Romancing the Beast

Paranormal romance almost always features the hero as a paranormal being and the heroine as an ordinary human. How does this resonate with gender relations and power relationships in our society? Is it a way of expressing women seeing men as another species? And does it all come down to fairy tales?

I’m going to ramble on these ideas for a bit, and hopefully I will shake some ideas loose that I can think on further.

Kresley Cole’s books, for example Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Nightare among the exceptions–in her Immortals After Dark series so far, usually both hero and heroine are paranormal beings.

However, for the most part, a paranormal romance follows a human woman, usually one who is “ordinary” or “normal,” as she encounters for the first time a paranormal world running parallel to her own. In this new world, she’s suddenly in peril, and she must rely on her Beastly Rescuer (whether vampire, werewolf, or magical warrior) for her safety. Along the way, she provides something to the Beast that is missing from his life, as he provides something that is missing in hers, and they fall in love.

This is the most basic version of the paranormal romance. It resembles the structure of many historical and category romances, as well, only replacing the top-lofty duke or marquis with a vampire, or the foreign billionaire with an alpha werewolf. In all cases, the hero is of a type the heroine has never before encountered. Often he’s more forceful than she would like, more domineering, more arrogant. The plot forces her into his world, and with his help, she learns to live there and to both mitigate and tolerate his masculine and/or paranormal dominance because, after all, he’s more powerful than she is. She finds happiness in his world. If she had never left home, she would never have found happiness.

I wonder what it is about this fantasy that’s so enduring, and so forgiving of sub-genre? Is it really the Cinderella story? Cinderella is raised to wealth and privilege through the prince’s eyes. We don’t know for sure that’s she beautiful, only that she’s got endurance to withstand her stepmother and stepsisters. We do know that it’s the prince’s notice that drags her into a new world. If she hadn’t attended the ball, he would never have known she existed. Is there also an element of moving into a new stage of your life?

Cinderella chose to attend the ball. Her action led to her happiness. In most versions of Beauty and the Beast, the beauty is sent to the beast as payment for her father’s debt, just as in some paranormals the heroine falls into danger because her ancestry pre-disposes her to danger: she might be a werewolf’s biologically-destined mate, or be the daughter of paranormals who fled from another dimension. However, once captive to the beast, the beauty acts on her own to get to know the beast, to see through his beastly exterior and into his emotional soul. The beast resists her intrusion, but gradually gives in.

Are paranormals Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella? Or both? Or neither? Or simply the fairy tales for the modern world?

Related Posts:
Normative Heterosexuality and the Alpha Male Fantasy.

Why I Don’t Like Vampires.

Types of Paranormal Romance.

Published by Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s writing showcases her voracious lifelong love of books. She reads over 120 new books each year, especially historical romance, fantasy, and space opera, and incorporates these genres into her erotic fiction. Her first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover (Harlequin Spice, December 2008), was translated into French and German. Her second Spice novel, The Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), was translated into Italian and nominated for a RT Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her third novel is The Duke & The Pirate Queen (December 2010). She has also published erotic short stories as Elspeth Potter. When not writing, Victoria conducts research in libraries and graveyards, lectures about writing and selling erotica, and speaks at literary conventions on topics such as paranormal romance, urban fantasy, erotic science fiction/fantasy, and the empowerment of women through unconventional means. Her daily writing blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and author interviews. She also guest blogs for Heroes & Heartbreakers and The Criminal Element. She lives in Philadelphia.

8 replies on “Romancing the Beast”

  1. Interesting connection you've made to the paranormal traditions inherent in these classic fairy tales. Which goes to show, no new stories, right? :)

    If we look at the women with special powers in fairy tales, they don't fare so well.

  2. If we look at the women with special powers in fairy tales, they don't fare so well.

    I'll be thinking and writing more about this, I think.

  3. Hrm, interesting! I hadn't thought that much about the fairy tale connection. I also wonder about paranormals as a revision of the Beauty and the Beast story—I feel most of us have had that moment in which we think "But why did he have to turn back into a human? How can she recognize him now?" And paranormals give the reader a way to keep the hero as a beast without necessarily getting into things like "Is it bestiality?" or "How do all the tabs go together?"

    Although I do think more paranormals are getting into those questions as well, especially with shapeshifters and gargoyles and etc.

    I've also been noticing that even when there are heroines as paranormal beings, they're more frequently paired with paranormal being heroes instead of with human heroes, probably so that the hero doesn't come off as "weak."

  4. I've also been noticing that even when there are heroines as paranormal beings, they're more frequently paired with paranormal being heroes instead of with human heroes, probably so that the hero doesn't come off as "weak."

    Ahh… so that's what I've been doing wrong with my historical paranormal where the hero is a human and the heroine is a coyote shifter…

    Seriously, though, I think it's about balance. Maybe if the hero doesn't have supernatural powers, he makes up for it with shrewd intellect or something comparable. A Yin to her Yang. Besides, it takes a real man to stand up to strong woman. ;)

    I might have to play with the reverse "Beauty an the Beast" idea in a future story. Very thought provoking post, Victoria, as always. :)

  5. "But why did he have to turn back into a human? How can she recognize him now?"

    Ooh, yes.

    I've also been noticing that even when there are heroines as paranormal beings, they're more frequently paired with paranormal being heroes instead of with human heroes, probably so that the hero doesn't come off as "weak."

    Yes, definitely. I think to do otherwise, the story needs to change its paradigm, and so far the market doesn't seem to stand for that yet, sigh.

  6. I might have to play with the reverse "Beauty an the Beast" idea in a future story.

    I am going to keep an eye out for examples. I shall start collecting them along with male virgin and gigolo heroes!

  7. In a fairytale book for kids (Rose and the Beast? anyway I thought it was a long B&B story not a short one with others… sadly disappointed) the author made one hilarious and good point at the end of the B&B tale.

    When Beast was a Beast he understood her, championed her, slept beside her, warmed her, followed her everywhere, ran around and played with her, and entertained her. As a prince he hogged the covers, they argued, he disappeared for hours on end, they walked instead of frolicked, etc. She still loved him, but most times she wished he stayed a Beast.

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