Friday, January 19, 2007

Horror and the Paranormal

Today I was reading a historical set in England in 917 A.D.. That might not seem to have anything at all to do with the paranormal romance genre as recently discussed here by Sarah (both in terms of the definition and in the context of Nora Robert's Midnight Bayou). And yet, Sarah was asking:
How does the normal woman respond, for example, when she finds out her lover is a vampire/werewolf/witch? How does a normal man respond when he finds out he's not normal when he comes into his previously latent powers or is turned into a paranormal monster?
and elsewhere Magess thought that
It’s probably pretty difficult to make people afraid of vampires now. Oversaturation. I doubt you could really make them afraid of werewolves either.

What DOES count as horror now?
Is there real horror in the paranormals where the hero or heroine is a 'monster'? I don't know, because I've read hardly any paranormals, but my initial reaction to the thought of vampires and werewolves is far, far closer to one of horror and fear than one of delight or attraction.

To get back to the historical romance, Helen Kirkman's A Moment's Madness, the 'monster' here is not at all paranormal - he's the heroine's berserker husband:
one day someone argued with him, just our neighbor, over nothing it seemed. That was the first time I saw it, his rage. The noise ... like a wolf howling, and the spit flying from his mouth and the look in his eyes. Like one possessed. Possessed with the wolf's spirit. He had such strength when he was like that. He did not seem to feel any pain himself, whatever anyone did to him, and there was nothing he could not do and nothing he would flinch from doing to someone else (2004: 283)
and later she sees a wound he has inflicted, 'Wolves tried to tear people's throats out. It was what they did. Ragnar was, had been, the spirit of a wolf' and feels the 'sheer repulsive horror' (2004: 286) of it. Ragnar is not the hero, and although he's not actually a werewolf, it made me wonder if the type of horror his behaviour evokes is ever felt in paranormals by the human lover of a paranormal creature.

So my questions are:

(1) how much horror is there, in general, in paranormal romances in which the hero and/or heroine is a paranormal being such as a werewolf, vampire or demon?
(2) if there isn't very much horror (either felt by the reader or the human partner) is this because the creature has already been 'de-fanged' by the author? In other words, how often does the world-building include a paranormal creature as a hero or heroine where he or she still possesses all the evil or inhuman characteristics which made such creatures terrifying in myth and folktales?
Kirkman, Helen, 2004. A Moment's Madness (Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon).


  1. I'm reminded of the film Monsters Inc. in which Sully, the big, blue, fluffy monster has pretty much acted like a big, blue, fluffly monster, but then about 2/3 of the way through is egged into showing why he's the top "scarer" at Monsters Inc., terrifying Boo, the little girl. That which has been defanged demonstrates that he's still a monster.

    In the early Anita Blake books, Anita breaks with Richard, her werewolf boyfriend, because he changes above her while they have sex and she also sees him in wolf form devouring a man. She can't deal with the monster and runs away. Obviously not for long, though.

    As to other paranormals...when the men of J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood are their vampire-iest, they do it to protect their mates, and the horror is therefore attractive. Buffy's vampires (from what little I've seen) are certainly horrific in their "true" form. But now that you bring it up, most of the vampire and shapeshifter stories I read (and I don't hunt them down, by any means), the "monsters" are depicted as attractive precisely because of the features that were previously represented as horrific.

  2. No matter where you go, there isn't as much horror anywhere as there is in my laundry room.