Were-creatures are popular in romance at the moment. Although it's gone now, some months ago Loose Id had a section dedicated to them on their home page:
Fangs, furs, or pretty fish tails. Whether wolves, stags, or octopi, shapeshifters frighten and fascinate with their Jekyll & Hyde, Beauty & Beast, implications. And really, what’s sexier than animalistic mating urges? Hear the grunts, growls, and Alpha wolf howls.But there's also been some discussion lately about how far the trend for were-creatures in romance can go. Annie Dean commented over at Romancing the Blog that:
I think it helps going forward when you take into account what worked, overwhelmingly, for your audience and what didn’t. This is based on consensus, of course. If everyone who reads the book says, “I really liked it, except the fact that the hero was a were-clam” then why wouldn’t an author make a note of that? What’s the point of writing a whole series about were-clams if NOBODY likes it?But why wouldn't readers want to read about were-clams? The answer probably seems obvious: were-clams would not be sexy. And why not? Well, I suspect because
(a) on a practical, physical level their equipment isn't the stuff of sexual fantasies. And not just that sort of equipment: unlike the 'Cephalopods (squid and octopi) [which] have large brains and are capable of sophisticated movements and learning', 'Molluscs (slugs, snails, clams, squid and octopi) have ganglia--collections of axons--associated with the mouth, foot, and gut' (from here)Smart Bitch Candy has suggested were-ducks and were-slugs. They've got very interesting equipment and some exciting mating practices (click here to see the BBC video of mating leopard slugs, or, if that doesn't work, here's the same video at YouTube- it's really quite beautiful, in a strange sort of way). Nonetheless, ducks and slugs probably aren't considered the most lovely of creatures and they don't project an aura of power or danger.
(b) clams aren't creatures that we imagine as having an exciting life (one description of molluscs that I found online speculated 'did ancestral molluscs abandon a more active life style for a sedentary existence (like the clam)'? Hmm. So, not only do these creatures lack a brain, they've also got a sedentary lifestyle. Clearly not hero material.
(c) they just don't look right. How virile does that clam look to you? And that's a giant clam: the smaller ones are, well, often quite a lot smaller.
(d) unlike werewolves and various species of werecats, they're not part of our existing mythologies. At least, not as far as I'm aware.
A rhinoceros is more threatening when angered, but even so I had my doubts about a were-rhino hero and try as he might, the hero of Cassandra Curtis' free online erotic romance Stroke It couldn't convince me of his sexiness.
Mrs Giggles raised the issue of were-dragons. They've been gaining in popularity but
What is it with dragons that can be considered romantic, edgy, or sexy? I don't get it. Dragons in Chinese and Indonesian mythology are long serpentine creatures with sly faces. Dragons in European mythology usually end up dead at the hands of knights or are depicted as savage devourers of innocent maidens. How did we go from there to sexy?It's true. Dragons may have the equipment and the exciting lifestyle, but they've almost always been the villains in mythology. Maybe that's the draw for some authors. Can you get a darker or more tormented or more in-need-of-redemption hero than a cold-blooded killer with a penchant for virgins? However, Jo Beverley observes that
Dragons seem to be another “monster” that’s been tamed by the modern imagination. I think they were once universally harmful and feared in European culture (anyone know differently?), but now they’re often large, flying horses, or warships, or amiable – even heroic shape shifters. In romance in particular, we’ve domesticated vampires and werewolves, and we’re working on demons now. What is it in our modern age that wants to tame everything? Are there any imaginary monsters left that really scare us?Of course, quite how far the dragons are 'tamed' does depend on a given author's worldbuilding. Shana Abé's Smoke Thief, featuring a drákon hero and half-drákon heroine, enjoyed great success and received many extremely positive reviews (including this one). One that was less than favourable was written by Lynn Spencer, who disliked the fact that the hero decides:
to force her [the heroine] by using the frankly brutal laws of the dra'kon. It is at this point that the book becomes dark as Kit uses all forms of coercion, deceit, and false bargaining to gain his bride. [...] Those with a higher tolerance for super-Alpha males may enjoy this tale.So, dragons are in but their earth-bound near relatives may not be. Mary Jo Putney was discussing her latest novella which was appearing in a dragon-themed anthology
and mentioned that Dragon Lovers would be out soon. The habitué was pleased. I mentioned that a dragon was really just a serpent with legs and she said, “EEEUUUWWWW, don’t go there!” It’s amazing what a difference legs make.It can't just be the lack of legs, though. Mermaids may not have legs but they don't lack sexual allure. Maybe it's that snakes are a frightening and very real creature, unlike dragons. Snakes do appear frequently in mythology. So maybe it's only a matter of time before we get a were-snake in a romance. Maybe one already exists.
Pictures are of the giant clam (Tridacna gigas), from Wikipedia, and a woodcut of a rhinoceros by Albrecht Dürer (1515), also from Wikipedia.