So how do you go about portraying a Dark Lord? Tolkien keeps Sauron off-stage for the whole of the Lord of the Rings. (One reason I have heard for this is that he knew Satan was the most compelling character in Paradise Lost and he did not want Sauron to be the same in his great trilogy. I don’t know whether that is true but it certainly sounds plausible.) The easiest way to deal with Malekith in the Tyrion and Teclis books would have been to do the same thing, just make the Witch King a vast, implacable presence and leave it at that. This was originally my plan but somehow Malekith inserted himself into the narrative and he did it in such a way as to make me think he was not quite as I had imagined him to be. For one thing he had a sense of humour of a very dark sort and he clearly possessed some insight into the Elvish heart, a thing that seemed only logical given the fact he has managed to remain in power in a land full of scheming semi-immortals for a long age of the world.
The first time we see Malekith in Blood of Aenarion is through the eyes of his minion, the master assassin Urian, as they speak through the great mirror they use to keep in touch while Urian works Malekith’s will in Ulthuan. It is clear that Urian respects Malekith as well as fears him and since Urian is himself a most intelligent and fearsome druchii, it is immediately obvious that Malekith is worthy of respect. The course of their conversation led me to believe that Malekith understood the deceptive Urian at least as well as Urian understood him. This implied a level of insight beyond that of a monomaniacal, omnipotent tyrant who has no need to pay attention to his subordinates.
Later in the book, as the daemon N’Kari rampages unchecked across Ulthuan we see Malekith intervene and witness the germination of his vast plan of conquest that will unfold in books two and three. In a moment of conversation with Urian, he grasps the significance of what N’Kari is doing and how he can use the daemon’s power to further his plan. We see the scale of Malekith’s ambition and his understanding. He is willing to oppose and undermine a Greater Daemon of Chaos even though what it is doing works in some ways to his advantage, in order to incorporate it into his ages-long plans to reclaim his throne. He will do so even though he himself is a target for the daemon’s vengeance against all the line of Aenarion. In one moment of insight he grasps the opportunity that N’Kari represents and begins a plan that will take a century to implement. He is a bold and imaginative strategist in some ways.
This gave me some idea of what I wanted to do with Malekith in the later books. He is immortal and he thinks on a scale that others do not. He is a figure that stands very much apart in Elvish history encased in his runic armour, his flesh blasted by the god-fires of Asuryan. He is a solitary figure, a being of awesome power, with more in common with gods and daemons than the mortals around him. He was there almost at the beginning of Elvish history. He will most likely be there at the end. His cold shadow has fallen on the Elves for almost seven millennia. He is always there, always scheming to reclaim what he thinks is rightfully his. He has a whole kingdom of deadly warriors and potent mages at his command to enact his will and his only real rival is his mother, Morathi, the single other living being as constant as himself and one with whom he has a particularly twisted relationship. Malekith is the titular ruler of Naggaroth but Morathi rivals him in power due to her magic and her web of influence, and, of course, the fact that she is his mother.
In some ways, Malekith and Morathi can be anything you want them to be. They have lived so long and done so much. My take on them was that there have been times when they have been mad, crazed with power and ambition, and times when they have been lucid and quite able to grasp what they have done. Malekith’s personality is shaped by many things; his admiration for his demi-god father and his wish to emulate and surpass his achievements, his ages of experience, the particularly trying nature of what it means to rule a nation of scheming, ungrateful druchii, the fact that he is constant pain from his heavily burned body. In some ways he is a mirror of Caledor, whose ghost burns at the centre of the Vortex. Malekith carries within him the fire of Asuryan, a constant reminder of his failure. This is a Dark Lord who resents the Gods of his people very much. There are echoes of Satan and Prometheus. Another factor that shaped Malekith was growing up in the shadow of the Sword of Khaine and its baleful influence. His view of his father is completely tainted by the fact that he never knew him except while he was under the influence of that dreadful weapon.
One of the oddest things that emerged as I was writing Malekith was that he has a strange nobility. He does not see himself as Sauron, he sees himself as Aragorn. He is merely trying to take back his rightful throne. He has plans for what he intends to do once he has achieved this, and they are, at least as far as he is concerned, good and noble ones. He will drive back Chaos and establish a golden age of Elvish rule over the world; that this will be only a golden age for the elves and not their slave races does not trouble him. He was born in a time where such considerations were irrelevant, he came off age in the Apocalyptic reign of Aenarion where strength was all that mattered and kingdoms were carved out with swords.
And Malekith is the rightful king of Ulthuan, at least according to one interpretation of Elvish history. If one assumes that the wishes of his father of Aenarion, the first Phoenix King, are binding on his people, this is certainly the case. He clearly intended for Malekith to succeed him, at least as far as Malekith and his mother are concerned. Of course, there are many possible interpretations of this. Perhaps Aenarion only meant for Malekith to take over leadership of those blighted elves who had followed him on the last lonely road he took when he drew the Sword of Khaine. The Asur dispute that the will of Aenarion is binding on the elvish people at all. And there are those who point out that the gods themselves rejected Malekith when he attempted to pass through the flame of Asuryan and assume the mantle of kingship. This can be countered by the equally valid assertion that none of those who have passed through the flame since Aenarion have truly enjoyed the blessing of the gods. They have been protected by the the most powerful sorcerers and priests the Elves can assemble. Malekith can claim the whole process of kingship in Ulthuan is a sham designed to legitimise the rule of a pretender selected by a cabal of scheming lords. And so the arguments go, raging on in multiple variants down the long millennia, one of the central deadly factors of Elvish history and one which will greatly affect the destinies of Tyrion and Teclis.