Dark Fantasy Is Cathartic

I was thinking about what blog posts to write this week and one question wouldn’t leave me alone: Why do I like dark fantasy so much? There’s no one single answer to this but the title of this post is one possible response. Dark fantasy, good dark fantasy, with its surfeit of tragedy, brings catharsis in a way not unlike all those tragedies of old, your Hamlets and Oedipus Rexes, your Medeas and Antigonas and Bacchaes.

It might have to do with the characters that often embody dark tragedies. Take Joe Abercrombie’s First Law*: Logen Ninefingers, Jezal, Sand dan Glokta are all flawed protagonists whom I recognize as human beings, whom I hope to see improved over the course of the series. Yet that hope is surely disappointed, as events, woven with the intractability of fate itself, resolve in such a way as to leave the promise of positive change unfulfilled. These characters’ struggle against the tide is desperate, ultimately futile. But as I follow along, as I grow more and more aware that any quarter they might have earned is to be lost in a moment, I find that surfeit of emotions blossom into that emotional release characterized by a word no other than “catharsis”.

The very lack of fulfillment, the bitter disappointment at these characters’ inability to grow–not because they don’t want to but because circumstances force them into the same roles over and over again–is at the heart of tragedy in some of the best dark fantasy novels out there.

And I can’t get enough.

*It is no coincidence that the title of the first book, The Blade Itself, is drawn from the Iliad: Abercrombie is a student of the classics, and it shows.

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