What is dark fantasy? [let's talk about this genre]

But, if the tone seems dark instantly, but a few chapters later it goes back on track as you said, it wouldn’t be dark fantasy, right? :wink:

@LxstinNeverland (hope I understood you right) talked about if the story’s theme or topic focused on the dark element (like death) the story would be dark fantasy. But if it mentioned the death here and there, then it wouldn’t be dark fantasy, but just fantasy with dark elements. What do you (@Novel_Worm) think of this distinction?

I saw that movie :sob: Oh my gosh was it heavy. On the same note, not fantasy either, but Any Day Now was also heavy and the ending… I know we’re off topic but have you seen that movie?

oh wow, they sure did :open_mouth: The movie beginnings sure got more and more sinister-looking :stuck_out_tongue:

So…do any horror movies overlap with the dark fantasy genre then, I wonder? :thinking:

The problem with Dark Fantasy is that it includes everything from Brandon Sanderson to Berserk.

I recommended a Sanderson fan Berserk once. It didn’t go well.


What happened? Did the person hate it or became addicted?

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She reacted in great horror

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So, she didn’t like it, huh?

Berserk is NOT for the faint-hearted…seriously.

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Harm as in injury or impairment caused by an external force, usually another character. It can be physically, it can be mentally. Violence can be harm. Gaslighting can be harm. Sex can be harm. Every instance of harm or other elements don’t make a story “dark.”

I’ll use an example here from Matilda:

[…] the Trunchbull yelled, and with that she lunged forward and grabbed hold of Amanda’s pigtails in her right fist and lifted the girl clear off the ground. Then she started swinging her round and round.
[…] and soon Amanda Thripp was travelling so fast she became a blur, and suddenly […] Trunchbull let go of the pigtails and Amanda went sailing like a rocket right over the wire fence of the playground and high up into the sky.
[…] She landed on the grass and bounced three times and finally came to rest.

Trunchbull is clearly doing harm here. But we’re not lingering on it. There’s nothing about missing clumps of hair or breaking bones or the emotional consequence of it. So it can’t be considered “dark”.

What makes it dark is honing in to that element. So in my definition of “dark” the portrayal of harm is at a heightened level. More detail in almost a sadistic way.

Also, losing hope wouldn’t be dark. Because that literally is a basic requirement for the plot and character arc.

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Lmao how?

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What can Harry Potter be considered as?
Wouldn’t it be low fantasy or something close to it?

Uhh well it’s hard to categorise whether it’s high or low. It takes place in the Wizarding World. I guess people are conflicted because the world is loosely based on real life.

If Middle-earth and Hyboria are considered high fantasy while they’re technically based on the earth’s past, and Randland is high fantasy based on earth’s future, then the Wizarding World should be high fantasy.

It’s got all the makings of a high fantasy world. Magic, creatures, history, governments the whole lot.

(Also low fantasy is not magical realism)


So, HP just splashes around in the fantasy pool?

Probably why it’s so popular

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They can? Honestly this is so tricky because i mostly write dark fantasy, but one of my published novels is promoted specifically as “horror fantasy”. It deals a ton with death.

But the real difference between dark and horror is that dark fantasy is more about reminding readers that there are some serious things that suck (whether the message is overcoming them or whatnot). But horror more focuses on eliciting that fear from readers, making it hard for them to sleep. Dark fantasy is meant to get readers thinking. Horror is meant to make readers pee themselves in other words. :rofl:

My horror fantasy deals with dark things and lots of death as well, but the horror comes in bevause its set in an asylum and the MC is haunted by a ghost. There are scenes solely written to terrify the readers. Not to make them feel hopeless.


Yeah, that would be my take on it. For a book to fit in a genre, not just have elements of that genre, it has to use those elements consistently.

Yeah! I agree with that, but I think it also matters how said death is handled. If the grief is a very important part of the story, and we as readers see the details of that grieving period with maybe a touch of healing, it’s certaintly dark. If the grief is just touched upon now and then, and the focus is on moving on, that might be dark elements without necessarily being dark.

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I found that when getting into the subegenres and the disticntions between them, the line is quite blurry. Horror overlaps with dark fantasy, and sometimes it can overlap with thrillers as well. There can also be overlaps between magical realism, low fantasy and say a cute romance story - if the focus was on the romance over the magical elements, but there were still magical elements. The marketing just depends on what the biggest audience will gravitate towards without feeling like there were unmet expectations after reading.
Or at least that’s how I’ve always seen it.

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HP uses a lot of magical realism techniques and when going over the course in school it was always used as an example (one of many).

It has to do with magic being in the real world and, although its set in a fantasy situation with straight-up fantasy elements (it can be both) it still leans heavily into the real-world parrelel and how magic interacts with the muggle/wizarding world.

So, imo, HP is at the very least an example of magical realism techniques and I feel like (esp in the main plots) this is utalized more than fantasy.

This is kinda a hot take tho. Its def not high fantasy, and due to its interaction with the real world I feel like it works more with magical realism techniques then it does fantasy. But thats just my opinion and you do not have to agree.

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I disagree. The muggle/wizard distinction is exactly why it’s not magic realism. The wizarding world is kept secret from the real world. There’s an internal logic behind magic (spells, wands, only wizards being able to use magic). And the magic is intentional. It’s utilised to solve problems (spells, the philosophers stone, sword of griffindor, deathly hallows etc.)

There’s been a lot of discourse as to what exactly magic realism is. But essentially, magic realism is literary form in which odd, eerie, and dreamlike tales are related as if the events were commonplace. In the world of magic realism, the narrator speaks of the surreal so naturally it becomes real. It’s concerned with seeing the fantastic in the everyday — it’s not looking for answers to why that magic exists, or how to use it or challenge it. It’s more concerned with disruption of fixed notions of time, space, geographies, identities, cultures, and politics.

Here’s a quick video about it:

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Thanks for sharing.

I see where you’re coming from. Like I said, it’s a hot take. I retract my original statement, it’s probably more fantasy than magical realism, but imo it still utilizes a lot of techniques found in magical realism.

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Sorry wasn’t trying to prove you wrong or anything. I’m just really passionate about magic realism. I agree that there are overlaps in the fact it’s a coming-of-age story. But then Harry literally escapes the social reality of being an orphan in London by running away with a burly man :sob:

Nw, I was wrong and I’m good with admitting that, my text-tone is often far more brash then I sound in my head lol.

LOL never thought of it like this lol. Even funnier when you think about how Hagrid didn’t even help him to the proper platform LMAO. Just left him at the train station like “Peace be wit’ ya!” (though come to think of it I think Vernon left him there in the books, which is sad but unsurprising).

A wild deep dive into dark fantasy

Okay so I got curious and delved into the literary taxonomy of dark fantasy. Here’s what I found:

In the 1997 Encyclopedia of Fantasy, John Clute writes:

We define a DF as a tale which incorporates a sense of Horror, but which is clearly fantasy rather than supernatural fiction. Thus DF does not normally embrace tales of vampires, werewolves, satanism, ghosts or the occult, almost all of which are supernatural fictions (although such tales may include DF elements, while some DFs contain vampires, ghosts etc. . . . )

This clearly is an outdated definition. Vampires, ghosts, werewolves etc. have become a touchstone of DF in the contemporary canon — with one important revision: they’re not soulless creatures anymore. They’re humanised.

But it’s useful know that there is argument for a distinction between Horror and DF. Roz Kaveney in the 2012 Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature writes:

DF is a genre of fantasy whose protagonists believe themselves to inhabit the world of consensual mundane reality and learn otherwise, not by walking through a portal into some other world, or by being devoured or destroyed irrevocably, but by learning to live with new knowledge and sometimes with new flesh.

That is to say, DF is concerned with accommodation of the other and endurance of the characters, rather than transcendence (high fantasy) or despair (horror). The effect is bitter-sweet. The sense of the liminal is central and crucial. The Return in heroic/high fantasy indicates a triumph of good over evil, whereas in DF it indicates failure and pathos.

Mitchell R. Lewis in A Companion to the British and Irish Short Story (2008) gives the example of Elric of Melniboné in “Whole the Gods Laugh” as a DF:

Elric sets out to find the Dead Gods’ Book, which he believes will provide all the answers about life he has been seeking. He hopes to learn whether there is a god and a divine plan beyond the seemingly meaningless struggle between order and chaos that shapes Elric’s world. He is joined by Shaarilla, who hopes the Book will help her mend the birth defect that has deprived her of the wings her people normally possess. After a brief series of adventures Elric finds the book, but it crumbles to dust once he touches it. Deprived of consolation again, Elric concludes with bitterness, “I will live my life without ever knowing why I live it - whether it has purpose or not. Perhaps the Book could have told me. But would I have believed it, even then? I am the eternal skeptic - never sure that my actions are my own, never certain that an ultimate entity is not guiding me” (Moorcock 1995:
473). Shaarilla tries to console him, but Elric responds, “There is no salvation in this world - only malevolent doom” (474).

Lewis argues that the frustrated quest and the decidedly agnostic themes distinguish DF from the usual consolations of heroic/high fantasy of Tolkien and his epigones. It supports Kaveney’s definition, offering the existential as a bittersweet wisdom, pathos, accommodation of the other (Shaarilla).

Kaveney also dives into the erotics of DF, paranormal romance, and “Template DF” (detective stories), but I won’t go through it here.

Going back to my definition of DF, I find a central flaw. My argument that DF is concerned with harm is contradictory to distinguishing DF from Horror. Explorations of harm appears more in Horror, i.e. splatterpunk. It’s important to note that genres are symbiotic; they don’t emerge in isolation. But my initial notions of DF not just being about horror elements and tone remains true. It’s more about what is done with those elements.

The main takeaway: the definition changes, and will keep changing as the genre evolves.

Recommended DF readings:

Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock
Perdido Street Station, King Rat and Looking for Jake by China Miéville
Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin
Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand
The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter

NB: Moorcock is credited with the “dark turn of fantasy”. And Miéville is the most prominent dark fantasist of the millennium, openly acknowledging Moorcock’s influence.

Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is absolutely definitely not DF. The very literal rejection of the Tolkienesque is what birthed DF. Moorcock called it “Winnie-the-Pooh posing as an epic” and criticised it as the product of a “morally bankrupt middle class” (see Epic Pooh).