Davis: Today I’m excited to be joined by Eric Fomley, owner and proprietor of The Grimdark Review and co-blogger of the recently formed Grimdark Alliance. Eric has a passion for fantasy, and especially the grimdark variety. He’s active on some of the same forums that I am, and so I thought to myself, ‘Self, why don’t we interview Eric and learn what’s so fascinating about grimdark.’ Plus, Eric just seems like a pretty cool guy. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
Welcome, Eric, to my little corner of the interwebs (I think that’s what the cool people call it nowadays). You’re obviously passionate about fantasy, but what was it that sparked your interest in the genre? According to your bio in Grimdark Alliance, the book that ignited it all was The Hobbit? What about after The Hobbit? What came next? What books/movies?
Eric: The Hobbit was definitely my first dip into fantasy. It was read to me by my father in early elementary. It was the first time something other than a movie was able to take me out of this world to go on grand adventures. From there I went on to read the seven Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and the Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. Star Wars was big for me though growing up so a lot of my fantasy fix came from copious amounts of Star Wars novels. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed that Disney did away with that expanded universe.
Davis: I know what you mean about the Star Wars I wasn’t a big reader of them, but the amount of work needed to create that history and verse was impressive. But it also sounds like from the beginning, you got caught up in the gateway drugs known as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. It’s amazing how, even to this day, it’s those two authors who are how young people discover fantasy. Which brings me to my next question, after Tolkien, Lewis, and Star Wars, you eventually delved into a genre that’s actually rather old but recently, it seems to have taken over the epic fantasy field. I’m talking, of course, about grimdark. How would you define that subgenre?
Eric: Well I think the interpretations of this sub-genre are quite different depending on who you ask. For me, Grimdark is a way for authors to write books that intentionally debunk the traditional tropes of fantasy by focusing heavily on the gritty reality of humanity. Humans tend to be in it for themselves and we are often harsh, wicked and greedy. War isn’t something to be sung about, it’s a bloody mess and the subgenre of Grimdark makes sure we don’t forget these things.
Davis: War is harsh and sanitizing it isn’t something to which any book or movie should aspire. A follow-up question: what aspects of grimdark to you enjoy?
Eric: Heroes that aren’t heroic. What I mean by that is that I love the protagonists that are not your usual knight in shining armor. The character wants something, needs something, or gets caught up in something but they’re always in it for themselves. I think the best example would be Jorg from Prince of Thorns. His uncle caused him grief, he wants revenge. But instead of Jorg being some high standing prince who solves his problems in courtly manners, he runs a gang of criminals and cut-throats his way to victory. That to me is what is good about grimdark. I love to read about a character that gets what he wants in whatever manner he wants. This is a definite theme in grimdark.
Mark Lawrence is simply a fabulous writer and an all-around nice guy. His books are grimdark, but the poetic nature of his writing is an absolute treat. In this, I think he is rare, not just in books we might define as grimdark, but in terms of authors in general, no matter the genre. But who else do you enjoy reading? And this doesn’t need to be limited to grimdark?
Eric: When people ask me this I usually give them my top five. My very favorite author is Mark Lawrence, the author of the Broken Empire trilogy and the Red Queen’s War trilogy. After that it’s Glen Cook, author of the Black Company series. Anthony Ryan, author of the Raven’s Shadow trilogy. Andrzej Sapkowski, author of the Witcher Saga. And Michael Sullivan, author of the Riyria Revelations and First Empire series.
Davis: An eclectic group there. I’ve read all of them except Sapkowski, but given the positive notoriety of the Witcher saga, I’ll have to remedy that. I’m glad to see Glen Cook up there. I think he and maybe Michael Moorcock are probably the grandfathers of modern grimdark.
I’ve noticed that the notion of gritty reality suffusing fiction is at an all time high. And it isn’t just in books, but in TV with shows like The Walking Dead and even The 100. In the movies, we just had Mad Max thundering out and kicking ass. If you’ve seen Mad Max, what are your thoughts on the latest movie?
Eric: I have not actually seen the Mad Max movie but I really want to. It will definitely be one I get when it comes out on disk. But as far as the Grimdark elements in movies part of your question, I definitely know what you mean. If I had more time away from work and knew how to approach it, I might consider doing a study on the effects books and movie moods have on each other. The grimdark theme is definitely popular in both formats presently and it is awesome for me as a fan. But I don’t think this is something that will change anytime soon.
Davis: Mad Max is a blast. I hope you have a chance to go see it. It’s got thin characterizations and a plot just as thin, but it makes up for it in the amount of sheer bombast and striking imagery.
In terms of fantasy novels prior to this current era, there was the 1990s ethos best exemplified by Robert Jordan. Which of these older book did you enjoy? Are there any that you go back to over and over again like comfort food. For me, it’s Riddlemaster of Hed.
Eric: I’d have to say the Witcher Saga is my favorite 90’s series. I always loved how the witchers are supposed to be these monster slayers that stay out of the way of the world’s conflicts to hunt the monsters that plague it, but Geralt never is. He hunts monsters, but he can’t help but meddle when the people he cares about are involved. It’s a great series that really isn’t read enough by the fantasy community. Maybe with the new game its popularity will improve.
Davis: I definitely have to read the Witcher.
I also noticed that according to your bio, you studied philosophy in university, and given your interest in grimdark, have you read Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series? If so, thoughts on his work?
Eric: I have heard Bakker uses philosophy heavily in his series and I have been very eager to start The Darkness that Comes before. But with all the Arcs I’ve been reading I haven’t been able to get around to it yet. It’s on my bookshelf dying to be read though and one day very soon it will have its chance. I enjoy authors that use philosophical concepts in their writing or use characters that struggle with philosophical dilemmas. One author I love that does this is Michael Moorcock. His Eternal Champion Sequence was filled with moral and philosophical dilemmas that drove me through the plot. If Bakker has anything like this to offer, count me in!
Davis: I think you’ll like Bakker. If you do give his Prince of Nothing series a try, make sure to intersperse your reading with plenty of light-hearted material as well. I recommend Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry.
Moving on to the work you’re doing as a blogger, you have The Grimdark Review where you review books you’ve enjoyed and even have the occasional guest interview. However, recently you’ve collaborated to create Grimdark Alliance. How did that come about? And what do you hope to accomplish with it?
Eric: Well it was really just a matter of common interests. I quickly found with blogging that it can be really difficult to keep generating new content at a pace that can keep the readers engaged. As I only really get the chance to read around my family time and full time job I decided that I really needed to be working with a team. I met Leona through my site The Grimdark Review. She was a regular reader and runs her own blog Leona’s Blog of Shadows. When I spoke with her about my ideas she was very much in the same boat. We then contacted Alexandru from Barbarian Book Club and Grimdark Alliance was forged. We each enjoy the grimdark subgenre and we are each busy people with our day jobs and families. Together though, we hope to generate a nice community where fans of grimdark can find new reads, recommend reads to us, and have some good conversation.
Davis: It’s definitely a great idea. Blogging is hard. To do it successfully, it seems like you have to have new content everyday. I think of an idea, but the work needed to turn that idea into a readable essay of any length is just time away from my job, family, or my writing. Plus, it usually isn’t that interesting. So I can see where people with a similar passion would want to get together and share the burden of blogging.
Speaking of your love of books, is there a book that you’ve read that isn’t commercially popular but happens to be one of your favorites? For me, it would obviously be my own books. 😉
Eric: I would say Beyond Redemption by Michael Fletcher. I read it and thought it was absolutely amazing. The only reason why it isn’t commercially popular is because it doesn’t come out for another few weeks. I received an ARC for it and I will recommend it over and over again. Great start to a series.
Davis: Sounds fascinating. The idea that beliefs can forge reality is a trope that C.S. Friedman mined heavily in her Coldfire series. I’ll be interested to read Mr. Fletcher’s take on it.
Now a final question, and the most difficult one of all. Who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman? This is a test of your knowledge of physics and biology.
Eric: This is a foolish question and I don’t know why so many people struggle with it. Supposing there exists a reality on our world where Superman and Batman exist, it is only feasible that Superman would win. The reasoning for this is that if his only weakness truly is Kryptonite, a fragment from his planet that blew up many thousands of light-years away, and he arrived at earth in a space shuttle his parents placed him in; there would be no Kryptonite on planet earth whatsoever. The only way batman could win is if when the planet exploded it did so at such a vast speed and velocity that a piece was able to travel as fast as the speed of light, which I would assume is as fast as superman’s ship, against the pull of gravity that was holding the planet in place without any form of propulsion on the meteor. If it were the case that the fragments were traveling that fast and could somehow not get caught in the gravity of that system, we would have to assume then that it kept the exact trajectory to earth for thousands of light-years (which is also highly unlikely). Supposing even that happened, Batman would have to determine how to find a meteor rock coming from a certain planet that he has never been to and possesses no sample from and distinguish it from the thousands of meteors that his earth’s surface every day. Supposing he found a sample, it would have to be big enough to be used to begin with. Even if he found it somehow and made a weapon out of it, Batman would have to move faster than a man that can move faster than the speed of sound. Ergo, it is impossible that Batman could ever beat Superman.
Davis: Good answer! And thank you again, Eric, for taking the time to visit with me here.