This week is dedicated to the undead, I suppose.
Yesterday was all about zombies, today, we look at the biggest, baddest of the undead to ever exist. The lich.
The lich, or often spelled liche, comes from the Dutch lijk and the German Leiche, which both translate into corpse. The lich is often seen in fantasy and horror fiction. Unlike zombies, a lich is completely aware of its existence, as it became such in an attempt to find immortality through means of magic. Often, a lich will command a horde of undead to use as his soldiers. I have no idea why, but a lich is more seen as male than female, even though the appearance of a lich is like a completely desiccated corpse or even skeletal, so gender really wouldn’t be an issue with the only exception being their life before undeath.
The first appearances of the lich were in Clark Ashton Smith‘s Empire of the Necromaners, however the term was used to describe any corpse. Robert E. Howard also used the lich in several short stories, such as the novella Skull-Face and the short story Scarlet Tears. Today, the lich is more equated with the table top RPG Dungeons and Dragons and has even moved into similar fantasy based games such as World of Warcraft.
The term does have a real world meaning, and that comes from the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. The term lychgate is used to describe an area in front of a cemetery where the clergy waits before taking a casket into for proper burial. The word lych in Old English means body or corpse, which has a link to Norse, Dutch, Gothic and German terms.
In fictional terms, especially in Dungeons and Dragons, most liches are seen as the most foul of evil, though according to handbooks, liches can have any alignment. Most often, however, good aligned liches are called archliches. According to that lore, archliches spend their time guarding the cemeteries of loved ones in order to prevent graverobbery or some other ill will that those from the living may wish to enact upon their dead family. Usually those kinds of liches are bound to serve in one place as their are sacrificing themselves for a greater good. Most liches are evil, however, because the process by which a spellcaster becomes a lich uses an incredible array of evil and dark magic.
While liches are more commonly used in fantasy settings such as Forgotten Realms, liches have appeared in other genres, making their way into science fiction, western, gothic horror and other genres and subgenres. One such example comes in my own book, The Adventures of Black Mask & Pale Rider, where the elven gunslingers Shani and Pania meet up with a gunslinging lich in Bloomington, Indiana.
One thing is often clear when the term liche is used in any genre. It speaks of something that is unspeakably evil and completely devoid of any morals or any want to protect the living. They believe themselves above mortals and see them as nothing more than vessels to add to their own growing army.