Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fantasies and Romance as Fairy Tale

I've recently come across a paper written by Jennifer Lohmann for her degree of Master of Science in Library Science. It's titled "'Beauty and the Beast' Themes in Romance Novels" and I'm going to quote some of the points she makes, because I think they're relevant to the ongoing discussion we've been having about rape, power dynamics and reading romance as fantasy. The full paper is available here and Lohmann illustrates her argument with particular reference to Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm (23-27), Judith Ivory's Beast (28-32) and Nicole Byrd's Beauty in Black (32-35).
Radway and Modleski have already argued romance novels help women manage the problems of modern American culture. I extend their arguments to include the problems Bettelheim believes “Beauty and the Beast” helps children cope with. (35)
Bettelheim argues “Beauty and the Beast” helps children work through specific developmental problems they encounter as they age. These problems are: understanding the uglier side of self, overcoming anxieties about sex, and surmounting the desire to remain a passive actor in life. Specifically, I argue that in a culture where “female characters […] and their sexuality has remained quite rigidly imagined as either virginal or whorish,” the “Beauty and the Beast” theme helps readers in a similar way fairy tales help children (1-2)
Modleski argues Harlequin romances reveal deep confusion and fear in women regarding sex and violence. The pseudo-rape scenes of the novels and “the desire to be taken by force (manifest content) conceals anxiety about rape and longing for power and revenge (latent content)” (48). In the novels, Modleski finds a great deal of anger over the power men have over women and domination, which often gets confused with desire. (17)
The reason for an animal-groom and not an animal-bride is “it is the female who has to overcome her view of sex as loathsome and animal-like” (Bettelheim 285). Linking back to the divided self, Beauty must overcome her loathing of the Beast (as he represents her animal self and her sexual nature) before she can come into her full personhood. [...] Of concern to this paper is the virgin-whore dichotomy, “the axis of sexually ‘pure’ or sexual ‘ruined,’ of virgin or whore, of loose woman or bad girl” (Gameson 158). Women can be either virginal (childlike, not aware of their animal self) or whores (their animal self has taken over). (19)
Another issue which is briefly touched on by Lohmann is the role of another woman in turning the hero into a Beast:
Only Lion has a sorceress to blame for the hero’s curse and, unlike the fairy tale, the sorceress is punished for her misdeed. However, many of authors create the beast around a woman. In Ravished, Sale, and Only, society suspects the hero of killing a woman. In Ravished and Only, this woman was unfaithful and killed by someone for her misdeeds (in Ravished it was her father, in Only her lover). Kinsale suggests a woman is responsible for the hero’s madness by making the malady (it seems as if the hero of Flowers has a stroke) take place as the hero is leaving his lover’s bed and runs into her husband. The hero in Taming retreats from society because the scars he got after an accident repulsed his ex-wife. This creates a situation like the fairy tale, where a woman creates the beast in the hero. (11)
In the Christian tradition, the Virgin Mary is often seen as the woman who reverses the actions of the (sexual) Eve, and we've discussed the heroine's role in redeeming the hero in previous posts. As I mentioned in a comment to an earlier post, there is a long tradition of male fears about suffering harm as a result of vaginal intercourse and as Talpianna added, this "links ups, in a curious way, with the charges against witches in the Malleus Maleficarum: they mostly involve spells interfering with fertility/virility." Germaine Greer once wrote that
Women have very little idea of how much men hate them. Any boy who has grown up in an English industrial town can describe how the boys used to go to the local dance halls and stand around all night until the pressure of the simplest kind of sexual urge prompted them to score a chick. The easier this was the more they loathed the girls and identified them with the guilt that their squalid sexual release left them (249).
Perhaps in some romances in which the hero distrusts women and/or treats the heroine badly, or poses a threat to her, we can see this as a fantasy, in which the heroine must deal with male fears of female sexuality (which have led men to fear, despise and/or (ab)use women) and find a way to be both good (the redeeming female) and sexually active (but without becoming the feared woman).

The images are both of pig-men. The first is an illustration from Wikipedia by Walter Crane, for Beauty and the Beast. London: George Routledge and Sons, 1874. In the second illustration the enchantress Circe has turned Odysseus's men into swine.


  1. This has reminded me of a movie trailer I saw on Monica Jackson's blog. The forthcoming movie "Teeth", by Mitchell Lichtenstein, and from Roadside Attractions, manages to include themes about virginity, rape, and the vagina dentata:

    High school student Dawn works hard at suppressing her budding sexuality by being the local chastity group's most active participant. Her task is made even more difficult by her bad boy stepbrother Brad's increasingly provocative behavior at home. A stranger to her own body, innocent Dawn discovers she has a toothed vagina when she becomes the object of violence. As she struggles to comprehend her anatomical uniqueness, Dawn experiences both the pitfalls and the power of being a living example of the vagina dentata myth.

  2. She really seems to be cherry-picking her examples. In Robin McKinley's first version of the story (she wrote another 20 years later), Beauty, the wicked sorceress cursed the Beast's family long ago, because she felt they held themselves to be morally superior to the rest of the world. As a matter of fact, they were; and the curse didn't strike until the current Beast did something to evoke it. He cannot, at this point, remember what; but one can assume it was something fairly mild. In Mary Jo Putney's "The Black Beast of Belleterre," my other favorite version of the tale, the hero was born ugly, and matters only became worse when he was badly scarred trying to rescue his mother from a fatal fire. It was not his mother who rejected him, but his father. He marries the heroine to save her from being sold to a vicious rake by her father, but tries to avoid her as much as possible, as she is an artist and he feels she should be surrounded only by beautiful things. Of course she falls in love with him; and when she finally sees his face, she thinks he looks rather like Abraham Lincoln. And in the Disney film, the curse is intended to cause the Beast to redeem himself. The Animal Groom stories form one of the largest myth/fairy tale/romance/fantasy classes; and I think one could find something in it that supports just about any possible view. I don't think the virgin/whore dichotomy is relevant at all; it's the untried virgin's fear of sex/penetration that the story deals with, as Bettelheim said. If you want a REAL story about hating women, try "Patient Griselda." But don't blog about it, because I'm going to. If I can ever get Word to work again.

  3. Yes, Lohmann's obviously had to limit her selection, since there are so many romances with a beauty and the beast theme. Also, the source of the curse being another woman/an enchantress is something that Lohmann only touches on in passing. For her, as you say, the main point of these stories is about the issues that Bettelheim raises.

    However, I thought it was interesting that in Villeneuve's version of Beauty and the Beast (admittedly I'm going to have to quote from Wikipedia, since I can't find an original version of this):

    the backstory of both Beauty and the Beast is given. The Beast was a prince who lost his father at a young age, and whose mother had to wage war to defend his kingdom. The queen left him in care of an evil fairy, who tried to seduce him when he became an adult; when he refused, she transformed him into a beast.

    Now, that element of the story may not be present in many versions of the fairytale, and it may not be present in many of the romances which use the Beauty and the Beast theme in the most obvious forms, but if you look at the genre as a whole, and consider the many damaged/tortured heroes to be emotional "beasts" (and that view's one that would tend to be reinforced by the notion that they need to be "tamed" and the way in which they often have animal names - Wolf, Lion, Raven), then the fact that so many of these heroes also have evil/absent mothers, or evil ex-wives, or vicious mistresses, begins to seem significant. At least, it seems so to me. The heroine is quite often distrusted/treated badly by the hero because his attitude to women has been shaped by his experience with these bad women (and it's often the case that their viciousness is somehow linked to their promiscuity, infidelity or deviant sexual behaviours). The heroine, even when she is not a virgin (and she often is), has to somehow convince the hero that she is not like these other women (i.e. he has to overcome his fear of women and the damage they could do him), and yet at the same time she has to be fulfilled sexually with the hero.

  4. Laura, are you familiar with this site on fairy tales?

    The Encyclopedia Mythica also often has stuff on folklore and fairy tales as well as mythology.

  5. Yes, I checked Surlalune first, but they've got a different version of the Beauty and the Beast tale on there: "The version of the story which I have annotated comes from Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book (1889). He attributes his version to de Villeneuve, but his version is actually an interesting mesh of de Beaumont and de Villeneuve."

    Thanks for the reference to the Encyclopedia Mythica. It looks like it could be very useful.

    There are so many areas about which I know relatively little, and folklore and mythology are among them. But I tend to feel that if I didn't plunge in somewhere I'd (a) not explore some interesting areas and (b) I wouldn't get useful feedback in the comments, so I post my ideas anyway.

  6. I've sent friends to Sur-la-Lune with obscure queries, and they've found the folks there happy to help.

    Someone just posted this on the Jenny Crusie website:

    It would seem to illustrate at least part of our argument; but it's a non-copiable pic.

  7. I forgot to mention that in the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, the witch/fairy/sorceress came to the castle disguised as an old beggar woman and was rudely turned away. This is the "test" theme that is pretty much universal in quest tales, and the beggar-in-disguise can be male or female. Sometimes it's a wise rabbi; sometimes it's an angel or St. Peter.

  8. Laura wrote: In the Christian tradition, the Virgin Mary is often seen as the woman who reverses the actions of the (sexual) Eve....

    I remember a professor in a 17th century lit. class pointing out that some theologians interpreted the angel's greeting to Mary at the Annunciation, "Hail!" (Ave!) as a reversal of "Eve"(Eva).

  9. "...some theologians interpreted the angel's greeting to Mary at the Annunciation, "Hail!" (Ave!) as a reversal of "Eve"(Eva)."

    Did the theologians explain why the angel was speaking Latin to an Aramaic-speaking woman? I am sure they would have communicated in her native tongue, but if not, Greek, rather than Latin, would have been the next choice in that part of the Empire.

    Sorry, a but off-topic, I know, but you mentioned it, Tal!


  10. The victorious bride topper seems to be in a lot of places on the internet. I found another photo here. There's also the fishing bride, who's got the groom hooked, and the bride who's literally dragging her groom to the altar. Alongside these rather conflictual, victorious bride ones, there's also the helpful groom who is reaching down to help his bride climb up onto the cake, and of course the more traditional ones have the bride and groom side by side, but it's interesting that there are these supposedly "humorous" ones which suggest that the groom is being caught/vanquished by the bride.

    some theologians interpreted the angel's greeting to Mary at the Annunciation, "Hail!" (Ave!) as a reversal of "Eve"(Eva).

    Yes, I'd heard that too. I went off to look for more information and here's what I found:

    The culture of the high and late Middle Ages (from about the year 1000 onward) created, perpetuated, and modified a canonic image of woman that has continued to influence European (and American) political, social, and economic attitudes and practices down to our own time. In broadest terms, the high medieval image of woman [...] yoked together two apparently irreconcilable contraries. On the one hand, woman is the emblem of all man's strivings for self-perfection and self-fulfillment - for his "joye and solas," in words of Geoffrey Chaucer. On the other hand, she is man's temptress, the cause of his loss of self-control, freedom, and happiness. [...] The most universal form of this oppositional vision was theological, best expressed by the Christian palindrome, Eva-Ave. The paradox of the link between the mother of all men (authoress, through her inability to resist temptation, of humanity's fall from God's favor) and Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus (God become human to negate the consequences of the fall), is resolved by a divine providence that guides history: Eva (Eve and the fall) is reversed and redeemed by Ave (the angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary announcing her conception of Jesus. (Hanning 580-581)

    Did the theologians explain why the angel was speaking Latin to an Aramaic-speaking woman?

    AgTigress, I have the feeling that given the importance placed on the Vulgate translation, the relative lack of knowledge at that point in the Middle Ages about the details of life in the Holy Land, and the fact that Mary was living in a Roman province, the question would probably not even have crossed their minds. According to G. R. Evans:

    The text of the Bible in Jerome’ s Latin Vulgate version was taken to be the inspired Word of God, dictated by the Holy Spirit. Jerome had insisted that he did not regard his translation as itself inspired, but the methods of textual analysis used by medieval scholars depended heavily upon the assumption that the words could be examined as minutely as though they had been placed directly on the page, in the Latin, by God himself.
    (xvi, from here, and I’m fairly sure it’s from the introduction to G. R. Evans’s The Medieval Theologians: An Introduction to Theology in the Medieval Period, but I can’t be sure because that information isn’t in the pdf. I’ve checked the page numbers, though, and together with the name of the author and publisher, this would seem to suggest that this is the book in question.)

    Hanning, Robert W. “From Eva and Ave to Eglentyne and Alisoun: Chaucer’s Insight into the Roles Women Play.” Signs 2.3 (1977): 580-599.

  11. Laura, if you want to read some more on fairy tales and folk tales, here are some of the most important scholars in that field whose works are available in English (one problem of Lohmann's study is, imo, that her only theoretical work on fairy tales is Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment, a classic, but somewhat controversial work):


    Jack Zipes (he's one of the most imporant American scholars on fairy tales. He has written umpteen books on the Grimms, did one of the recent translations of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, and edited the OXFORD COMPANION TO FAIRY TALES)

    Maria Tatar

    Ruth B. Bottigheimer

    What one should always, always refer to when writing on folktales is the Aarne-Thompson folk motif index (abbreviated AT or AaTh).

    Much of the basic folktale / fairy tale theory has been developed by German scholars; I'm not quite sure in how far their publications are available in English:

    Lutz Röhrich

    Hermann Bausinger (FORMEN DER VOLKSPOESIE)

    Heinz Rölleke

    One of the most important encyclopedias on narratology is the ENZYKLOPÄDIE DES MÄRCHENS (1977- ), with about 800 contributors from 60 different countries.

    And I'll go and continue to kill that eeeeevuhl plant! :)

  12. The people of the Middle Ages always surprise me, both in how much they did know, and how much they didn't.

    Yes, of course I knew of the primacy of the Vulgate, but I am sure that Medieval scholars (amongst whom one would expect to count the theologians) would have been perfectly well aware that the native tongue of the population of the province of Iudaea was NOT Latin. In later translations, there is at least one place (Mark 15:34) where actual words of Aramaic are quoted and translated, and I should be surprised if that were not also the case in the Catholic Latin version, underlining the fact that Jesus himself - and his mother - spoke a language other than Latin. Perhaps Medieval scholars did not realise that Greek, rather than Latin, was the lingua franca of the Eastern Empire, yet somehow, I would expect them to have known that too: ancient Greek was, after all, preserved and studied throughout the Middle Ages.

    It is a minor point, as I said, but the kind of thing that puts me out of all patience, when such elaborate edifices of symbolic theory are erected on such ridiculous foundations.


  13. Thanks for the bibliography, Sandra. I'll keep a hold of it. And I'll know who to pester if I want some questions answered about fairytales ;-)

    AgTigress, I've been thinking about this a bit more, and it seems to me that presumably it wouldn't have mattered to the medieval theologians what language Mary spoke, because if the "Vulgate version was taken to be the inspired Word of God, dictated by the Holy Spirit", then it would be the words in that version that would be the ones they considered divinely inspired and therefore the ones they would analyse.

    You can find some very similar views today, except that nowadays it's the King James Version that's being seen this way:

    The Authorized King James text has faithfully served the body of Christ for almost 400 years. During this time, and during its translation, Satan has viciously and relentlessly attacked it. [...] I know that God has the power to preserve His word and that he wouldn't leave us out in the dark with an "imperfect" translation. In the authorized King James Version God assembled, and moved with His Spirit, a team of some of the world's best scholars to translate His word into the world's most popular language, English. (from here)


    Because the Gospel is true and necessary for the salvation of souls, the true Bible text has been preserved down through the ages by God's special providence and is found today in the King James Version. (from here)

    and there's more here:

    We believe the Holy Bible was written by men supernaturally inspired by God and what they wrote is truth without any mixture of error and is therefore the only complete and final revelation of the will of God to mankind. We believe the King James Version to be this Holy Bible, the inspired, preserved Word of God in the English language. We do not mean that the English language translators were inspired as they translated. However, because what they translated is an accurate and faithful translation of the inspired Hebrew and Greek texts, the King James Version is therefore the inspired, preserved Word of God in the English language.

    I only Googled this very briefly, but there seem to be quite a lot of sites like this, fervently defending the King James Version and asserting that it's special. I think it would be safe to assume that their position vis-a-vis the KJV might well be rather similar to that of medieval Catholic theologians with regards to the Vulgate.

  14. I think you must be right. The Word of God in (admittedly beautiful) early 17thC. English. Ack. They're barking.


  15. Sorry, meant to sign the above 'AgTigress' (or alternatively, 'boring old literal-minded Classical archaeologist and non-Christian').

  16. I am not convinced that another woman having a role in turning the hero into a beast is part of the Beauty and the Beast story trope and I don't think the examples used demonstrate this. In Flowers From the Storm, Christian has a stroke when he meets his lover's husband on his way out of her house. Insofar as this incident caused the stroke, it is a result of his way of life, rather than an act by the woman in the bedchamber he has just left. (Like Talpianna, I tend to the view that there are so many versions of this story that you could probably come up with a theory to support anything if you pick your examples carefully).

    Far from hating and fearing women, the Beast is often (though not invariably) wise and understanding. In many versions, a major part of the story is about Beauty 'seeing' past the beastliness to the Beast's inner goodness i.e. while the Beast transfigures physically at the end, it is the heroine, and not the Beast who 'learns a lesson'.

    Marina Warner has a compelling chapter in her book "From The Beast To the Blonde", in which she discusses how society's attitude to nature and animals has changed since medieval times, and how that is reflected in how we read the Beauty and the Beast story now. In early versions of the story, the beast is monstrous; deformed. His likeness to an animal is abhorrent and unnatural (e.g. Villeneuve). In some later versions, the beastliness of the beast becomes an object of desire (e.g. Angela Carter's "The Tiger's Bride"). Interestingly, both views are consistent with Bettleheim's interpretation of the story as being about young girls' fear of sex and marriage.

    (PS Laura - please keep posting as often as possible. The only reason I couldn't get through the last week of posts/comments - as commented upon at Meriam's blog - was because I'd been away for a week and was trying to read them all in one sitting at 11.30pm).

  17. They're barking.

    AgTigress, I now feel obliged to make a rather feeble pun by alluding to the domini canes, even though they're not really relevant to the discussion.

    I think you're right, Tumperkin, that there are lots of different possible versions/readings of the fairytale.

    Lohmann mentions Amanda Quick's Ravished, and there it's the hero's faithless (and now dead) fiancée whose actions (motivated by her sexuality) lead to him being known as The Beast of Blackthorne Hall. I haven't read any of her other examples, so you'll know better than I do how convincing her argument is with regards to those texts.

    It's certainly true that you can get Beast heroes who are wise and/or who aren't beastly because of any problem with a woman. And to be fair to Lohmann, it's really me that's making the leap from the romances which are more closely following the fairytale, to the romances in which the hero can be understood to be a "beast" primarily because he's untamed and is described in animal-like terms (e.g. I know I've come across a lot of heroes who move with panther-like grace or have names which remind one of animals, or are associated with fierce animals). I think my mind was turning back to the Mills & Boon Modern romances, and trying to work through fantasies which might underpin the ones in which

    1) there is a hero, perhaps described as a "magnificent male animal" (not sure why I've got that phrase lodged in my mind, or where it came from) or in some other way shown to be a candidate for "taming."

    2) there's a promiscuous (and often materialistic) woman/neglectful mother in the hero's past who's caused him to despise women/think they're gold-diggers who use their sexuality to trap men. Or due to a Big Misunderstanding and the hero's cultural assumptions, the heroine herself may, at some time in the past, have been the woman who caused him to think this way.

    3) the hero is therefore suspicious of/aggressive towards the heroine.

    4) She has to come to terms with her irresistible sexual attraction to this man who dislikes her so much, convince him that she's not using sex in a mercenary way, and "tame" him.

    Not all the M&B Moderns can be described as having that sort of plot. I've read lots in which the hero is quite different, perhaps helping or rescuing the heroine right from the start, or antagonistic towards her for a different reason), but there are enough of them with that type of plot that it made me wonder if there was a "fantasy" that unites them and if that fantasy might combine

    (a) the "taming" of the beast that's been described by Krentz with

    (b) the psychological issues Bettelheim describes in relation to the Beauty and the Beast fairytale (i.e. "understanding the uglier side of self, overcoming anxieties about sex, and surmounting the desire to remain a passive actor in life").

    and (c) the "understanding the uglier side of self" is particularly related to the madonna/whore dichotomy, which makes it difficult for the heroine to be seen by the hero as both sexual and good.

    Oh, and when I said at Meriam's blog that I might post less for the rest of the month, it wasn't really because of your comment: we've had rather an intense week or so at TMT, and it's also coming up for the holidays, so I was thinking I might need a bit of a rest in order to (a) spend some time with my family over Christmas and (b) prepare for January's "Internet Event of Stupendous Proportions."

  18. I'm reminded of an old New Yorker cartoon showing an Old Testament type busily scribing while a zaftig Muse on a cloud above him says something like, "You finish up this chapter of Deuteronomy, then have a some chicken soup and a nice nap."

    My own preference for exploration of fairy tales is Jungian, so I recommend Marie-Louise von Franz:

    This one is also pretty essential, though you'll have to find it used:

    I'm not sure if this will be considered relevant by anyone but me; but Bernard of Clairvaux's influence transformed the adulterous images of courtly love by substituting Christ for the lover and either the soul or the Virgin Mary for the beloved. There are some Middle English lyrics where one cannot tell if the intent is sacred or profane without looking at the title. If it says "Christ's Love-Awnter," it's depicting the Crucifixion as Christ the knight jousting to save His lady the soul. So the flexibility of imagery goes back pretty far.

    And I think when the Silver Tigress said, "They're barking," she meant "barking mad."

    Word Verification Game: wwqsq
    Why were quills so quiet?

  19. Thanks for the extra fairytale references. My initial impression is that romances in general just use bits of fairytales, to evoke particular ideas/feelings but they aren't rigorous in following through on absolutely every element of them (although, as mentioned by various of you, there are variations within each fairytale's tradition, so there are differences which may stem from that too).

    And I think when the Silver Tigress said, "They're barking," she meant "barking mad."

    Yes, I know, but I thought I'd throw in a reference to the Dominicans because nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

  20. I can especially recommend Jack Zipes's anthology of non-traditional fairy tales, Don't Bet on the Prince.

  21. My initial impression is that romances in general just use bits of fairytales, to evoke particular ideas/feelings but they aren't rigorous in following through on absolutely every element of them

    Yes that's true. But even if the novel in question is a retelling of a folktale and hence a twice-told tale, there is still an important difference between folktales and, say, romance or fantasy as fiction adds the element of reality to folktales.

    Fairytale characters normally don't have any sort of physicality (e.g., they don't age and they don't bleed, thus the little girl can cut off her finger and use it as a key to open the glass mountain); they normally don't learn from their experiences; they are not surprised when they come face to face with the numinous (what would you do if you ever met a speaking wolf in the forest???); they don't have any emotional or spiritual depth, etc. (This is all Lüthi, who lists one-dimensionality, depthlessness, abstract style, isolation & universal interconnection, as well as sublimation and all-inclusiveness as the characteristics of the folktale.) -- This, of course, is all quite different from a romance novel or a fantasy novel.

  22. fiction adds the element of reality

    The depth of the characterisation is another difference. And the length of the texts, of course.

    I can see I've got lots of reading up to do on fairytales, because there are some points of similarity with romance, and romance borrows from fairytales, and yet romances are very obviously different.

  23. Laura, I have a comfy chair, and I know how to use it!

    I strongly recommend Robin McKinley's Beauty as a fairy tale retold as fantasy plus romance; and you already know JAK/AQ's Ravished. McKinley also rewrote "Beauty and the Beast" again twenty years later, in The Rose Daughter.

    Mercedes Lackey has done a number of fantasy novels based on fairy tales/folktales/ballets, with a strong romance element. As I've no doubt mentioned before, I prefer, with the exception of a few authors, fantasy/SF with a strong romance plot to paranormal romances. They tend to be more interesting and have better subcreation (Tolkien's term).

  24. Laura - I think you're onto something there.

    There is a definite story-type/ trope of the type you have described which is very prevalent in M&B Moderns and which is also common in general romance.

    I've always tended to the view that this type of story is used by lazy writers as a kind of shorthand to deliver the ups and downs required, particularly in category romance i.e. there is a convenient explanation for the hero's unreasonable behaviour which is 'not his fault'.

    But your post has me thinking that perhaps this kind of story DOES reflect an underlying reader-fantasy (and that is possibly loosely related to the Beauty and the Beast myth). Indeed, perhaps this explains (in part) M&B readers' attraction to contemporary-set stories in which old-fashioned notions of virginity etc. are (inexplicably in the modern world) of great significance.

    It strikes me that there is a common thread running through many fairytales (Beauty and the Beast, the Cinderella stories) and through all sub-genres of romance: the idea that there is one female (with whom the reader identifies) who can capture the unattainable male (handsome prince, billionaire, immortal vampire etc.) often despite her own humble/ ordinary origins.

  25. Tumperkin: CAPTURE him or REDEEM him? And just how do the two resemble and differ from each other? I think you've opened up quite a can of dragons here.

  26. Talpianna, I recently read Robin McKinley's Beauty and a couple of Mercedes Lackey's novels for LUNA, so the mixing of fairytale elements with romance was something I'd been thinking about before I found Lohmann's dissertation. I'll definitely be following your and Sandra's reading recommendations at some point (my list of academic books and articles to read about romance and related genres/issues is getting ever longer!)

    Tumperkin, I'm glad you think there's something interesting/workable in the theory.


    the idea that there is one female (with whom the reader identifies) who can capture the unattainable male (handsome prince, billionaire, immortal vampire etc.) often despite her own humble/ ordinary origins.

    I think this maybe circles back to what I was discussing in my post about rakes. Again, there seem to be a variety of reasons why he's a popular figure, but he definitely is.

    And I'm not sure if I've mentioned this in the discussions we've had over the past couple of weeks, but the "taming" of the hero has, at least for some readers, been a way of expressing/venting their anger at men/patriarchy. Jay Dixon, in her book about M&B says that she read many of the books this way, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips, in her article in Dangerous Men, describes the heroine as winning the battle of the sexes when she stands up to the hero. So certainly for some readers there's an element of justice being done when the hero grovels/is tamed. And yet, as you say, there has to be a "convenient explanation for the hero's unreasonable behaviour which is 'not his fault'." because if he's too horrible then he's not going to be hero material/the HEA won't be convincing.

    I wouldn't deny that there may be some lazy writers out there, but the ones whose blogs I've read seem to spend quite a lot of time thinking about their writing. If their books seem similar, then perhaps it's because

    (a) the elements I mentioned above appeal to both these authors and their readers, and so they keep combining those elements in ways which satisfy the readers, and the readers' desires to see certain plots played out. I suspect that if your fantasies/tastes run along different lines, you're more likely to get fed up of the storyline and see it as "lazy" than if it's one that really appeals to you.

    (b) This ties in with Jenny Crusie's theory that each author has a "core story, the thing you return to obsessively even though you write it differently each time. That's who you are as a writer" and I think that may well explain the feeling of sameness that one sometimes feels when one reads a few books by the same author in quick succession. After reading about Sternberg's theory of love as a story, I suggested that readers have similar "core stories." Which is not to say that we can't ever enjoy anything different, and that we don't change our reading preferences as we experience new things/have different moods, but I suspect that for each reader there are certain character types and story lines which appeal the most.

  27. Laura, you might also look at her Elemental Masters series (and The Fire Rose, which ought to be part of it but isn't), because they also use fairy tale themes. Also Firebird and The Black Swan, based on the ballets (though the first ballet, at least, is based on a Russian folktale).

  28. I'm coming back to this post a bit after the fact because I wanted to acknowledge, Laura, that your comments above on 16th Dec got me thinking about the whole issue of Good and Bad Mothers which I then blogged about (in my trademark half-arsed and unacademic way). I just wanted to give a nod to you for that.

    On coming back, I've noticed Talpianna's comments about capture and redemption and can't resist responding. My instinctive response is that sometimes the story is about capture, and sometimes it's about redemption. A lot depends on whether the story is heroine-centric, hero-centric or whether it looks at the character journeys of both hero and heroine. E.g. the Beast is (often) redeemed, but Prince Charming from Cinderella is merely captured.

  29. Thanks, Tumperkin. I saw saw your post but I haven't thought a lot about mothers in romance, so I didn't have anything useful to add.

  30. Tumperkin, I posted a comment on your blog.