dark forest with autumn leaves and a lit lantern

Writing Playlist: Dark Fairy Tale

Of all the genres out there, dark fairy tales were probably the most influential on me growing up. I don’t necessarily mean the grimmer origins of the fairy tales that Disney took and made movies out of, although I certainly watched and loved all of those. I’m an older Millennial, and I had the good fortune of exposure to other fantastical, otherworldly modern fairy tales that had darker edges to them. The Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, Legend.

These stories gave me adventure the likes of which I’d never seen before. They grappled with devastating loss, self-reliance, and the importance of friendship. They entrusted me, their tiny viewer, with oftentimes harrowing and lonely adventures that ended with great reward, even though the journey itself irrevocably changed the journeygoers. They made me feel strong and brave; like I, too, could be Atreyu traveling through Fantasia, surviving the loss of his horse, pulling himself back from the edge of despair even after the Nothing had swallowed the world. I, too, could navigate a labyrinth to save my little brother like Sarah, outwitting a goblin king and creating a found family out of the friends I made along the way. 

As I got older, I found more stories with fairytale elements to them that spoke to me. Pan’s Labyrinth, The Fall, The Fountain, The City of Lost Children. They did not always end happily, and so I clung to these stories as a way to remind myself that when loss of any kind entered my life, there was more on the other side of it if I could just hold on long enough to find out. The characters in these stories, for the most part (but not always), made it through to the other side. Changed, of course, but hopeful. 

This playlist is dedicated to those dark fairy tales that offer the chance of adventure and discovery, but sometimes at a price. Where safety is not guaranteed. Where you’ll learn more about yourself and what you’re capable of than anywhere else. All of these songs, for me, capture that marvel and discovery and sense of danger and slight discomfort of pushing yourself out into a world unknown. The journey in these tales can be lonely and threatening and uncomfortable, but they can also be wondrous and hopeful and magical. May these songs help inspire you as you’re writing your own dark fairy tale, or give you the perfect backdrop for reading such a tale. 

Need some inspiration for your writing, or looking for your next read in this deliciously complex genre? Here’s a list of quite excellent dark fairy tales:

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