Thursday, May 17, 2018

What's the Appeal of Dark Fantasy? by Melanie R. Meadors

Please welcome the fabulous Melanie R. Meadors to The Qwillery writing about the Appeal of Dark Fantasy.

Melanie is co-editor of Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology, which is presently being funded via Kickstarter here:

About Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology:
Outland Entertainment is proud to bring you Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology. Featuring fourteen brand new tales of scheming anti-heroes and dark protagonists from the wrong side of the palace gates, Knaves brings together some of the finest fantasy authors in the industry in a book that will make readers wonder, “What is the ‘right side,’ anyway?” Authors include Mercedes Lackey, Anna Smith Spark, Cullen Bunn, Maurice Broaddus, Anton Strout, Walidah Imarisha, Cat Rambo, Lian Hearn, and more! Edited by Melanie R. Meadors and Alana Joli Abbott

What’s the Appeal of Dark Fantasy?

People read books for all kinds of reasons. Escape, enlightenment, laughter, inspiration, entertainment. But why would someone read a dark book about nasty people, dark times? Don’t we have enough of that in real life? Here are some reasons I learned when co-editing the book Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology, currently on Kickstarter.
  1. Live life on the dark side. Escapism can take many forms. Let’s face it. We’ve all, whether we want to admit it or not, have had fantasies about committing some sort of violence at least once in our lives. And that doesn’t mean we’re bad people. I mean, there are bad people out there who are doing atrocious things. Just watch the news. How can we NOT want revenge on people like that? But because we are not bad people, we don’t do those things in real life. Sometimes it can be satisfying to read about a Robin Hood type character who takes matters into their own hands, someone who can make a difference when the law’s hands are tied. Sometimes it can be satisfying to escape into a world where you can be that person who doesn’t care, who does what they want. Which takes me to number two… 
  2. “I do what I want!” Sometimes we just wish we could do whatever we wanted. And it doesn’t necessarily make us bad people. Not all protagonists of dark fiction are BAD people. They just don’t always go with societal norms. They don’t always behave in a way that makes them play well with others. One of the interesting aspects of dark fiction is that we can read through a story where this character wreaks havoc and causes chaos…and that was exactly what that story world needed. Sometimes, in a good way, to help people who needed help but who were being oppressed, and sometimes in a bad way, just to throw a wrench in things and show a weakness on the side of “good.” But in the end, it helps the world to see things that were broken so they can be fixed. It has to hurt to heal, sometimes.
  3. That gray area between good and bad. When we fight to save our children. When we hit someone to stop them from bullying someone else. When we fight to save ourselves. When we go to war to save an oppressed people. Is it wrong to blow up a building full of drug lords who prey on downtrodden people? Is it wrong to kill a man who has taken advantage of children, yet whom the law can’t seem to hold accountable? What IS good, anyway? It’s subjective. What’s good for one isn’t good for another. Dark fantasy explores a lot of this. Sometimes the protagonist is vindicated at the end, and is shown to be a “good” guy with maybe some questionable methodology. But other times, the protagonist is not, and is punished. Dark fantasy introduces us to the idea that sometimes the paths we are told to be the “good” ones are not necessarily the “right” ones or the only ones. These books make us think.
  4.  Sometimes, painful decisions have to be made. The heroes of dark fantasy aren’t always evil people. They sometimes aren’t even remotely bad. They are good people whose hands are forced to do things that go against their moral compass. Their stories are about the struggle they go through to make these decisions. Sometimes their stories are about the repercussions they face after making the decision. The stories of people who dared to stand up to oppressing forces: The results are good for the majority of people, but the action was not “socially acceptable,” so those people are shunned. Anyone who is a parent is familiar with the battle of, “This will make my child happy in the moment, but it’s bad for her in the long run,” or “My kid hates going to the doctor, but this has to happen for her to be healthy.” Sometimes, someone has to be the one to rip the bandaid off. To push society off the dock so it can learn to swim. And often, that person isn’t appreciated.
  5.  Villains are the heroes of their own stories. And reading their stories helps give us a new perspective on things. This doesn’t mean, by the way, that we have to agree with these people. Far from it. But the thing is, these vile people honestly believe they are doing the right thing. They think they are helping society, sometimes—and sometimes…they aren’t wrong. See the above, about pulling the bandaid off. Some methods, however, are less palatable than others. Say we have a character who wants to end war, and he decides religion is the cause of most wars. Well, why not just wipe out everyone from one side? Voila! Peace! Only…yeah. You just killed a whole lot of innocent people just because they were on the “wrong” side. Thanos in Infinity War was correct in his assessment that huge populations were running through resources and causing lots of suffering. Was he right in the solution he came up with? Without getting too spoilery, lets face it. He could have done a lot of other things with that infinity gauntlet. Would they have worked? Who knows? But his solution isn’t a fail-proof one, either. Looking at things from another perspective helps us think, however, and come to conclusions we might not have otherwise. It can strengthen our own convictions to see what goes through the minds of people who are on the other side.
  6.  Hope. That’s right. Reading about bad things can give us hope for our own world. A lot of dark fantasy portrays the best of even bad people coming out in a time of darkness. If those people can change, can make a sacrifice for the greater good, can’t we all? If people who are, to that point, self-serving, money-grubbing, only after number one, can suddenly turn around at the end and save the world through a decision of sacrifice, can’t we all? Can’t we all find the hero inside of us? And for the stories where there is no happy ending….well, at least WE don’t live there!
I’m having a lot of fun putting Knaves together and reading all the stories. We have stories from awesome folks like Linda Robertson, whose story really moved me because it was about a subject near to my heart, Toiya Kristen Finley, Clay Sanger, Anna Smith Spark, Cat Rambo, Maurice Broaddus, Mercedes Lackey, and more! I really hope you check it out.

About Melanie

Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy stories where heroes don't always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. Her fiction has most recently appeared in the anthologies Champions of Aetaltis and Kaiju Rising II: Reign of Monsters. Melanie is the co-director of the Gen Con Writer's Symposium and the publisher at Outland Entertainment. She's the co-editor of the anthology MECH: Age of Steel and Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology, and editor of Hath No Fury and Tales of Excellent Cats: A Monarchies of Mau Anthology. She is a blogger and general b*tch monkey at The Once and Future Podcast.


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