A lich from the game The Battle for Wesnoth
GroupingLegendary creature
Sub groupingUndead
Similar entitiesZombie, magician, revenant
Other name(s)Liche

In fantasy fiction, a lich (/ˈlɪ/;[1] from the Old English līċ, meaning "corpse") is a type of undead creature.

Various works of fantasy fiction, such as Clark Ashton Smith's "The Empire of the Necromancers" (1932), had used lich as a general term for any corpse, animated or inanimate, before the term's specific use in fantasy role-playing games. The more recent use of the term lich for a specific type of undead creature originates from the 1976 Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game booklet Greyhawk, written by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz.[2]

Often such a creature is the result of a willful transformation, as a powerful wizard skilled in necromancy who seeks eternal life uses rare substances in a magical ritual to become undead. Unlike zombies, which are often depicted as mindless, liches are sapient revenants, retaining their previous intelligence and magical abilities. Liches are often depicted as holding power over lesser mindless undead soldiers and servants.

A lich's most often depicted distinguishing feature from other undead in fantasy fiction is the method of achieving immortality; liches give up their souls to form "soul-artifacts" (called a "soul gem", "phylactery" or "horcrux" in other fantasy works), the source of their magic and immortality. Many liches take precautions to hide and/or safeguard one or more soul-artifacts that anchor a part of a lich's soul to the material world. If the corporeal body of a lich is killed, that portion of the lich's soul that had remained in the body does not pass on to the next world, but will rather exist in a non-corporeal form capable of being resurrected in the near future. However, if all of the lich's soul-artifacts are destroyed, then the lich's only anchor in the material world would be the corporeal body, whereupon destruction will cause permanent death.

Historical background

Lich is an archaic English word for "corpse"; the gate at the lowest end of the cemetery where the coffin and funerary procession usually entered was commonly referred to as the lich gate. This gate was quite often covered by a small roof where part of the funerary service could be carried out.[3] Liches are sometimes depicted using a magical device called a phylactery to anchor their souls to the physical world so that if their body is destroyed they can rise again over and over, as long as the phylactery remains intact.[4]

In literature

The lich developed from monsters found in earlier classic sword and sorcery fiction, which is filled with powerful sorcerers who use their magic to triumph over death. Many of Clark Ashton Smith's short stories feature powerful wizards whose magic enables them to return from the dead. Several stories by Robert E. Howard, such as the novella Skull-Face (1929) and the short story "Scarlet Tears", feature undying sorcerers who retain a semblance of life through mystical means, their bodies reduced to shriveled husks with which they manage to maintain inhuman mobility and active thought.[5] Gary Gygax, one of the co-creators of Dungeons & Dragons, stated that he based the description of a lich included in the game on the short story "The Sword of the Sorcerer" (1969) by Gardner Fox.[6][7] The term lich, used as an archaic word for corpse (or body), is commonly used in these stories. Ambrose Bierce's tale of possession "The Death of Halpin Frayser" features the word in its introduction, referring to a corpse. H. P. Lovecraft also used the word in "The Thing on the Doorstep" (published 1937) where the narrator refers to the corpse of his friend possessed by a sorcerer.[8] Other imagery surrounding demiliches, in particular that of a jeweled skull, is drawn from the early Fritz Leiber story "Thieves' House".[9]

In popular culture

In print

Film and television


Main article: Lich (Dungeons & Dragons)

Video games

See also


  1. ^ "lich". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 15 January 2020. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.) This entry includes only obsolete senses of "dead body".
  2. ^ Gygax, Gary (1976). Grewhawk. TSR Rules. p. 35. LICHES: These skeletal monsters are of magical origin, each Lich formerly being a very powerful Magic-User or Magic-User/Cleric in life, and are now alive only by means of great spells and will because of being in some way disturbed.
  3. ^ "Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  4. ^ a b Kronzek, Allan Zola. (2010). The Sorcerer's Companion: A Guide to the Magical World of Harry Potter, Third Edition. Kronzek, Elizabeth, 1969- (3rd ed.). New York: Broadway Books. pp. 131–132. ISBN 978-0-307-88514-2. OCLC 821922969.
  5. ^ The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard (Vol 1 ed.). Cosmos Books. July 2007. pp. 194–320. ISBN 978-0-8095-6236-7.
  6. ^ "Morrus' D&D / 4th Edition / d20 News - View Single Post - The Lich (Origins)". EN World. 2007-01-29. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
  7. ^ "Morrus' D&D / 4th Edition / d20 News - View Single Post - Gygaxian Monsters". EN World. 2007-10-05. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
  8. ^
  9. ^ D&D Monster Origins (L-M) Archived 2011-05-14 at the Wayback Machine.
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  14. ^ Chaudhari, Charu; Tanenbaum, Theresa Jean (2016). Nack, Frank; Gordon, Andrew S. (eds.). Phylactery: An Authoring Platform for Object Stories. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Vol. 10045. Cham: Springer International Publishing. pp. 403–406. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-48279-8_36. ISBN 978-3-319-48279-8. In more recent popular culture, this idea has appeared in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and within JK Rowling's Harry Potter stories under the name "horcrux". ((cite book)): |journal= ignored (help)
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  17. ^ Schindel, Dan (2018-08-31). "An ode to Adventure Time, one of TV's most ambitious — and, yes, most adventurous — shows". Vox. Retrieved 2022-01-27.
  18. ^ Witwer, Michael (2018). Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana : A Visual History. California: Ten Speed Press. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-399-58094-9. OCLC 1033548473.
  19. ^ Hrala, Josh (2017-03-13). "A Brief History of Liches, Everyone's Favorite Undead Wizards". Nerdist. Retrieved 2020-04-27.
  20. ^ "13th Age RPG delivers an incredible fantasy storytelling experience". io9. 26 August 2013. Retrieved 2020-04-28.
  21. ^ Cagle, Eric, Brian Cortijo, Brandon Hodge, Steve Kenson, Hal Maclean, Colin McComb, Jason Nelson, Todd Stewart, and Russ Taylor. Undead Revisited (Paizo, 2011)
  22. ^ "Pathfinder Drops Phylactery From In-Game Terminology". October 29, 2021. Archived from the original on 2021-10-31. Retrieved 2021-10-31.
  23. ^ Donnelly, Joe (2018-01-17). "Total War: Warhammer 2 raises the dead in new Tomb Kings footage, full roster named". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on 2018-02-09. Retrieved 2020-07-30.
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  27. ^ "Champions of the Lich King". Blizzard Entertainment. Archived from the original on November 24, 2010. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
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