Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Dark Fantasy

with 17 comments

When I saw Mark Newton using it, I wasn’t really sure what it meant so I hazarded a guess. When I saw Gav Nextread using it, I still didn’t know what it meant but that was okay because he wasn’t sure either. Now, FerretBrain tell me it is out in the wild and equally troubling to them. I feel old and confused. What year is this? Where are my spectacles? What does dark fantasy mean?

Written by Martin

5 February 2010 at 09:33

Posted in genre wars, sf

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17 Responses

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  1. Paranormal romance for the British?


    5 February 2010 at 09:44

  2. I think it could well be due to the fact that in the UK there seems to be a degree of resistance (particularly among young readers) to the romance category. People happily read chicklit but the term “romance” conjures up images of Barbara Cartland.

    So yeah, I think it is Paranormal Romance but without the off-putting “Romance” title.

    I always thought that Dark Fantasy was what you called those stories which were fantastical in trapping, somber in mood and unpleasant in subject matter but which never manage to summon up enough affect to be properly horrifying. Pat Cadigan’s story in Datlow’s Poe anthology for example.

    Jonathan McCalmont

    5 February 2010 at 10:10

  3. I first heard the term back in the late 1980s, when it was used to distinguish the more fantastical horror stories from the gory horror stories such Shaun Hutson, Gun N Smith, etc.


    5 February 2010 at 10:36

  4. I’m trying to think of a definition which is of actual practical use beyond Fun With Taxonomy! – but am failing.

    I seem to remember something in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) about ‘dark fantasy’ sometimes being used as an ‘upmarket’ term for horror (which ties into Ian’s comment) – though, from the Ferretbrain article, it is clearly now being used as an upmarket term for something else.

    My conception of dark fantasy would be somewhat akin to Jonathan’s (albeit without the slight negative connotation I detect) – stories that have the trappings or atmosphere of horror, but aim for the affect of fantasy (actually, Robert Jackson Bennett’s Mr Shivers, which Gav mentions, is a good recent example of what I mean). It wouldn’t include paranormal romance, which I’d just call paranormal romance.

    I can’t see that sort of definition turning up as a bookshop category, though…

    David H

    5 February 2010 at 10:50

  5. “Stories that have the trappings or atmosphere of horror, but aim for the affect of fantasy”

    Yup, that’s pretty much exactly it.

    I wouldn’t say that I was anti-Dark Fantasy but it does strike me that, in a lot of cases, the Dark Fantasy genre serves as a get out of jail free card for people who try to write Horror but fail to produce proper affect. It also touches upon one of my bug bears, which is the fact that Horror really doesn’t get the critical attention it deserves and the tendency of Dark Fantasy stories to pop up in Horror-themed anthologies is a part of that problem.

    So yeah, I do tend to see Dark Fantasy as weak sauce Horror.

    Jonathan McCalmont

    5 February 2010 at 11:05

  6. FerretBrain’s problem appears to be with the category rather than the term. And despite all the protests to the contrary, the problem mostly seems to be girl cooties.

    David Moles

    5 February 2010 at 14:10

  7. Paranormal romance for the British?

    Looking at Gav’s survey of dark fantasy I do see stuff that I would consider paranormal romance. However, I also see secondary world fantasy with a horror element (as he says, dark fanatsy used to mean Storm Constantine). And I also see horror with a supernatural element.

    I’ve heard it described as paranormal romance with urban fantasy thrown in but that only opens up a whole new can of worms since urban fantasy seems to have been re-defined as paranormal romance in the same way that dark fantasy is now being re-defined.


    5 February 2010 at 17:43

  8. Audible have a category called Paranormal Fantasy which seems to be somewhat similar – books which all seem to have pictures of blood red lips on the front cover. I’ve often puzzled over it – they seem to know what the category means, and expect their users will, but I can’t quite understand what it is.

    Alison P

    5 February 2010 at 18:00

  9. Fantasy cheez whiz, but with cussin’ and sex and really gratuitous violence. Like “The Steel Remains.”

    Okay, I didn’t read the other comments or your links or anything, but I’m sure I’m correct. This IS the internet, after all.


    5 February 2010 at 21:13

  10. […] Dark Fantasy « Everything Is Nice When I saw Mark Newton using it, I wasn’t really sure what it meant so I hazarded a guess. When […]

  11. Talking of the perils of taxonomy, I saw someone reading a library copy of The Little Stranger by Sarah Walters. It had a big image of a skull on the spine because it had been filed under horror.


    8 February 2010 at 09:44

  12. […] the way, if you are still pondering what dark fantasy might be, they have a definition of that too: “A fantasy story which borrows elements from […]

  13. To add to this confusion, I was in Waterstone’s yesterday and not only did they have a Dark Fantasy shelf next to Horror but they had a Dark Romance shelf next to Teen.


    22 February 2010 at 08:30

  14. An explanation by Sam Dodsworth in response to similar confusion:

    “Dark Fantasy” follows adventure-story genre conventions and “Dark Romance” follows romance genre conventions. In adventure stories the relationship with the love-interest(s) is secondary to the story, while in romance the relationship is the story and the action is there to drive changes in the relationship.


    20 March 2010 at 12:14

  15. So “Dark fantasy” = American “urban fantasy”, and “Dark romance” = American “paranormal romance”. Pretty much.


    20 March 2010 at 13:35

  16. To be honest, I liked the suggestion in that original blog post that it was because “one of the two categories is more explicit about the actual vampire-knobbing than the other one”. On which note, the first season of True Blood popped through my letter box this morning.


    20 March 2010 at 16:38

  17. […] on Charlaine Harris’s bestselling Sookie Stackhouse series of paranormal romance – or what ever it is being called this week – novels, it might not be science fiction (which is where that conversation started) but it […]

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