Depiction of the two dark lords Morgoth (left) and Sauron (right) in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium
Depiction of the two dark lords Morgoth (left) and Sauron (right) in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium
This article's lead section may be too short to adequately summarize the key points. Please consider expanding the lead to provide an accessible overview of all important aspects of the article. (October 2021)

In literature and fiction, the dark lord is an archetype of a particular form of primary antagonist, typical of genre fantasy.[1]


Dark lord figures are characterized by aspirations to power and identification with a devil or antichrist.[1] The Encyclopedia of Fantasy notes that common themes of dark lord characters include being "already defeated but not destroyed eons before" and engaging in "wounding of the land" or other rituals of desecration.[1]

Philip Pullman noted that the dark lord archetype in literature reflects the belief "that evil in the real world is usually embodied in a single person and requires a high position to be effective" and that this contrasts with Hannah Arendt's notion of the banality of evil.[2]


Alberich, of the Ring cycle of Richard Wagner, is a prototypical dark lord.[1] Other notable dark lord figures in literature include Sauron (of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings) and Morgoth (of Tolkien's The Silmarillion), Ineluki the Storm King of Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn[1] and Lord Voldemort of Rowling's Harry Potter series.[3] In film, Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine of the Star Wars series are commonly referred to as Dark Lords of the Sith and Skeksis from The Dark Crystal are archetypes of evil overlords.[4]

In Japanese media, this archetype of villainy is often called a "demon king" (魔王, maō).[5]

Evil Overlord List

Science fiction fans have collected several lists of resolutions for a competent dark lord to avoid the well-known, cliché blunders committed by supervillains in popular fictional works. For example, one such resolution is: "I will not gloat over my enemies' predicament to show my superiority. I will shoot them." Internet copies of these lists vary in number and order of entries.


The most famous lists, both referred to as the Evil Overlord List, were developed concurrently. Both were published to the Web in the early 1990s. The original, if lesser-known list was compiled in 1990 by members of the now-defunct FidoNet Science Fiction and Fandom (SFFAN) email echo. The FidoNet list originated with a 1988 Saturday Night Live skit featuring Bond Villains touting a book What Not To Do When You Capture James Bond. The FidoNet list arose out of discussions regarding what sort of advice might be in that book, and was compiled and published by Jack Butler. It predated the following list, but was only widely published later, and is the more obscure of the two.[citation needed]

The later-produced and more famous version of the list was compiled in 1994 by Peter Anspach (hence it is occasionally titled "Peter's Evil Overlord List") based on informal discussions at conventions and on online bulletin boards in the early 1990s,[6] and has subsequently become one of the best-known parodies of bad SF/F writing, frequently referenced online. It was originally The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord, but grew to include over 100 entries.[citation needed]

Anspach and Butler acknowledge the existence of each other's lists, and state that their two lists have been so cross-pollinated over the years as to become effectively identical.[citation needed]

The Evil Overlord List has led to spinoffs, including lists for stock characters including (but not limited to) heroes, henchmen, sidekicks, the Evil Overlord's Accountant, and Starfleet captains.[7]


In Australia, a minor literary scandal erupted in 1997 when it emerged that award-winning author Helen Darville plagiarised this list for her regular column in Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper, which led to her being fired.[8][9]

Teresa Nielsen Hayden, noted author and lecturer, uses an expanded version of the list in her lectures on writing science fiction. She recommends selecting five random clichés from the list, and using them, or their reverse ("Say you've drawn A-34, 'I will not turn into a snake. It never helps.' You can have a character turn into a snake and find it doesn't help, or do it and find it very useful indeed") as the basis for a plot.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Dark Lord" in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (eds. John Clute & John Grant: First St. Martin's Griffin ed.: 1999), p. 250.
  2. ^ David Colbert, The Magical Worlds of Philip Pullman (Penguin, 2006).
  3. ^ Alice Mills, "Archetypes and the Unconscious in Harry Potter and Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock and Dogsbody, in Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays. Contributions to the Study of Popular Culture, No. 78. Ed. Giselle Liza Anatol (Praeger: 2003), p. 8.
  4. ^ William Indick, Movies and the Mind: Theories of the Great Psychoanalysts Applied to Film (McFarland, 2004), p. 82.
  5. ^ Mandelin, Clyde (13 April 2018). "Legends of Localization: Tricky Translations #1: Maou & Daimaou". Legends of Localization. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  6. ^ Anspach, Peter. "Peter's Evil Overlord List". Retrieved September 26, 2006.
  7. ^ "Stupid Plot Tricks - The Evil Overlord Devises a Plot". Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2006-12-14.
  8. ^ Greason, David (15 February 1997). "TZADIK". The Australia/Israel & Jewish Review. Archived from the original on 12 October 2006. Retrieved 26 September 2006.
  9. ^ "Editor dumps Darville". The Australian. 5 February 1997. p. 3.
  10. ^ "The Evil Overlord Devises a Plot" Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine Excerpted from Teresa Nielsen Hayden lecture on Stupid Plotting Tricks