Dark fantasy

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

Contents

Definition

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.

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. [10] [11]

Attack on Titan is a dark fantasy for its intense violence and the dystopian world it takes place in. [12]

Films

Ridley Scott's film Legend (1985) has been described as a "dark fairy tale" fantasy film. [13] Guillermo del Toro's fantasy film Pan's Labyrinth (2006) has been described as a "sort of a dark spin on Alice in Wonderland ". [14]

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 in the 20th century, is a loose literary aesthetic of fear and haunting. The name is a reference 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 which is intended to frighten, scare, or disgust. Horror is often divided into the sub-genres of psychological horror and supernatural horror, which is 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.

High fantasy, or epic fantasy, is a subgenre of fantasy defined by the epic nature of its setting or by the epic stature of its characters, themes, or plot. The term "high fantasy" was coined by Lloyd Alexander in a 1971 essay, "High Fantasy and Heroic Romance", which was originally given at the New England Round Table of Children's Librarians in October 1969.

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<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.

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George Oliver Onions, who published under the name Oliver Onions, was an English writer of short stories and novels. He wrote in various genres, but is perhaps best remembered for his ghost stories, notably the collection Widdershins and the widely anthologized novella "The Beckoning Fair One". He was married to the novelist Berta Ruck.

<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.

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

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fantasy</span> Artistic genre

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References

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  2. "The Woman Who Invented Dark Fantasy" by Gary C. Hoppenstand from Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy by Francis Stevens, University of Nebraska Press, 2004, page x. ISBN   0-8032-9298-8.
  3. 1 2 The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders, Volume 1, edited by Gary Westfahl, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005.
  4. 1 2 "Karl Edward Wagner". Darkecho.com. Archived from the original on 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2014-03-21.
  5. 1 2 Stableford, Brian, "Horror", in The A to Z of Fantasy Literature,(p. 204), Scarecrow Press, Plymouth. 2005. ISBN   0-8108-6829-6
  6. 1 2 3 4 "Dark Fantasy | Williamsburg Regional Library". Wrl.org. Archived from the original on 2017-03-03. Retrieved 2014-03-21.
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  8. 1 2 Clute, John and Grant, John. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (2nd US edition). New York: St Martin's Griffin, 1999.
  9. Craig Clarke. "Charles de Lint (writing as Samuel M. Key), Angel of Darkness". Greenmanreview.com. Archived from the original on 2012-05-29. Retrieved 2014-03-21.
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  14. Spelling, Ian (25 December 2006). "Guillermo del Toro and Ivana Baquero escape from a civil war into the fairytale land of Pan's Labyrinth". Science Fiction Weekly . Archived from the original on 9 June 2008. Retrieved 27 January 2007.