Brian Murphy on The Black Company by Glen Cook

The_Black_CompanyThe Black Company greatly amplified the latent cynicism and pessimism in the works of Howard and Wagner. Surveying an ocean after leaving a city swamped by corruption and violence, Croaker observes its serenity, but with a jaundiced eye. “We looked at a world never defiled by Man. Sometimes I suspect it would be better for our absence” (Cook 40).

The Black Company is an important transitional work in the development of fantasy fiction. A handful of authors borrowed its bleakness, gray morality, and grit, and blended it with elements of sword-and-sorcery and high fantasy to create a new subgenre. Popularly known today as grimdark, this subgenre often takes the form of lengthy novels or multi-book series featuring large casts of characters in high-stakes adventures, but grounds these high fantasy hallmarks in harsh, gritty environments, peopled with morally compromised protagonists. In many ways, grimdark is sword-and-sorcery wildly amplified—mercenary heroes become disillusioned, amoral beings, and the frequent but often stylized combat of sword-and-sorcery transformed into shocking scenes of graphically depicted carnage and suffering. Grimdark amplifies the pessimism that underlie Howard’s cataclysmic Hyborian Age tales and often presents a nihilistic view of the world, in which heroes rarely make a difference and often don’t live to fight another day.


—Brian Murphy,  Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery

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