Dark fantasy: Wikis

  
  

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Lord Byron's Manfred: elements of horror in fantasy have been popular since the Romantic era.

Dark fantasy is a subgenre that combines elements of fantasy, including marvelous abilities, with those of horror.[1] Another definition of the genre is "a type of horror story in which humanity is threatened by forces beyond human understanding."[2] The term was coined by Charles L. Grant in the 1970s. [3]

Among the earliest writers of dark fantasy was Gertrude Barrows Bennett (writing as Francis Stevens).[4] Bennett's writings influenced both H. P. Lovecraft and A. Merritt,[2] both of whom "emulated Bennett's earlier style and themes."[2]

Dark fantasy has yet to be solidly connected to its own particular subgenre of fantasy. Stories often described by some as dark fantasy may be placed by others in either the horror or fantasy genres, based on which genre the story tends more toward. As a natural consequence, the term itself may refer collectively to tales that would more properly belong in very different genres.

Contents

Definition

This subgenre may mix with any other subgenre except comic fantasy. Very few works mix dark fantasy with high fantasy but this might happen: Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is the best example. Most of the time, dark fantasy mixes with urban fantasy. That's what can be called "urban dark fantasy". In horror, if elements from the story are mythological or from fairy tales, it will be dark fantasy. Horror tales' rewritings are also considered fairytale fantasy.

Tending towards horror

"Dark fantasy" is sometimes regarded as a sub-variant of the horror genre. Horror fiction in which the threat is of supernatural origin may be considered dark fantasy: Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart is an example. However, dark fantasy also includes stories about dark supernatural creatures (frequently vampires) depicted as potentially sympathetic beings with human motivations. Anne Rice is among the best known in the genre, with her "Vampire Chronicles", but other writers such as Poppy Z. Brite, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Thomas Ligotti, and C.S. Friedman have also had success. Michelle Sagara West often uses more demonic figures, as in her "The Sundered" tetralogy and her "Sun Sword" series. Stephen Marley's Chia Black Dragon novel series was cited as a prime example of the dark fantasy genre in Clute/Grant's The Encyclopedia of Fantasy.

More generally, dark fantasy may be 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 mummy or vampire rising from the grave would be most likely described as dark fantasy, supernatural horror, or horror fantasy, while a story about a serial killer is simply horror. In this sense, there is a considerable overlap between dark fantasy and contemporary fantasy.

Recently, some critics and booksellers have begun categorising books such as Stephenie Meyer's Twilight and Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books as "dark fantasy".[5]

Tending towards fantasy

Dark fantasy in this context refers to stories that focus on darker themes, sometimes akin to those of horror, but which take place in a setting more like sword and sorcery or high fantasy. In this sense, dark fantasy is usually considered a sub-genre of fantasy.

There is a strong overlap between this style of fantasy and sword and sorcery, due to the often bleak, pessimistic tones, and moral ambiguity (especially when compared to the more dualistic themes of high fantasy). Michael Moorcock's Elric stories and Karl Edward Wagner's Kane sequence are two examples of this overlap, the latter having actually coined the term "dark fantasy"[6].

The epic poem Beowulf can be thought of as a precursor to this type of dark fantasy. Grendel's attacks on the Heorot established the formula for a great many horror stories and would represent the "horror element" in this type of tale, while the character of Beowulf himself and his later deeds (such as fighting the dragon) would represent the "fantasy element".

Dark fantasy is also used to refer to "grittier" fantasy, conducted in settings which represent the brutality of the medieval period of most fantasy, generally with a dash of supernatural horror such as in Charles R. Saunders' early Imaro trilogy which was heavily influenced by Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft.

Two other examples of fantasy mixed with horror are the Ravenloft series of novels and Neil Gaiman's Coraline.

Dark fantasy in other media

As dark fantasy has yet to be clearly defined, it is often difficult to agree upon what is dark fantasy and what is regular fantasy. The most clear distinction can likely be seen in role-playing games, which have had a number of popular games and campaign settings, especially those who are closer to fantasy but includes horror elements. Dungeons & Dragons used to support three different campaign settings of this type, Ravenloft, Dark Sun and Planescape, however these are now discontinued.

Other games of this type include Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, which often claims that it is the "original dark fantasy game", a D20 campaign setting called Midnight, and Stormbringer , which takes place in Michael Moorcock's Multiverse and White Wolf's World of Darkness. (Note: These are but a few well-known examples.)

The setting of Blizzard Entertainment's hack-and-slash computer role-playing game Diablo (and, to a slightly lesser degree, its sequel, Diablo II) can be considered dark fantasy. In contrast to the more "typical" fantasy universe of its Warcraft series, Blizzard's Diablo franchise is centered around much darker demonic and horror themes. The video game American McGee's Alice should also be considered a dark fantasy game which utilizes a good-world-gone-bad scenario.

The film series A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th are examples of the genre which emphasize the horror aspect of dark fantasy. Pan's Labyrinth, Brazil, The City of Lost Children, and Dark City are examples of films which emphasize the fantasy aspect. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie trilogy seems to emphasize the darker elements of the universe.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel are examples of dark fantasy in television, containing many elements of traditional fantasy (sword fights, battles to save the world, and powerful sorcerers), but using vampires, demons, and hell gods in the place of high fantasy's elves, dwarfs, and dragons.

Many comic books, graphic novels, and manga are set in dark fantasy worlds, such as Froideval's Black Moon Chronicles and Kentaro Miura's Berserk. Neil Gaiman's The Sandman started with morbid horror themes, but moved to a style more accurately described as dark fantasy as the series progressed.

Selected authors

References

  1. ^ Philip Martin, The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature: From Dragon's Lair to Hero's Quest, p 46, ISBN 0-87116-195-8
  2. ^ a b c Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965 by Eric Leif Davin, Lexington Books, 2005, pages 409-10.
  3. ^ The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders, Volume 1,edited by Gary Westfahl, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005.
  4. ^ "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
  5. ^ Immortal Fiction Book Reviews
  6. ^ Reading suggestions in epic, dark, sword & sorcery fantasy fiction genres (Link dead at least as of 2009-03-06)

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