Echthroi (Ἐχθροί) is a Greek plural meaning "The Enemy" (literally "enemies"). The singular form of the word, Echthros (Ἐχθρός), is used in many versions and translations of the Bible for "enemy".
Historically used primarily in connection with biblical and classical subjects, the term has more recently been used to refer to a fictitious type of evil being, principally in Madeleine L'Engle's "Time Quartet". A personification of the forces of impersonalization and nihilism, they exist in both the macrocosmic and microcosmic level, counteracted principally by what L'Engle refers to as "Naming", or re-integration of a character with its best-motivated identity ('true self'). These concepts appear in one form or another in a number of L'Engle's books, as part of her recurring themes of good versus evil, interdependency, and the role of the individual in the cosmic scheme of things.
L'Engle's Echthroi first appear as antagonists of A Wind in the Door (1973, ISBN 0-374-38443-6), wherein Meg Murry first becomes aware of their existence when a doppelganger of school official 'Mr. Jenkins' suddenly flies "screaming across the sky," becoming "a slash of nothingness". The "singular cherubim" Proginoskes later identifies this doppelgänger as one of the Echthroi, and demonstrates their specialty by showing the Echthroi annihilating stars. Meg's father, an astrophysicist, has already been called to investigate these phenomena, while Meg's mother, a microbiologist, is simultaneously investigating an illness in Meg's brother Charles Wallace Murry's mitochondria–– both caused by the Echthroi. Later the Echthroi again impersonate Mr. Jenkins, and convince the microscopic "farandolae" to behave destructively toward their host mitochondrion, nearly killing Charles Wallace, only to be overcome by Meg's 'Naming'.
Charles Wallace again runs afoul of the Echthroi in A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978, ISBN 0-374-37362-0), wherein he and the unicorn Gaudior contend with them for control of a certain ancestry, which produces either villains or peace-makers according to the result of this competition.
Although the malevolent force in A Wrinkle in Time is referred to as the 'Black Thing' or 'Powers of Darkness' rather than 'Echthroi,' it is an earlier form of the same basic concept. In that book, which immediately precedes A Wind in the Door in the Time Quartet series, Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin O'Keefe are shown a star giving up its own existence as a star to combat a patch of cosmic darkness, essentially the reverse of what Meg sees Proginoskes do. Evil in that book, directed by the giant brain known as IT, takes the form of anonymity and conformity, similar to the concept of "Un-Naming".
In the L'Engle books, Echthroi are depicted as the forces of "Un-Naming", bent on annihilating matter, knowledge, understanding, "making people not know who they are". Impersonal themselves, they try to convince the character Sporos and others that nothing and no one matters but the pleasure of the moment. As Donald R. Hettinga explains, the Echthroi are "fallen angels" and "a kind of personified nihilism, an active evil that is attacking the universe by convincing creatures to deny their importance in a symbiotic creation". Author Calvin Miller refers to the Echthroi as "demonic spirits… always stalking good, making the whole sick, the entire partial, the holy eroded by the contaminated".
Outside the L'Engle corpus, the words Echthros and Echthroi occur mainly in connection with biblical studies and in literary criticism of classical literature, specifically Greek tragedy. Aristotle and others classified people encountered by characters in tragedy into philoi (friends and loved ones), echthroi (enemies) and medetoeroi (neithers), with the characters and their audience seeking a positive outcome for the first group and the downfall of the second.
Most recently, it is the name of the antagonists in the second half of James A. Owen's Imaginarium Geographica series. This is in direct reference to the L'Engle books, and L'Engle herself is implied to be a later member of the secret society of authors around whom the story revolves (although the principal characters of the series are fictionalized versions of the Inklings.)
- Google Books: Echthros
- Hettinga, Donald R. (1993). Presenting Madeleine L'Engle. New York: Twayne Publishers. p. 34. ISBN 0-8057-8222-2.
- A Wind in the Door, page 37.
- Miller, Calvin (1998). Shaw, Luci, ed. "In Favor of God", in The Swiftly Tilting Worlds of Madeleine L'Engle. Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers. p. 193. ISBN 0-87788-483-8.
- Google Books Search: Echthroi
- Lowe, N. J.; S (2000). The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative. Cambridge University Press. p. 178. ISBN 0-521-60445-1.
- The Poems of Phineas Fletcher. Google Books. Retrieved 2008-03-01.