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.
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 frequency in which the Dark Lord cliche occurs spawned the Evil Overlord List, a website satirizing the mistakes of Dark Lords and major villains. Frequently, antagonists in fiction will display numerous Dark Lord mannerisms while belonging to another genre of fictional villain, and some pertain to more than one genre. 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.
In comics, villains are usually considered Dark Lords 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 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 recent example can be found on the television series Once Upon a Time, where the title "The Dark One" identifies someone with prolific magical powers whose life and powers are bound to a dagger bearing their name as an inscription. Whoever possesses the dagger can control the Dark One, but if they kill the Dark One with it, they become the new Dark One themselves. In this series, the first Dark One was Nimue the lover of Merlin and for 1000 years the Dark Ones have terrorized the people of the enchanted forest leading up to the current Dark One Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold, the series main antagonist.
- Arawn Death-Lord from The Chronicles of Prydain
- Dark Lord from Flint the Time Detective
- Darkseid from DC Comics
- Dracula from the Castlevania series
- Ganon from the Legend of Zelda series
- Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter
- Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold from Once Upon a Time - He and his predecessors were known under the title of the "Dark One."
- Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon
- Morgoth from The Silmarillion (of Middle-Earth)
- Sauron from The Lord of the Rings (of Middle-Earth)
- Sith Lords from Star Wars (which include Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine)
- Thanos from Marvel Comics
- White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia.