What is Dark Fantasy?
It appears my definition of dark fantasy and dark fantasy as a genre are two separate things. According to Alan Baxter, author of RealmShift and MageSign, “a work is dark fantasy if it deals with any elements of fantasy and/or the paranormal in a way that studies the dark and frightening side of our nature, psychology and the weird, sublime and uncanny.” Whereas, I would describe any fantasy that deals with dark magic in a positive light, gives an oppressive feeling, or where evil is uplifted and good is put down as dark fantasy. In both definitions, there may be a supernatural or paranormal subject, but in mine the story follows the traditional tropes of fantasy.
In my definition of dark fantasy, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series falls into dark fantasy because it elevates dark magic and left me feeling oppressed. To a degree D J MacHale’s Pendragon series and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series slid toward darker themes by the final books. In both of these the main character flirted with joining the evil antagonist or at least using his strategies.
Is all dark fantasy bad?
An occassional bag of potato chips won’t hurt a person, but a steady diet of them will lead to obesity. For someone with high cholesterol, a bag of potato chips could be a threat to his or her health. The same is true of dark fantasy. An occasional book of dark fantasy won’t hurt, but a steady diet could lead to problems. For others, even one book could be quite detrimental.
What are the dangers?
One of the main dangers I see in dark fantasy is the element of the paranormal. Dark fantasy, whether as the genre specific definition or my definition, deals with dark magic or spirits. If these were confined to a book, that may be one thing and not such a bad thing, but these are real dangers in the real world.
In my freshman and sophomore year of high school, our youth group accepted a young lady into its midst. She had made a profession of faith, and none of us had reason to doubt her decision. However, her background came back to haunt us. Quite literally! She had been part of a coven or some organization that dealt with Satan worship. I can remember vividly being at summer camp and watching as another smaller but much stronger friend stood beside this young lady and held her hand. Suddenly, our weak girl was capable of overpowering the stronger one. Palpable fear filled the room. It wasn’t until the stronger girl began singing a song about the power of Jesus that the young lady calmed down. I will never forget how I felt at that moment.
When we elevate and talk about the demon realm in a way that exalts it and gives them more power than God, then we are bringing glory to them and not to the One who is all powerful. We refocus our perspective, and in so doing we forget that God is bigger than anyone or anything.
Another thing that dark fantasy feeds off is fear. It instills fear into even the strongest of us. We see that we are smaller than what we think which in and of itself sometimes isn’t bad. However, when we focus on fear, we allow it to control us.
For years, I couldn’t look in a mirror in the dark due to fear. Where did that come from? A silly ghost story at a sleepover as a teenager. We began talking about the supernatural. We shared stories we had experienced. One person shared that if you turn around three times in a dark room and look in a mirror you’ll see a demon. Whether or not it is true, I believed it. Fear held me in bondage. When I was 36 we moved into a new home where large mirrors covered the walls of the master bathroom. I wondered if I would even be able to use the restroom at night because of my unreasonable fear of mirrors. Thankfully, God freed me from that fear.
Many times as a teen and on into my adult years, I experienced heartstopping fear. My favorite weapon against fear was to quote a Bible verse. 1 Timothy chapter 1 verse 7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (KJV)
The focus on fear can be detrimental to someone struggling with depression. The dark and psychological side of things can be just what a depressed person would need to tip him or her over the edge. Some may argue with me, but I know what you feed your mind is what you will eventually believe. Living in fear, breeds depression. I’ve been there. I lived in fear–fear of narrow hallways and restrooms, fear of being alone at night, and fear of the supernatural. These fears finally built up to create a depression that lasted for several months before the truth of God’s Word set me free.
The focus of dark fantasy to glorify dark magic and the evil antagonist over the light and the good antagonist can feed depression as well. In depression, you don’t reason correctly. You are believing the lies that nothing can ever get better and there is no way out. If you read dark fantasy in a state like this, it will only confirm those lies. There may be a thrill of life and excitement while reading it, but afterward, you fall back into the shadows of fear and depression as you come back to the real world.
How does Halloween fit into the picture?
Halloween as most people know it, is just a time to dress up, eat candy, and have fun. However, for others it’s a time to focus on the paranormal and fear aspects. Unlike most holidays, this one has an underlying history of glorifying the paranormal. Whether we wish to believe it or not, there is a segment of society that still celebrate Halloween in the way it originally was intended in a ritualistic way.
Even the group of people who have fun at Halloween and want nothing to do with it’s darker side often enjoys the scary side of the celebration. Our local library advertised its ability to supply Halloween merry-makers with scary stories and movies. Just like in dark fantasy’s glorification of fear, this focus on fear can cause problems. Even in safe environments and alternatives, young children can be shocked. I remember my four-year-old talking about the harvest carnival for weeks on end before the 31st of October. He was so excited to go around to the various games and get candy. However, when the night arrived, he spent the majority of the time with me hiding in a well-lit room until my mom could take him home. Why? Because a teenager wore a mask that totally freaked my son out. My mom understood his feelings all to well. As a young child she was scared when someone looked in their living room window on Halloween night wearing a mask. It wasn’t until she was in her sixties that she could be in a room with the curtains open at night.
How do we deal with dark fantasy and Halloween?
So, do we throw out dark fantasy and Halloween? Should we never read or celebrate either of them? Not necessarily. As I hinted at earlier, there are good series that wind toward the darker side of humanity. As parents we can use these to help our kids see the reality of the struggle to do what is right. We can also guide our children in seeing even good people make bad decisions. Does it mean they were right? No. Does it mean they will always do bad? No.
As for Halloween, we participate in our church’s Halloween alternative. Only recently have we allowed our kids to dress up for that event. We still have them dress in a way that does not focus on the paranormal or the scary. I have used the heightened awareness of fear, death, and dying during this time, to ask people if they know where they will spend eternity. I’ve also used the example of the jack-o-lantern. On the outside it looks good, but when we open up the pumpkin, we see the goo inside. The pumpkin can’t take the goo out, only the person can. Then once it’s cleaned out, we cut holes in it and put in a light. This is the same with our lives. We may look all put together on the outside, but inwardly, we have all gone against God’s law of perfection. We can’t live up to it. We can’t clean up our lives on our own. It takes asking God to forgive us and clean us up. Then he comes and changes our heart’s desire. He also will carve out the imperfections. It’s not fun and it
hurts, but in the end, it enables His light–the love of Jesus–to shine through us.