Subgenre Study: Dark Fantasy

Oh, dark fantasy.  Supposedly my husband’s favorite subgenre.  But like so many other speculative fiction subgenres, one that is very hard to stick to a definite definition.

Dark fantasy, in my own personal opinion, is fantasy that strives to point out the dark, the gritty, the horrific.  It sometimes, but not necessarily, borders on horror.  Wikipedia says, “Dark fantasy is a term used to describe a fantasy story with a pronounced horror element,” but I am unsure I agree with it (especially since the article goes on to be increasingly wishy-washy about a definition).

It’s the problem faced by so much of speculative fiction – that the lines are fuzzy and open to interpretation.  When I think “horror,” I think slasher flicks and things that lurk on the edge of your consciousness.  I think Lovecraft and Freddy Kruger and Pet Cemetery.  I don’t think Neil Gaiman, Interview with the Vampire, or China Mieville.

Fantasy runs such a huge gamut as it is.  It’s hard to say what it encompasses beside some sort of fantastical element, which could be big or small.  Dark fantasy, while it may incorporate gore or suspense or paranoia from Horror, still is much closer to fantasy in my head.  (Besides, there is a lot of Horror that uses supernatural and fantastical plot elements itself.  I think much has to be said about intent, in this case.)

What are your favorite dark fantasy books and movies?  Where do you draw the line between dark fantasy and horror?  (Or dark fantasy and other subgenres, such as epic fantasy?)  I am not a huge fan of dark fantasy myself – a lot of times it seems like it’s trying too hard to be shocking – but my husband is a huge fan of Tim Lebbon, especially Dusk and Dawn.

One response to this post.

  1. I see Holly Black’s Tithe and Curseworker books to be Dark Fantasy, though the Curseworker books are more like dark fantasy noir. I’d also consider Tessa Gratton to be dark fantasy. Some elements of Harry Dresden are also dark fantasy in my mind.


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