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In Thor - the Dark World Malekith is the leader of the Dark Elves. The film obviously derives from the Marvel universe.

I also play a lot of tabletop wargames and I know Malekith is also a character there (also leading armies of Dark Elves in a fantasy setting). I'm curious as to the history of the name, character and the dark elf race.

It seems highly unlikely to me that two different companies would create such a similar character and race with the same names independently. However both Marvel and Games Workshop proactively protect their trademarks and copyrights.

How was the race of Dark Elves originally created and how was Malekith devised? Are there any references in other works of fiction such as Tolkien?

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More likely that it both derives from Norse mythology (from which most of nowadays' classic high fantasy races derive anyway). Though, the dark elves from Norse mythology are rather dwarves than the evil elves from the movie/comic. –  Sonny Burnett Nov 20 '13 at 14:09
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There were actually dark elves and light elves in Norse mythology - although it is interesting to note that it was the light elves that had the white skin, opposed to the dark elves' 'pitch black' skin. It seems the Marvel creative team (going back to Lee et al in 1984) reversed this. There is no mention of Malekith in Norse mythology that I have found as of yet. –  Nobby Nov 20 '13 at 14:18
    
BTW - Christian is also correct when he states that they might actually have been dwarves, due to their subterranean dwellings. –  Nobby Nov 20 '13 at 14:20
    
@Nobby I can see why they didn't want all the black skinned characters to be evil... could be frowned upon! –  Liath Nov 20 '13 at 15:02
    
@Nobby It seems it isn't completely clear and there are differing theories among experts if the Svartálfar from Norse mythology referred to dwarfs or dark elves (or both). –  Sonny Burnett Nov 20 '13 at 17:47

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

According to Norse Mythology, the Elves were inhabitants of Aelfar, which was ruled by Freyr. They were given to Freyr in payment for losing a tooth, as referenced by one of the Eddas. Other than a couple of names of leaders, there isn't much actual Norse mythology built around the elves, much of that came later.

The dwarves were said to be formed from maggots that ate from the giant Ymir, and the first two were Durin and Modsognir. One early descendant is named Lofar, and part of his lineage is Dvalin, who is a leader of the dwarves.

One race of dwarves is known as svaltarfar, or "black elves". Additionally, one character in the folklore is named Volund (From the eddaic Volundarkvida), or Wayland in English, and is known as Lord of the Elves, but he was a master smith/craftsman, which is more attributed to the dwarven races.

TL;DR

I would postulate that Malekith is a made up name, as the "th" sound and combination of letters is actually very rare in Old Norse naming conventions. Even "Thor" is more an Anglicization pronunciation than the actual original spelling. Frith is more accurately Fnor in Old Norse, etc.

As far as the etiology, Male = male, kith = familiar, friends. It may also be an adaptation of Malachi, or Mal'akhi (Old Hebrew) who was one of the twelve minor prophets of the Old Testament.

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Solid answer, John. I know that Malekith first appeared in '84 in the comics - was the name around before that in D&D? –  Nobby Nov 20 '13 at 16:19
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@Nobby - Not that I remember, and I was a pretty avid D&D player in high school. I did find the noted Warhammer reference as the Witch King of Naggaroth, and I found one reference to an appearance in Might and Magic III (1991) as a minotaur sorcerer: mightandmagic.wikia.com/wiki/Malekith but those are the only references I can find. –  JohnP Nov 20 '13 at 16:35

Malekith is not from Male but Maleficum = Crime, something bad and Kith means friendship, relation also knowledge. Malekith is a man related to crime. A bad friend. And this is what he does, he sacrifices his friend and his whole race.

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I'd actually go with "mal = bad, evil", e.g. malign, malevolent, malice, malfunction... and of course the famous Disney character Maleficent, the "Mistress of all Evil". –  Oliver_C Jan 2 at 18:40

In my language (Italian, which is probably the closest to Latin) Malekith sounds like evil, and there is no other possible meaning.

Another example: in the old TV series Ghostbusters, the villain Prime Evil has been translated as Malefix, which sounds very similar to Malekith.

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