Literature: Dark Lord of Derkholm

aka: Year Of The Griffin
A Young Adult fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones, set in the world described in her meta-fictional book The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Except Fantasy Land is not quite what you'd expect; it is not, in fact, a perpetually medieval world of black and white morality, but is instead ruled with an iron fist by Mr Chesney, a businessman who runs tours for very rich people from our world.

After years of oppression, the various rulers, high priests and wizards of the world get together to decide what to do, and visit the two oracles, where they learn that they must appoint the next two people they see as Dark Lord and Wizard Guide for the upcoming tour in order to be rid of Mr Chesney forever.

Unfortunately, though, the next two people they see are the Wizard Derk, who is middle-aged, friendly, and very good at what he does (which happens to be blending genetic engineering with magic to create hybrid animals), and his fourteen-year-old son, Blade.

Hijinks Ensue.

It has a sequel called Year of the Griffin, which, in typical Wynne Jones style, is a little disconnected from the original. It follows one of Derk's children, Elda, as she attends university for the first time.

Tropes featured in both works include:

  • All Witches Have Cats: Querida, the most powerful witch on the continent, owns three cats.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Derk's children. Never get on the wrong side of a pissed off griffin.
  • Cold Iron: Iron is much harder to work magic on than other substances, and untrained wizards can't use magic while in contact with iron.
  • Deliberately Cute Child: Elda knows that her fluffy golden feathers and kittenish demeanor are powerful weapons.
  • Dragon Hoard: Dragons hoard gold because they need its nutrients, which they absorb by sleeping on nests of treasure.
  • Fantastic Science: Derk's forte.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Callette is one of these... and she's a griffin.
  • Genius Bruiser: Kit
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Seven in the first book, nine in the second.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Emperor Titus' kindness to animals marks him as a good guy early on.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Elda loves fresh fruit—oranges especially.
  • Truly Single Parent: Only two of Derk's seven children nine in the sequel were born in the natural way. The others were created by him in his magical lab. However, he does use DNA from his wife in the other children, so they're still "related" to both their parents. This despite being griffins.

Tropes featured in Dark Lord of Derkholm include:

  • Amusing Injuries: Averted early in the book where Querida gets run over by Derk's animals. In what would likely be an Amusing Injuries situation in most works, they instead have her suffering multiple broken bones that lead to her being in a magical coma for a significant portion of the book. In contrast, when Reville gets trampled by horses later, he suffers nothing more than a few painful bruises.
  • Attempted Rape: It's unclear how far it goes. Shona is at the very least molested by an entire gang of soldiers. Scales magically helps her cope, but she can never entirely forget.
  • The Atoner: Querida, after she realizes that she has caused actual harm to Derk and his family.
  • Automaton Horses: averted with a vengeance.
  • Bad Bad Acting: One of the rulers must pretend, as part of the plot of the Tour, that he is secretly being mind-controlled by the Dark Lord. His interpretation of this involves walking around like a zombie and speaking all his lines in a monotone.
  • The Baroness: Querida is the Rosa Klebb type.
  • Batman Gambit: Inverted, of all the crazy things. Derk is genuinely clueless. However, everyone around him hopes his cluelessness will convince the odious fellow abusing their world to leave them alone, and so they try to help him be more clueless than usual. Naturally, this is the exact time Derk decides to get competent, and kicks the bad guy out by doing the exact opposite of what everyone thought he'd do.
  • Brainless Beauty: Geoffrey's sister Sukey. Or so it seems. She's actually just as shrewd as her brother; she plays the part well, though.
  • Cats Are Magic: Dirk's cats, which he bred to be invisible, are also inexplicably unable to be trapped for long, they always find their way out, even from magical barriers.
  • Chew Toy: Derk. Oh, heavens, Derk. his wife leaves him, his house is destroyed, his daughter nearly gets gang raped, his son gets shot and killed in front of him — is it any wonder that he ends up having a nervous breakdown and hiding in a pigsty? And that was the plan. The planners just weren't expecting him to be so competent...
  • Cue the Flying Pigs: An elf king hopes Mr. Chesney will eventually free his son. His other son says "Yea, and that day will come when pigs do fly." Sarcastic, yes, but a prophecy is a prophecy. As it happens, the protagonist, Derk, breeds flying pigs...
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Derk. He's incredibly brilliant and so awkward, clueless, and spacy, everyone expects him to fail spectacularly as Dark Lord.
  • Cool Horse: Beauty and her foal Pretty, Derk's winged horses, are so cool that the elf Prince is willing to pay a year of servitude for.
  • Creating Life Is Awesome: The titular wizard creates new life forms all the time, including griffins and winged humans. Some of them contain his own DNA and are treated as family members. Although this creates some unusual parent-child tensions, his creative work is treated as a positive thing on the whole.
    • This story also subverts Creating Life Is Bad, by having various characters wrongly believe the protagonist to be evil.
  • Death Glare: Querida has one.
  • Disney Villain Death: Derk runs out of interesting ways to die and resorts to just making an evil speech while waiting for the tourists to realize that he's been standing directly in front of a bottomless pit the entire time.
  • Dungeon Maintenance: On a far greater scale than usual.
  • Evil Vizier: It's very subtle, but it's implied the Grand Vizier of the Emirate acts this role for the Tours.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Barnabas. Dear Lord, Barnabas.
  • Five-Man Band: Derk's seven children in the original:
    • The Leader: Kit.
    • The Lancer: Shona to Blade, Blade (frequently the POV character) to Kit, the two humans.
    • The Big Guy: Don and later, Lydda (who was actually created by Derk to be surprisingly tough).
    • The Smart Guy: Callette. Shona can sometimes function in this role as well.
    • The Chick: Lydda and Blade.
    • Tagalong Kid: Elda.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Derk.
  • Genius Bruiser: Scales
  • Heroic BSOD: Derk after he believes Kit is dead.
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: Scales.
  • Killer Rabbit: Derk's flock of sheep was accidentally bred to be carnivorous, and is frightening enough to keep hardened criminals in line.
  • King Incognito: Scales is actually Deucalion, king of the dragons.
  • Knight Templar: Querida's only priority is to rid the world of Mr. Chesney. The gods acknowledge her basic intentions by giving her the task of finishing the job.
  • Love at First Sight: Geoffrey and Shona.
  • Medieval Stasis: Subverted. While the denizens of Derk's world have to make their world look permanently medieval for the tourists, they actually have many kinds of technology. Some houses in the nearby village have electricity, to Mr. Chesney's chagrin.
    • Also, modern technology is being smuggled in—Derk's children think their new Game Boys are amazing.
  • Messy Pig
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Querida. She is one of the good guys, but some of her actions—like trying to kidnap Callette for a pet, and her abusive attitude toward Derk, make her downright despicable at times.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Querida, on realizing what she's done to Derk's family.
  • Offing the Offspring: Chesney to his step-son.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Although they, too, have to pretend to be the same for the sake of the tourists.
    • Turns out, the real reason dragons hoard gold is because they get "vital vitamins" from sitting on it.
  • Our Elves Aren't That Bad: The most prominent elf character is a Proud Warrior Race Guy, and quite decent. The rest probably the same, but they don't get as much attention as he does. They do make you feel like you suck after they leave, but they don't actually say anything about it — it just seems to come naturally to them.
    • Dragons pick up much of the slack in the holier-and-wiser-than-thou department, an aloof attitude which Scales (who has claim to being a wiser dragon than any of them) both lampshades and criticizes.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Throughout the book, the hero, Derk, attempts to figure out what to make his next project. He spends a lot of it mulling over making mermaids in the hopes that collaborating to carry and raise a mermaid child will help bring him and his wife closer together.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Think Sukey is just a Brainless Beauty? Think again.
    • In fact, most of Blade's tour group is working for some government agency or another.
  • Parents as People
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Elf Prince Talithan, and Scales. Talithan is at one point highly upset because the city he was going to sack didn't have any people in it.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Derk is perhaps the ultimate example. He isn't even evil. He has to play the Dark Lord because his boss sucks.
  • The Generic Guy: Don, who is, for the most part, normal.
  • Star-Spangled Spandex: Derk's original cape as Dark Lord has a lining made of a miniature universe.
  • Stripperiffic: Some of Mara's Glamorous Enchantress costumes.
  • Supreme Chef: Lydda is the only griffin who really likes cooked food—in fact, she's a master of it.
    • Mmm... godlike snacks.
  • Uplifted Animal: Derk's specialty.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The later half of the book ping-pongs between the adventures of Derk and those of his children, Blade, Shona, and Kit, as they lead a party through the "game."
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Everyone wonders how Derk managed to score a babe like Mara.
  • Winged Humanoid: What Derk decides to make at the end of the book. We see these two children in the sequel.
  • A Year and a Day

Tropes featured in Year of the Griffin include:

  • Adorkable: Pretty much all of Elda's male friends in the sequel are rather endearingly awkward. Lukin is probably the most confident (it's hard to say whether Ruskin's is this or bravado), but Felim is the most obviously awkward-sweet. Not to mention Derk himself.
    • Flurian Atreck/Flury in spades. Elda hates it because she's used to Kit's overbearing attitude.
  • Ascended Extra: Corkoran in the sequel. One-off in the original book; main teacher in the sequel.
  • Assassin Outclassin': The seven assassins sent by the Emir of Ampersand fail resoundingly to kill Felim, thanks to the extensive protective spells and even more extensive traps that he and his friends set up before they got there.
  • Baleful Polymorph
  • Big Damn Heroes: Kit and Blade running off the primal griffins from Callette and Elda.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Titus to Claudia. He adores her, and threatening her well-being is pretty much the only way make him really, truly mad. When he learns that the Senate has plotted to murder her, he throws the lot of them in jail, declares martial law, and rushes off to make sure she's all right.
  • Brainless Beauty: Nicely subverted with Melissa.
  • Cain and Abel: The Emir, who has sent assassins to kill Felim, turns out to be his older brother. The strange thing is that, while they seem to spend a lot of time yelling at each other, they're actually fond of each other; The Emir actually wants Felim to be his heir, he just felt honor-bound to go through with the threats he made in a moment of rage.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Happens all through the book...as the students' tuition letters reach their homes. Olga has the most notable example.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: The spells that Elda and her friends inflict on the would-be assassins are quite... unusual. They involve turning them into roosters, ash, and... making them drown in pits full of orange juice.
  • Pirates vs Ninjas: When Olga's father and his crew (pirates) encounter the Ampersandian assassins (ninjas). They team up.
  • Demoted to Extra: Don, the most normal and least quirky of Derk's griffin children, hardly appears in this book, on account of spending most of it on another continent.
  • Freudian Excuse: For Corkoran. He was kicked out of his home at age fifteen, and the University is the only home he has.
  • Honor Before Reason: Felim has a mild case of this- he often feels compelled to do things by his honor, but his friends talk him into sensible behavior when necessary.
  • Love at First Sight: Rather a lot of it, with Lydda and her new husband, Blade and Claudia, Titus and Isodel, seemingly Lukin and Olga, and Flury and Elda.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Claudia has such a background, and she suffers for it rather a lot.
  • Mouse Trap: After Elda turns the pirates into mice, every student in the school gets busy trying to design one.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Olga. She gets everyone else addicted to coffee too, as befits a bunch of college students.
  • No Kill Like Overkill: Elda and her friends engage in defensive overkill to protect Felim from assassins.
  • The Nondescript: Flury goes to some trouble to be this way.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Flury doesn't go out of his way to show it but he's actually one of the strongest wizards in the world.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Kit and Blade have been busy adventuring in the meanwhile. Aside from a brief mention of serving in the war, this is not brought up at all.
  • Our Founder: Subverted. The statue of the wizard Policant actually turns out to be Policant, who apparently turned himself into a statue as part of a prophecy, to be revived in the titular Year of the Griffin.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Despite his full beard, the dwarf is about twelve years old (in human terms; he's actually thirty-something) and embarrassingly pubescent.
  • Parent Ex Machina: not literally; but the return of Querida and the older wizards to the University plays with this.
  • Promotion to Parent: This is the backstory of Lukin; it caused him great frustration when his father came back and tried to treat him like a child again.
  • Put on a Bus: Shona, although Elda does mention her towards the beginning.
  • Six Student Clique: The students.
    • The Head: Lukin
    • The Muscle: Ruskin
    • The Quirk: Felim
    • The Pretty One: Olga
    • The Smart One: Claudia
    • The Wild One: Elda (Though Elda is The Hero, in the story)
  • Sibling Team: Kit and Blade work as one.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: In the sequel, everyone is surprised when seeming Brainless Beauty Melissa sticks up for Olga against her horrifying misogynist father. She brings up how everyone thinks that just because she's pretty, she can't be a good wizard.
  • Spell Book: The six students' main way of learning magic, since so many of their tutors are incompetent.
  • Stealth Pun: The Emir's kingdom, Ampersand.
  • Two-Teacher School: Not quite, but almost. There are about five teachers mentioned, but only two of them seem to have a role in teaching the six main characters- Corkoran (their tutor, who also gives lectures to them) and Wermacht (who teaches almost all the first-year classes). Neither is terribly competent. (One character mentions attending Myrna's lectures as well, but this comes up only once.)
    • This is actually something of a plot point. When Chesney's reign ended all of the senior wizards took the opportunity to retire, leaving the school with a Skeleton Government.
  • Volleying Insults: In marked contrast to his behavior in the rest of the book, Felim engages in this with his brother the Emir.
  • Writer on Board: Olga's horribly misogynistic father, and the backlash against him. However, while it does make a very clear point about sexism, it does also help build sympathy for Olga.

Alternative Title(s):

The Dark Lord Of Derkholm, Year Of The Griffin, Dark Lord Of Derkholm