Grimdark Fantasy: Re-Imagining the Whimsical

Grimdark Fantasy: Re-Imagining the Whimsical

Fantasy has always been about other worlds, magic, and things that are seemingly impossible in our world. Grimdark takes this concept and twists it, turning a story of heroism and optimism to a darker version. Grimdark is where a fantasy story is grittier and is sometimes more realistic. The magic in the world (if it has one to begin with) has more limits, has more drawbacks to the user. Grimdark is a genre that directly opposes the style that Tolkien wrote in.

As said previously, Grimdark is a genre that is written to oppose Tolkienesque fantasy, stories with upbeat narratives and morally good (if bland) main characters overcoming the odds, defeating evil, and protecting those they love. In Grimdark, characters are deeper, most have dark backstories that shaped a bleak outlook on life and the story. Grimdark is a pretty niche genre, even within the sphere of fantasy. But the genre has a few stand-out stories.

The origins of Grimdark come from Warhammer 40,000, a tabletop war game with the tagline “In the grim darkness of the future, there is only war.” This is in reference to how every aspect in the Warhammer universe is grim and awful. One of the lead authors described it as “A genre where nobody is honorable and might is right,” which is the perfect descriptor for the genre as a whole.

One of the largest and more modern pieces is the Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski. In it monsters are exactly what they sound like, monsters. Large beasts that are feared by the people, and the only reliable way to dispatch them is by hiring a Witcher, a human modified with mutated genes to let them fight monsters at less of a risk than an average person. The series has Geralt of Rivia as the main character as he fights monsters for coin and slowly gets wrapped up in the true monster: international politics. The series is dark, complex, and extremely edgy; and I love it. The author uses Slavic folktale as a base for his monsters and history. Another fun fact is Sapkowski wrote the series working as a traveling salesman around Poland.

We can’t talk about Grimdark without mentioning everyone’s favorite HBO show of the past decade, Game of Thrones. A world of very little magic where every main character has a dark secret, whether it be a hidden plot to kill the king, or the fact that they have three dragons with them. The world of Westeros is the most well-known Grimdark setting that needs no special introduction.

Overall, Grimdark is a subgenre of fantasy that moves away from the heroics and uplifting themes and instead goes for a darker, more serious and depressing tone throughout the series. Fantasy can come in various styles, like the mixing pot of culture that makes up our community.