What is it that people find fascinating about gritty fantasy compared to the classic story types like The Hero's Journey?As I noted when the question was asked, I can only talk about this topic from my personal perspective. Sadly, the radiation from Japan's nuclear power plan problems has yet to give me the ability to read the minds of everyone on the planet. I'm as upset about it as you (admit it, you wanted to get super powers too).
First, to definitions, just so we're clear what we mean (or I mean) by "gritty fantasy." George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is gritty fantasy. J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and successor works are the classic "hero's journey" stories. The difference between the two isn't so much the lack of a quest, but rather a rejection on the part of gritty fantasy of romantic notions
about medieval societies. In classic fantasy, death is glory; in gritty fantasy, death is horrible, costly, and deeply personal for the characters. There may be overlap, but I think the absolutism is essential. For the purposes of this post, I will focus specifically on A Song of Ice and Fire (books one and two, which I will refer to as GRRM to save space and my fingers). Expect a few spoilers.
But gritty fantasy tends to avoid these glorifications. War is terror. It is blood and mud and guts and death. It is a sea of despair. People die, and they don't die well, because there is no good death in battle. And death outside of war is equally without glory. Disease. Starvation. Murder. All of it working in conjunction to make a medieval world that feels lived in, rather than ideologically constructed (utopian). GRRM does this remarkably well, taking the piss out of those moments when we expect honor and glory to drive men and women to victory. Instead, they tend to fall, often to dishonorable men. Wars are sacrifice, but whatever glory can be found there is bittersweet. Take the first battles at the end of A Game of Thrones. In one such battle, a small contingent of soldiers is sent to meet Tywin Lannister's host, but only to distract him while the greater force heads out to take the armies of Tywin's son, Jaime, and free Riverrun. A lot of people die. But there is no moment of glory for them. There are no beautiful horns chiming in harmony. Whatever stories are told are glorifications, but the narrative itself never gives us that glory (in fact, the battle is show from Tyrion Lannister's perspective, a mangled dwarf who has never served in battle, let alone been trained for it).
Those are two reasons I enjoy gritty fantasy. What do you think? Do you agree? Or are there other things that draw you to gritty fantasy?