Is There Fantasy Like This? Are "Dark Lords" Actually A Thing?


I found this in Independent’s review of Dragon Prince, and it kind of annoyed me:

One of the most refreshing parts of “Dragon Prince” is its use of “villains”. Unlike “Lord of the Rings”, where a literal eye of fire wants to destroy the world, the villain of “Dragon Prince” just wants to save his kingdom from the impending doom he believes is coming. Lord Viren, the king’s advisor, is not the mustache twirling villain all too common in fantasy, instead he is a conflicted man trying his best to balance his own morals with the wellbeing of his people. It is a refreshing take on the normally clichéd villain who wants to destroy the world for the sake of watching it burn.

I know people, especially those who don’t read fantasy, are often complaining about the “pure evil dark lord” cliche. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. I’ve heard Sword of Truth has one, but I haven’t read it.


Sword of Truth (the first book) has a tyrannical lord of a kingdom whose greatest crime is killing anyone that can challenge him, but not a Sauron style of dark lord. I couldn’t get past the first few books.

The second book in my Archon Saga has a true dark lord. Here is an excerpt from the prologue that sets the conflict.

Archons gathered in a large, empty void within the cosmic realm, a similarly remote pocket of the Astral Plane. They didn’t wish to be disturbed. From their vibrant radiances, she realized they were archons of tremendous power – each of them as mighty as her. For a while, they waited without purpose and circled the emptiness. Then the space before them seemed to ripple. Lights began to flicker and solidify into mana of various colors. The violet mana of despair and sadness came first. Then the green mana of envy took form. The red mana of wrath and hatred, much like her own power, came next. Finally, pure black mana shadowed them all – the mana of death itself.

At first, she believed the others brought some great embodiment of archonic power into being, but she realized her error. A single entity amassed in the center of the gathering. A tremendous archon, swirling with all the colors of the dire archons, emerged from the light. It was terrifying to behold, yet utterly captivating. It dwarfed the others in both size and magnificence.

They flickered with reverence for their master. Nearly two dozen archons, who were gods in their own right, paid homage to this eternal grim idol.

“Go!” the supreme dire archon bade them. “Prepare for my coming.”

As one, they flew away, as swiftly as they had come, in an eerily stunning outburst of streaking lights, reds and greens and violets and even a few stark black. As they retreated, they began to wink away, falling from the Astral Plane – to Earth. It was then Amber noted their countenance.

They were all archons of overwhelming radiance, and they were all dire archons, filled with rage, envy, greed, despair, hatred, and pure dread. Every one of them.

In the third book, his true intentions are revealed, and he becomes human, but for the second book, yup, he’s pretty much a dark lord that represents all evil and terrorizes the protagonists. It also happens to have Irkalla, the Babylonian Goddess of the Dead, as its main antagonist. :smiling_imp:


Wheel of Time has “The Dark One”, but I’d say he’s more like Satan than any kind of evil ruler of whatever. He’s locked inside a prison and needs humans to go put and do stuff for him, and eventually he’ll break free there’ll be the final battle between him and the Dragon Reborn before the world goes into a new age, bla bla bla.


Nice. Sounds impressive at the very least.

This pretty much addresses my point. Dark Lords generally have a purpose. They are rarely just pure evil and bored, so why not go destroy the world. But Hollywood rarely wastes time to explain it. But don’t blame fantasy for that. As I understand, the Whitewalkers were minor characters before GoT was adapted.

Sauron, had a purpose.

Lord Ruler, had a purpose.

The Dark One, had a purpose, I think.

The Chandrian, have a purpose.

The Fell, had purpose.

The Burning Legion, sort of had a purpose.

Ruin…didn’t really have a purpose, but it wasn’t his choice either.

But the press often thinks it can watch The Lord of the Rings and a few episodes of Game of Thrones and whatever gift Disney bestows that year, and suddenly they understand fantasy and are qualified to judge it.


I think maybe you have to go back to the early days of mass-market fantasy to understand the Dark Lord stereotype. Terry Brooks’s Sword of Shannara, while it was a blatant imitation of LOTR, was also the first non-Tolkien fantasy to be a bestseller, and so it set the model for a decade or more of what people thought what made fantasy popular, including having a Dark Lord. (Kind of like Game of Thrones set the expectation for grimmer, greyer political fantasy after its publication.)

There were a lot, a LOT of Dark Lords in the 1970s and 80s. And even though the people writing or reading the genre recognized it as a tired trope pretty quick, it kind of became a key feature which outside critics could hang their biases on. It’s like crime scene tape they can hang around the genre which reads, “WARNING: THERE BE DARK LORDS HERE.” It’s a convenient excuse to be lazy reviewing fantasy, because actual smart, critical reviews of fantasy are hard to do, because it’s a complex genre.

Of course, there are still Dark Lords around. I mean, just look at The Dragon Prince’s progenitor, Avatar: The Last Airbender. If Firelord Ozai doesn’t count as a Dark Lord, I don’t know who does!


I’m not up to date on the TV series, but given that the prologue of the first book features the Whitewalkers, I don’t believe for a minute they were meant as minor characters. They were going to be the final antagonist all along.


I think the existence of the Evil Overlord List a testament of how pervasive the archetype was (and generally, how much fantasy relies on cetain story elements). Although dated now, it’s still a laugh –


The funny thing is, Sauron is the baddie the press always highlights, but there were more normal villains everywhere who were more of a threat. They knew how to defeat Sauron on day one. It was the others who had the actual chance of screwing things up.


Firelord Ozai from Avatar: The Last Airbender - the same people from behind the Dragon Prince.

Firelord Ozai doesn’t have a lot of layers. He basically just wants to rule the entire world and will crush anyone in his path. So yeah, it does exist - especially in media intended for kids. Which the Dragon Prince also is.


Agreed completely. This “dark lord” imagery just isn’t that trendy in current popular fantasy. I will argue they still dominates many movie narratives, but there seems to be a current preference for complex villains.

Makes me wonder if this pendulum could swing back the other way - could Dark Lords become popular again? All we need is someone to write that one breakout novel where they use one.


Given the current political climate, it probably wouldn’t be too hard to come up with a modern version of the Dark Lord that contemporary audiences would relate to. Just start with orange skin and a Twitter account and go for there…


…just talking about it is scaring me. good villian.


They may have had purposes, but in my opinion, a lot of supervillains are still unidimensional enough to justify complaints.

Mind you, my favourite books are ones where the very concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are hard to pin to one side or another, so I’m biased.


What the heck? Lord Virien littrally wants to kill the princes so he can be king!


I haven’t seen season 2 so I didn’t point this out, but that did seem to be the case in season 1. They seemed to be Firelord and Azula 2.0


Melkor, Sauron’s boss, was a chaotic evil.


I’ve kind of written my own, if that counts.

I wanted to have a villain that no one could empathize with. Someone who no one could possibly find any common ground with or feel pity for.


There are so many dark lords in old fantasy books, but people today seem to have a preference for “grey” villians or something. Imo, i miss the old days when dark lords were still one dimensional in their evil haha, who cares if that dark lord wants to remake the world in his own image because that’s what he was made to do by the Creator and all that, a thing that I love about the Dark One in the Wheel of Time


It seems like they’re just talking about villains being clichéd as people who are purely evil and have no rhyme or reason to be evil, and this is actually very common.

Stepping away from purely just fantasy books, there’s tons of them in Disney. It was only until the release of Maleficent that a lot of people (around me at least) really took a big interest in the whole “villains have their reasons too” thing.


I watched season 2, and I still don’t have Viren figured out. In some episodes he comes across as actually caring about his country even having really good reasons for doing what he’s doing. Other times he only seems to want more power, and even kills innocent people to get it. I can’t decide if he’s a complex and multidimensional antagonist, or if the writers are switching between two very different characters based in what the episode needs.