Our Wights Are Different

Like ghouls, gnomes and trolls, "wights" are a kind of supernatural creature whose details no one quite agrees on. Usually evilly affiliated and somehow related to The Undead, but even that is up for debate. Can be an umbrella term for any magical creature, and occasionally a wight is a poorly understood, vaguely undead creature in-universe as well as in its description.

The word comes from a Middle English word meaning literally 'being' (or by extension, 'person'). Although it may occasionally be applied to supernatural creatures, most historical uses are about people (as in, humans).

In much of modern fantasy (specifically of the Medieval European Fantasy variety), wights are a kind of undead. This is owed to The Lord of the Rings, in which "barrow-wights" appear as undead creatures haunting gravemounds. In this, J. R. R. Tolkien was inspired by the 1869 translation of the Old Icelandic Grettir's Saga by William Morris and Eirik Magnusson, which used 'barrow-wight' once to translate the Old Norse haugbui, which is a type of undead (namely, the living corpse of a man buried in a barrow, intent on defending his residence from graverobbers and trespassers). Following that trail, Dungeons & Dragons and other works of the fantasy genre have loosely based their concept of 'wights' on the haugbuar and draugar, the undeads of the Icelandic sagas. This equation of wights and undeads is entirely a modern development.

Has nothing to do with the Isle Of Wight.

Examples:

Literature
  • The 1869 translation of the Icelandic Grettir's Saga by William Morris and Eiríkr Magnússon coined the term "barrow-wight" as a translation of the Old Norse haugbúi. A haugbúi is a resident (búi) of a gravemound (haugr), meaning the animated corpse of a man buried in a barrow. In the saga, Grettir breaks into the gravemound of Karr to carry off the treasures buried with Karr; he is a attacked by the undead Karr and, after a hard fight, wrestles him down and cuts off his head. The same translations also uses the phrase "evil wight" several times for various trolls and undeads.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Traversing the barrow-downs, the Hobbits have a nasty encounter with a "barrow-wight", which is described as "a tall dark figure like a shadow against the stars... two eyes, very cold, though lit with a pale light that seemed to come from some remote distance. Then a grip stronger and colder than iron seized him. The icy touch froze his bones and he remembered no more." The creature traps them in an underground burial chamber and is apparently trying to kill them when Tom Bombadil comes to the rescue. From what Tom says about the barrow-wights, they seem to be evil spirits possessing the corpses of long dead kings in their barrows, and using magic to lead travelers astray.
  • Wights in The Carpet People are a clairvoyant, varnish-mining race who can remember the future; mostly sympathetic, but with something of an Omniscient Morality License attitude. They're really more Our Elves Are Better with Pratchett simply playing with names.
  • In the Books of Pellinor, Maerad destroys "a wight of the abyss". It's implied to be some sort of demon.
  • The Runelords has wights as a type of mage/ghost. It is deadly to touch them as they will freeze you; Borenson's wife almost dies from trying to kill one, which is possible in that universe.
  • Color Wights from The Lightbringer Series are very different. A Drafter (someone who uses the local form of Functional Magic) can only use so much power in their life; go over that limit and you "break the halo", with your eyes becoming shot through with your color or colors, your powers enhanced, and usually great insanity following shortly. Color Wights are no longer considered human, and many will attempt to remake themselves using magic, resulting in self-inflicted Body Horror. The Color Prince, the series Big Bad, is a Polychrome Wight- ie, a Wight created from someone who overused all seven colors- and he denies that the With Great Power Comes Great Insanity part is anything but propaganda.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the wights are the reanimated corpses of humans, used as undead foot soldiers by the mysterious Others. They're cosmetically similar to Tolkien's (right down to the fact that in their first appearance a hand is chopped off but keeps moving by itself), but their origins are very different. Also, the Others have been seen using wight horses and other animals as mounts. They are vulnerable only to fire or being chopped into little bits - not even Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain does them in, and contrary to some characters' belief they aren't vulnerable to dragonglass like their eldritch masters are.
  • The Wardstone Chronicles describes wights as the corpses of drowned sailors that witches bind souls to for sinister purposes. They are usually blind, but have very good hearing, and are fast and strong.
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant features the Cavewights, many of whom live in a system of caves called the Wightwarrens. However, they have nothing whatsoever to do with the undead; being physically powerful but weak-willed subterranean creatures who form the bulk of the Big Bad's forces, they're closer to traditional depictions of orcs.
  • In Monster Hunter International wights are high-level undead that can paralyze with a touch and have to be burned. Chopping them up just leaves you with a lot of wiggling undead bits. Can be made and controlled by vampires.
  • In O. R. Melling's The Hunter's Moon, two cousins camp out inside an Irish burial mound, and the barrow wight, the spirit of a sacrificial victim, appears to one of them in a dream to warn her that the king of The Fair Folk is about to abduct the other.
  • In Montague Rhodes James's "A Warning to the Curious", the last custodian of an Anglo-Saxon mound becomes a shadowy, implacable guardian spirit who "has some power over your eyes."

Religion & Mythology

Tabletop Games
  • Warhammer Wights are dead knights and guardians of ancient kings; essentially, the Praetorian Guard of an Undead army. In a possible inspiration from Tolkien, they have health-draining weapons.
    • There is an Isle of Wights off the south coast of Albion. As one might expect, it's full of wights.
    • Warhammer's undead come in two distinct flavours - the cold, wet, barrow-dwelling Old World undead in the Vampire Counts army and the dry, desiccated, pyramid-dwelling Nehekharan undead in the Tomb Kings army. Both kinds have their own wights, known as "grave guard", "black knights" and "wight kings" for the former and "tomb guard", "necropolis knights" and "tomb heralds" for the latter. Both flavours are the partially mummified corpses of nobles, guards and tribal chieftains, and use pretty much exactly the same rules.
  • The small-press RPG Nightlife had wights (spelled "wyghts") as a PC race, which resembled dried-up human corpses and could drain the youth from victims by touch.
  • Dungeons & Dragons borrowed the wight from Tolkien and made it an undead monster that drained energy levels (Character Levels) from its victims and was created by draining a character of all their levels. To make matters worse, they're almost immune to conventional steel weapons and can only be seriously damaged by weapons made of silver, or magical weapons and spells.
    • The Third edition did away with their resistance to non-magical weapons, and nerfed their level draining power, making it give a character "negative levels", which they then had to roll against to avoid losing the level permanently. If a character ever had more negative levels then actual levels they died and became a wight.
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! card "Skull Servant" is called "Wight" in the original Japanese version. Interestingly, it eventually gained support cards over the years: notably, "The Lady in Wight" and "Wightmare" kept the "Wight" name in the U.S..
  • Ironclaw has Barrow Wights, barely intelligent flesh-eating undead that are very hard to kill. They can heal by consuming the flesh of the living and even if destroyed they will rise again on the next full moon unless addressed by name and buried in consecrated ground. Also an Oupire who starves to death from lack of blood rises as a Barrow Wight.

Video Games
  • NetHack runs with this, usually giving Wights (which are specifically called Barrow-Wights) a long sword, a knife, and immunity to cold, but not an invisibility ring like the more powerful Nazgul. Do not confuse them with Wraiths, which have an attack that can drain character levels. Interestingly, when eaten, Wraiths provide zero nutrition but also raise the consumer's level.
  • The Wights of Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones are a monster class which functions as a stronger Palette Swap of the Bonewalker class: here, they are reanimated skeleton warriors wielding various weapons.
  • Dragon Age has a version of wight which is basically a teleporting ghost. It's implied they're darkspawn, but which race they come from isn't established.
  • In Dragon's Dogma, the Wights are... wights in name only, they are in fact lesser Liches.
  • In Kingdom Hearts I game, in the Halloween Town world, there are Wight Knights, undead enemies that can best be described as mummies with super-long arms and massive claws.
  • The adventure game The Heroes of Karn had a barrowwight in a place called "the long barrow". No description of it is given, but it can be killed using a bible.
  • Might and Magic 7. Wights, wraiths and barrow wights (in order of increasing power) are a somewhat rare sort of undead that wear long brown robes and tote really nasty knives. Aging, spell point drain and magical terror may result from their attacks.
    • And by 'Somewhat rare' we mean 'You fight them every ten feet in The Barrow Downs. And less often in other areas too.'
  • Similar to the Dungeons & Dragons wights, Exile and Avernum have wights that are higher-level undead who drain experience on hitting.
  • Wights in Myth are zombies that explode when attacked or when they get close to enemies, and spray a paralyzing toxin over nearby units.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, "heartwight" is an alternate name for an ash vampire. It fits better, since they aren't vampires at all.
    • In Skyrim, Wights (and Wight Lords and Overlords) are higher-levelled versions of the Draugr, mummified Norse dead buried in ornate coffins, many of which use cold magic and have other powers.
  • In World of Warcraft, Wights are one of the rarer types of Undead in the Scourge. They appear as zombies mutated to monstrous sizes, though are otherwise fairly unremarkable.
  • In Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, the wight is the name given to a stronger enemy that appears when you defeat several ghouls in an area. As for ghouls, they are only a Palette Swap of zombies.
  • Wights in Dungeon Crawl are insubstantial undead monsters that can drain your experience with their attacks.
  • In the expansion for Majesty, one of the missions requires the player to defeat two Wights, named Styx and Stones, described as the Queen and the most trusted General of said queen, respectively. Apparently, their bond in life was so strong that it still exists after death. When they are awakened, the player is supposed to kill them both. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. If you kill one and the other one isn't killed in less than 2 minutes (on normal game speed), then the one you killed comes back to life. To make matters worse, they summon speedy undead predators and they can teleport at will to the other one's location.
  • The Wight enemy in Golden Sun is a dark blue Palette Swap of the orange and much weaker Zombie enemy.

Webcomics
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OurWightsAreDifferent