Top Ten Tuesday: Works of Dark Fiction

It's recommendation week again, this time for "books for people who liked X book".... but I did that a couple of weeks ago, and anyway I'm a little nonplussed in the recommendation department right now. One of my sisters shares my love for fiction and a lot of my taste, so we swap books and talk them over all the time. I'd always thought her to be a touch more prone than I am to rejecting or disliking a book for containing dark elements—but this week she read all three of the Hunger Games books, the darkness of which had done quite the number on my emotions. I had told her so, but we have friends who like the books, and she took the risk.

Ladies and gentlemen, she loved them. Even Mockingjay.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

Mockingjay. My sister.

I cannot remember when I've been so totally floored. That'll teach me to make presumptions about what people won't like. :P

Our other sister once wisely noted that there are different kinds of darkness found in fiction, and people have varying sensitivities to each kind. Hence, the inspiration for this post.

Here are ten of my favorite novels containing a significant element of darkness, classified according to type:

Spiritual or psychological darkness. These categories are closely related enough that I couldn't quite manage to separate out the lists. I handle this type of darkness best, provided the dark element is not actually psychopathic or demonic. The reason it works for me, I think, is that the darkness is often sharply contrasted with very beautiful, very powerful light. All of the stories below exemplify this.

1. The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. I almost put this into its own category, rather than including it under "spiritual darkness" at the risk of being misunderstood. There's no invocational sorcery, New Ageism or demonism in these books. The shadow is composed primarily of depictions of extreme lovelessness, though there's also symbolic depression, attacks on the soul, and (from the villains) black magic.

2. Perelandra and That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. Both of these books make me shudder in spots and could perhaps be classified under straight-up horror, but I'm placing them here for the open godlessness (and apparent demon-possession) of certain antagonists.

3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Raskolnikov's murders are a bit graphic, but the focal point of the book is the darkness of his mind and soul.

4. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The protagonist, Rand, spends... what, ten, eleven?... books going mad. Then there's the Dark One and the Forsaken and all the Darkfriends to add the spiritual element.

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. It's Gothic, it's dark, and it's wonderful.

6. Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. There is some physical violence, including some from Ender himself, but Ender's character arc goes down into severe psychological darkness—more of the tortured than the evil variety—and back into light.

Darkness in the form of 'ordinary evil'. These are more realistic novels in which much focus is given to the sadder and seamier sides of everyday life. I can usually read these, but I generally don't without having gotten strong recommendations as they tend to leave me depressed unless the story moves strongly lightward.

7. Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoy. I've no hatred for Anna, either the woman or the book. Terrible as her story is, it's contrasted with Kostya Levin's beautiful search for light.

Darkness in the form of graphic violence or sexuality. Self-explanatory, though people will tolerate and refuse to tolerate very different things in these regards. For myself, I like having a clean mind too much to read them often, and anything involving cruelty just makes hash of my emotions.

8. Looking for Alaska by John Green. This could also fall under 'ordinary evil'. Some language, one terribly messed up teenage girl, one terribly lustful teenage boy, one viewing of porn (not overtly described, if I remember correctly), one excruciatingly awkward fellatio scene, and one practical joke involving a stripper. I loved this book for the theme of forgiveness, and for the things Miles said when he wrote his way "out of the labyrinth."

Horror or thriller/suspense stories. Self-explanatory; sometimes also graphic. This stuff will give me nightmares.

9. Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card. Achilles is possibly the most frightening villain I've ever come across in fiction.

10. The Pelican Brief by John Grisham. It's been a good ten years or so since I read it, but back then I had to skip pages out of sheer terror. After I saw the movie, I spent several nights dreaming I was Darby Shaw getting chased around by bad guys with guns and car bombs.

Honorable mention to The Giver by Lois Lowry, which contains darkness of the spiritual and psychological type; to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty White, which contains quite a lot of ordinary evil; to The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, which is written from the perspective of a devil; and to New Moon by Stephenie Meyer, the only one of the Twilight series which really read shadowy to me, and did it ever—but it was redemptive nonetheless.

I didn't include The Hunger Games series because it was much too distressing a read for me to love (though I generally understand why others do), but it contains both graphic violence and psychological darkness.

What dark books have you loved? Are there other categories I should have included?


  1. I'm not sure I loved Wuthering Heights, although I found it instructing to read, but it certainly qualifies as dark. Now, Dracula is a book I do absolutely love & it's very dark in a Gothic sense while at the same time being spiritually enheartening & hopeful.

    And there's no apparent demon possession in Perelandra. :)

    1. Totally forgot about Dracula! I did think about Wuthering Heights, just didn't love it enough to throw it in the top ten. Good book, though.

      Isn't possession the whole point of what's going on with Weston? I admit it's been awhile since I've read it, but I thought that Ransom knew it wasn't Weston himself he was fighting.

    2. Exactly. It's not apparent demon possession; it is demon possession. ;)Sorry, trying to be to subtly snarky.

    3. HAHAHAHA! OK, it makes sense now. ;)

  2. So this may sound morbid, but I read rather dark things for my daily life. Or depressing. And tend to err on the side of lighter fiction for that reason... it started in grad school and never stopped. That being said, dark books sometimes have a wonderful inner light, don't you think?

    I think the Maisie Dobbs series is rather dark, for historical mysteries, in an awesome way. And very well written and just really ones I would highly recommend. You should check those out! I reviewed it for our blog, I don't usually post links but you should totally check it out! http://mysistersbookshelf.com/marys-book-review-maisie-dobbs/

    Also, I love how dark Jane Eyre is. Good call.

    1. I err on the side of lighter fiction, too! And am not ashamed of it in the least. But every now and then, I find a dark one that I really love.

      Maisie Dobbs looks like a lot of fun! Thanks for the recommendation. :)


All comments are currently moderated. Friendly comments are welcomed with fairy music, magic wishes, and possible unicorn sightings. Troll comments will be Transfigured into decent-looking rocks or Vanished. Spam comments will be shot down with blasters.