Better know a genre! Dark Fantasy…


Image Credit: The Bridge by Gate-to-Nowhere

Dun dun duuuuunnnn!


To imagine dark fantasy properly requires a visual recipe. First, take two (any two) hobbits from the Lord of the Rings then fold in Peter Dinklage as the Vampire Lestat into a small sack. After marinading for a decade, throw in a pinch of Gothic Romance, two undead badgers and shake vigorously. The resulting confection is a fantastic environment with a pronounced, although usually not central, aspect of horror and the macabre. Imagine if H.R. Giger and Edward Gorey had a love-child that loved to write books…


As with all genre-bending, it is a dangerous art. Dark fantasy can walk a very thin line with rare agreement among those literary experts that have a desperate desire to define. As a result, dark fantasy cannot be solidly connected to a set of rules or formula (sort of like a syndrome rather than a disease). There can be roving, ephemeral elements of Urban Fantasy, Supernatural Fantasy, Horror or High/Epic Fantasy (although not all are required, needed or even desired). Sometimes dark fantasy seems a large, ambiguous parent group subsuming the intersection of horror and fantasy (which is pretty damned close to what it is). To simplify, though, it usually contains some (or none) of the following morass of components. Tread carefully.

  • Stories told from a monster’s point of view.
  • Supernatural or elements of the unexplained or unknown.
  • Less focus on victim/suffering (as in horror) and more focus on inner struggle of the monster/beast/demon/hell-spawn/mutant-swamp-beastie-pony.
  • Horror elements in a fantasy environment rather than a “real” environment. So a serial killer on earth would be horror but a serial killer on Middle-Earth would be dark fantasy (and completely awesome!)
  • Anti-heroic or morally ambiguous protagonists (think Michael Moorcock’s ElricKarl Wagner’s Kane or Pat Buchanan)
  • A darker, grittier feel to the writing rather than heroic or epic in scope.


The genre can span between more horror-based story-lines (Cliver Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Anne Rice, Glen Duncan, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro) or more fantasy-based (Anne Bishop, Brent Weeks, Glen Cook, Kim Harrison, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series). In the horror-based variety the narrator or perspective derives from what would classically be considered the beastie. In the fantasy-based variety, the perspective may be from a flawed hero or a mixed, alternating narrative from protaganist/antagonist, hero/monster or hunter/hunted.

Even more confusing is the fact that many epic tales may contain chapters or sections that delve very deep into the dark fantasy realm without turning the entire book over to the dark side.

ADDITIONAL EXAMPLES (hover over for titles):

Sleep well!


Image Credit: Gothic Art and Drawings by Laurie Lipton