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The Svengali

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"The children who adored you as 'father'... The prospects of your pupils... How many did you trample upon...? How many dreams did you exchange for riches!?"
Yusuke Kitagawa, to Shadow Madarame, Persona 5

The Svengali is a manipulative, controlling mentor that exploits their student for their own gain. They control and exploit their disciple by any means possible, from just plain being a Manipulative Bastard through overt Mind Control to More than Mind Control, often with a side of Love Martyr, Lima Syndrome (or both), and Mind Game Ship. Typically acting as The Man Behind the Man, The Svengali is often also The Chessmaster, or at least The Strategist, in terms of PR campaigning. Unlike the Evil Mentor, The Svengali is usually not so much trying to pass on a legacy of evil.

The mentor/protégé relationship may cut both ways, though, since the follower often also serves as The Muse to The Svengali, who may be Hoist by His Own Petard as a result, unable to repeat his success without the student. The Svengali is liable to end up more dependent on the disciple than vice versa. Lima Syndrome is an occupational hazard, often along with some form of Muse Abuse, though The Svengali may not himself be an artist of any kind. Expect additional layers of dysfunction if The Svengali is also a Stage Mom (or Dad), in which case shades of Knight Templar Parent are also likely. The Svengali also tends to pursue success so ruthlessly that bystanders are maimed.

The Svengali is more likely than the Evil Mentor to be Obliviously Evil. Watch out for appearances of "But I did it all for you!" and, conversely "I made you!" (for extra points, add "and I could break you just as easily.").

The Svengali is a frequent, even near-inevitable, cause of Rage Against the Mentor. Since The Svengali's job is usually to provide their ward with worldly success and Ambition Is Evil, What Have I Become? moments (where applicable) tend to turn into What Have You Made Me moments, kind of like I Hate You, Vampire Dad but with fewer fangs. A less malicious version is a Mooching Master, who might take advantage of his student, but he still genuinely cares for them and doesn't actually utilize them as a pawn beyond simple personal gains. A more malicious version is the Sabotutor, who actively sets up their ward to fail.

Often claimed about Real Life managers of actors and singers/bands, sometimes by the manager, presumably because Evil is Cool.

The Trope Namer is a character in George du Maurier's 1894 novel Trilby.

Not to be confused with Svengoolie.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The Crane Hermit (Tsuru Sen'nin) in Dragon Ball incites his students to lead a life of crime and murder, which they carry out mainly in a sign of respect for him in the case of Tenshinhan and Chiaotzu; in the end, only his younger brother Mercenary Tao still followed in his treacherous footsteps.
  • Tenkei Iwafune is this to Nagare Hisui, the Green King, in K: Return of Kings. He found a dead child at the site of Kagutsu's Damocles Down and witnesses the Slates revive the child by awakening him as the Green King. He then essentially raises Nagare from that point on, with his philosophy, nurturing Nagare's plans to release the Slates to the world....
  • Grace O'Connor in the Macross Frontier TV series. The drama cds reveal she developed Lima Syndrome but then invoked Cybernetics Eat Your Soul so as to be able to continue her plans. In the movies she develops a full-on Lima Syndrome, wanting to save Sheryl from her Incurable Cough of Death.
  • Ranma
    • Master Happosai used his students Soun Tendo and Genma Saotome to steal underwear and take the punishment for it.
    • Genma is this to his own son and student Ranma, as he has cheated a great number of people in Ranma's name.
  • The shady agent Monkey Saruyama (known as Mr. Shroud in the dub) from Yu-Gi-Oh! GX was this to Kaiser Ryo, convincing him that his failures were due to respecting his opponents and turning him into the selfish, brutal Hell Kaiser. But it worked only too well. Kaiser didn't even show any gratitude towards Saruyama, and when he felt he didn't need him anymore, fired him.
  • In My Hero Academia, All For One is shown to be manipulative, performing a 'caring' attitude towards the young Tomura Shigaraki when All For One takes him in, and telling him that he will be All For One's successor. It is later revealed that All For One planned to take control of Tomura's body once it was suitably prepared for him, and that Tomura's conditioning as his successor was a means to do so.
  • From Black Clover, Lucius Zogratis, as Julius in the Clover Kingdom, recruited a teenage Yami, a hated and feared foreign shipwreck, and Vangeance, an abused, cursed child, into the Gray Deer, gaining their loyalty when they were the two mages needed to create the Tree of Qliphoth as part of his grand plan which had them nearly killed from being used as Human Sacrifices for the ritual.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Doctor Who Magazine comics, Jodafra to his niece Destrii, who he acts as a father figure to but uses as a pawn in his schemes. When he first appears, he looks like a Lovable Rogue, Destrii's only non-abusive parental figure, and possibly the nicest person in an incredibly corrupt and vicious Decadent Court. But as things continue, his true evil nature becomes apparent, and he finally ends up beating her viciously and leaving her for dead after she stops him from feeding a group of kidnapped children to an Eldritch Abomination in exchange for powers.
  • Teen Titans: This is a secondary shtick Deathstroke, who primarily operates as an evil Super-Soldier Psycho for Hire but also makes a hobby out of playing the Evil Mentor to various young heroes and villains. For a time he even led his own Psycho Rangers group, the Villains For Hire.
  • The Transformers (IDW): Onyx Prime/Shockwave was this to both Megatronus and Liege Maximo, using their skills for war and deception to ensure the timeline played out as he remembered it.
  • X-Men: While originally a Big Good, Professor X has taken a slow but steady descent into one of these since the Dark Age of the '90s. While never attempting to use his students for financial gain (because he doesn't need to, being a member of Marvel's Fiction 500), he has manipulated them seven ways from here to Sunday, ranging from garden-variety emotional manipulation to outright memory repression, all in the name of keeping as many of his students in their X-uniforms as possible.

    Fan Works 
  • Mastermind: Rise of Anarchy: Principal Nedzu turns towards this when he notices that Ochako's Survivor Guilt is driving her to push herself further and further. Rather than trying to curb her self-destructive efforts to become the Ideal Hero, he encourages her, pulling strings behind the scenes to set her up as a potential replacement for the Symbol of Peace.
  • Pitch Black serves as this to his "ward" Jack Frost in Zastruga, though some of his methods are considerably more direct than others.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the 1950 movie All About Eve, the character Bill Simpson (played by Gary Merrill) says to Eve Harrington (played by Anne Baxter) after she tries to seduce him:
    "Names, I've been called but never Svengali."
  • In the 1946 film Deception (1946), composer Alexander Hollenius (Claude Rains) is the musical mentor of Christine Radcliffe (Bette Davis). He is none too pleased when Christine suddenly decides to marry a cellist (Paul Henreid), and he invokes their mentor relationship when begging her to return to him. When that doesn't work, he puts the couple through a series of vicious mind games.
  • Elvis (2022): While Colonel Tom Parker claims he cares for Elvis and everything he does is for his benefit, the truth is he only cares for Elvis as his meal ticket and everything he does is to keep Elvis under his control and milk as much wealth from his stardom as possible.
  • In a The Three Stooges short film Hokus Pokus (and Flagpole Jitters), Moe (Moses Horwitz, AKA Moe Howard) introduces actor Jimmy Lloyd, who was portraying a magician, as, "Svengarlic: He'll take your breath away!"
  • Peter O'Toole played a (relatively) benign version of this to Jodie Foster in Svengali, a movie inspired by but not based on Du Maurier's novel.
  • Star Wars: Emperor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious, who used the Sith Rule of Two (there must only be two Sith alive at any given time) to his advantage. Though it isn't clear with Darth Maul, he clearly used Dooku's death as part of his plan to turn Anakin to the Dark Side and then intended to use Anakin's death to turn Luke. Had his master plan worked out, the last part hinged on sacrificing Luke to make himself immortal.
    • The expanded universe makes it clear that all Sith Masters are this trope toward their one apprentice. Every one of them got their position by outwitting and defeating a previous master who tried to do this to them, and as a result, they all believe that any apprentice who can't do the same doesn't deserve success.
  • The controlling behavior of theater producer John Barrymore in Twentieth Century leads his actress, protege, and lover, played by Carole Lombard, to protest "I'm no Trilby!".
  • Whiplash revolves around the protagonist being molded into a jazz legend by his Sadist Teacher, Fletcher, at the cost of everything else.

  • The Century Trilogy: Mastersmith Mylio in The Winter of the World keeps his two apprentices specialized in separate fields to keep them dependent on him. He also steals the powerful items forged by the protagonist, and uses them for evil.
  • The Dresden Files: Justin DuMorne, the first mentor to Harry Dresden, possibly started as this before graduating to an outright evil mentor, but in either case was outright villainous by the time he met his demise at Harry's hands.
  • Tedrin in Eden Green infects two young women with his alien needle symbiote and attempts to recruit them into his battle against the horrifying monsters invading their city, with mixed results.
  • Mairsil the Pretender in Jeff Grubb's Magic: The Gathering novel The Gathering Dark positions himself to become this to Jodah once he realizes the boy is the direct descendant of Urza of The Brothers' War.
  • Vergere in New Jedi Order is this to Jacen. Probably. Sort of. She's so enigmatic that it's hard to figure out what she actually wants, but it's stated (by a Sith, mind you, who may be an Unreliable Narrator) that Vergere was a Sith who was attempting to turn Jacen to the Dark Side, and she does certainly want to mold Jacen into something. Just what that "something" is has fueled fan debates for years.
  • Quinn Dexter in The Night's Dawn Trilogy is a particularly dark version of this. Wherever he goes, he is able to effortlessly recruit an enthusiastic following to his depraved religion, often singling one individual out as a protege. However his disciples are utterly disposable to him, and he thinks nothing of murdering or betraying them when it suits him to do so.
  • Fagin in Oliver Twist takes in street urchins and teaches them how to become accomplished thieves. He profits greatly from their thefts and simply writes them off when they get caught and executed.
  • Erik, the eponymous Phantom from The Phantom of the Opera is this to Christine. Since he actually is a good music teacher he may also qualify as a Broken Pedestal. Due to the similarity of the stories some regard the Phantom as being Svengali with the Serial Numbers Filed Off.
  • In Terry Kay's Shadow Song, the deceased Avrum Feldman may be seen as this to the protagonist, "Bobo" Murphy. While he was a friend, the older Avrum is also shown to be a manipulator whose influence over Bobo's relationships stems from his desire to live vicariously through him and see his unfulfilled romantic fantasies play out for someone else.
  • In-universe, the supernatural law enforcement rumor mill in the Anita Blake novel Skin Trade has Edward as this to Anita. Or at least that's one of the rumors. "I heard he was more like your Svengali," is the response of one Las Vegas cop to Anita referring to Edward first as her partner and then as her "rabbi" (mentor, one assumes).
  • The Trope Namer, from Du Maurier's Trilby, is a hypnotist who makes the eponymous protagonist, tone-deaf without him, into a famous singer.
  • In The Silmarillion Sauron, wearing the guise of Annatar, plays this to Celebrimbor... only to find out that the latter is under The Dulcinea Effect and thus immune to all his manipulation tactics. Unfortunately, by that point, Celebrimbor has become The Muse and Sauron has been Hoist by His Own Petard. Celebrimbor ends up having the dubious honor of being the only person Sauron personally tortured to death.
  • In On the Spectrum, Jacques, the director of Catherine's ballet company, has been her mentor since she was sixteen. He encouraged her to start smoking, taught her to destroy her health in order to stay thin, and discourages her from having close relationships with anyone other than him. Even though he's gay, Catherine's daughter Clara compares their relationship to an abusive marriage.

    Live Action TV 
  • Derren Brown named one of his acts "the Svengali", where he uses a clockwork puppet to hypnotize and possess members of the audience.
  • The Master in Doctor Who occasionally takes on "companions" in the same way as the Doctor, but views them solely as pawns in his schemes and usually ends up personally killing them. The most overt examples are Kassia in "The Keeper of Traken", Midge in "Survival", Chang Lee in "Doctor Who: The Movie", Lucy Saxon in his Tenth Doctor appearances, and unknowingly Bill in "World Enough and Time"/"The Doctor Falls". (Lucy reverses things, as she ends up killing him. For a while.)
  • Frasier's evil agent Bebe Glazer. When Frasier's producer Roz was offered an opportunity for her own show, he congratulated but mentioned he would miss her. Bebe took that as her cue to sabotage Roz's opportunity to supposedly keep Frasier happy.
  • Game of Thrones: Lord Tywin Lannister to his grandson Tommen Baratheon, the new king due to Joffrey's death, and who Tywin clearly intends to mold into a vehicle for Lannister dominance of the Seven Kingdoms, with the side effect that Tommen could probably have become one of Westeros' better kings, whereas Joffrey was already a lost cause before he came under Tywin's influence. Remember that Tywin was Hand of the King to Aerys Targaryen II for 20 years, and despite that king's madness those years are regarded as some of the best in living memory thanks to Tywin's administration.
  • Kamen Rider Geats: All-Loving Hero Keiwa gets interest from Kekera, one of many supporters hailing from the future due to being moved by his heroic personality and determination. As the show progresses, however, it's made clear that Kekera doesn't share Keiwa's heroism, and prefers to manipulate his chosen in order for him to become a better hero to the point where he drafts Keiwa's sister Sara into the Desire Grand Prix, planning to use her as a Sacrificial Lamb to spur on Keiwa's Character Development.
  • In Killjoys, Khlyen trained Dutch from an early age to be an assassin. Though his methods may be despicable, his motives (at least as of the end of season 2) appear to be more ambiguous.
  • Randall Fuller, the self-help guru with a generous helping of More than Mind Control in the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Con-Text."
  • Season 9, Episode 6 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is appropriately called "Svengali," and has the team dealing with a Serial Killer who has inspired a fan of his, who has fallen in love with him, to continue his murderous work.
  • In the season 1 pilot of the Moonlight TV series, entitled "No Such Thing as Vampires", Beth interviews a suspect who refers to another character as a "Svengali" who brainwashed students, using literary references to vampires, sex and dark desires and seduced them into his cult.
  • In the NCIS season 3 episode "Silver War", Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs consoles Mossad officer Ziva David about her half-brother Ari Haswari, whom she had killed, by describing him as a Svengali.
  • In Once Upon a Time, Rumpelstiltskin appears to have been this to Regina. He seemed like a typical Evil Mentor at first, teaching her magic, pushing her to the dark side, and even designing the curse that was central to her master plan... but it was eventually revealed that he needed her to unleash the curse so he would be exiled to Earth, but he also needed Emma to thwart Regina's plans and break the curse, so he could finally be reunited with his son.
  • In an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld, entitled "The Wallet", Elaine refers to her psychotherapist boyfriend as a "Svengali" because he wields a powerful mental influence over her. She mispronounces the word as 'svenjolly', causing Jerry and George to mock her.
  • Unscrupulous Hero Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It fits this archetype perfectly, although instead of mentoring a specific person like this, he obsessively controls his entire Party. His Villainous Breakdown in Series 4 even involves him screaming at someone objecting to his plan because he is doing it all for the Party, and no one should dare ever question what he would do for the Party.
  • Wilfred in Wilfred casts himself as a trusted friend, confidante, and mentor to Ryan but in almost every episode, he seems to be also working some selfish angle. The overall mystery of the show is figuring out what Wilfred is and whether he's actually good for Ryan or not.

  • The Beatles went to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's note  retreat in Rishikesh, India in 1968 at the urging of electronics engineer Alexis Mardas to study Transcendental Meditation. When they got there, Mia Farrow told some of the students the Maharishi made a pass at her by stroking her hair; in her 1997 memoirs, she described an encounter when he tried to put his arms around her in his private meditation cave. The allegations of Pattie Boyd, George Harrison's then-wife, caused life at the retreat to go horribly wrong. At Mardas's urging, John Lennon became convinced when the Maharishi, who said he was celibate, was involved in an affair with one of the young female students. In response, John composed "Sexy Sadie", a Roman Clef song denouncing the Maharishi's actions, which was included on the second part of The White Album, a.k.a. "The Beatles".
  • The Human League's "Don't You Want Me" is a dialogue between a Svengali and his increasingly rebellious protégée.
  • Malcolm McLaren cast himself as this to the Sex Pistols, and later to Bow Wow Wow.
  • Colonel Tom Parker is typically depicted as this towards Elvis Presley. Parker maintained an iron grip on the direction of Presley's career, including steering him into the increasingly mediocre movie musicals he became known for in the bulk of the 1960s and his Vegas residency in the 1970s, and at one point 50% of what Presley was earning was going straight to Parker, well in excess of the industry-standard 25%. Parker also heavily discouraged Presley from touring outside of the US; the only such tour was a 1957 tour in Canada. Parker was actually an illegal immigrant and didn't want to risk exposing himself by applying for a passport. note 

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The fans who attended Future Of Wrestling's shows never trusted Fabulous Frank, but there was a steady stream of talented yet gullible babyfaces ready to take on his managerial services. While Frank would, naturally, take credit for any success any of his clients achieved in spite of his lack of help, he was often more interested in using the innocent as distractions, scapegoats, or pawns in his own personal schemes, which ranged from assault to petty larceny.
  • Sophia Lopez, Caged Heat's lawyer on Women Of Wrestling's revived third season, finally got the convictions of two members overturned only to then ask newly freed Delta and Loca to commit crimes for her, apparently not realizing they spent the last fourteen years claiming to be innocent because they were serious. So she instead tried to get them to cheat during matches but having lost their trust, Delta and Loca decided to wrestle clean, if still rough by WOW standards, instead. Lopez kept trying to "help" Delta and Loca win the Tag Team Titles, but only because she thought they were still useful for, among other things, helping her entice a wrestler who could actually be controlled.

    Video Games 
  • Atlas/Frank Fontaine to the player character in BioShock. Interestingly, he seems to at least partly believe his own lies about being a mentor; during the climax, he has the audacity to call you ungrateful and even claims that hes the closest thing to family you have.
  • Kreia from Knights of the Old Republic II to the main character. Fridge Horror sets in once you've replayed the game and seen just how much of the relationship between these two characters falls under More than Mind Control. Depending on the theories you subscribe to, it may have been done all for revenge or for the greater good, but only two things are really certain: firstly, that they seem to actually care for each other in a twisted fashion, and secondly, it worked.
  • Dōman Ashiya is this in Kuon. He has set out to sacrifice the lives of his disciples (along with that of his own daughter) in his own pursuit of power, through the eponymous forbidden ritual. He had thus set out for the haunted mansion where he would perform the ritual, claiming to be merely investigating it; and waited for them to come find him.
  • Harlan Fontaine to Courtney Sheldon in L.A. Noire. Not only does he shamelessly manipulate and use Sheldon for his Evil Plan, but he outright kills him the second he outlives his usefulness.
  • Lucan in Magic and Mayhem in hindsight. While presenting himself as your average Eccentric Mentor, he keeps concealing vital information from his own nephew and tricks him into making great sacrifices like his youth for his own ends without so much as giving him a choice.
  • Ichiryuusai Madarame, from Persona 5, is a juggernaut of the art world who maintains his position of prominence by systematically abusing his live-in pupils, plagiarizing their work, and discarding them when they begin to question him. He keeps his only current student, 16-year-old Yusuke Kitagawa, in a state of impoverished semi-starvation while he secretly lives in grandeur, and his Shadow later reveals that he allowed Yusuke's mother, another of his former students, to die from an epileptic seizure so that he could take credit for her masterpiece, the Sayuri, which became the painting that launched him to international superstardom.
  • Manfred von Karma is this to Miles Edgeworth in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney until the end of case 1-4 in the first game. The main reason why he takes in Edgeworth is that he sports one hell of a grudge against Edgeworth's dad, Gregory Edgeworth, a defense attorney who managed to tarnish Manfred's perfect 'all guilty' court record by giving him a penalty. During the DL-6 incident, Karma murdered Gregory in cold blood, and molded his young son into becoming a prosecutor before framing him for a new murder years later, all in the name of petty revenge against the Edgeworth family. However, he gets his comeuppance when Phoenix Wright exposes him as Gregory's killer, and Edgeworth recognizes Karma's demonic scream as the sound that terrorized him so much as a boy, causing the aptly-named Karma to suffer an epic Villainous Breakdown.
  • Strongly implied to be Van's relationship with Asch in Tales of the Abyss, especially with All There in the Manual information taken into account. Given that the Rage Against the Mentor starts not long after the beginning of the game, that aspect of their relationship is never explored on-screen; however, interviews state that Van kept Asch isolated and uninformed in order to keep him pliable. The Lima Syndrome aspect is implied and twisted up; Van fully believes he "needs" Asch to pull off his plan ignoring the replica with the same powers he himself made that, until the Wham Episode, had Undying Loyalty to him. Despite Asch repeatedly saying he would never work with him, Van is convinced he will.

    Western Animation 
  • Ludwig in The Cuphead Show! initially seemed friendly, seemingly wanting to nurture the next generation of musical talent by giving Mugman piano lessons. However, upon learning that Cuphead is a piano prodigy, he ditches Mugman and takes the cup under his wing instead. He promised to pick Cuphead up on the day of the recital, only to ditch him also and steal his song in order to win the ten-thousand-dollar grand prize. He gets his comeuppance by getting caught under Mugman's Piano Drop.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has Svengallop, the unironically named manager of pop star Countess Coloratura in "The Mane Attraction." True to the character he was named after, he controls almost every aspect of her life to live in luxury and be a Jerkass to everyone.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: A large part of Shadow Weaver characterization, as opposed to being a straight Evil Mentor all her students function to further her own ends.
    • As a child, Micah was mentored in magical arts by Light Spinner, later known as Shadow Weaver. She enlisted his help in stealing and grinding down some of Mystacor's crystals, taught him about forbidden magic, and used him to perform the evil ritual that gave her shadow powers.
    • In Season 3, she shows she can teach Adora and Glimmer important lessons in magic that can help them in the long run, and there is no denying it. Shadow Weaver teaches Adora how to use the sword to heal others much faster than Light Hope said it could, and teaches Glimmer how to better focus her powers. Both of these instances benefited her however, She-Ra healed Shadow Weaver's chronic affliction while Glimmer's increased magical aptitude helped Shadow Weaver revenge herself on Catra, torturing the girl with lightning.
    • Flashbacks show personal gain was behind her adopting Adora due to the personal power she sensed in the infant, raising the child was in part to try and access this power. With Catra being another means of controlling Adora, not out of any true parental affection.
  • An episode of The Simpsons featured a master criminal hypnotist named Sven Golly, who used his hypnotic abilities to manipulate others for his own gain or amusement.
  • The Steven Universe episode "Story for Steven" revealed that Greg's former manager Marty bossed Greg around without much regard for what his personal or artistic concerns were, at the same time undermining his confidence with constant insults and taking 75% of his profits. Atypically, Marty is not just abusive, but very incompetent as a manager, not having the patience or work ethic to promote Greg properly.
  • The ThunderCats (2011) reboot featured the raccoon character Tookit (get it?), a "kleptovoyant" who made friends with the Thunderkittens. A clear expy of Fagin, Tookit tempted Wilykit and Wilykat, as well as other orphans, into stealing for him in exchange for his "protection."
  • In the Season 2 episode of The Venture Bros. titled "Guess Who's Coming to State Dinner?", Col. Bud Manstrong angrily calls Brock Samson "Svengali" when the colonel finds his mother passed out in Samson's lap.

Alternative Title(s): Manipulative Mentor, Svengali