Let's start with the basics. What is grimdark? Nobody seems to agree on a universal signification. Do we really know where it comes from? The Urban dictionary is giving us this definition:
An adjective taken from the root words of grim and darkness, both of which are featured in the tagline for Warhammer 40,000: "In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war." It is usually used to describe a setting that would equal poor living conditions and life expectancies for those actually living in it.This is simply the origin of the word and not its specific use in the Fantasy literature world. However, Know you meme seems to have more information about its origin:
The shorthand term “Grimdark” entered online usage as early as May 2008, when it was used as a descriptor in a blog post on the Wizards of the Coast about the newly released expansion set Shadowmoor. The blog post, titled “The Two-Sided Coin,” details the vision of the writers behind the expansion set. The author notes that they wanted to create a dark world without getting too “grimdark,” as there is still humor and hope in this game’s world.
In May 2008, the term was used on 4chan’s /tg/ (traditional games) board to describe a potential game that would take place in a school of dark magic. The following month, Grimdark was added to 1d4chan, a Wiki for tropes discussed on the /tg/ board. That October, the term was defined on Urban Dictionary and the single serving site Grimdark.com was registered, containing a picture of an angel seated on a pile of skulls.
The term has been also referenced in TV Tropes’ explanation of “Darker and Edgier,” the tone shift used to make a seemingly innocent fictive world seem more adult. The definition of Grimdark has also been discussed on the RPG.net forums, the Fanlore wiki and the Warhammer 40k message board Warseer. Grimdark images and fanfiction are shared on Equestria Daily, deviantArt, fanfiction.net and Tumblr.
And now let's look at what it means in the Fantasy world we love so much. Is it really a genre? A sub-genre of Fantasy? A sub-sub-genre of Dark Fantasy? The name given to novels where life is represented in a grittier and more 'realistic' fashion? Is it really important? So far, I think it was mostly used to talk about the 'darker' side of the books of the likes of Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Richard K. Morgan, George R.R. Martin and Steven Erikson. Among them, some talked about it:
If you take a look at what the online community is rambling about, the fact that lots of best grimdark fantasy books lists exist, that you can find many forums or reddit posts discussing the topic, the presence of grimdark dedicated blogs (like Grimdark Fantasy Reader) or magazine (Grimdark Magazine), you can't denied that the term is still fashionable. Moreover, with the success of the authors I pointed out, it's no real surprise.
I also looked back at my previous poll. Back in 2013, I asked if you liked your Fantasy to be gritty and 87% of you answered positively. Sometime later, I asked if you thought that there was too much violence and you said no with a percentage of 88. The two factors are not representing all the elements that it takes to put the grimdark epithet on a Fantasy novel but they are fundamental factors. When I posted a poll about genre mixing, grimdark wasn't included...
You might ask yourselves why I'm I coming back with the grimdark topic? It's simple, there was an interesting conversation recently from key authors and thought-provoking bloggers. You really have to visit the great blog Nerds of a Feather, flock together and take a look at this:
Blog table (asking what will come once grimdark is 'dead') featuring Justin Landon, Aidan Moher and Foz Meadows
And then, Mark Lawrence answered with a post of his own, featuring R. Scott Bakker, Teresa Frochock, Joe Abercrombie, Karen Miller, Richard K. Morgan and Kameron Hurley.
What's your opinion on this? Please share in the comments below. As far as I'm concerned, I think that the grimdark epithet is misused and overused, as is often the case with specific sub-genres. However, it still represents a certain aspect that many Fantasy books have in common, more so in recent history. For some it's been misinterpreted as a negative moniker and it tends to frustrate the authors associated with it. And there, I agree with most of what they have said about it. You can't really define a book simply by saying that it's grimdark and less so an author... We ought to use the term sparingly and appropriately. Still, it's the source of interesting exchanges and debates, and simply for that fact, I'm glad that it found its place under the spotlight for a time.
Taking all this into account, my next three questions for the poll are (with yes/no as answers for all of them):
Do you believe that grimdark is really a sub-genre of Fantasy?
Is grimdark dead?
Are you attracted by a book labelled as grimdark?