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[GUEST POST] R.S. Belcher (NIGHTWISE) on the Dark Side of Urban Fantasy

rsbelcherR.S. (Rod) Belcher is an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor and reporter.

Rod has been a private investigator, a DJ, a comic book store owner and has degrees in criminal law, psychology and justice and risk administration, from Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s done Masters work in Forensic Science at The George Washington University, and worked with the Occult Crime Taskforce for the Virginia General Assembly.

Why is Urban Fantasy dark?

by R.S. Belcher

My Urban Fantasy novel, Nightwise, is out this month and I’ve had several reviewers remark on the darkness of the story and of my protagonist, Laytham Ballard. Why does darkness and Urban Fantasy seem to go together like cigarettes and coffee, whiskey and poor choices, politics and graft?

Why do we love the notion of our traffic jam-filled, nine-to-five, world being secretly full of monsters and magic, all around the corner from the mini-mart where you buy six-packs and lotto tickets? Why do we love our Urban Fantasy heroes to be cynical, jaded and troubled—far from moral supermen and the shining paragons of High Fantasy? Sandman Slim, Anita Blake, and Harry Dresden seem a hell of a lot sexier than your typical sword-swatting, oath-keeping paragon of nobility and virtue, right?

So why is it; when we live in a world so dark and troubled already we seek out and identify with stories of the fatalistic, the occult, and the criminal? Don’t we get enough of that in real life?

I think Urban Fantasy strikes a cord in us because, in it, we see all the peeling paint and rust of our own world, our own lives, but peeking through the cracked plaster is a glimmer of the fantastic, the magical. Urban Fantasy gives us a scrap of hope, in a time where it is often hard to see any.

Urban Fantasy takes the mundane, the banal, and injects into it the possibility of something wondrous. Maybe that homeless guy pushing the shopping cart of garbage is secretly a god, an angel, or the most powerful wizard of the 21st Century. Harry Potter, without the elements of the fantastic entering his life, without the giant on his flying motorcycle swooping into his world, Harry’s story is one of abuse and neglect.

In most High Fantasy good and evil wear bright colors. The bad guys let you know exactly where they stand with terms like “Dark Lord”. It is an escape, a complete immersion into a universe where things are simpler, clearer. And many of us long for that kind of world. Urban Fantasy is rainy streets—black asphalt mirrors, gray mists and gray characters. Things only make sense when our damaged, often morally ambiguous protagonists force them to. And while our noble hearts yearn for a world of High Fantasy, our guts tells us we live in a world built for Urban Fantasy. I think we like to hope that maybe, just maybe, magic isn’t dead, that it’s hiding out in some dingy flop house, trying to get its shit together.

So, If High Fantasy is the unicorn, then Urban Fantasy is the rhino, the ugly cousin—a beat-to-shit, down on his luck, missed his last two AA-meetings because he was hung-over, prizefighter of a unicorn—too damn stubborn to know he shouldn’t exist in such a corrupted, lost world; so ugly he’s beautiful, too proud to stay down—even though the fix is in.

We live darkness and we stumble for light, or as much light as we think can possibly exist here with us. It’s as good an answer as I can think of to give you.

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