Fantasy as a literary and entertainment genre is fairly old. People have been creating and repeating fantasy stories in the forms of myths and oral tradition since the beginning of time. As such, it’s not surprising to see the way the genre has branched out and expanded in hundreds of different directions. From the classical tales of heroes and quests in the old myths, to the Arthurian tradition and Viking lore, and hundreds of mythologies in between, Fantasy has always been a companion of man and society.
In the last few decades, however, authors have stretched the concept to unparalleled lengths. A noticeable peak in the interest on the fantasy genre has also occurred. New stories are being published, and new trends are settling in, taking the fantasy sphere far, far beyond the simple mythology and folklore of the past.
Grimdark vs Noblebright Fantasy
One of the latest trends in the genre is the separation of Fantasy from the traditional heroic legends of old, into a more complex, richer genre. Sub-genres like Steampunk, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Fiction, Historical Fantasy, Dark Fantasy and Science Fantasy are growing slowly and making a place for themselves in the market. Authors are also introducing new themes, topics and motives into the stories, and making them more diverse and unique.
This segmentation can be seen in the Fantasy spectrum of Noblebright to Grimdark fantasy. This categorization segments fantasy into sub-categories with look towards theme, environment of the story and motives of the characters. In one corner we have Noblebright Fantasy (traditional, heroic fantasy stories with heroes that do good, in a world that is beautiful and exciting) and in the opposite corner we can find Grimdark Fantasy (Fantasy set in violent, dark environments, with heroes that are trapped by their circumstances and unable or unwilling to do good).
The stories in both end segments are vastly different. The many shades of gray in between contribute to the current complexity and richness of the fantasy genre we can enjoy today.
What is Grimdark Fantasy?
Grimdark fantasy offers stories set in darker and dangerous worlds, where hope or the possibility of happiness is slim. The lives of the inhabitants are dreary, and death is a real (and frequent) occurrence. Heroes and main characters in Grimdark Fantasy are showcased more because of their bad qualities than the good ones. They act on self-serving motives and their main goal is survival, not victory.
In Grimdark Fantasy, there is often not one ultimate villain but many interchangeable ones. However much the heroes try to improve the world they live in (if they have the inclination at all), their efforts are in vain and their victories ephemeral and temporary. Grimdark heroes cannot make their world better, and they are powerless to seek the justice they need.
Unlike Dark Fantasy, which is meant to categorize fantasy that contains traces of Horror genre, Grimdark Fantasy refers instead to fantasy stories with grittier, more violent plot-lines, in which the views of the world and the motivations of the characters are often darker, amoral and more violent.
What is Noblebright Fantasy?
On the other end of the spectrum is Noblebright Fantasy, the traditional set up of fantasy stories. It boasts of altruistic heroes, worlds full of wonders and major quests that are taken up for the greater good and not a selfish purpose. In Noblebright fantasy the main characters are showcased more because of their values and principles than their negative traits, and their motivations always have an altruistic core. They place their bodies and lives in danger against enemies and do it not for personal gain, but because it is right.
The world in Noblebright fantasy is beautiful, and hope and the possibility of happiness are real and common. Even though it’s not a perfect world, its inhabitants see the value of it, want to protect it, and find enjoyment in it. Usually in Noblebright Fantasy you can find one single villain that causes all the chaos in the world. He is the hero’s direct counterpart and whose ultimate defeat or redemption makes the overall world better. Noblebright heroes are kind and self-sacrificing, and their character ark focus on their growth as a person of principles and their quest to seek victory and justice for their world
Heroes and Swords: A Noblebright Fantasy Collection.