Fantasy Faction

Fantasy Faction => Fantasy Book & Author Discussion => Topic started by: Eclipse on January 17, 2014, 05:28:30 PM

Title: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Eclipse on January 17, 2014, 05:28:30 PM
Is there any difference between the two? and what makes a book Grimdark/Dark fantasy from standard fantasy novels?

Would the The Malazan Book of the Fallen be classed as Dark fantasy or Grimdark or just plain Epic Fantasy
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: ACSmyth on January 17, 2014, 05:54:17 PM
I tend to think of dark fantasy as more the supernatural/urban end of things, but I don't know if that's a general definition.

Grimdark for me is partly tone, and partly how much the author gets into the blood and guts. I'd consider Malazan to be grimdark, but I know (from the discussion of Gardens of the Moon this month, for starters) that others don't.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Eclipse on January 17, 2014, 05:58:44 PM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_fantasy

From Wiki

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.[7]

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

Dark fantasy is occasionally used to describe fantasy works by authors that the public primarily associates with the horror genre. Examples of this would be Stephen King's The Dark Tower series,[7] Peter Straub's Shadowland[8] and Clive Barker's Weaveworld.[7] 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.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Eclipse on January 17, 2014, 06:00:51 PM
Grimdark for me is partly tone, and partly how much the author gets into the blood and guts. I'd consider Malazan to be grimdark, but I know (from the discussion of Gardens of the Moon this month, for starters) that others don't.

Thats what made me ask the question  :)

So would  Michael Moorcock Elric be Grimdark?
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: ACSmyth on January 17, 2014, 06:37:34 PM
It's 30 years since I read Elric, so I really can't remember enough of it to comment. My gut instinct is that I wouldn't personally call it grimdark, though. From what I recall, it's more sword and sorcery? But like I say, this is way long ago!

And according to Wikipedia, my book is epic fantasy, but I don't regard it as such, so I'm taking Wiki's fantasy definitions with a large pinch of salt already.

Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: pw27 on January 17, 2014, 07:17:13 PM
Great topic as I just started a site last week relating to grimdark fantasy. I have a page up about defining grimdark with many links up to others writings describing it because I have not yet gotten around to writing my own essay about it. The best by far is Joe Abercrombie's article. I think all the responses in this thread are very good and add something to the discussion. There has been a lot said about Grimdark fantasy and there is also a lot of controversy surround this genre. To me, its about realism and morally ambiguous characters. In traditional epic fantasy, you know who is the bad guy and who is the good guy (obviously not always). In Grimdark, it's not nearly so straight forward and usually the person who is the "good" guy is not a good guy. Just like in real life, almost everything is a grey area in Grimdark books. Of course Grimdark usually has lots of violence because it is mostly about the darker characteristics about human nature; jealously, revenge, betrayal, etc. I learn a lot about life reading these books. So please check out my site link on the left and view the article links about Grimdark as well as any of my reviews or posts which interest you.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Mark Lawrence on January 17, 2014, 09:36:12 PM
There's a very simple rule that almost always applies.

It's grimdark if you disapprove of it.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Arry on January 17, 2014, 09:49:36 PM
There's a very simple rule that almost always applies.

It's grimdark if you disapprove of it.

depends on who you are. I like so many of the things that are labeled grimdark it doesn't phase me and if I use the term, I don't mean it in a negative way. But yeah, it is often in the context of a negative review and I have seen it applied to books that for the life of me can't figure out why. Come to think of it, all of those would be covered by your simple rule.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: ACSmyth on January 17, 2014, 10:18:12 PM
I actually disagree with you, Mark. But then labels so much depend on the labeller, I think.

I wouldn't say I like grimdark; I've just given up on Gardens of the Moon. But I have read one Abercrombie (The Blade Itself), and have two more on my bookshelves waiting to be read. If I'd disapproved of it, I wouldn't have bought the other two. I loved the first three Song of Ice and Fire books, but with book 4, I felt he was sliding towards grimdark. I've just started Dance With Dragons, so I can see if he pulls himself back from where I feel the border lies. I read The Steel Remains, and thought it was OK, but not really my thing. I certainly didn't disapprove of it. And I've got Prince of Thorns downloaded to Kindle ready for a gap in my reading schedule (hopefully next month). If I'd disapproved of grimdark, I'd not have even considered reading it.

I'm still evaluating, and trying to see where my personal boundaries lie with what I enjoy reading. I don't mind a bit of grit in my fiction, but I mostly read for entertainment and escapism, and I think what tips the balance between non-grimdark and grimdark for me is whether I feel I'm being entertained, or assaulted with misery. I don't have any moral issue with reading it, or with other people reading it. I just want to spend my limited reading time on something a little lighter, is all.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Eclipse on January 18, 2014, 11:01:31 AM
I didn't realise some people used the term Grimdark in a negative way ,I just thought it was a modern new term for dark fantasy

But the term/label  Grimdark seems meaningless if people can't agree what a Grimdark novel is as readers have different levels of acceptance to certain stories
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: AJDalton on January 18, 2014, 11:40:27 AM
Doesn't Joe Abercrombie sometimes use the handle 'Lord Grimdark'? Grimdark can't just be a negative term. I tend to think of it as fantasy that has a big dose of blood and guts horror... and either an unhappy or fragmentary ending. Certainly there's no 'glory of the chosen one'. As for 'dark fantasy', it tends to be vampire, zombie, demon, werewolf, urban gothic stuff in which the traditional baddies of horror are actually sympathetic goodies...sparkly vampires with a love interest!
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: ACSmyth on January 18, 2014, 12:10:28 PM
That's more or less my interpretation of things, too, AJDalton.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Mark Lawrence on January 18, 2014, 01:01:29 PM
Joe embraced the term ironically to undermine its use as a pejorative. An good, if not original, strategy that seems to have worked well.

However:

"The poorly used, excessive version is often mocked as "Grimdark" (one word), derived from the tagline of Warhammer 40,000. ("In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.") Sometimes justified with the phrase "Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!". Usually shows up in Dark Fic."

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DarkerAndEdgier

Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: pw27 on January 19, 2014, 08:20:10 PM
Joe embraced the term ironically to undermine its use as a pejorative. An good, if not original, strategy that seems to have worked well

Very interesting; I did not know that about Joe Abercrombie! I have been doing a ton of research about the term Grimdark and while there are a lot of people using the term disparagingly I personally think it is a decent term and from what I have seen there are many defenders of it and a huge base of readers looking for Grimdark fantasy. I read also (I haven't verified this but it appears to be the case looking at Amazon's fantasy pages) that novels falling in this Grimdark category are by far the largest selling fantasy books now.  When I started reading Grimdark early in 2013 I had to do my own research to find books outside of the most known ones like Mark Lawrence's Broken Empire books, Joe Abercrombies books, and George R.R Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice. This included searching forums like this, Goodreads, and Google searching. I wonder if the millions of lovers of Grimdark books would have an easier time if there was somewhere they could go and easily access a huge listing of books in this category. I guess until there is some general consensus on what the term even means it would be difficult to have a Grimdark category on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. But I think that there should be because people are searching for these books and a lot of authors could really blow up because of the thirst for these books. I think the tide will eventually turn against those Grimdark critics and they won't be able to use it against the authors and fans. My last thought is that maybe the authors of these books feel that if they are classified Grimdark, they will be losing a large potential audience of fantasy readers. I think that is why Grimdark should be included in fantasy lists as well the sub-list Grimdark fantasy. I think if someone is a reader and they love fantasy they will absolutely fall in love with Grimdark books. I guess I think the term should be embraced. Obviously I'm only one tiny voice among thousands or millions of voices who has an opinion on this. Most of the arguments against Grimdark have appeared to me to be weak, out of touch, overly sensitive and emotional, and very shrill.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Gruud on February 05, 2014, 05:31:59 PM
I’ve seriously debated posting in this space, as evidenced by the lag time since the last post.

As someone above said, folks can get kind of shrill on the matter …

At any rate, I think I’d like to take a pass at answering the OP’s question.

But first, let me assure, all that should sparkle in either genre is the prose and cold steel (or blood) in sun/moon/torch light.  ;D

The dark fantasy Wikipedia definition above is okay, if a bit ambiguous, so I’d like to take a stab at (over)simplifying it: elements of supernatural horror set within a fantasy milieu

It seems a shame that grimdark doesn’t have its own topic; since I do think they are two very different things. If anyone knows someone suitable with edit rights, give them a poke?

Dark fantasy (all IMO) - the Dark tends to be external, often in the guise of a (supernatural) Other and/or any who serve it.

And with the Dark, there will be the Light to oppose it. It may not always be the bright, white Light of the pure Chosen/Savior, but whatever their moral hue, the protagonist(s) see(s) that the Dark is Evil, and seek(s) to actively confront it.

And for dark fantasy, I think ‘seeing’ is the key here. What sets it apart from similar works of epic or high fantasy is that the reader sees the Evil on the page, and the protagonist(s) experience(s) the Dark personally, and they (and the reader) know what side they are on.

((As a contrasting example for epic/high, we take Tolkien’s word that Sauron is evil, but we don’t really see him do any directly. Sure, he and the Nazgul fit the (supernatural) bill, but mostly he sends his legions out to conquer the world, a thing many mortal men have done, some in the name of good. ))

Grimdark fantasy -  the dark tends to be internal. I’ve altered case here to reflect the relative position of the word ‘dark” within the two phrases, because I think its emphasis (or lack) helps illustrate the difference between the two.

The protagonist(s)/antagonist(s) have borne witness to the evil that folks do to one another. They (and the reader) see the varying moral shades of the characters and it colors their perceptions. Sometimes the reader can’t be sure what side the character is on. Often the characters aren't even sure themselves, and who is fit to render that judgment? Many around them seem dark as well, and light may be in short supply.

This may also affect the tone of either type of work.

In dark fantasy, hope springs eternal, however long forlorn. In the end, the reader has faith that, even if the protagonist(s) has fallen to the Dark they will find redemption, and Light will prevail. And that is usually so.

In grimdark fantasy, hope may be in short supply and the reader may be uncertain who will (or should) prevail. And, the character(s) may seem beyond redemption, but if they do find it, it will seem all the more sweet being unlooked for.

And ... I think I will stop there, in hopes of additional opinions.

And FWIW, had the phrase been in literary use at the time, I think KEW might have called Kane’s stories grimdark, but I wouldn’t say the same of Moorcock and his Elric stories.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Eclipse on February 05, 2014, 06:21:03 PM
It seems a shame that grimdark doesn’t have its own topic; since I do think they are two very different things. If anyone knows someone suitable with edit rights, give them a poke?

Hello very interesting post, here is a link to a topic you might want to look at don't worry about lag time in posts it's always good to see more points added to a discussion  :)

http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/fantasy-book-discussion/grimdark/

and also welcome to the forums

Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Gruud on February 05, 2014, 06:30:39 PM
Sorry, I should have been more clear. I meant a separate Grimdark topic on Wikipedia. I will check that out here though.

Thanks for the welcome! And for the link.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: HAnthe on February 10, 2014, 05:08:36 PM
I think the Elric Saga was more of a nihilistic epic fantasy than either dark fantasy or grimdark.  It had a lot of that going-out-on-adventures feel, but the adventures almost always ended in ruin.

I tried to explain the difference between dark fantasy and horror once by saying that in horror, the protagonists tend to have little or no way to fight back -- whereas in dark fantasy, there may be horrific elements but the protagonists can directly fight the horrific/supernatural enemies that plague them.  They have more agency.

To me, then, grimdark means stories where the characters don't fight those horrors, but either embody or ignore them.  Worlds where violence is a reflex if not the norm, and where the rule of law is shaky, corrupt or completely absent -- where the most pragmatic philosophy is 'do unto others before they do unto you'.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Nazhuret on February 10, 2014, 09:38:32 PM
I remember once upon a time discussions like these would be "what is the difference between swords and sorcery and high fantasy?" - Dark fantasy can encompass many things - it could be a straight mash-up between horror and fantasy elements. So we could argue that Peter Brett's "Painted Man" is dark fantasy. But you could also argue that some Robert E Howard's Conan stories could also qualify as Dark fantasy as well and for that matter even Fritz Leiber and his Gray Mouser & Fafhrd stories could fit the bill. So it seems to me that Dark Fantasy is just good old swords and sorcery with a horror element after all. It's just that over the years its acquired another label.

Grim-Dark on the other hand seems to me to be a deconstruction of both swords & Sorcery and High fantasy. Just as Alan Moore de-constructed the superhero, so too have writers like Abercrombie and George Martin. There have been many others - but there works seem to have their roots in either swords and sorcery or high fantasy. I am sure its been done before but there seems to be a lot more of it.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Eclipse on October 01, 2017, 07:24:22 AM
Bumped for inky
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: abatch on October 08, 2017, 08:59:29 PM
For me, dark fantasy can still have noble characters striving to defeat evil, do the right thing, etc., whereas in grimdark, many if not most of the characters are morally ambiguous and "right" is often achieved as a side effect, a peripheral consequence of action rather than as a primary goal. Yes, grimdark is gory, gritty, dirty, etc., but it's the damaged or absent moral compass that really seals the deal.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Yora on October 08, 2017, 09:33:25 PM
Grimdark is when Dark Fantasy becomes a carricature.

The term itself comes from a work of parody. A joke that was later lost on the people who it made fun of.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Nora on October 08, 2017, 11:45:18 PM
Oh, so you've read Joe Abercrombie and found his work to be caricatural?
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: abatch on October 09, 2017, 03:23:48 AM
"Grimdark is when Dark Fantasy becomes a carricature.

The term itself comes from a work of parody. A joke that was later lost on the people who it made fun of."

What it was intended to be and what it is may well be two different things, kind of like Frankenstein's monster.

Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: RobertS on October 09, 2017, 03:58:57 AM
For all practical purposes, grimdark is what publishers who are looking for grimdark submissions accept.

This is true, ironic and recursive. Grimdark is grimdark.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Ryan Mueller on October 09, 2017, 04:55:35 AM
For me, dark fantasy can still have noble characters striving to defeat evil, do the right thing, etc., whereas in grimdark, many if not most of the characters are morally ambiguous and "right" is often achieved as a side effect, a peripheral consequence of action rather than as a primary goal. Yes, grimdark is gory, gritty, dirty, etc., but it's the damaged or absent moral compass that really seals the deal.

This is pretty much my view on the topic. It's more about the way you tackle morality. In dark fantasy as it has come to be known these days, you can still have generally heroic characters. The challenges they face may be quite dark, veering into horror territory at times.

I would consider my own fantasy to have elements of dark fantasy, but very few elements of grimdark. I don't hold back on violence and bloodshed. I kill a lot of characters. I have all kinds of terrifying monsters. But through it all, my main characters remain more on the noble and heroic side of things. They aren't perfect people by any means, but they usually strive to do the right thing.

In grimdark, you have a lot more moral ambiguity with your main characters. Grimdark is all about blurring the lines between good and evil (or in some cases putting forth the worldview that good doesn't even exist). A lot of grimdark would also qualify as dark fantasy, but not all dark fantasy is grimdark.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Lanko on October 09, 2017, 06:58:55 AM
Just because Grimdark started with a caricatural style doesn't mean it needs or will stay just confined to that aspect. Tragedy and comedy changed throughout the ages, for example. Or even Epic Fantasy, from LoTR to Stormlight or ASOIAF or even First Law itself.

I think the success of more dark and realistic stories in recent times created a lot of demand for more stories of the same type.
Grimdark might've been a joke word relating to Warhammer and Dark Fantasy something with a different approach than it, but I think Grimdark now simply absorbed the other terms and became the keyword for all works with a gritty approach, whether it's caricatural, with just some humor or absolutely serious or even exploring some of its elements with all three approaches.

So hunting for differences between them today seems like a waste of time.

This can create situations like "this is too dark and gloomy" if you're expecting a caricatural approach or "this is dark, but not as dark as X" and etc.
But for me it's fine because the "dark approach" is there. There will obviously be differences in the "dark scale" of a work, considering the amount of authors out there, just like there is with Epic, Dystopia, Space Opera, etc.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Eclipse on October 09, 2017, 07:33:34 AM
If you take out Lawrence,Abercrombie and maybe Glen Cook (is he grimdark?) which authors/books do you recommend for Grimdark?

Also which Dark Fantasy Authors/novels do you recommend for Dark Fantasy thanks
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Lanko on October 09, 2017, 07:36:57 AM
If you take out Lawrence,Abercrombie and maybe Glen Cook (is he grimdark?) which authors/books do you recommend for Grimdark?

Also which Dark Fantasy Authors/novels do you recommend for Dark Fantasy thanks

This exemplifies pretty much what I said about Grimdark absorbing the other terms. Grimdark didn't even exist until somewhat recently and today Glen Cook is considered the "grandfather" of it.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: cupiscent on October 09, 2017, 10:12:55 AM
I was all "I'll head to Goodreads and check my "gritty" shelf for suggestions!" but GR is down and I literally do not know what to do with myself.

Meanwhile, curious for thoughts: how does grimdark mesh or contrast with what I'd probably call "fantasy noir" like Dan Polansky's Low Town books? To a certain extent, they're just the full realisation of a thief/rogue urban-setting gritty style of fantasy, which probably isn't "grimdark" in its Abercrombie/Lawrence form (they favour more warrior quest/battle-setting gritty fantasy) but it's still plenty damn grim.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: DrNefario on October 09, 2017, 01:43:24 PM
For last year's Reddit Bingo, I decided my definition of grimdark was whether it used the two top-tier swear-words. Under that definition, the ciminal underworld stuff like Low Town and Locke Lamora are grimdark (I did in fact end up using Low Town in the Bingo), but you may be right to try to separate them.

It seems to me that there are three different things going on:

- Some level of historical truthfulness about people's behaviour, aka "gritty realism". Dirt, disease, bodily fluids. Man's inhumanity to man. This is where GRRM and Abercrombie mostly fit, and I'd say where Cook's Black Company fits.

- Anti-heroes and moral relativism. This is where Prince of Thorns goes, and maybe the noir stuff. (I hate using noir in that sense, btw - "noir" is a visual style for movies. The stories are "hardboiled". It just happens that noir films are mostly of hardboiled stories.) Where it's combined with the other elements this seems to qualify something for grimdark, although there have been anti-heroes before (eg. Elric, Conan).

- Swearing and gore. They all include a bit of this, but the second-rate copyists think it's all they need.

Personally, I was never aware of the alleged Warhammer 40K origin story of the term "grimdark". I thought it was just a joke name that stuck.
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Lanko on October 09, 2017, 04:54:17 PM
I only read The Builders by Polansky, "if Tarantino made a movie with animals". I don't remember much of what happened, as it was more than two years, though.

I remember I once opened a thread asking what should I read next and someone said Polansky for them was too painful and depressing, too gritty and edgy.

Later I think someone also told me that if I had enjoyed Black Company or First Law I would enjoy Low Town, so there's that.


Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Eclipse on October 09, 2017, 06:13:34 PM
i love Polanski low town , I didn’t think it was that dark myself
Title: Re: Dark Fantasy v Grimdark
Post by: Peat on October 12, 2017, 01:42:49 AM
Personally, I was never aware of the alleged Warhammer 40K origin story of the term "grimdark". I thought it was just a joke name that stuck.

The first term I heard the expression grimdark was when talking about Warhammer 40k's fluff and how people liked different parts of it, with grimdark coming from the 40k tagline "In the grim darkness of the future there is only war". Admittedly, my anecdote isn't proof, but I've never heard anything to disprove it, the tagline predates grimdark by a looooong way and there is a huge overlap between fan bases, particularly in the UK. I'd add that, insofar as I'm aware, most current grimdark authors are British. Which is odd, as grimdark borrows heavily off of Americana. If I had the time to research it, I'd write an essay suggesting that a solid part of grimdark is a British response to American glorification of violence, because on the surface that seems super likely.

In any case, words and terms evolve. A lot of grimdark today is about moral relativism; 40k was very much on the surface good vs evil, just with racial supremacists for the good guys. Is grimdark forever going to be a genre associated with parody and satire? I dunno about that, but so far I've seen little to suggest its outgrowing its origins, even if authors don't have that in mind. Tbh, I don't see how you write fiction that shows humanity and its  ideas in a very cynical nihilistic light without heading towards parody and satire.

As for the question... dark fantasy is fiction that overlaps with horror, grimdark is fiction that overlaps with cynicism and dystopia.