Grim and gritty vs. revisionism

Posted by on June 22nd, 2010 at 7:23 PM

I’m building off my post here about fantasy’s apparent lack of an equivalent to the grim and gritty school so well known to superhero fans. “Apparent” because Wesley, in comments, argued that there are grim and gritty fantasy works, just not so many of them that the term or concept would become a touchstone for the genre.

I’ll have to bow to his knowledge of the field. But the conversation steered me to thinking about what “grim and gritty” actually means. So here is an attempt at a definition.

I’d say g&g involves taking standard genre tropes and reimagining them from a what-if-they-really-existed standpoint, with an emphasis on reality as being less pleasant than genre make-believe: possibly more nasty, definitely more complicated.

Which, come to think of it, is a lot like revisionism, as in the revisionist westerns of the 1960s and ’70s. But the more the revisionism involves deliberate besmirching of familiar made-up characters and/or places (or stand-ins for them), the more it would be grim and gritty.

Larry McMurty’s Lonesome Dove could be considered a revisionist western, since it’s supposed to be set in the west as the west really was. A grim-and-gritty western would take the characters in Bonanza and tell us about Hoss’s impotence problems.

Since DC/Marvel keep reusing the same characters, they’re always poised on the brink of rampant grim-and-grittyism. And every few years they fall and fall hard . . .

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