Dark fantasy

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Dark fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy literary, artistic, and cinematic works that incorporate disturbing and frightening themes. It often combines fantasy with elements of horror, possessing a dark and gloomy tone or an atmosphere of horror and dread. [1]



A strict definition for dark fantasy is difficult to pin down. Gertrude Barrows Bennett has been called "the woman who invented dark fantasy". [2] Both Charles L. Grant [3] and Karl Edward Wagner [4] are credited with having coined the term "dark fantasy"—although both authors were describing different styles of fiction. Brian Stableford argues "dark fantasy" can be usefully defined as subgenre of stories that attempt to "incorporate elements of horror fiction" into the standard formulae of fantasy stories. [1] Stableford also suggests that supernatural horror set primarily in the real world is a form of "contemporary fantasy", whereas supernatural horror set partly or wholly in "secondary worlds" should be described as "dark fantasy". [1]

Additionally, other authors, critics, and publishers have adopted dark fantasy to describe various other works. However, these stories rarely share universal similarities beyond supernatural occurrences and a dark, often brooding, tone. As a result, dark fantasy cannot be solidly connected to a defining set of tropes. The term itself may refer collectively to tales that are either horror-based or fantasy-based.

Some writers also use "dark fantasy" (or "Gothic fantasy") as an alternative description to "horror", because they feel the latter term is too lurid or vivid. [5]

Concept and history

Charles L. Grant is often cited as having coined the term "dark fantasy". Grant defined his brand of dark fantasy as "a type of horror story in which humanity is threatened by forces beyond human understanding". [3] He often used dark fantasy as an alternative to horror, as horror was increasingly associated with more visceral works.

Dark fantasy is sometimes also used to describe stories told from a monster's point of view, or that present a more sympathetic view of supernatural beings usually associated with horror. Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles , Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint-Germain, [6] and Neil Gaiman's The Sandman are early examples of this style of dark fantasy. This is in contrast to the traditional horror model, which focuses more on the victims and survivors.

In a more general sense, dark fantasy is occasionally used as a synonym for supernatural horror, to distinguish horror stories that contain elements of the supernatural from those that do not. For example, a story about a werewolf or vampire could be described as dark fantasy, while a story about a serial killer would simply be horror. [7]

Stableford suggests that the type of horror conveyed by fantasy stories such as William Beckford's Vathek and Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death "is more aesthetic than visceral or existential", and that such stories should be considered "dark fantasies" rather than the "supernaturalized thrillers" of conventional horror fiction. [5]

Karl Edward Wagner is often credited for creating the term "dark fantasy" when used in a more fantasy-based context. [4] Wagner used it to describe his fiction about the Gothic warrior Kane. Since then, "dark fantasy" has sometimes been applied to sword and sorcery and high fantasy fiction that features anti-heroic or morally ambiguous protagonists. [1] Another good example under this definition of dark fantasy is Michael Moorcock's saga of the albino swordsman Elric. [6]

The fantasy work of H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and their emulators have been specified as "dark fantasy", since the imaginary worlds they depicted contain many horror elements. [1]

Dark fantasy is occasionally used to describe fantasy works by authors whom the public primarily associates with the horror genre. Examples of these are Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, [6] Peter Straub's Shadowland [8] and Clive Barker's Weaveworld . [6] Alternatively, dark fantasy is sometimes used for "darker" fiction written by authors best known for other styles of fantasy; Raymond Feist's Faerie Tale [8] and Charles de Lint's novels written as Samuel M. Key [9] would fit here.

Roald Dahl's novel The Witches (and its film adaptations) is described as dark fantasy. [10] Dahl's poetic reworking of "Cinderella" (which features in his poetry collection Revolting Rhymes ) sees him upend the happy tale.

Other media

Anime and manga

Berserk , a manga and anime franchise by Kentaro Miura that debuted in 1989, is frequently noted as an example of the genre due to its depictions of extreme violence, moral ambiguity, apocalyptic storylines and anti-hero protagonists. [11] [12]

Attack on Titan is a dark fantasy for its intense violence and the dystopian world it takes place in. [13]

The anime and manga Jujutsu Kaisen holds strong dark fantasy elements. It has become well-known for its depictions of hopelessness and depression, graphic violence, psychological trauma, and an overall virulent environment.


Ridley Scott's film Legend (1985) has been described as a "dark fairy tale" fantasy film. [14] Guillermo del Toro's fantasy film Pan's Labyrinth (2006) has been described as a "sort of a dark spin on Alice in Wonderland ". [15]

Video games

The 2013 fantasy action role-playing game Dragon's Crown contains many elements of dark fantasy, such as werewolves, vampires, zombies, homonculi, and human-monster hybrids.

Modern games from Japanese game development and publishing company FromSoftware are lauded as exceptional representations of the dark fantasy genre, notably the Dark Souls series along with Bloodborne and later Elden Ring . [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gothic fiction</span> Romance, horror and death literary genre

Gothic fiction, sometimes called Gothic horror, is a loose literary aesthetic of fear and haunting. The name refers to Gothic architecture of the European Middle Ages, which was characteristic of the settings of early Gothic novels.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Horror fiction</span> Genre of fiction

Horror is a genre of fiction that is intended to disturb, frighten or scare. Horror is often divided into the sub-genres of psychological horror and supernatural horror, which are in the realm of speculative fiction. Literary historian J. A. Cuddon, in 1984, defined the horror story as "a piece of fiction in prose of variable length... which shocks, or even frightens the reader, or perhaps induces a feeling of repulsion or loathing". Horror intends to create an eerie and frightening atmosphere for the reader. Often the central menace of a work of horror fiction can be interpreted as a metaphor for larger fears of a society.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sword and sorcery</span> Genre of fantasy fiction

Sword and sorcery (S&S) or heroic fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy characterized by sword-wielding heroes engaged in exciting and violent adventures. Elements of romance, magic, and the supernatural are also often present. Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters. Sword and sorcery commonly overlaps with heroic fantasy. The genre originated from the early-1930s works of Robert E. Howard. The term "sword and sorcery" was coined by Fritz Leiber in the May 1961 issue of the fantasy fanzine Amra, to describe Howard and the stories that were influenced by his works. In parallel with "sword and sorcery", the term "heroic fantasy" is used, although it is a more loosely defined genre.

Contemporary fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy set in the present day. It is perhaps most popular for its subgenre, urban fantasy. Several authors note that in contemporary fantasy, magical or fantastic elements are separate or secret from the mundane world.

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Weird fiction is a subgenre of speculative fiction originating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Weird fiction either eschews or radically reinterprets traditional antagonists of supernatural horror fiction, such as ghosts, vampires, and werewolves. Writers on the subject of weird fiction, such as China Miéville, sometimes use "the tentacle" to represent this type of writing. The tentacle is a limb-type absent from most of the monsters of European folklore and gothic fiction, but often attached to the monstrous creatures created by weird fiction writers, such as William Hope Hodgson, M. R. James, Clark Ashton Smith, and H. P. Lovecraft.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Historical fantasy</span> Genre of fiction

Historical fantasy is a category of fantasy and genre of historical fiction that incorporates fantastic elements into a more "realistic" narrative. There is much crossover with other subgenres of fantasy; those classed as Arthurian, Celtic, or Dark Ages could just as easily be placed in historical fantasy. Stories fitting this classification generally take place prior to the 20th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fantasy literature</span> Literature set in an imaginary universe

Fantasy literature is literature set in an imaginary universe, often but not always without any locations, events, or people from the real world. Magic, the supernatural and magical creatures are common in many of these imaginary worlds. Fantasy literature may be directed at both children and adults.

Low fantasy, or intrusion fantasy, is a subgenre of fantasy fiction in which magical events intrude on an otherwise-normal world. The term thus contrasts with high fantasy stories, which take place in fictional worlds that have their own sets of rules and physical laws.

Supernatural fiction or supernaturalist fiction is a genre of speculative fiction that exploits or is centered on supernatural themes, often contradicting naturalist assumptions of the real world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paranormal romance</span> Subgenre of romantic fiction and speculative fiction

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of fantasy</span>

Elements of the supernatural and the fantastic were an element of literature from its beginning. The modern genre is distinguished from tales and folklore which contain fantastic elements, first by the acknowledged fictitious nature of the work, and second by the naming of an author. Works in which the marvels were not necessarily believed, or only half-believed, such as the European romances of chivalry and the tales of the Arabian Nights, slowly evolved into works with such traits. Authors like George MacDonald (1824–1905) created the first explicitly fantastic works.

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Weird West is a term used for the hybrid genres of fantasy Western, horror Western and science fiction Western. The term originated with DC's Weird Western Tales in 1972, but the idea is older as the genres have been blended since the 1930s, possibly earlier, in B-movie Westerns, comic books, movie serials and pulp magazines. Individually, the hybrid genres combine elements of the Western genre with those of fantasy, horror and science fiction respectively.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Occult detective fiction</span> Crossover between mystery and horror fiction

Occult detective fiction is a subgenre of detective fiction that combines the tropes of the main genre with those of supernatural, fantasy and/or horror fiction. Unlike the traditional detective who investigates murder and other common crimes, the occult detective is employed in cases involving ghosts, demons, curses, magic, vampires, undead, monsters and other supernatural elements. Some occult detectives are portrayed as being psychic or in possession of other paranormal or magical powers.

Mythic fiction is literature that draws from the tropes, themes, and symbolism of myth, legend, folklore, and fairy tales. It is usually set in the real world and deals with realistic issues, but a mythic atmosphere prevails; however, not all mythic fiction is fantasy, and the fantastic component is not always blatant. Mythic fiction ranges from retellings of fairy tales to stories based on myths to those loosely inspired by myth and legend, using their motifs to create new stories.

Fantasy television is a genre of television programming featuring elements of the fantastic, often including magic, supernatural forces, or exotic fantasy worlds. Fantasy television programs are often based on tales from mythology and folklore, or are adapted from fantasy stories in other media. The boundaries of fantasy television often overlap with science fiction and horror but also realistic fiction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fantasy</span> Genre of speculative fiction

Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction involving magical elements, typically set in a fantasy world and usually inspired by mythology or folklore. The term "fantasy" can also be used to describe a "work of this genre", usually literary.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outline of fantasy</span> Overview of and topical guide to fantasy

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to fantasy:


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