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Evil Is Sterile

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"The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. I don't think it gave life to Orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them ..."
Frodo, The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings

The nature of evil is difficult to define. It is, after all, a highly subjective concept, that we never encounter in any truly concrete form. And so, writers have different ideas as to what evil means, what are its goals, its methods, its limitations.

One weakness typically ascribed to the force of evil is that it cannot create. The Power of Creation is seen as positive and Good, the purview of a God who is probably the Big Good of any given mythos. So, Evil Is Sterile. It cannot create, cannot imagine, or have new ideas, certainly cannot produce new forms of life, because Creating Life Is Awesome. It may be able to propagate, but only in the manner of The Virus or The Corruption, by turning everything into more of itself, without the possibility of evolution, or the retention of the unique qualities that once inhabited what existed before.

Beings who have fallen under evil control, whether they are Reforged into a Minion or taken over by their Superpowered Evil Side, become cruder and twisted versions of themselves. They may gain power, but they lose crucial aspects that once made them special, and will probably not behave very intelligently.

Symbolically, this ties in with the idea that Dark Is Evil, because darkness is the absence of light and cannot change on its own. It is for this same reason that Good Hurts Evil.

In historical penal laws of a number of countries, this became an Enforced Trope in Real Life, as criminals and other enemies of the government (allegedly "evil", depending on perspective) were forcibly castrated. Examples include historian Sima Qian, who was allegedly implicated in a treason case, and explorer Zheng He, who was a family member of a Central Asian Muslim official in service of Mongols when they were overthrown by the Han Chinese who set up the new Ming Dynasty.

Ultimately, the hope of this kind of evil is to, at best, corrupt the whole world into being just like itself, and at worst, destroy everything. The possibility of making something new and different is anathema to it.

A typical bonus is that Evil Cannot Comprehend Good. Not to be confused with Creepy Cleanliness. See also Evil Knockoff, The Corruption, Eunuchs Are Evil, and Creative Sterility. Compare and contrast Creating Life Is Bad. Contrast Made of Evil, Evil Evolves, and Good Is Impotent.


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    Anime and Manga  
  • Implied in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann- the Anti-Spiral opposes the growth of Spiral energy (not without good cause), which is produced by biological evolution. Thus, the Anti-Spiral opposes evolution and represents enforced stagnation. It has a series of protocols in place to deal with burgeoning Spiral races, which consist basically of increasing numbers of mindless automata that can only destroy. When the protagonists defeat the last of these measures, the only recourse the Anti-Spiral has is to match them in form and strength.
  • The world of Yu-Gi-Oh! GO RUSH!! has two fundamental forces: positive and negative energy. Positive energy fuels growth and change, while negative energy fuels stagnation. When exposed to extremely high levels of negative energy, living things will freeze solid at the subatomic level. When there is too much negative energy in the universe, "interesting" things will start to vanish from reality, due to "interesting" things giving off positive energy while "boring" things give off negative energy.

    Comic Books 
  • In Seven Soldiers, the Sheeda are so incapable of creating things that they have to travel through time and pillage previous civilizations in order to get the resources to maintain their own. The series as a whole could be considered a meta-commentary on the comic-book industry's tendency to plunder its own continuity for ideas.
  • The Neflords from Hack/Slash are explicitly noted as being this by one of their minions. They're only capable of reproducing by fatally impregnating beings abducted from other dimensions.

  • In TRON and its sequel, Master Control and Clu respectively had this issue, which is why they were so big on repurposing opposing Programs.
  • The anti-war nightmare cartoon Wizards has a minor subplot involving the evil mutants' inability to create (healthy, sustainable) life.

  • Father from The Ellimist Chronicles is a moon-sized aquatic creature that leaves the protagonist alive to play games that he has no chance of winning, as it has absorbed the knowledge of countless beings that flew too close to its home. However, once the Ellimist starts challenging it to games of creativity, curbstomp battle after curbstomp battle ensues until he manages to steal all of its knowledge for himself and kill it.
  • David Eddings:
    • In The Belgariad and The Malloreon, there are two Prophecies working at odds for the future of creation, and in the first series, these are presented as simple good and evil, the Prophecies of Light and Dark. The sequel series gets into the idea that good and evil are subjective, and makes the Prophecies more about progress and stagnation, respectively. The good Prophecy wants to create a future in which new things happen, whereas the evil Prophecy wants everything to remain the same forever. The principle is aptly described by Garion's speech near the climax:
      You cannot lock me into immobility. If I change only one little thing, you've lost. Go stop the tide if you can, and leave me alone to do my work.
    • In The Redemption of Althalus, Daeva, the god of destruction who basically wants to destroy the universe just because it exists at all, cannot create anything new.
    • Both The Elenium and its sequel series The Tamuli uses this, albeit in different ways — in Elenium the implication is that Azash' problems with creating things derive from a combination of his binding and emasculation by the Younger Gods of Styricum and the fact that his main servant, Otha, is a lazy idiot. In Tamuli Cyrgon's thing is basically stagnation, so he is really loath to change his ways or reconsider his ideas — but he's not actually incapable of it, and if circumstances force him he will innovate.
  • In the Keys to the Kingdom book series, it is mentioned that only The Architect, The Old One, or humans can create anything original. The Denizens can only copy things they've seen. This becomes important later.
  • A defining metaphysical law in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. Evil cannot create anything new, they can only corrupt and ruin what good forces have invented or made. (Tolkien didn't use these exact words, contrary to what some believe, it was written for this very page.) Melkor/Morgoth, the equivalent of Satan and creator of evil, desires to remake the world according to his image, but his image isn't terribly imaginative, and he's fundamentally incapable of creating new life. He gains armies and servants by perverting and twisting existing beings (the Orcs, depending on the version you're looking at, are corrupted Elves, Men, Maiar, animals turned humanoid, or all of the above), or by gaining the loyalty of existing spirits (the Balrogs and possibly the Dragons are his Fallen Angels). In the Ainulindalë, when the World is designed in cosmic song, Melkor attempts to take over the Music by interjecting of his own theme. It's "brash and repetitive," all brute force without subtlety, and it only perverts the concepts introduced by Eru (the equivalent of God) rather than inventing new ones. This is discussed in The Return of the King:
    Sam: Don't orcs eat, and don't they drink? Or do they just live on foul air and poison?
    Frodo: No, they eat and drink, Sam. The Shadow that bred them can only mock; it cannot make: not real, new things of its own. I don't think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined and twisted them, and if they are to live at all, they have to live like other living creatures.
  • In Mistborn: The Original Trilogy, the two gods, Ruin and Preservation, can only create when they work together, which they are inherently loath to do. Ruin in particular is fundamentally unable to improve any situation, but instead leads everything toward chaos and destruction, which is just the way he likes it. Ruin's specific method of the Metallic Arts, hemalurgy, emphasizes this, as it is end-negative, meaning that it can only be used to take an inferior version of the abilities it steals instead of providing new powers altogether, with each spike degrading over the amount of time it is not inside a body. At the end of the series, both gods are destroyed, and a main character takes in both of their powers, which he uses to repair the damage to the world. In the sequel, the new god, now calling himself Harmony, finds himself unable to do anything at all with his power because of the opposing forces driving him. So he has to direct others, such as the new main character Wax, into acting on his behalf.
    • Mistborn: Secret History expands on this a bit; Ruin points out that if Preservation had his way, the whole world would be frozen in time to prevent anything from changing. Everything has to end eventually, and part of what Ruin represents is acceptance of and peace with that fact. Sazed wouldn't have been able to mantle both of them and become Harmony without understanding that.
  • The Big Bad of Orson Scott Card's The Tales of Alvin Maker is the Un-Maker, a being of malevolence to all existence. As an entity of non-being, it is incapable of making or creating anything, even something non-physical, like a plan for undoing the works of Alvin Maker. It instead has to rely on its willing human tools to do that sort of thing for it.
  • In the Tour of the Merrimack series, the Hive is said only to learn and adapt, and is unable to conceive new ideas.
  • In Pact, apart from making motes (weaker demons that bud off stronger ones) demons cannot create and can only destroy.
  • The Discworld has the Auditors of Reality. Counted among the Eldritch Abominations, their function is to oversee the universe and make sure the laws of physics keep working. They naturally dislike life for being untidy and particularly loathe humans due to their creativity and ability to see the world as other than what it is. At least twice so far (in Hogfather and Thief of Time) they've tried to unmake humanity, both times by relying on humans' own ingenuity.
  • In When Demons Walk this is done with a twist. Demons are not infertile by nature, but all demons summoned by wizards are made infertile via spell, as anything else would enable the demon to cause much disaster.
  • In the Coldfire Trilogy, the Hunter's immortality and power came at the cost of giving up the workings of life. He can't truly Heal and he Can't Have Sex, Ever. He also can't Work fire due to fire's connection with light and renewal.
  • In The Wheel of Time series, the Shadowspawn are all twisted forms of normal life (mostly produced by the Evilutionary Biologist Aginor), the followers of the Dark One mostly just want to dominate or destroy the world rather than create anything new, and even the True Power of the Dark One is a corrupt imitation of the One Power. The Borderlands have a saying that everything except evil changes and grows, while evil just stays evil. Rand even says in his "The Reason You Suck" Speech that the Dark One will never learn anything meaningful from his defeats.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has who is generally considered the most evil Targaryean king: Maegor the Cruel. The Targaryeans had utterly irresponsible kings (Aegon the Unworthy) and utterly insane (Aerys), but Maegor was brutal and vicious. He had no children successfully born despite many attempts unlike Aegon and Aerys (especially Aegon, who got his title in part because he had so many children it led to civil wars).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who has several villains which are stated to be this way; however, because they have to be frequently reinvented to keep the show fresh (or because the studio ran out of original props), they tend to change gradually over time. Notable examples include:
    • The Cybermen, your basic robot assimilators. They can't reproduce and can only create more of themselves by stealing live humans and turning them into more cybermen. They can advance technologically but are incapable of evolution, biological or cultural, as they lack both reproduction and imagination. This means that the actual power and threat of an individual Cyberman varies from one episode to another, but their weaknesses tend to be retained. This was eventually used to explain their Multiple-Choice Past; several different human and Human Alien groups who independently developed cyberdization converged on similar designs and the blunt descriptive name because they were all using uncreative brute-force techniques.
    • The Daleks, your basic space fascists, invoke this by being Fantastic Racists: everything the slightest bit different from them is wrong and should be destroyed. This is, however, defied by the Cult of Skaro (a group of four Daleks who even had individual names) which was created for the sole purpose of imagination (specifically new technology, new weapons, new ways to EXTERMINATE). Nevertheless, their appearance is updated frequently, and their tactics also vary over time. Daleks with any ability to personally change or grow tend to either go a bit mad or turn on their own kind or both.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation features the Borg Collective - a civilization of cybernetic humanoids who seek to absorb all cultures, biology and technology into themselves. They do this by capturing sentient lifeforms and forcibly implanting devices into their bodies, including brain implants that both suppress individual thought and link them into a Hive Mind that controls their actions. The Borg are ruthless, relentless, and very seriously don't have typical emotions at all - fear, sadness, hate, joy, love, vengeance, and attachment are all primitive affectations to them. That said, they are very covetous of unusual technology, and equally passionate in their belief that their Collective is the ultimate way of life... but they have absolutely no creativity to invent with. As such, they patiently wait - sometimes for millennia - for the lesser developed species around them to develop new, shiny technology they've never seen before. Then they consume them.
    "We are the Borg. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness into our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. You will deactivate your defenses and surrender your ships - this will expedite the assimilation of your society. Resistance is futile."
  • Supernatural: Amara, the Darkness, is God's equal opposite and sister, being just as powerful as him if not more so, and now that she's free, she intends to destroy his flawed creation, and bring back the peaceful void that came before. Except, as a smug Lucifer points out, as powerful as she is, she's ultimately inferior to God because he can create, while she, as the embodiment of nothingness, can't.
  • In the Once Upon a Time episode Our Decay, Hades explains that he can't create life or make anything grow; he only holds dominion over death and decay. When flowers start popping up in the Underworld, it's an indication that the heroes are having an effect there.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • In Christian theology, this is related to what is called the Boethian view of evil or Privatio Boni - that evil is merely the absence of good and doesn't have an independent existence of its own. Or as Augustine of Hippo put it, "I inquired what iniquity was, and ascertained it not to be a substance, but a perversion of the will". Or as C. S. Lewis put it, "Badness is only spoiled goodness. Evil is a parasite, not an original thing".
  • In Egyptian Mythology the god Set, disfavored and seen as evil in later times, is said to be sterile. The story behind the birth of Anubis is that Set's wife Nepthys tricked Osiris into impregnating her because Set was infertile.
    • Like most myths, this is Depending on the Writer. In some versions of the story, Nepthys and Set have a son, Sebek/Sobek the crocodile god. The reason Nepthys sleeps with Osiris is because Sebek creeps her out enough that she wants a "normal" child.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Downplayed — among the Fiends, Devils are mostly incapable of procreating among themselves, as all female Devils that aren't Erinyes are sterile. The vast majority of devils are produced from the souls of those who died with an alignment of Lawful Evil. Demons and Daemons don't have this restriction, though.
  • Exalted: This is one of the Ebon Dragon's few limitations: as the Anthropomorphic Personification of being-a-total-jerk, he is completely unable to take any positive or original action. Everything he does must in some way corrupt, subvert, or oppose someone else's actions or character.
  • Promethean: The Created: This is one of the biggest reasons Being Evil Sucks for Prometheans who adopt the Refinement of Flux. Not only can they not make progress towards becoming human and truly part of the world, but they are unable to produce the Vitriol that Prometheans use to fix new powers into their bodies. The only way they can gain Vitriol is to find another Promethean and steal it from him.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Inverted with the Dark Mechanicus, the Chaos-corrupted servants of the Omnissiah. Where the Adeptus Mechanicus believe humanity once knew everything and strive to regain that knowledge, everything they do to repair and restore machinery is a complex religious ritual and they forbid experimentation. The Dark Mechanicus actually create new machines and designs, but because they work for Chaos it involves things like living metal dragons.
    • Although played straight when you realize that the bulk of Chaos's forces - including the Dark Mechanicus, Chaos Space Marines, and low-ranking cultists - are formerly aligned with the Imperiumnote . This is even played straight with Chaos itself, which only exists because of human and alien emotions. The only thing Chaos can create is daemons, and they are The Heartless born from mortal emotion.

     Video Games  
  • Played With in Bloodborne: The Great Ones are infertile, every child they create becoming stillborn, but they still yearn for a 'surrogate'. They're not innately evil, but their very presence distorts reality and drives humans to madness - and some of them attempted to 'adopt' Humanity as a whole as its surrogate, leading to horrible consequences.
  • In the The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion expansion Shivering Isles, the amazingly creepy Knights of Order and their master Jyggalag are said to have no original thoughts whatsoever. Their fighting style reflects this - Jyggalag uses some spells, but the knights just swing swords at you until you or they die. When Order tries subterfuge, Sheogorath concludes that things aren't going so bad - Order doesn't try creativity unless everything else has failed, and they suck at it.
  • Fallout, the super mutants who are out to make all other humans mutants and destroy anything they can't transform, turn out to be sterile. This is a major plot point, as their Visionary Villain leader, The Master, thinks mutants are the next evolution of humanity, and the revelation that every one of them is unable to reproduce means their race is doomed to eventually die out. This is because the substance used to create the Super Mutants, the Forced Evolutionary Virus or FEV, wasn't designed to create a new breed of superior beings, but is actually a failed pre-War military drug originally designed to work as an all-purpose protection against biological weapons. The U.S military eventually repurposed it to create disposable super soldiers, with sterility being an intentional feature to prevent their creations from breeding.
    • In Fallout 2, if the Chosen One buys Marcus time with a prostitute in New Reno, he'll say that he hopes she doesn't get pregnant afterwords, and if you choose to ask him about that will claim that it just takes a few years for those parts to start working again. Word of God, however, says that he's lying just for amusement.
  • In Dragon Age, the Darkspawn are incapable of reproducing like other species. They also seem to be mindless brutes who are only capable of destroying things, although the existence of the Architect suggests that Darkspawn may have the capacity to be less destructive if they are freed from the Archdemon's control.
  • In Mass Effect 2, Mordin posits that the Reapers have no capacity for creativity, as evidenced by the fact that the creatures under their thrall are never seen creating anything. In a more literal sense, despite being machines the Reapers are incapable of building more of themselves (at least in sapient form) without first harvesting and then melting down millions of organic sapients.
  • Zachary Hale Comstock from BioShock Infinite is sterile due to overuse of the Lutece device. Additionally, all of Columbia's advanced Steampunk tech is in fact crude simulacrums of other advanced technology stolen from alternate universes (with the Burial At Sea DLC revealing that Columbia's Vigors are taken almost directly from Rapture). Furthermore, a large portion of the game's licensed soundtrack is an intentional Anachronism Stew, consisting of songs (i.e., "Tainted Love", "Girls Just Want to Have Fun", and "Fortunate Son") that wouldn't have been penned for decades after the game's setting of 1912, but were pre-emptively copied by Columbian artists and redone with period-appropriate stylings.
  • The Forsaken in World of Warcraft are easily the darkest race in the Horde and, being essentially walking corpses, are specifically noted as being unable to procreate. Following the events in Wrath of the Lich King, the Forsaken's leader Sylvanas Windrunner gains the service of some of the Lich King's Val'kyr, creatures who can bring back corpses as new Forsaken.
  • All over the place in Fall from Heaven. Agares originally went out of his way to defy this trope, by using the power of creation the One gave him to create infinite planes for all twenty-one elements so he could draw power from them and continue creating after the One withdrew His own power, forming the backbone of how magic works in FFH. Unfortunately, his creations were seen as flawed compared to those made using the One's power directly, and Agares, jealous of the others, went on an Omnicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum, destroying his plane and everything in it, and then restructuring it into the deepest circle of the game's version of Hell. Technically, Agares still has all the power of creation he had before, but he doesn't want to create anything new, preferring to corrupt and destroy creation to show that the One is just as flawed as he is.
  • Subtly implied from time to time in The Legend of Zelda. Many of the monsters in A Link to the Past were originally inhabitants of Hyrule who were lured into the Dark World by Ganon and rumors of the Triforce, with the Hyrulean soldiers in particular ending up Brainwashed and Crazy. Twilight Princess has Zant turning his fellow Twili and some inhabitants of the Light into Shadow Beasts because he couldn't get any willing allies in his planned conquest of Hyrule. Breath of the Wild sees Calamity Ganon possessing the advanced Magitek originally constructed by the Sheikah, including the Divine Beasts and the Guardians, to keep them from being used against him.