Many writers agree that genres in general are hard to describe, but dark fantasy may be one of the most difficult. It is sometimes incorrectly classified as horror, because of the terrifying scenes that may be included. Likewise, the supernatural elements can lead to a fantasy classification. One of the most concise definitions of dark fantasy is: a story with paranormal concepts that deals with the darker human emotions, and actions, as well as psychological stresses.
Most dark fantasies include elements of horror, but can be differentiated because the primary desire of the novel is not to scare the reader. Dark fantasy books also include one or more of the following elements: magic, gods, demons, paranormal beings and parallel worlds. The dark side of human nature, including our psychology, and the weird, sublime and uncanny are all frequently featured in these novels as well.
Popular Examples of Dark Fantasy Novels
- A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Written as a series of several books, the storyline of A Game of Thrones has key psychological horror factors within it. These include: child sacrifice for the sake of winning a war, hunting humans as sport and flaying enemies for pleasure. The supernatural also features regularly, including an army of the undead, the birth of a demonic shadow that commits murder, dragons, dire wolves and heroes that can be resurrected.
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman
This series demonstrates what happens when gods live among men. The characters include outcast deities who have been stripped of the majority of their powers, due to their irreverent habits. The storyline features violence and other dark elements, as well as the gods’ battle against technology. The lives of the gods consists of blood, violence, lust and supernatural phenomena which attracts humans, as much as it repels them.
- The Dark Tower by Stephen King
Merging a magical, parallel world with ours, Stephen King creates a protagonist that is the ultimate fighter of evil. The last of the gunslingers, Roland, suffers through unbearable horrors while tracking his enemy. Love is lost, friendships begin and end, and unexpected characters become heroes in the series, as Roland continues relentlessly towards the end of his quest, The Dark Tower.
- Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
The ultimate merger of humanity with the paranormal, Night Watch is a story that focuses on the supernatural beings that live among us. These include vampires, magicians, shape-shifters and healers, that make the choice between good and evil when they become of age. When a woman is discovered who can shift the balance between the two, it may be the start of the predicted catastrophic war between Light and Dark.