring so powerful, Sauron had to pour a great deal of his own life force into it, which meant that his power was broken when the ring was hacked off his hand. It also meant he couldn’t truly be killed unless the ring was destroyed, even if he did have to spend a thousand years as a shapeless evil fog or something. What all of this means is that Sauron was really…a lich!
- Lord Voldemort — And while we’re on the subject of liches and phylacteries, it’s time to deal with He Who Must Not Be Named (but who is actually named Tom Marvolo Riddle). Good old Lord Voldemort took the idea of putting your soul into an evil receptacle to new lengths by actually splitting his soul into eight pieces (seven in Horcruxes and one in his body). That may have seemed like a pretty foolproof plan for immortality — except you always have to keep an eye out for those pesky prophecies of your own doom.
- The Wicked Witch of the West — What better way to end a list of Dark Lords and Ladies than with a wicked witch? Although allied with the Wicked Witches of the East and the South in order to rule the land of Oz, the WWoW (Wicked Witch of the West) is clearly a Dark Lady and a force to be reckoned with. She lives in a mighty fortress, magically controls the flying monkeys and subjugates the hapless Winkie people. Unlike the version in the movie, in the Oz books by Frank L. Baum, the WWoW is after a pair of silver shoes that were originally owned by the WWoE and will increase her powers substantially. She also has only one eye. Oddly, she is both afraid of the dark and soluble in water — that former never explained, the latter a weakness that proves her undoing. She probably should have considered making herself into a lich so that, even after Dorothy doused her, she could have remained a sentient puddle of goo or something.
About the author
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Fish Wielder is J.R.R.R. (Jim) Hardison’s first novel novel (he wrote a graphic novel, The Helm, for Dark Horse Comics). Jim has worked as a writer, animator and director in commercials and entertainment since graduating from Columbia College of Chicago in 1988. He started his professional career by producing a low-budget direct-to-video feature, The Creature From Lake Michigan. Making a bad film can be a crash course in the essential elements of good character and story, and The Creature From Lake Michigan was a tremendously bad film.
Jim learned his lesson well, and after a brief stint recuperating as a freelance writer and film editor, founded his own production company. During its seven-year run, he wrote, directed and edited live-action and animation productions, including educational films, television commercials and television pilots. Shifting his focus entirely to animation, Jim joined Will Vinton Studios in 1997. There he directed animated commercial and entertainment projects, including spots for M&M’s, AT&T, Cingular Wireless and Kellogg’s as well as episodic television (UPN’s Gary and Mike). While working at Vinton, he also co-wrote the television special Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest for Pappy with actor Paul Reiser.
Jim has appeared on NBC’s The Apprentice as an expert advisor on brand characters, did character development work and wrote the pilot episode for the PBS children’s television series SeeMore’s Playhouse and authored the previously mentioned graphic novel, The Helm, named one of 2010’s top 10 Great Graphic Novels for Teens by YALSA, a branch of the American Library Association. And after 21 years, Jim finally completed The Creature From Lake Michigan, which is terrible in a fairly funny way.
‘Fish Wielder’ is available in stores and online now