>Is Dark Fantasy a real thing?

>I see quite a lot of fiction described as ‘dark fantasy’. Wikipedia defines it as “a term used to describe a fantasy story with a pronounced horror element”, but then goes on to say that the term is used in a lot of different ways.

Obviously there is such a thing as fantasy that has horror elements. What I mean is this: when you add an extra word to a description, you’re implying that the genre is normally the opposite. For example, if you were to talk about ‘gay-friendly science-fiction’, you’d be saying that most science-fiction isn’t gay-friendly. No one would talk about ‘sexual pornography’ or ‘guitar death metal’. So to talk about ‘dark fantasy’ is to say that most fantasy isn’t ‘dark’.

However, try to think of fantasy that doesn’t have horror elements (not necessarily that they’re meant to be frightening).

Lord of the Rings has the ring-wraiths. Conan obviously has lots of Lovecraft-like elements. Terry Pratchett makes his vampires and werewolves ‘cute’ and human-like, but he has more human evils like serial killers. Even the Narnia series, from memory, has elements that were frightening to me as a child.

There are certainly a few. Jack Vance for example, from what little I’ve read of him. But it seems more accurate to say that ‘light fantasy’ is the unusual sub-genre.

It sometimes seems to me that people describe work as ‘dark fantasy’ because they have a false idea of what fantasy is like. It’s a bit like how you hear people talk about ‘dark and twisted versions of fairy tales’, and it’s obvious that when they say ‘fairy tales’ they’re thinking of the Disney versions.

On the other hand, I’ve read very little recent fantasy, so maybe I’m the one with the false idea of what fantasy is like now.

(Visited 11 times, 1 visits today)

6 thoughts on “>Is Dark Fantasy a real thing?

  1. >As far as I see it, so-called 'Dark Fantasy' fiction is just Twilight-type rubbish that has degraded the horror of vampires, werewolves and a whole range of other horror elements; it is a genre I have come to loathe, even though I expect that somewhere amongst all the trash is some good work, the rest is just trash that is cashing in on other people's success.

    Books get placed in so many silly genre categories, and it's just for marketing purposes. Doesn't always match what the stories are actually about.

  2. >I think if you pick up the original Realms of Chaos books and you pick up what TSR was publoshing at the same time–or if you read what Moorcock's protagonists say and you read what Tolkien's protagonists say there's a huge aesthetic difference there and that that difference is wide enough to deserve a name.

    I don't think it's accurate to say the first two items in each pair just "include horror elements", but it's a first step toward a definition.

    Attempt at step two:
    I think perhaps its the inclusion of the horrific elements as unavaoidable or necessary? Like: in Tolkien, the evil is a villain and the point ofthe story is getting rid of it. In Moorcock, "evil" things are just a part of the way that world works.

  3. >I think Zak's on the right track. It's not simply the existence of "horror elements" (which is a term that would really need to be defined to have a truly meaningful analysis), its how their utilized and how pervasive they are.

    For example, the films The Book of Eli and The Road are both about post-apocalyptic survival and include cannibalism. How cannibalism is approached in the latter is much more horrifying than the former. It's presentation and focus.

  4. >Perhaps confusing the issue is that the original stories were folklore and myth–which were pretty "dark" compared to, say, Tolkien or the 19th century fairy story.

  5. >I think it's reader or critic driven. They make up terms because it is very important to them to get what they think they want and not be exposed to things that they don;t think they want as much. It's weird.

  6. >I think the current popular conception of fantasy– meaning by folks that don't actually read fantasy– is all fairys and light, dragons and heroism. I think you're right that Disney has influenced this but probably also the conception that fantasy is for kids with books like the Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Narnia as the foundation of Fantasy in the bookstore.

    That's why Roald Dahl was awesome to me as a kid, he has some dark stuff, not horror so much as gritty pessimism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *