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Tough Travels: Minions

At the start of every month, Fantasy-Faction will lead you (yes, YOU!) on a tour of the fantasy genre. From high to low, from classics to new releases, from epic to urban; each month, we will guide you in search of a different trope, theme or cliché. Lest we become lost, we’ll be referring to The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones.

However, since these tropes can appear in many guises (they are sneaky, precious, yes indeed) we’ve enlisted the help of our friends and travelling companions across the blogosphere (including Nathan Barnhart, who started it all) to help us on our way. You’ll find links to their own lists at the bottom of this post – along with the chance to submit your own!

With no more ado, this week’s topic is MINIONS.

Minions of the DARK LORD can be male or female, though he tends to favour males (who seem to be more susceptible to the Evil One’s wiles). They can take many forms: BAD KINGS, ENCHANTRESSES, HIGH PRIESTS, EUNUCHS, DUKES, REGENTS or WITCHES. Additionally, there are the non-human minions, such as ORCS, TROLLS, GOBLINS and random OTHER PEOPLES . . . not to mention MUTANT NASTIES, carefully selected MONSTERS, UNDEAD, and DEMONS.

DEATH EATERS
(Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling)

He Who Must Not Be Named has a veritable army of minions. Werewolves, snakes, spiders – you name it, if it’s ugly and scary-looking, it belongs to the ranks of Voldemort. But the wickedest and most unhuman deeds are those done by people who choose to do them, and this is why the Death Eaters – with their KKK-style lynching practices, indoctrination techniques, and torturous proclivities – are truly the foulest of all the Dark Lord’s servants.

Valley of Embers (cover)THE DARK KIND
(The Landkist Saga by Steven Kelliher)

From choice to instinct, from human to monstrous, there are those who do not choose the dark side but rather embody it. The nightmare creatures from the World Apart are the antithesis of life and light, and only the flame-wielding Embers and other Landkist can stand between them and all that is good in the world. Whether they’ll succeed or not is a different matter altogether…

Assassin's Apprentice (cover)FORGED FOLK
(The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb)

Corrupting the good and employing the innately evil are both perfectly valid approaches to recruiting your own minion army. But what about enslaving those who’re neither? The zombie-like survivors of the village of Forge have had their memories and their humanity removed, leaving them with only their baser instincts so that they’re essentially hollow vessels… with a desire to feed. Not easily controlled, but perfect for sowing chaos and fear.

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellanWARDENS
(The Powder Mage Trilogy by Brian McClellan)

Speaking of chaos and fear: releasing a group of Wardens upon a battle is a surefire way to ruin anyone’s carefully laid plans. Experiments of the Kez cabals, the Wardens are former men (likely prisoners) who were exposed to and warped by unknown magic into hulking disfigured forms. Immensely strong and built to take inhuman levels of damage, they mainly serve as bodyguards but are also intelligent enough to be used for assassination attempts.

The Killing Moon by N. K. JemisinREAPERS
(The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin)

Another example of humanity being twisted and corrupted into something nasty. Reapers are not so easily controlled as Wardens; however, these nightmarish creatures can be imprisoned until they ‘turn’, and then unleashed upon the innocent and unsuspecting, where they can use their powers to kill hundreds or even thousands at a time.

The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack by Nate CrowleyZOMBIE SHARKS (WITH LEGS)
(The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack by Nate Crowley)

The ‘minions’ trope is often a means for fantasy writers to explore the nature of morality; the relationship between good and evil, free will and duress – even life and death. There are few things that speak of this more eloquently than undead sea creatures.

 

The Mirror's Truth (cover)DOPPELS
(Manifest Delusions by Michael R. Fletcher)

Orcs, enforcers, mutants, zombies (elasmobranch or otherwise) – all serve a cause that is in some way ‘greater’ than themselves. But… what if there is no cause greater than yourself?

 

What Remains of Heroes (cover)NECRIST
(What Remains of Heroes by David Benem)

Ask a Necrist, they’ll tell you there is no cause greater than that of Yrghul. Along with their servants, the Shodafayn, the Necrists work hard (digging up graves, wearing dead faces, and travelling through the shadowpaths) to spread fear and division on behalf of the Lord of Nightmares.  Is that better or worse than those who serve only their own selfish desires?

Prince of Fools (cover)THE UNBORN
(The Red Queen’s War by Mark Lawrence)

Some minions serve more willingly than others. The Dead King and his necromancers are little better than puppet masters, but they stoop to a new low with the creation of the Unborn – bone golems, animated by the lost potential of the spirit of an unborn child. Can there be anything more abhorrent than the act of warping pure innocence into a creature of untold evil?

Cold Counsel by Chris SharpGOBLINS
(Cold Counsel by Chris Sharp)

Coercion, indoctrination, control – as we’ve seen, there are plenty of motives for the creatures on this list to do the bidding of their wicked masters. However, evil is sometimes a matter of perspective. For every power-hungry goblin eager to serve a mad master or mistress, there’s an entire horde with little to no concept of just what the hell is going on outside of their day to day life. As long as it puts food in their bellies and clothes on their backs, what does it matter who their employer is?

Are there any vile minions we’ve forgotten about? Which ones would you least like to bump into in a dark alley? Are there any that – shock, horror! – ignore the Guide completely? Let us know in the comments!

Next month’s topic will be MENTORS.

A Mentor will be at your service until around halfway through the tour of Fantasyland, when you will unaccountably lose him. Before that he will guide you, tell you what to do in the face of strange customs, and even sometimes instruct you in how to perform minor MAGICS. The Tough Guide suggests that the mentor will be several hundred years old, probably with a long white beard, which will give him the right to be bossy, smug, tiresomely philosophical and infuriatingly secretive about all-important facts.

All that’s left to do now is to write your own list and then add the link below. Today, tomorrow, next month – there’s always room in the adventuring party for one more!

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One Comment

  1. Leewelo says:

    On the SF side, I’d mention the excellent Redshirts by John Scalzi. If you are part of a space exploration vessel, you’d better get a yellow or blue shirt.

    For LitRPG, the Spells, Swords & Stealth series by Drew Hayes. At least the first book. D&D NPCs forced into becoming more to survive.

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