Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Dark Fantasy

In his Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy (1986), Gary K Wolfe indicates that DF is a term sometimes used interchangeably with Gothic Fantasy. Though the term has indeed been so used, in recent years many works have been called DF in order – for reasons of perceived prestige – not to call them Horror. Other critics and editors – like Chris Morgan, in his anthology Dark Fantasies (anth 1989) – have defined the term as more than just a marketing tag; rather they perceive it as describing an affect, rather like "horror" itself; and deploy the term to describe the emotional effect certain stories may have on readers.

For the term DF to be used in conjunction with others it requires a more restricted definition. In this encyclopedia we define a DF as a tale which incorporates a sense of Horror, but which is clearly Fantasy rather than Supernatural Fiction. Thus DF does not normally embrace tales of Vampires, Werewolves, Satanism, Ghosts or the occult, almost all of which are supernatural fictions (although such tales may contain DF elements, while some DFs contain vampires, ghosts, etc. – an example is Stephen Marley's Mortal Mask [1991]). The term can sensibly be used also to describe tales in which the Eucatastrophe normal to most fantasy is reversed – tales in which the Dark Lord is victorious, tales in which the Land, normally an object of desire, and an arena for the working out of a desired Story, is itself an object of horror (Stephen Donaldson's Covenant sequence is the prime and definitive example). Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique stories describe a land, Zothique, of this sort, though it can also be understood, in minimally rationalized terms, as a Dying Earth. And DF can be used to describe certain Crosshatches in which the intersections between this world and an upwelling Otherworld are at least partly described in images and themes out of the worlds of Horror; an example is Sean Stewart's Resurrection Man (1995), a tale full of Revenants, Spiders, open graves, dissections and Doubles. [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.