A guide to hopepunk: What to read, watch and listen to when all seems lost

Author Alexandra Rowland helped prompt a literary movement about hope and continued resistance with two cryptic sentences: "The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk. Pass it on."
Tatiana Maslany, left and right, plays more than 10 cloned characters in Orphan Black. With the series focus on optimism against an organization set to capture and control clones, viewers have called the series an example of hopepunk. (Space/Canadian Press)

A literary movement about hope and continued resistance kicked off with two sentences back in July 2017:

"The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk. Pass it on."

When Alexandra Rowland wrote those words on the social media website Tumblr, she didn't know it would elicit thousands of follow-ups and comments. But people demanded to know more about "hopepunk," a word she'd just coined. 

Rowland is the author of A Conspiracy of Truths, and the creator of a hopepunk manifesto on media.

"[Hopepunk] says that people have ... an essential core of being capable of malice, but we also contain a huge capacity for goodness and for caring about each other and for rebuilding our communities in intentional and positive ways," said Rowland to Tapestry host Mary Hynes. 

A new perspective on narrative

Hopepunk isn't so much a genre as it is a perspective on stories — one that is optimistic and is about people fighting for change despite overwhelming odds. Nothing about a movie's or a video game's or a book's setting or story choices precludes it from hopepunk, either. 

Rowland frames hopepunk in opposition to two other perspectives in literature: grimdark and noblebright. 

Though neither are formal genres, Rowland uses the terms to contrast what makes hopepunk unique. 

If hopepunk is optimistic, grimdark is cynical and dreary. In grimdark stories, good characters inevitably make bad decisions, and the truly great people suffer because of their hope. 

Alexandra Rowland is the author of a Conspiracy of Truths and a Choir of Lies, the latter to be released in 2019. (Submitted by Alexandra Rowland)

"Grimdark says that there's no point in trying to be good," Rowland said. "If you want to win you have to sort of descend to the level of the villains and meet them on their terms."

Rowland noted, for example, that Game of Thrones is a strong example of grimdark, given that characters who have an honourable and moral view of the world often lose out to characters who engage in cutthroat realpolitik. 

Noblebright vs. grimdark

"Grimdark is not lesser than hopepunk," Rowland said. "Grimdark is not toxic in comparison to hopepunk. It's just that grimdark teaches a different lesson [about humanity]."

At the other end of the spectrum to grimdark is noblebright. These stories focus on good versus evil where the hero often defeats the villain, and all of society's ills are fixed because of it. 

An example of a noblebright narrative is The Lion King, where the animal kingdom is saved because Simba deposes Scar as King of the Pride Lands. At the end of the story, the kingdom is restored to how it was before King Mufasa's death. 

So where does that leave hopepunk?

Rowland said it fits between the two ideas, where hopepunk acknowledges the world can be bad, but that people should fight to make it better.

"Hopepunk reminds us that all is not lost — that we can bring [goodness] back," said Rowland. 

But hopepunk has been around a lot longer than the word has. Here's a few examples of hopepunk media.

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (film)

Pacific Rim (film)

Sense8 (TV series)

Independence Day (film)

Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae (album)

Orphan Black (TV series)