Concept and history
Charles L. Grant is often cited as having coined the term "dark fantasy". Grant defined his brand of dark fantasy as "a type of horror story in which humanity is threatened by forces beyond human understanding". He often used dark fantasy as an alternative to horror, as horror was increasingly associated with more visceral works.
Dark fantasy is sometimes also used to describe stories told from a monster's point of view, or that present a more sympathetic view of supernatural beings usually associated with horror. Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint-Germain, and Neil Gaiman's The Sandman are early examples of this style of dark fantasy. This is in contrast to the traditional horror model, which focuses more on the victims and survivors.
In a more general sense, dark fantasy is occasionally used as a synonym for supernatural horror, to distinguish horror stories that contain elements of the supernatural from those that do not. For example, a story about a werewolf or vampire could be described as dark fantasy, while a story about a serial killer would simply be horror.
The violet fairy book (1906)
Stableford suggests that the type of horror conveyed by fantasy stories such as William Beckford's Vathek and Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death "is more aesthetic than visceral or existential", and that such stories should be considered "dark fantasies" rather than the "supernaturalized thrillers" of conventional horror fiction.
Karl Edward Wagner is often credited for creating the term "dark fantasy" when used in a more fantasy-based context. Wagner used it to describe his fiction about the Gothic warrior Kane. Since then, "dark fantasy" has sometimes been applied to sword and sorcery and high fantasy fiction that features anti-heroic or morally ambiguous protagonists. Another good example under this definition of dark fantasy is Michael Moorcock's saga of the albino swordsman Elric.
The fantasy work of H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and their emulators have been specified as "dark fantasy", since the imaginary worlds they depicted contain a large number of horror elements. This horror element is shown prevalent in the sub-genre of Anime.
Dark fantasy is occasionally used to describe fantasy works by authors that the public primarily associates with the horror genre. Examples of this would be Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, Peter Straub's Shadowland and Clive Barker's Weaveworld. Alternatively, dark fantasy is sometimes used for "darker" fiction written by authors best known for other styles of fantasy; Raymond Feist's Faerie Tale and Charles de Lint's novels written as Samuel M. Key would fit here.