I’m supposed to be the one with cynical, even nihilistic tendencies. Why is it that I’m the one having to stand up and defend humanity as not being irreparably broken? I once wrote an article about the differences between Epic Fantasy and its largely American counterpart Sword & Sorcery. This article will be somewhat similar, except that I didn’t really have much of an opinion on the quality of Sword & Sorcery. Grimdark, on the other hand… I can’t bloody stand it.
What Is Grimdark?
Whereas the Sword & Sorcery genre was created before Tolkien created High Fantasy, Grimdark is a direct act of resistance against anything to do with Tolkien. Because it’s more concerned with not doing what Tolkien did, Grimdark doesn’t have much of an identity of its own and is defined more by its spite and disdain for other works. If there’s anything that does define Grimdark, it would probably have to be its pandering attitude towards sex-crazed adolescent males. Women, therefore, are always portrayed as either helpless or “ugly.” In most cases the only professions available to a woman are prostitute, harlot, and escort, because prostitutes are the only sort that serves a Grimdark narrative.
Dystopian, Amoral, and Violent
If there’s one word that can describe the mindset of Grimdark, however, it’s amoral. For a long time now, Fantasy has been one of the only genres that actually tries to teach its readers how to be better people. Grimdark aims to purge this in favour of glorifying and normalizing rape. There’s a screwed up understanding among writers and readers of Grimdark that so-called “morality tales” (meaning anything that doesn’t pride itself on amorality) are essentially childish and unworthy of a so-called “adult.” The idea that rape is evil is, in their minds, childish. Fans of Grimdark scoff at passages like this one from The Silmarillion:
Then Morgoth looking upon her beauty conceived in his thought an evil lust, and a design more dark than any that had yet come into his heart since he fled from Valinor. Thus he was beguiled by his own malice, for he watched her, leaving her free for a while, and taking secret pleasure in his thought.
In case it is not perfectly obvious, Morgoth is the bad guy. To a member of the Grimdark movement, such a passage is childish; in their minds, a rapist need not be seen as evil—indeed, in such circles they are almost admired. This is because Grimdark’s attitude towards rape ranges from normalizing it to glorifying it. This is by definition pathological. There’s a certain psychopathy in not just the characters, but also in Grimdark’s adolescent, hormonally-charged readers.
Comfort in Nihilism
It has been said before, and it’s correct; people find Grimdark’s nihilism comforting because it absolves them of having to think about morality, not only while they’re reading it but also in real life—it makes things a lot simpler not having to worry whether what you’re doing will harm another person. Grimdark justifies anything the reader might want to do. I’ve met Grimdark fans who’ve used their favourite books to justify ISIS’ actions as morally acceptable. Indeed, when it comes to justifying atrocities, a Grimdark novel is second only to religious scripture.
Fans of Grimdark
Fans of Grimdark nurture the delusion that their genre is wrongly and heavily criticized, when in reality no one is even allowed to criticize it. When faced with quite reasonable criticism, a Grimdark fan will most likely make up some straw man argument and dispute that instead, and the catch-all excuse you will inevitably hear is that Grimdark stories are “realistic.” I doubt you’ll ever hear a Grimdark fan try to refute an argument without saying the word “realism” or some derived term. I’d just like to say that I’ve taken many university courses on Medieval history, and in none of them did the religion-fuelled pseudo-morality of the Medieval world resemble the no-holds-barred amorality of Grimdark. The countless atrocities of the Middle Ages were not fuelled by an amoral world; they were fuelled by the theocratic power of the church and by the resulting religious extremism. However, this is largely irrelevant as Grimdark’s supposed “realism” is in fact intended to reflect the movement’s view of the modern world. Grimdark’s unshakeable mindset reminds me of one of the most insidious Christian doctrines, summed up perfectly in this article by Neil Carter.
The “Traditional Heroism” Fallacy
I’m going to write a follow-up article dealing with some of the many fallacies perpetuated by the Grimdark movement, but I’d like to finish off this article by mentioning one of the worst. Time and time again, the movement insists that its works “break ‘long-standing’ heroic tropes and traditions.” Long-standing? Since when—the fifties? The forties, perhaps? As I said in my article on the subject, the modern idea of heroism hasn’t existed for very long. Tolkien invented heroism as we know it today, and despite what a crazed Grimdark fan will no doubt tell you, Tolkienian heroism is still relevant—perhaps now more than ever.
Humanity is Better Than This
Unlike with Epic Fantasy or Sword & Sorcery, I have no idea who started the Grimdark genre, but the fact is that it sucks. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Grimdark story that wasn’t crap. I want to make this absolutely clear; there are good people in the world, and there are bad people! Unlike what any Grimdark fan will tell you, not everyone is a bloody psychopath; even someone like myself can see that humanity is not irreparably broken.