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Formerly named after Renfield from Dracula, the Sycophantic Servant is a worshipful, perfectly willing slave of the Big Bad. Generally he's of only marginal usefulness, due to his incompetence and/or obsessions.

[1]

An example of Happiness in Slavery; The Igor is a variation of this. If the Big Bad is a vampire and he's "promised" the same fate to his loyal servant, may overlap with Vampire Vannabe. More generally, liable to Wannabe Diss both from those they (hope to) serve and their enemies. See also Dirty Coward (for reasons why someone would become this trope)

Contrast with the Battle Butler and Yes-Man. Sometimes overlaps with Crusty Caretaker and Professional Butt-Kisser. If the character endures endless abuse at the hands of their master, then they're a Bumbling Sidekick. Just about the polar opposite of The Starscream. See also Transhuman Treachery.

Tropes used in Sycophantic Servant include:


Anime and Manga Edit


Comic Books Edit

  • In the Marvel Universe, Toad lived down to his name in this manner for Magneto for much of the original 1960s X-Men run.
    • Magneto likes these kinds of bootlickers. He also had Peeper in the second Brotherhood/Mutant Force and Amphibius in the Savage Land Mutates.
    • Also, Nightcrawler encountered an alternate self who served this purpose for Belasco.
    • In an alternate future, it's determined Nightcrawler -becomes- Belasco. So, um.
      • And in that same alternate future, the Earth's poles shifted, somehow causing Toad and Magneto's powers to be switched. Toad took the opportunity to turn Mags into a slave for his enjoyment as payback for the mountains of abuse he'd suffered at his hand.
  • Mephisto had one of these in his first appearance in Silver Surfer. Ironically, Mephisto was himself forced to be this to Thanos during the Infinity Gauntlet saga.
  • Psycho-Pirate is this to the Anti-Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
  • Ever since his first appearance in the 70s, Ras Al Ghul had a completely loyal hulking manservant named Ubu, who worshiped the ground he walked on. After a couple of apparent deaths the character was still around, so it was revealed that there's an entire Ubu clan, and they all serve Ras.


Film Edit

  • Probably the most famous portrayal of the character is Dwight Frye in the 1931 film. Indeed, Frye's Renfield is more in keeping with the trope than the character's depiction in the original novel.
  • Knock in Nosferatu is a Captain Ersatz of him because they couldn't get the rights.
  • Dracula's Daughter had Sandor as Renfield to the titular daughter.
  • In the Disney film, The Black Cauldron, the Sycophantic Servant was the Horned King's goblin sidekick, Creeper. Note that in the book, this character did not exist.
    • Mind you, neither did the Horned King, in any form viewers of the movie would recognize. He was Arawn's warlord, who commanded the Cauldron Born and others and was the field locus of scarybad during The Book of Three while Arawn was being all Orcus on His Throne. Did not talk much, if at all.
  • Beni from The Mummy 1999.
  • The Blade films similarly gave vampires human minions/spies ("familiars"), branded with vampire tattoos and derisively termed 'suck-puppies' by the protagonist and his mentor.
  • The only character to come out of "Manos" The Hands of Fate with any pop cultural significance at all is Torgo, the villain's acid-crazed satyr janitor of marginal loyalty.
  • Peter MacNichol has played two Sycophantic Servants: Janosz in Ghostbusters 2 as a straight example, and Renfield himself in Dracula: Dead and Loving It.
  • Gaston's sidekick, LeFou, in Disney's Beauty and the Beast film.
  • In the film 30 Days of Night a detestable character takes care of a few chores in the opening that pave the way for a group of vampires later, believing that they'll make him a vampire in exchange. Naturally, they kill him when they meet up with him later. This isn't the case in the graphic novel as the guy was seemingly in the process of becoming a vampire, and gets killed before the other vampires show up.
  • In Let the Right One In, Eli's 'guardian' seems to love her, despite her usually treating him callously. Depending on your interpretation, young Oskar may have taken over his role by the end of the movie.
    • In the book on which the film was based, his motivation was a paedophile's lust for and fascination with an unchanging child; the author of the book, in the course of writing the screenplay, dropped this sub-plot as being one too many and far too squicky.
  • Tom Waits in Bram Stokers Dracula.
  • Artie Johnson in the Dracula spoof Love at First Bite.
  • Ephialtes in 300.
  • Billy Cole from Fright Night seems like a more competent version of this trope, at least until he gets back up after being shot in the head, revealing he's as inhuman as his boss.
  • Blix in Legend.
  • The Battle Butler Igor in Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl. He serves the former and it's also revealed that he was Monamis's previous lover.
  • Hugo the roadie from Suck helps Jen (and then, the rest of the band) get rid of the bodies, but keeps whining about getting no respect and doesn't seem to be too bright.
  • Farley Claymore, played by Tim Curry, in The Shadow. Late in the movie, there's an amusing scene where the Big Bad, Shiwa Khan, treats him like the wrong kind of villainous right-hand man, tosses him a submachine gun, and orders him to find and kill the Shadow. "Kill him? Me?!"

Literature Edit

  • Renfield in Dracula, of course. Who could actually be something of a subversion in that, while he certainly seems willing to become Dracula's slave, being locked in at Dr. Seward's sanatorium rather limits his options and the Count seems to more or less ignore him throughout. (Until he finally visits him in his cell and kills him.)
    • The original is a clear-cut subversion, and his death was also a Crowning Moment of Awesome. Renfield at one point demands that he be moved so that Dracula will not compel him to let him into the house to attack Mina. When this fails, the second time Dracula enters, he grabs Dracula and tries to kill him with his bare hands, while the Count is in mist form. And he would have succeeded, too, if Dracula hadn't used his Hypnotic Eyes.
  • In The Dresden Files, Black Court vampires can exert mental domination on humans to create permanent mindslaves. They are actually referred to as "Renfields" because Bram Stoker "wrote the book" on slaying Black Court vampires. These Renfields are more competent than most examples of the trope, and more tragic.
    • Or at least, they are competent within narrow fields: they make great cannon-fodder Mooks, and they might be useful for similarly mindless tasks, but they aren't so good at complex thought, given that their minds have been forcibly ripped away and replaced by unthinking obedience.
    • The White Court’s thralls (emotionally drained human husks) might also count as this. Red Court vampires can do something similar because their saliva is an addictive narcotic.
  • This is a semi-official rank in vampire society in Nancy A. Collins's Sonja Blue Trilogy. Humans with some telepathic ability and a psychological disposition to submission are often enslaved by master vampires (via Mind Rape, which an ideal candidate for the job will actually enjoy) and used as personal assistants. The position is referred to as "renfield" (in lower case), but the master of such a servant dehumanizes him/her by addressing him/her only as "Renfield" (upper case).
  • Similarly, vampires in the Anita Blake series call the humans who serve them, those who have been bitten a few times and are thus somewhat in thrall to the vampire, Renfields. When asked "What did you call them before Stoker's book came out?", the answer was simply "slaves."
  • In Stephen King's vampire novel 'Salem's Lot, Mr. Straker serves in this role, but subverts it in that he is quite capable as the vampire's daytime operative.
  • The vampires in Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thomas novels have "sheep" - people who are kept on hand as walking meals - whose Sycophantic Servant-ness varies depending on how the vampire treats them. They all become increasingly subservient to and dependent on the vampire after repeated feedings. If there are enough sheep to keep the feedings infrequent, then the people can stay healthy indefinitely, and there are some benefits (such as cancers being kept in remission), which logically explains why some of them are quite happy with their lot. Stefan, the most sympathetic vampire, does this on purpose, seeking out potential sheep who need a safe haven or medical help. Eventually, the vampire may decide to "turn" a sheep, but this isn't always possible.
  • Krishna of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town is referred to as a Renfield in-story. Unusually for this trope, he begins with self-righteous intentions as a wannabe monster-hunter, but both his sadism and his toadyism are readily apparent early on, and he readily sides with an undead fiend who's blatantly the most evil character in the book.
  • Damane in Wheel of Time are forced to become this after some hard core Mind Rape from the Seanchan. There's a scene in the first book where they appear when Nynaeve frees one out of pity, and the damane without missing a beat starts screaming, begging her slaver to put back on her leash. It's a little creepy.
  • In Charlie Huston's Already Dead and its sequels, the vampires of New York classify humans who know about them based on characters from Stoker's novel. Renfields are willing servants, Van Helsings are enemies, Lucys are wannabees and Minas refrain from judging vampires solely by their nature.
  • Wormtail in the Harry Potter series.
  • In the Sword of Truth universe, this is essentially what happens to anyone who gets confessed -- they are made completely, unconditionally loyal to their Confessor, to the point where they no longer have any sense of self.
  • In Whitley Strieber's Wolfen, the non-magical (but highly intelligent) werewolves persuade outcasts from human society to lure other humans into reach. This in exchange for a share of the kill. These cannibalistic familiars, came to be known through legends as vampires.
  • Sour Billy Tipton in Fevre Dream serves as a competent version to Damon Julian. He's been told that he'll be transformed into a vampire one day, which is impossible.


Live Action TV Edit

  • Sent up in fifth-season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Buffy Vs. Dracula", in which Xander becomes Dracula's bug-eating Butt Monkey.
    • It took some brainwashing, though.
    • Also in that season, the Big Bad Glory evidently had an entire species of Sycophantic Servant demons enthralled.
    • And, of course, there's Andrew in season six.
  • True to the original, the Sycophantic Servant in Dark Shadows - Willie Loomis - was also an unwilling servant who couldn't quite overcome his master's unnatural charisma.
  • The Sycophantic Servant in Young Dracula is actually named Renfield. His grandfather is brought back from the dead in one episode, very angry about not being transformed into a vampire as was promised, meaning that the Draculas have managed to keep multiple generations serving them with this promise they have no intention of fulfilling.
  • The Weasel-like Tim Stamper from House of Cards is Francis Urquhart's Sycophantic Servant. Subverted in that in the sequel To Play the King he attempts to double-cross his boss after feeling his efforts aren't appreciated. Sadly for Tim, Francis is far and away the more Magnificent Bastard of the two.
  • Colonel Klink of Hogan's Heroes does this to pretty much every officer that walks in the door, General Burkhalter especially. To a man, they find it annoying.
  • In the fifth season, Meg of Supernatural is presented as one to Lucifer. Of course, he's planning to kill her, along with every other demon in existence, once he's done with humanity.
  • The Vorta of Deep Space Nine were genetically altered to regard the Founders of the Dominion as living gods. They are well aware of this, and take it in stride. "What's the point of being a god if there's no one to worship you?"
  • Knox in Angel is a follower of the ancient demon Illyria before he resurrects her and even more of a slavish follower after her resurrection. Having been dead to that point Illyria had no direct contact with him before her return.
  • Chip to Cassandra in the Doctor Who episode, "New Earth," to the point where he willingly lets her possess his body, even though doing so facilitates his death.
  • Another example who's actually named Renfield is Turnbull from Due South.


Tabletop Games Edit

  • The Vampire: The Masquerade has Ghouls, mortals who have been given the gift of vampire blood while they are still alive, which bestows upon them a weakened version of the Vampire's curse, extending their lifespans and allowing them to use weakened versions of Vampire powers, as well as forging a supernatural emotional bond with the vampire. If the ghoul feeds from the same vampire three times, he or she becomes Blood Bound, making them supernaturally-enforced sycophants to their vampiric regent. Most of them are willing, but some are not (and these kinds tend to be really heartbreaking). A Ghoul's "Reinfieldness" varies considerably; a good Ghoul can be a Hypercompetent Sidekick, a Battle Butler, or another invaluable aid. Ghouls need not be human, either: animals are just as eligible.
    • There's also Blood Dolls, mortals who have been fed from a couple of times and are psychologically addicted to the Kiss of the Vampire, though some tend to confuse them with ghouls.
    • Vampire: The Requiem mixes things up by introducing the thrall, a human who has drank the same vampire's blood three times, thus enslaving them, but who has not been granted any of the supernatural powers of a ghoul (becoming a ghoul requires the donating vampire, or regnant, to forcefully will the transformation). Vampire blood, or vitae in vampire parlance, possesses addictive qualities which become stronger the more often it is consumed, so some thralls may continue to sample their regnant's blood even if they receive no supernatural benefit for doing so. The benefit of using thralls over ghouls is that they are less psychically taxing to maintain and aren't noticed as anything other than human by supernatural means of surveillance; by default, younger vampires who don't know how to create proper ghouls end up creating thralls instead. The term "thrall" can also be applied to animals and other vampires if they are subject to a blood bond, or vinculum in vampire parlance.
  • Hunter: The Reckoning shares a universe with Masquerade, and thus features ghouls as possible antagonists. For bonus points, the online mailing-list Hunter-Net uses alternate words to describe different supernaturals, and the one they picked for ghouls was Renfields.


Video Games Edit

  • Shaft to Dracula in the Castlevania Series.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines features several, in the form of the ghouls. Knox Harrington (a reference to Knock of Nosferatu), a hyperactive fanboy was recruited by the Nosferatu agent Betram Tung, mainly because he was able to divert attention away from Betram's less palatable schemes. Vandal Cleaver is Therese Voerman's ghoul and works the desk at the local blood bank, selling to vampires; unusually for a Sycophantic Servant, Vandal is Sarcastic Devotee, bitter (referring to his master as "the Queen Bitch,") and actually quite dangerous to humans, though he's too cowardly to attack a vampire and can easily be intimidated by the PC. Romero, Isaac's ghoul, lives in a cemetery in Hollywood and isn't even allowed to take a break for five minutes to seek out human contact, but is completely content so long as he gets to shoot zombies. Then there's Mercurio, who is totally dedicated to La Croix, but is very much aware that this is because of the ghouling process, and accepts the situation because there are no better options.

 "Just so you understand, my loyalties are all but written in blood, so my opinion of the guy is moot."

    • The player character can get a Sycophantic Servant of their own, if they feel so inclined (and choose the right dialogue options early on); if you learn about ghouling from Mercurio or Knox, you can use your blood to save and enslave Heather, the woman in the hospital who was hit by a car. No matter how badly you treat her, she stays devoted to you, bringing you fresh prey, a useful item, and even trying to give you her college fund. If you don't get rid of her, she'll get killed by your enemies.
      • Only Heather is a good example of this trope. The rest are actually modest examples of this trope at best and better fit other side-kick roles; they are generally quite competent in their tasks, provided one doesn't ask too much from them. Heather, on the other hand, isn't that useful, though she adds some Fan Service and Fetish Fuel to a game already swimming in those tropes.
  • Wheeler from Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia is the short and stumpy Yes-Man to Altru Inc.'s president, Blake Hall. While the others in his circle often utilize high-power Pokemon, Wheeler always attacks with...Bidoof.
  • Kael'thas has become this to Kil'Jaeden in World of Warcraft due to a mix of Fel Magic taint and his own hunger for power. His blind, zealous and borderline loving devotion to the Legion Lord is very creepy. Though it might have something to do with the fact that he was brought back from near-death by Kil'jaeden's demons. Before that he seemed quite sane.
  • Ishida Mitsunari from the third game of Sengoku Basara is implied to have been one of these to Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the prequel manga. Unfortunately for anyone who shows the slightest sign of wanting to oppose Hideyoshi, Mitsunari is terrifyingly good at his job.
  • The cyber-punk gothic adventure game Bloodnet features a character named Renfield who can join protagonist Ransom Stark's party. This Renfield is exceptionally misguided, as he worships vampires yet Ransom's quest is to cure his vampirism.
  • Decus from the Tales of Symphonia Dawn of the New World is this to Alice.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, Yes-Man was this to Benny. He can also be the Courier's after you deal with Benny.
  • Chaos cultists in Dawn of War. While they have some use in combat as invisible detectors, their all around weakness, annoying voices, and persistent Lickspittling make them this trope.
  • Cawlin is basically this to Groose in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.


Web Comics Edit


Western Animation Edit

  • On the animated series Visionaries, Mordred played the Sycophantic Servant role to Darkstorm, leader of the show's villains.
  • In The Simpsons, Smithers fulfills this role. In the Dracula

Halloween episode, he was even dressed literally as Renfield (played by Tom Waits!) in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula movie.

  • The Batman vs. Dracula has the actual Dracula give the role to The Penguin, though he's actually hypnotized. As as side note, Vampire Joker takes Renfield's weird habits, like eating bugs.
    • Somehow, Harley Quinn was not on here. Her obsession with The Joker is so bad, that in an episode wherein he was perfectly willing to leave her in the city while he nuked it, she was about to quit. In one line he gets her back. This is completely in character.
  • Lugnut of Transformers Animated is a borderline case, though it's more fanaticism than slavishness: in some episodes he seems to practically worship Megatron... and in others, there's no "practically" about it. He's also more Badass than most Sycophantic Servant, ever ready to use his hundreds of missiles, his warhammer, and The Punch of Kill Everything to level Autobots (and the entire city block they happen to be in) in the name of the grand and glorious MEGATRON!
    • Lugnut definitely fits here.

  I WILL NOT HIDE! I WILL STAND PROUDLY AND SHOUT MEGATRON'S NAME TO THE HEAVENS!

  • In G1 Transformers, Cyclonus is Galvatron's Sycophantic Servant. His exact level of competence is plot-reliant, but generally he's described as quite powerful and skilled--he could even lead the Decepticons if he weren't so devoted to Galvatron.
  • Slyder, a dragon, to Lydia in Barbie and the Diamond Castle.
  • Smeck, Lucifer's incompetent minor demon sidekick in God, the Devil and Bob.
  • Cecil to Mad Margret in Erky Perky.
  • Scratch and Grounder to Dr Robotnik in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (Coconuts is even more devoted to Robotnik, though the latter usually disregards him in favour of the other two).
  • In Re Boot, Smiley is this to Megabyte.
  • In another Transformers example, there's Inferno from Beast Wars, who could probably give Lugnut a run for his money in the obsession department. Perhaps a semi-subversion, as his competence level varies throughout the series (due to being an Ax Crazy pyromaniac who thinks he's an actual fire ant), but his loyalty never does (as he's also convinced that Megatron is the Queen of the colony).
    • Inferno really doesn't have a choice in the matter though due to faulty programming.
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, all of Lucius' Minotaurs are like this, to the point where they willingly sacrifice themselves to use as bait so Lucius can fish.
  • Toadie from Adventures of the Gummi Bears.

In "The Emperor's New School" (Television spin-off of "The Emperor's New Groove") Although Kuzco is the main character and not a villain his classmate Guaca qualifies as this.

Notes

  1. The former Trope Namer is, intriguingly, not actually a full example in the original book; he's Dracula's slave, yes, but unwillingly so, and actually tries to betray his master. Later adaptations ignored this, however, so we have the trope as it currently exists.

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