Geeking Out Over Noblebright

Last night I discovered the term “noblebright.” I’m still geeking out about it. *happy squeak* 😀

It describes so much of what I write, and the tone of almost all my favorite stories.  Finding this term is like finding a word to describe a mood I have seen and loved all my life, but not had a way to describe.  It makes me so happy.

The term “noblebright” was created as a reaction to the negative term “grimdark,” which generally describes a setting that is dystopian, amoral, pessimistic, and/or violent – think Game of Thrones, or possibly Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.  (The last few books of Harry Potter might also be described as “grimdark” in tone, although overall I don’t believe the series could be called grimdark.)

This Wiki page describes the differences between grimdark and noblebright:

In a grim world, no matter what you do, an individual can’t secure more than an individual victory, if even that, because the rest of the world is too big/scared/powerless/selfish to act upon his impulse. A noble world is one where the action of a single hero can change the world, and a single big villain can f*** it all up : there are important people, who are so either by birth, rank or sheer willpower, and every single one of these people matter.
Now, a bright world is one full of opportunity, of wondrous sights to behold. It doesn’t mean that it has to be [My Little Pony], it can be dangerous, but your first instinct when looking at a new location should be awe and wonder: people may adventure to save the world, but they leave town with a smile upon their face, eager to see what comes next. The shadow of Risk is largely erased by the glint of Adventure. … A dark world is one where life sucks, and usually not long: whether it be because of demon overlords… or even the lack of water, everyone in this story may die, and they die for good.”

Art by Jane-Aspen

(There are also hybrids like nobledark – heroic heroes fighting evil in a very dark world – and grimbright – which I guess would be the ability to secure only individual victories in a world of wonder and adventure?…weird combo.  But I’m just sticking to the two main terms here.)

There is a basic worldview difference between these kinds of stories.

There are the stories where there is no hope, no meaning, and no lasting joy to human existence, where everything is sad and pessimistic – versus the stories where lives are meaningful because every individual makes a difference, good triumphs against evil in both small and great ways, there is beauty in the world, and there is real hope of victory.

Which of these is truer to my own worldview as a Christian?  The answer is obvious.

Art by Sandara

Now.  I believe there is truth to grimdark stories as well.  The world is fallen, cruel, full of atrocities and sometimes unspeakable evils.  Sometimes we need to look that in the face.  Sometimes we need grimdark stories.  They show us truth about this passing life.  We need to confront not just the evil in the world but the evil in ourselves.  We do live in a universe where “good people” do bad things, where every person has a dark side (except Christ).

But that’s not where my worldview ends.  When I look at the universe I see a noblebright place. I see true beauty.  I see right and wrong.  I see God working through even the worst circumstances to bring about ultimate glory for Himself and joy for His people.

So it makes sense that all the books and movies I love best fall under the “noblebright” category in some fashion.

Art from a video game: Lord of the Rings Conquest

Noblebright stories include: The Lord of the Rings [edit: one could argue this one is more nobledark], The Chronicles of Narnia, Firefly, some Marvel movies, and most 0f Star Trek.  There may be horrible villains, and dark parts of the tales, but a sense of wonder, morality, and nobility courses through these stories.  Beauty is real.  Life might be full of despair and destruction but that is not the end of the story.  The heroes might be flawed, but they are ultimately fighting for the good, and good will ultimately win.

I never knew there was a word for it.  I knew it was there.  I knew this undercurrent of hope, light, and beauty ran through all the stories I love the most.  It was part of my goals as an author to create worlds like this, running deep with joy, beauty, and love.  But I didn’t know it had a name.  And now I do!

I love noblebright.

Noblebright stories forever!!! 😀

Do you like stories that are darker or lighter in tone?  Which kind of truth impacts you more?  What are some awesome examples of noblebright stories you’ve seen or read (because I want to know more!!)?

Art by Sandara

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33 Comments

  1. My life philosophy is actually what I’d consider Grimbright.
    I believe the world is full of wonder but that all governments are institutions within the world are doomed to inevitable corruption and only the lives of individuals, rather than any system as a whole, matters, and the victories we manage in this world are pretty much going to come to naught, but there’s no reason to be depressed about it because SHINIES. We’re just kind of exploring this place as the ultimate leveling grind before Heaven.
    I think some of my books reflect this. My characters fight to preserve small things or make small differences but they rarely influence/save/change the world as a whole. It’s small steps that are more likely to impact those in their immediate circles than the world/society as a whole.
    But at the same time I include a lot of wonder and beauty because the world has a lot of that. It’s just constantly in a state of decay too.

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  2. I’ve never heard the term but I like it. And those are exactly the kinds of stories I like, too. And I believe it comes from the Christian perspective also. 🙂

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    • It comes from the Christian perspective but a certain kind of Christian perspective, I think. I tend to be an “optimist,” maybe sometimes at the expense of realism. 😉 I’m a big picture thinker, and to me the big picture is VICTORY! JOY! TRUTH!….but it’s also valid for people to look at the world in a more detailed, down to earth way too. 🙂

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  3. I am sooooo definitely a noblebright fan! I hadn’t really thought about it before, but I think the world I’m writing right now is on a precipice, ready to topple into dark but with the potential to move forward into noblebright, so long as people can summon up the best in themselves.

    Just a few weeks ago at the GenCon Writer’s Symposium, Scott Lynch suggested that the difference between SFF and “literary” fiction is that SFF is about people making change and overcoming challenges, whereas literary fiction is often about our inability to do so. It seems like grimdark has taken on that literary perspective, which goes a long way to explaining why I dislike both grimdark and much literary fiction. 😛

    I LOVE Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations, another example of a world on a precipice, and containing one character in particular who insists on seeing virtue and nobility no matter how many counterexamples the world throws at him. There’s also an interview with him printed in the back of the first book, and he has some great thoughts about the appeal of noblebright stories (he doesn’t use that word, but it’s the general idea).

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  4. I definitely like darker stories, but always with victory and hope in the end. 😀

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  5. Tamra Wilson

     /  August 17, 2016

    Noblebright forever! These have always been my favorite stories, fairytales most of them. The “Great Stories” speech from The Two Towers has become the mission of my stories, (Christian perspective, here!) bad stuff goes down, but the power of Light overcomes all the bad in the end. I love this, thank you for giving me this name!

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  6. Great post, Bethany! I agree with you that the world itself is often a noblebright place and in fact I think one of the most notable lacks of our modernist age is a loss of the whole concept and beauty of nobility – not so much as a genetic status, more as a character quality.

    Now I’m scratching my head trying to figure out where my works fit. I’m pretty sure PENDRAGON’S HEIR is noblebright, even though my characters face some incredibly challenging situations, and most of my fairytale retellings are too, though one could potentially be grimbright…. As for my WIP, that’s got to be skewing toward the nobledark side of things. So I’m all over the spectrum, except that I’m not (and probably never will be) grimdark; and in fact I would say that speculative fiction simply was not intended to be. After all, it’s the sense of wonder that we all love best about speculative fiction, whether it comes from the “bright” – gorgeous or cool settings – or whether it comes from the “noble” – eucatastrophe in the plot. Take those away and what does it matter if you have fantasy or sci fi elements? Someone mentioned literary fiction, didn’t they? – dull and depressing stuff that causes no catch of the breath or lift of the heart. Grimace!

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    • I totally agree about nobility!! I love that. It’s especially notable in LotR and Narnia. That sense of respect for authority and basic goodness. In our culture it’s cooler to be edgy and defiant.

      And as for literary fiction, that depends on the book. I’ve read some that were uplifting. 🙂 But I agree with you that the sense of wonder drives spec fic and that is why I love it so much!

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  7. Paul Lee

     /  August 17, 2016

    Great post! Brings out my far-too-neglected inner fantasy theorist. I miss that guy.

    Personally, I find the concepts both of nobledark and grimbright to be more interesting than noblebright or grimdark. I think I concur with whoisnyssaglass’s thoughts on grimbright being closer to the actual human condition in our very non-fantasy world. (On a good day I could call my life grimbright hopelessly idealizing nobledark.) From a philosophical Christian paradigm — or even any kind of traditional moral paradigm — the universe is more nobledark, I’d say.

    Apparently the 4chan people thought of LotR as more nobledark than noblebright, according to that chart:
    https://1d4chan.org/wiki/File:Alignments.jpg

    It looks like they’re basing their bright/dark scale more on tone and pacing than on deep concepts. I think there would be room to define bright/dark based on philosophy instead of tone, without conflicting with the meaning of grim/noble. This would give me a way to differentiate between LotR and The Wheel of Time series, for instance.

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    • I’m glad to bring out the fantasy theorist in you! That’s always fun. 😀

      I agree, LotR is more nobledark. I was excluding those categories from the post for simplicity’s sake…choosing between grimdark and noblebright, LotR clearly falls on the latter end. And has a lot of a sense of wonder. But nobledark is probably the most accurate class for it. 🙂

      Noblebright is my own personal outlook on the world, but I agree there’s definitely room for other views on life. The world could also be described as nobledark or grimbright, especially from a human nature perspective! I guess I tend to look at the universe from a very cosmic sort of perspective, including both eternity and God’s providence into my calculations.

      Ooh, interesting thoughts on tone versus philosophy. And sometimes a story can be noblebright in philosophy while being grimdark in tone (I hear BatmanVSuperman is like this).

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  8. Who knew there was such a term? So glad I’ve discovered it! It sums up exactly my philosophy, and what I’m trying to do in my own writing. I love it ❤️❤️

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  9. Oh, I am so glad you wrote this post!!!! As a person with many fandoms, there has always been something more behind all the feels, the suspense … when I read this post, I became very happy; it explains perfectly why I even have fandoms and it addresses that hidden feeling, that mood, right here, just as you were saying in the beginning. (Epic film score soundtracks often make me well up with these unknown feelings.) There is a solid reason for having favorite stories or movies; it’s more of an epic, adventerous retelling of mankind’s story. The heros are reflections of Jesus. The villains echo life’s hardships. Even if those books and movies aren’t specifically Christian or have any explicit religious themes, there is always an underlining message: victory, hope, triumph, ecstacy, beauty shining from evil, etc., and the whole thing makes me want to squeal in delight and write a comment that’s much longer than it should be. 😀 And I think your definition of this term is so grand. I will be using the term Noblebright quite often now. Thank you!!

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  10. I love this! I wrote a blog post a while back about Hope in Fantasy that was basically me rebelling against grimdark. I had no idea there was a name for the genre I prefer. And I’m so glad there are so many other people out there who still want protagonists who act nobly, whether the world is grim or bright. 🙂

    Have you read Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion? I think it probably falls under the noblebright category. After Lord of the Rings and Narnia, that’s my favorite series.

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    • I’ve never heard of that book! Now I’ve got to find it!

      Protagonists who act nobly are SO important to me. I don’t necessarily mind a morally twisted protagonist in a book I read (although I may not love that character), but especially in what I write it’s important to me that my protagonist have good intentions, even if they mess up along the way. I always love the noble, honest, and upright characters. I love when they remind me of Jesus. ^_^

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  11. Ah! What a lovely term! Thank you for sharing it and spreading the joy 🙂 Certainly an apt and fitting term. And your pictures were an excellent reflection of the word, as well. Loved this post!

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  12. What a cool term! I’ve never heard of it! I enjoy both stories but I find a special love for those more noblebright ones 🙂

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  13. This is so cool, I’ve never heard of either of these terms.
    I think a noblebright story I’ve read recently would be the Blood of Kings Trilogy. I think. I suppose I might be something else, but that sounds about right.
    Thank you for introducing me to these terms!!

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  14. What a lovely post! I love your thoughts on this, and I have always been a fan of noblebright, long before I had a name for it. Noblebrightness isn’t about everything always turning out fine and happy, but rather about the hope of making a difference, about the joy and nobility in striving to make the world a better place (whether the striving is grand and heroic or a hidden act of compassion).

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  15. I love how clearly you explained what I was thinking when it comes to noblebright and grimdark! There is hope because of Jesus Christ, despite our fallen world.

    You mentioned you want more recommendations that are noblebright. Have you been to the website noblebright.org?

    Also, I started a new bookshelf on Goodreads that is full of noblebright fantasy books, and it is here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/857888?shelf=noblebright (yes, it includes my own books, but I don’t think I’m too biased to decide they belong).

    Reply
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