Any good (opposite of evil) necromancers in fiction?

DoPo

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I got to thinking recently and couldn't really remember any necromancers that are actually good. It seems that necromancy is almost universally painted as evil. I could think of very few exceptions and even then, they aren't completely what I'm talking about

- occasionally you get a character who uses a necromantic magic as an one off or very, very rarely in the service of a good cause, for example, Harry Dresden does that a couple of times. However, those characters aren't full blown necromancers just like a person who happens to fire a gun or throw a grenade isn't an actual soldier. Even then it's shown as an exception to the rule that necromancy is evil

- sometimes characters pick up necromancy with good intentions but it's still shown as an evil tool. They also slip into it as well. Such was the fate of the protagonist of the necromancy campaign in Battle for Wesnoth - a mage who decided to raise some corpses in order to save his village from being wiped out, yet he was shunned and banished for this deed and eventually turned into an evil uncaring lich.

- more often you get necromancers who may be serving a greater good (mostly some sort of "balance") but are still shown as creepy, sinister and disturbing at the very least but usually also willing to commit magical crimes to uphold that greater good.
-- this is the case with the necromancers in the Diablo universe who serve the great cycle. They come of as almost the most sympathetic, however, they are also more cold and pragmatic rather than what one will associate with "good".
-- there are also the necromancers in Heroes 5 (and basically all other games since Ubisoft took over the IP) who worship Asha in her aspect of fate. It's actually somewhat similar deal to what their Diablo brethren do - it's about balance again. While Asha is a fairly benign deity, she is responsible for order. Also, the necromancers in the Heroes 5+ universe are explicitly said to use dark arts to serve Asha, so they aren't the friendliest bunch and can still be quite immoral. Not shining examples of virtue there
-- the Euthanatos from the PnP Mage: the Ascension are a way more fleshed out representation of what the above are. They aren't all explicitly necromancers, but they are very often death mages and they serve the wheel of fate. It's a complicated philosophy but it bolis down to them want to ensure that the world operates as it should and they try to remove "harmful" individuals and/or "repair" what they can. They strive for a world that doesn't need them to maintain, however, they are dealing with nasty magic in order to reach that goal and risk very real corruption of themselves and their goals in the process
-- the Moros from the other PnP game Mage: the Awakening are also death mages. They could actually be good they have no real "affiliation". Given that they exist in the World of Darkness, it's all shades of grey anyway. Still they tend to be more detached from the mortal world and their death magic is sinister and destructive by nature. Not quite "evil" but not something you'd really consider a tool for good

It is quite customary for necromancy practitioners to be painted as evil or at least quite grey but I wonder - has is ever been depicted as explicitly good? I find it a bit strange that I can't think of a single time it was. Especially jarring considering that pretty much every depiction of necromancy gets it wrong yet in the exact same way. It classically wasn't about raising hordes of skeletons, cursing your foes and stuffing their soul in a sock - the "-mancy" suffix means divination, so, at best an actual necromancer would be what you're nowadays call a medium. This is a far cry from the guys who usually control masses of undead armies and try to extinguish all life in fiction by wielding what is very often literally named "dark arts".
 

Thaluikhain

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A "white necromancer"[footnote]As opposed to a wight necromancer. BOOM BOOM![/footnote] was in the last of those 4 books about Zargon from the FF series. Not in a big way, though.
 

FalloutJack

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It doesn't help that necromancy is considered a fell magic, an unnatural force. Even Dresden's use of it is with the best of intentions and not as a cause or creed, but necessity. I seem to recall the trope-breaker being that of some necromancers in Dominic Deegan: Oracle For Hire. Possibly the elven necromancer, Ysuran, if he's half as decent as he was portrayed in Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II.
 

skywolfblue

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DoPo said:
I got to thinking recently and couldn't really remember any necromancers that are actually good. It seems that necromancy is almost universally painted as evil. I could think of very few exceptions and even then, they aren't completely what I'm talking about
What exactly counts as necromancy? Shambling corpses or Spirit magic?

Because there are a lot of examples of good Spirit Mages. For instance the Native Americans have a lot of stories of good and heroic people who call down the spirits of their ancestors.

Shambling corpses, not so much.
 

Asita

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Well, ignoring the traditional divination portrayal (which tends to fare better than the 'raise dead' popular version)....

Jade Curtis in Tales of the Abyss comes close, but skates away from truly qualifying due to a handful of technicalities...despite this, he is known as the Necromancer in-universe. Similarly Valerica in Skyrim might be considered such, but this is largely an informed trait due to not having screentime and her goodness only really being informed through her opposition to Harkon. You can make a better case with Serana, but unlike her mother whose necromancy was a defining aspect of her character, it is almost laughably easy to forget that Serana is a necromancer herself.

Guild Wars as a franchise did pretty well with it. Aside from the fact that necromancer is a playable class (ritualist also arguably meets the spirt of the criteria), various good NPCs who fit the bill include Oola (EoTN), Master Togo (Factions) (Ritualist), the Master of Whispers (Nightfall) in the original game and expansions. In Guild Wars 2, notable necromancers include Traherne and Marjory Delaqua. Necromancy in Guild Wars is just another discipline which few people seem to give much thought to. There are good necromancers, and there are evil necromancers (most prominently the Lich and Zhaitan), just like there are good and bad warriors, dervishes, elementalists, mesmers, etc.

Fun one I just remembered was from Piers Anthony's Xanth series. It had a magician who was known as the Zombie Master. And there's hardly a bad thing that you could say about the man.
 

DoPo

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skywolfblue said:
DoPo said:
I got to thinking recently and couldn't really remember any necromancers that are actually good. It seems that necromancy is almost universally painted as evil. I could think of very few exceptions and even then, they aren't completely what I'm talking about
What exactly counts as necromancy? Shambling corpses or Spirit magic?
Good question. Considering how muddled the terms has become - from a medium to somebody controlling the undead hordes, it's hard to make a good definition. I'd actually go with whoever is explicitly said to practice necromancy. Otherwise you do run into exactly what you alluded to here - necromantic magic is portrayed as "evil" and if there is other type that could actually have similar effects but it's benign, it would be called something else to make it "not evil".
 

gigastar

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Not strictly necromancy but one of the things you can do with BioChroma (Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson) is reanimate corpses.

Anyone who learns the appropriate Awakening commands can do it, including two main characters who used a reanimated squirrel for a variety of purposes.
 

PsychedelicDiamond

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This might be a stretch but does Ned from Pushing Daisies count? He's a guy with the power to raise the dead and he uses it to solve murdere.
 

sanquin

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Thing is, Necromancy is considered inherently evil. You desecrate someone's body, and in a lot of cases torture their souls in the process. Not something a good person would do. On top of that other types of magic that are at times considered necromancy all deal with plagues, diseases, draining life away, etc.
 

Necrozius

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Check out Brian Lumley's Necroscope. It taps into the idea of "good" necromancy (respectfully interacting with the dead; helping them settle affairs and they help you) vs. "evil" (forcing the dead to do your will, enslaving and tormenting people with your powers, lusting for power).

The protagonist communicates with past scientists, artists, writers etc complete their unfinished works (using him as a willing vessel) as well as helping spirits out just like in the film the Sixth Sense.
 

Bobular

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In a D&D group, I was once arrested for practising necromancy, I was told that simply practising necromancy was an extremely evil act and the local ruling priest cast had summoned in an angel to execute me. During my trial I argued that I was doing no different than the priests themselves, messing with the powers of life and death, although I was doing it through knowledge and experimentation rather than god given powers, but I didn't mention that.

The angel decreed that they couldn't rule against me without also ruling against the priests, so I was let off. The advantages of being lawful-evil in a lawful-good land.

So technically D&D clerics are all necromancers who deal with resurrection, causing and undoing wounds and talking with the dead so there we have a bunch of 'good necromancers' on a technicality.
 

MiskWisk

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There's The Old Kingdom series (or if you're a dirty Yank, The Abhorsen series) that features good necromancers. The background is essentially that the titular Abhorsen is selected from the Abhorsen family (not the actual surname but each Abhorsen is blood related) with the express purpose of using necromancy to seal the dead to death.

They are effectively the only good necromancers although not for the reason of it being just illegal for everyone else. They have a special magical resistance to the negative effects of what is termed as "free magic" (magic that hasn't been bound by the Charter) that regular people just lack. Side effects include generating an ozone smell, withering of the body, and insanity.
 

bjj hero

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gigastar said:
Not strictly necromancy but one of the things you can do with BioChroma (Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson) is reanimate corpses.

Anyone who learns the appropriate Awakening commands can do it, including two main characters who used a reanimated squirrel for a variety of purposes.
Sexual purposes? I only ask because this is the internet.
 

gigastar

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bjj hero said:
gigastar said:
Not strictly necromancy but one of the things you can do with BioChroma (Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson) is reanimate corpses.

Anyone who learns the appropriate Awakening commands can do it, including two main characters who used a reanimated squirrel for a variety of purposes.
Sexual purposes? I only ask because this is the internet.
No. You probably could use them for something lewd, but Lifeless arent exactly capable of certain biological processes anymore.
 

Guffe

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On the "one off" point we have the beginning of Full Metal Alchemist were the brothers try to resurrect their mom.
 

DoPo

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sanquin said:
Thing is, Necromancy is considered inherently evil.
Thing is, it doesn't need to be.

sanquin said:
You desecrate someone's body, and in a lot of cases torture their souls in the process.
Sure, if you make the magic work like that then it's evil. Yet since it's a work of fiction you can impose whatever rules you wish - you can have necromancers only being able to work with willing souls and their magic actually easing their suffering. There is plenty of fiction where a character can commune with ghosts and help them, yet it's rarely labelled necromancy. In Geist: the Sin-Eaters the main characters are all given some power over the dead and although they don't really have any grand scheme or purpose or goal, the closest you can get to one (as in, something a lot of them would do - it's not really organised or anything) is them helping out ghosts who are stuck in this world and need to move on.

There is also a lot of cultures both real world and fictional that have ancestor veneration - having necromancers literally use the power, benevolence and willingness to help of your predecessors is hardly going to be evil. That's actually something the Dunmer do in the Elder Scrolls series - they inherently have the power to summon the willing spirits of their forefathers for help and in their homeland of Morrowind, they practically worship them. It's not something considered necromancy, though, especially since that school of magic is outright banned in Tamriel.

In Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura necromancy is split into two - black and white. The former deals with the dead and harm, yet the latter is outright healing magic. It's exactly what you'd expect a good cleric to wield - it has healing, cure, protection and even resurrection. Overall in Arcanum's universe necromancy merely deals with life energy - the two sub schools focus on benign or harmful manipulation of it. For a long while the necromantic school had been outlawed by be the time you start the game it's been allowed to be studied and practised, since people realised it's not just evil.

In Ashan - the world that started with Heroes of Might and Magic 5, necromancers are actually more religious and resemble a monastic order more than anything, since they focus on ascetism and denial of worldly pleasures in pursuit of clarity and enlightenment which they believe is reached through ultimately becoming undea. Well, at least in the backstory, that is - their portrayal flip flops a lot between a bit morbid but religious and devoted to ultimate good and just straight masters of countless undead hordes. Their overall goal is stated to be to prevent unbridled magical research leading to the destruction of society. An ultimately noble purpose - they more or less want to prevent somebody unwittingly unleashing Ashan's equivalent of Skynet while still preserving all the knowledge and advancement that would benefit society.

sanquin said:
On top of that other types of magic that are at times considered necromancy all deal with plagues, diseases, draining life away, etc.
Again, that's because most fiction decides to portray it like that. There is no actual reason for that, though, aside from just bandwagining. Let's take another type of magic as an analogy - fire magic[footnote]as a side note, if you've paid attention a fire magician being called "pyromancer" or fire magic "pyromancy" is also incorrect. A pyromancer is somebody who uses flames to for divination.[/footnote] - is it inherently evil? Is it inherently good? The answer is neither - it's up to the work of fiction to determine how it works. It could be a tool of ruin and mayhem. In the universe of Heroes of might and Magic 4 we have the school of Chaos magic which is an instrument of destruction and most often does it through invoking fire. To quote you, it's not something a good person would do - at most you can say it's "not evil" but it's definitely a tool for disorder (it's right there in the name of the magic school, after all), not something that is used for stability and outright goodness. Yet in other depictions fire is the element of renewal, growth, progress and (benign) change.

Avatar: the Last Airbender shows the duality of the element quite well - the fire nation holds that fire is the element of power, destruction and domination invoking that symbolism in their empire, yet later on it is revealed that it's a corruption of the meaning of firebending - energy and life. In fact, as per Legend of Korra the original firebending was used for protection by the early humans and later on stolen to improve their lives similar to the myth of Promethius.

Claiming that necromancy is "inherently evil" is nonsensical as it can be what you want it to be. I'm looking for fiction that realised it doesn't need to just mimic everybody else but was able to form and execute independent ideas.
 

Anomynous 167

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What about Aragon son of Arathorn from Lord of the Rings? He lead a zombie army of invincible ghosts in the third film. I'm pretty sure that makes him a necromancer.

Does Ebenezer Scrooge count since he went through a redemption arc during a Christmas Carrol? He was able to conjur the spirits of 3 christmas ghosts. I guess he doesn't count, since he lost the ability to conjur them once he turned good.
What about Ebenezer Blackadder then? He's like the inverse of Ebenezer Scrooge.
 

Ira Levinas

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DoPo said:
sanquin said:
Thing is, Necromancy is considered inherently evil.
Thing is, it doesn't need to be.

sanquin said:
You desecrate someone's body, and in a lot of cases torture their souls in the process.
Sure, if you make the magic work like that then it's evil. Yet since it's a work of fiction you can impose whatever rules you wish - you can have necromancers only being able to work with willing souls and their magic actually easing their suffering. There is plenty of fiction where a character can commune with ghosts and help them, yet it's rarely labelled necromancy. In Geist: the Sin-Eaters the main characters are all given some power over the dead and although they don't really have any grand scheme or purpose or goal, the closest you can get to one (as in, something a lot of them would do - it's not really organised or anything) is them helping out ghosts who are stuck in this world and need to move on.

There is also a lot of cultures both real world and fictional that have ancestor veneration - having necromancers literally use the power, benevolence and willingness to help of your predecessors is hardly going to be evil. That's actually something the Dunmer do in the Elder Scrolls series - they inherently have the power to summon the willing spirits of their forefathers for help and in their homeland of Morrowind, they practically worship them. It's not something considered necromancy, though, especially since that school of magic is outright banned in Tamriel.

In Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura necromancy is split into two - black and white. The former deals with the dead and harm, yet the latter is outright healing magic. It's exactly what you'd expect a good cleric to wield - it has healing, cure, protection and even resurrection. Overall in Arcanum's universe necromancy merely deals with life energy - the two sub schools focus on benign or harmful manipulation of it. For a long while the necromantic school had been outlawed by be the time you start the game it's been allowed to be studied and practised, since people realised it's not just evil.

In Ashan - the world that started with Heroes of Might and Magic 5, necromancers are actually more religious and resemble a monastic order more than anything, since they focus on ascetism and denial of worldly pleasures in pursuit of clarity and enlightenment which they believe is reached through ultimately becoming undea. Well, at least in the backstory, that is - their portrayal flip flops a lot between a bit morbid but religious and devoted to ultimate good and just straight masters of countless undead hordes. Their overall goal is stated to be to prevent unbridled magical research leading to the destruction of society. An ultimately noble purpose - they more or less want to prevent somebody unwittingly unleashing Ashan's equivalent of Skynet while still preserving all the knowledge and advancement that would benefit society.
In popular culture, necromancers usually work with the bodies of the dead, not their souls.
Unless a characters that deals whit spirits is refered to as a necromancer, I wouldn't be calling him that.