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The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 086): Panel Discussion on Dark Fantasy

In episode 86 of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester asks our irregulars to offer up their thoughts on: Dark Fantasy.

From Wikipedia:

Charles L. Grant is often cited as having coined the term dark fantasy. Grant defined his brand of dark fantasy as “a type of horror story in which humanity is threatened by forces beyond human understanding.” He often used dark fantasy as an alternative to horror, as horror was increasingly associated with more visceral works.

Dark fantasy is sometimes also used to describe stories told from a monster’s point of view, or that present a more sympathetic view of supernatural beings usually associated with horror. Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Saint-Germain cycle are early examples of this style of dark fantasy. Another good example of a dark, horror tone is in Omar McIntosh’s Three Raptures of Doom, where an old man courts angels and demons. This is in contrast to the traditional horror model, which focuses more on the victims and survivors.

In a more general sense, dark fantasy is occasionally used as a synonym for supernatural horror, to distinguish horror stories that contain elements of the supernatural from those that do not. For example, a story about a werewolf or vampire could be described as dark fantasy, while a story about a serial killer is simply horror.

Karl Edward Wagner is often credited for creating the term dark fantasy when used in a more fantasy-based context. Wagner used it to describe his fiction about the Gothic warrior Kane. Since then, dark fantasy has sometimes been applied to sword & sorcery and high fantasy fiction that features anti-heroic or morally ambiguous protagonists. Another good example under this definition of dark fantasy is Michael Moorcock’s saga of the albino swordsman Elric.

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, Peter Straub’s Shadowland, and Clive Barker’s Weaveworld. Alternatively, dark fantasy is sometimes used for “darker” fiction written by authors best-known for other styles of fantasy; Raymond Feist’s Faerie Tale and Charles de Lint’s novels written as Samuel M. Key would fit here.

This week’s panel:

© 2011

Featuring original music by John Anealio

About Patrick Hester (527 Articles)
Patrick Hester is a writer, blogger, podcasting dude, Denver transplant and all around Functional Nerd. Don't hate him cuz he has a cool hat.

6 Comments on The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 086): Panel Discussion on Dark Fantasy

  1. Bubba Ho-Tep trailer (based on a Joe Lansdale story)



  2. Hi,

    LOVE the podcasts; the download version of #86 wa, um, a little short. Yoiu might want to check the file.


  3. @Petee

    I’ve used both the DL link in the post and iTunes to DL the episode and didn’t have any issues – got the full, 36 min, 30 MB file.

    You might want to try again.  if you’re still having issues, be as detailed as you can in your description so we can troubleshoot.

    …look at me sounding all IT Supporty…


  4. Hey guys, great episode, but I think you missed the darkest Dark Fantasy Universe: Zothique the Last Continent by Clark Ashton Smith. OK, it is not a novel, but thar cycle got the real marrow of what a Dark Fantasy should be, that is, a universe ruled by cosmic dark forces with which characters with equal dark souls deal, encouraged by their will to power. Really I can see the relation of horror with the real meaning of Dark Fantasy. We can put in the list, the short story «People of the Pit«, by A. Merritt; that one literally frozen your imagination.

  5. Best line ever: “…and suddenly there are zombie stormtroopers!” I think I just found my Halloween costume. 

  6. Hi folks,


    Another solid podcast that added authors to my TO READ list.  Dark Fantasy, as many of you said, really blurs the lines between genres – probably moreso than any other subgenre.


    When I think of Dark Fantasy, I think the horror element is more subtle and not really in your face. It may inform some of the background or work as a flavoring, but not really the main ingredient.  All that said, some books/authors I think of when the term Dark Fantasy is bandied:


    Graham JoyceThe Tooth Fairy (NOT the basis of the movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) which is a dark twist on the children’s fairy tale character. It is creepy at times and exhudes a sense of disfomfort, blurs the line of sexuality, but I don’t get the sense the main intention is to scare the reader.  Some of the same can be said for Joyce’s Dark Sister about spirituality and witchcraft in modern times, sharp focus on a few characters, there’s definitely creepiness behind the scenes, but nothing meant to startle.  Other Joyce titles that fit the mold are Requium and Dreamside.


    Jonathan Carroll is another writer who defies easy genreification.  His masterpiece The Land of Laughs, as a dark fantasy of the highest order.

    On the more Epic side of things one author to consider is C.S. Friedman.  Her Coldfire Trilogy though informed by a science fictional background, slides into fantasy territory with the powerful Fae Magic on the world of Erna. The anti-villain protagonist Gerald Tarrant is a dark sorceror who gained his power from very dark deeds.  One of my favorite completed trilogies of the past decade or so. Friedman plays with Darkness and Fantasy in her latest completed trilogy The Magister Trilolgy.

    I also think Paul F. Wilson’s work straddles the lines of Dark Fantasy, Horror, and Fantasy.  Similar to Joe Landsdale, but not as much of a humor component.

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