With the falling temperatures and leaves comes autumn, followed closely by Halloween. Drive around any American neighborhood, and you’ll find front door porches adorned with carved pumpkins, people in costumes, baskets of sweets, backyards with bonfires, and whispers of spine-chilling tales. Those of us who are removed from this eerie ambiance find ourselves gravitating toward evocative stories to build our spooky spirits. As someone who can’t always handle pure horror, I love books that are the perfect mix of scary and quirky. Intrigued by such stories, my best friend found ourselves wondering, “what makes a story dark and whimsical?” We couldn't find a definition online, and so we came up with our own:
“Dark whimsy is a genre characterized by elements that are lighthearted and magical, and also sinister or darkly realistic. The whimsical aspects feature quirky characters, ambiguous settings and lore, and the magical or supernatural—often influenced by mythology, folklore, and fables. The darker aspects can include horror and morbidity, often alluding to or directly addressing real-world struggles.”
Dark whimsy stories are often set in fantasy locations or within strange and unexpected pockets of the real world. In need of a reprieve from this year? Take a look at this essential dark whimsy booklist to be whisked away to weird and wondrous places:-
The first two books are suitable reads for children.
1. The BFG by Roald Dahl
After young orphan Sophie spots a tall and shadowy figure, she is scooped up and taken to a land of giants. Her captor turns out to be the Big Friendly Giant, who is fond of “human beans” but scared of being discovered by them. Unlike his bloodthirsty brethren, BFG is kind, goofy, and protective. He treks to ‘Dream Country,’ where he catches dreams that whizz by in multicolor sparkles and blends the good ones to send to sleeping children.
This story takes a touching look at childhood, the acceptance of differences, and how friendship can be found in unlikely places. With his ridiculously fun words, bizarre settings, and serious themes, Roald Dahl was a master of dark whimsy in his own right.
2. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Young Coraline is clever, inquisitive, and tired of her parents’ inability to make good food and pay attention to her. As she explores indoors, she finds a door that leads to an identical flat that is inhabited by her “Other” parents (who look just like her parents, except they have buttons for eyes). Coraline now has animate toys and doting parents who cook well and actually have time for her. Though this ‘Other World,’ is more fun than her own, there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Without a condescending moral of the story, Gaiman takes his young readers more seriously by focusing on the spunk and resourcefulness of children. This book serves as an important reminder for all: being brave means learning how to act in spite of our fear, rather than not being scared at all.
The next two books are better suited for older readers.
3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Le Cirque des Rêves (‘The Circus of Dreams’) is an ethereal place unlike any circus you have ever seen. It is made up of tents filled with performances and sights that exceed and defy your expectations and even the laws of physics. Unbeknown to most, this circus is also the venue for two people to compete in a battle of illusions, imagination, and endurance. The physical setting is as much the heart of the plot as its supporting characters, each of whom has a key role to play.
Morgenstern’s descriptions weave magic into every page—you will feel it in the mystique of the circus, in its magnetizing aromas and aesthetics, in each character’s idiosyncrasies, in the lavish and delectable multi-course meals, and so much more.
4. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
In World War II-era London, twelve-year-old David is trying to cope with the loss of his mother. David’s father is busy with World War II efforts and his new marriage. Resentful of this reality and overcome by grief, David loses himself in his books. Their strange and sinister stories come alive after David falls into a hole in the garden wall and finds himself in an unusual and dangerous place. This book features lore we're familiar with—Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin—but not without turning these tales on their heads. Though there are moments of comic relief, the story is full of creepy, twisted, and gory moments. Connolly’s writing is not for the faint of heart, but his passion for the power of stories shines through this one.
What are your favourite dark whimsy books? Drop us a comment! --
Written by Aakanksha Gupta (Weloquent)