Fantasy readers know that a lich is an undead sorcerer. He or she probably become undead as they tried to become immortal. Their soul is stored in a phylactery or soul jar, and immortality is guaranteed as long as the container remains safe.
Or is it?
The word lich has its roots in an old English word lic which meant corpse. But, there isn’t a rich mythology behind the concept of an undead sorcerer with his soul in a soul jar. This idea hasn’t been around that long.
Dungeons & Dragons, the ‘it’ game of the 1970’s, used the word specifically to mean an undead sorcerer – with his soul stored away. D&D has extensively influenced fantasy literature and online games, but Lich is still not a standard term. And that’s great for a budding novelist … There’s more room to play ?
In fiction and movies today, a lich can look anything from almost normal, to corpse-like, to completely skeletal. They can be called by a variety of names, in fact Lich is rarely used. They are nearly always portrayed as the most powerful and dangerous undead. Often as undead necromancers with an unquenchable thirst for power, and a passion for turning cemeteries full of corpses into their undead minions.
See my earlier post here, for more information on necromancy from earlier times to today 🙂
In most fiction they are evil. But they don’t have to be!
In my Daughter of Ravenswood series Quintus is undead, a sorcerer, and a rather determined necromancer. He lived and died 200 years ago and he has the chauvinistic, and paternalistic attitudes that were prevalent then. But he also has a social conscience, he believes the decisions he makes for others will serve the community better than decisions people make for themselves.
I have friends who won’t read books about the undead, necromancy or spirits and corpses in any shape or form. I haven’t found anything too scary to read yet…
Have you read anything that has sent shivers up your spine? Started watching the movie, and decided to finish it in daylight?
Let me know in the comments!