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Ser Drizztos

Origins of the Death Knight trope

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So I been thinking about Deathknights. Former noble knights that for one reason or another have been cursed to walk the land forever as mere shadows of their erstwhile selves, trying to find redemption and perhaps their final rest.

The most prominent example are probably the Deathknights from WoW. Another - and my favorite - example is Lord Soth from Dragonlance, who may well be the most tragic character ever written, second only perhaps to Raistlin.

 

But what was the origin of that trope? Was it Lord of the Rings' Ringwraiths who, even though not skeletal in appearance, fulfill all of the other requirements of the trope? Or does it date back even further?

Edited by Ser Drizztos

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Huh, I don't know if i'd really consider it a trope per se(and I hate tvtropes its worse than early days wiki), but thats an interesting question. I feel like this is a RBPL question.

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Considering everything in Dragonlance was essentially written from a AD&D rulebook, I'm going to assume that Soth as a Death Knight was an adaption from the Fiend Folio or Monstrous Manual.

Perhaps the Ring Wraiths would be the best early example that my limited "old" fantasy experience knows.

I would assume there are likely myths and legends of fallen knights that they were based upon however.

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1 hour ago, Ser Drizztos said:

But what was the origin of that trope? Was it Lord of the Rings' Ringwraiths who, even though not skeletal in appearance, fulfill all of the other requirements of the trope? Or does it date back even further?

The army of the dead in Return of the King perhaps feel a slightly better match for the trope than the Ringwraiths.

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8 hours ago, Rhom said:

Considering everything in Dragonlance was essentially written from a AD&D rulebook, I'm going to assume that Soth as a Death Knight was an adaption from the Fiend Folio or Monstrous Manual.

Perhaps the Ring Wraiths would be the best early example that my limited "old" fantasy experience knows.

I would assume there are likely myths and legends of fallen knights that they were based upon however.

Actually a lot of AD&D stuff originated in DragonLance, and in fact a lot of DL was written specifically for the story. In a way the D&D DL stuff ties into the novels, not the other way around.

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Well, the Death Knight was created for the 1981 D&D Fiend Folio, years before Lord Soth was introduced in DL and fleshed out with a tragic backstory.

Can anyone come up with examples of Death Knights predating LOTR?

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As far as pop culture references go, an undead knight has represented the death card in the typical tarot deck for at least a century

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52 minutes ago, MattJC said:

As far as pop culture references go, an undead knight has represented the death card in the typical tarot deck for at least a century

Now that you mention it, the biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse do somewhat fit the trope. Especially Death, who is often depicted as a skeletal rider on a pale horse, wielding a scythe.

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On 12/5/2017 at 0:17 PM, Ser Drizztos said:

 

The most prominent example are probably the Deathknights from WoW. Another - and my favorite - example is Lord Soth from Dragonlance, who may well be the most tragic character ever written, second only perhaps to Raistlin.

 

Take that, Euripides!

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There’s the mythology of (alternatively) the Wandering Jew or the Immortal Roman Centurion that taunted or stabbed Jesus during the Crucifixion. 

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I spent at least 45 seconds trying for a clever Coldhands joke and came up short.

Instead, Ill just say that I was absolutely awful at that damn DK in WoW. By far my worst class that everyone else seemed to figure out. 

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Sounds like something Conan should have come into contact with, but I can't immediately think of a story that fits.

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In Age of Conan mmorpg therr is the dark templar, the equivelent of the dnd blackguard that is effectively a paladin to dark gods

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1 hour ago, Derfel Cadarn said:

In Age of Conan mmorpg therr is the dark templar, the equivelent of the dnd blackguard that is effectively a paladin to dark gods

I don't think that's from the Howard short stories though? We're looking for an example of the trope that predates Tolkien.

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The Green Knight, which I believe was the inspiration for Sleepy Hollow. Its iffy but involves a knight who lives through a beheading.  Google tells me it dates from tbe fourteenth century. 

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This Wikipedia entry is on point: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_claimed_to_be_immortal_in_myth_and_legend

 

And it lists someone that seems like the earliest (predates Wandering Jew):

  • Ashwathama the Kaurava warrior after the kurukshetra was cursed by Krishna 'to be immortal and roam the earth without love, respect and social acceptance from anyone until the end of time'.[3]

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Cain, the first murderer, cursed by God to wander the Earth, and marked so no one could slay him. I don't know how much the death knight trope is really inspired by it, but maybe Tolkien's Ringwraiths and the Dead of Dunharrow are.

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