Every month, Fantasy Faction runs a feature where they seek out examples of fantasy tropes. Other bloggers are welcome to join in, finding their own books to match the given topic. 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.
Minions, I think, have to be seen as distinct from both sidekicks and henchmen. “Sidekick” doesn’t carry the same connotation of evil, being on the side of the ruinous powers, as the word “minion” does. Perhaps more importantly, “minion” suggests that the relationship is not one based on mutual respect. Dark lords are not friends with their minions, or see them as in any way equal. A henchman should at least be valued, not seen as interchangeable and easily-replaced; this is not the case with minions.
Minions are the sort of underlings you command to plunge into a ravine, so that you can walk across on a bridge of corpses. They’re the ones who throw themselves, again and again, at the walls of a shining city, or are worked to death in the mines. Minions don’t matter. You can replace, rebuild, recreate them. It’s probably best to think of them as a renewable resource.
The following list of minions is in no particular order.
1. The Black Company – Glen Cook, The Chronicles of the Black Company
Technically, I suppose, the Black Company aren’t always minions. They’re mercenaries, for one thing, and have rather more individual personality than the average minion. However, they’re mostly mercenaries for a dark lady – terrible and beautiful, etc. – and she treats them as broadly expendable. She definitely doesn’t consider them as her equals. At the lady’s command, the Black Company fights and dies for a cause it doesn’t believe in alongside things it doesn’t understand.
2. Orcs – J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Seemingly, orcs are the go-to minions of Middle Earth. Morgoth, Sauron, Saruman, even Shelob – they all make use of a servile and brutish orc from time to time. The orcs in The Lord of the Rings are unremittingly coarse, cruel and ugly creatures who are the enemy of all that is good and pure in the world. They serve anyone stronger and more vicious than them, despite the limited perks and low life expectancy of being a grunt attacking Gondor.
3. The rats – Robin Jarvis, The Deptford Mice
Despite ostensibly writing for children, Robin Jarvis regularly produces books dripping with terror and menace. Deep in the sewers beneath Deptford, the rats scheme and squabble, always hungry for the flesh of innocent mice. The only thing more dangerous than the twisted rats are the dark gods they serve.
4. Skraelings – Sara Douglass, The Axis Trilogy
“Skraeling” is one of those words that appears a lot in fantasy, and with varying definitions. Everyone agrees that skraelings are some kind of savage Northern raiding tribe, but the specifics differ. Sara Douglass’ skraelings are shadowy ice-demons, creatures of cold and claws that ceaselessly attack the unwary.
5. Death of Rats – Terry Pratchett, The Discworld
Dark Lords aren’t really much in Pratchett’s style, but it would be breaking tradition to leave him off the list. Besides, the Grim Reaper should technically count – he is dread, and has a fortress, and is widely feared. Death comes for all men and for all things – every prince, pauper, faun and flower faces the same reaper. Except rats. They get their own little rat-death, with a tiny cowl and a tiny scythe. More a product of stubbornness than design, the Death of rats is quite well-treated by Death. That doesn’t mean that his actions are supported, or that he himself is approved of. With one standing in for many, and “mild annoyance” for contempt, the Death of Rats ticks off enough minion-esque traits to count.
That’s my set. I found while writing this that examples from films were way easier to come up with, but that would have been cheating.
The parent post on Fantasy Faction is here. Next month’s topic is mentors.