It’s time to declare an end to Grimdark. This manifesto will outline the inevitable demise of an entire subgenre, which is obviously failing, despite consistently high sales numbers and the ongoing popularity of dozens of authors who identify as Grimdark. I am going to singlehandedly eviscerate their careers and launch a brilliant new subgenre that will take Grimdark’s place. So. Why is Grimdark over? Two reasons:
- It’s not over.
- I’m just tired of reading it
There you go. Manifesto complete.
To be honest, I’m not completely tired of reading it. I’m sure I’ll come back. I still haven’t gotten around to Richard K Morgan’s fantasy series, beyond the first one, which was perfectly fine but not compelling for me. There’s a lot of Joe Abercrombie on my TBR pile, but I stopped somewhere in the middle of Best Served Cold and never really got back to it. And while there’s plenty of reason to argue whether or not A Song of Ice and Fire is truly Grimdark, it’s fits well enough into the genre for my purposes, and I’ll be reading Winds of Winter when it comes out, and hanging on every episode of the new season.
For that matter, there’s a lot of grim darkness in my current series, The Hallowed War. Feral gods terrorizing the countryside, corrupted inquisitors forsaking the god of winter to swear allegiance to the god of nothingness, and families tearing apart along fault lines of betrayal and honor… there’s darkness. My personal writing style notes include making sure I don’t overuse the words “shadow” and “blood”, so yeah. Grim.
If you’ve read this far and haven’t caught on, I’m not actually saying Grimdark is over, or in any way failing. But it’s failing me, creatively, so I’m putting it to the side. I think there’s a heaviness in modern fantasy that isn’t serving us well. It’s grinding the joy out the genre, and out of life itself.
That isn’t to say that the genre shouldn’t address difficult themes, or try to reflect the genuine complexity of human experience. The common criticism of fantasy among fans of serious literature is that it’s pure escapism. But the themes of Lord of the Rings sprang from Tolkien’s experiences in the First World War, and there are clear parallels to the rise of fascism in Europe and the creeping corruption of civilization on the natural world throughout the books. Frodo’s final confrontation isn’t some sword-swinging action scene, but really an internal struggle with the weight of evil and the possible release of suicide, a struggle that he only overcomes through the companionship of Samwise and the intervention of his own evil reflection, Smeagol. There’s some heavy shit going on on the plains of Mordor.
But that’s not all there is to the story. Things get dark, but heroes rise. Evil encroaches, the idyll is broken, the shadows creep across the map, but then good people get together and say “Enough. This has gone far enough. We have to stand. And we have to do it together.” And sure, they’re flawed, they’re fallible, they’re weak. But they overcome those things and push through. They’re relatable, but they’re more than us. They’re heroes.
The most important thing that a hero does is give us something to aspire toward. I think we’ve lost something of the heroic in our fantasy. I think we’ve fallen victim to the flaws, glorifying in our mutual grimdarkness, without aspiring toward heroism.
That has always been the role of fantasy, to me. It’s not escapism, it’s aspiration.
So that’s why I’m done with Grimdark in its purest form. I’ve had enough of miserable people doing bad things to each other, glorifying in their faults without overcoming anything besides their own inhibitions. I get the anti-hero. I get the flawed champion. I get the sympathetic villain (which is hilarious when compared with our inability to empathize with people with slightly different political agendas on facebook) and the complicated moral compass. I get it, and I’m done with it.
I’m all in on heroes.