Paranormal Allegories

I have a post on Heroes and Heartbreakers today: “If You Build It, They Will Come: Worldbuilding in Urban Fantasy.”

Now, on to today’s post!

What do the paranormal creatures in Paranormal Romance represent? Are they allegories?

You could say, sometimes a gorgon is just a gorgon. I think, though, it’s valuable to think about paranormal creatures in fiction as allegories, symbolic representations of things from our own society that we want to examine or critique. I think that writers can’t afford not to think how their paranormal characters might be representing roles in society, from sexual to racial to any of a dozen other categories.

I’m not considering writing a paranormal…not exactly. But I’m thinking about this issue now because it’s something I want to use in my new project. If I think about it enough, maybe I can encourage my brain to use the concept on an unconscious level.

What does the writer want to convey with a story about a paranormal being? How is the text she produces working to convey what she intends? How is her text working against her, and what can she do about it? What different interpretations and judgments might readers have of the text?

Here’s a very generalized and exaggerated example of what I mean. The werewolf might represent an overwhelming sexual hunger. What does that interpretation say to the reader? I estimate that, in ninety percent of Paranormal Romance novels featuring werewolf characters, the werewolves are male. Is the implication that women can’t experience overwhelming sexual hunger, because if we don’t see it on the page, it doesn’t happen? Is the implication that periods of uncontrolled sexual hunger are natural and desirable for men, or alternatively, deviant? What message does the preponderance of male werewolves give? It’s all very well to mention that “oh, yes, female werewolves in this world also are lauded for losing themselves and devouring enemies,” but if that is not shown in a scene, it leaves much less of an impression on the reader than the seven scenes in which a male werewolf changes form and devours his enemies before having wild sex with the heroine. But it’s very easy to fall into that trap, without even noticing one is falling.

A writer can’t control every interpretation her audience places upon her work. Reading is in many ways a joint effort between writers and readers. But I think the writer can be mindful of the possible range of interpretations of her stories. Vigilant, even.

I don’t think writers should shy away from this. I think it can add a lot to a story’s depth if we keep in mind the richness that’s possible through allegory.

Here’s another very generalized example. Vampires have often been used as allegories for outsider populations, including people who suffer from a disease. If the writer chooses the latter option, the disease chosen will affect the story. For example, I read various 1980s and 1990s stories in which vampires were an allergory for humans with HIV. To criticize how our real-life society demonized those who contracted HIV, vampirism was shown to spread more easily than in some other vamprie stories, and the vampires were shown as unjustly persecuted by society. Alternatively, vampirism as an allegory for tuberculosis might show the vampires as Keats-like artists. Vampirism as an allegory for flesh-eating bacteria…would work better as a zombie story, I think.

I’m going to keep thinking about this. Do you have any thoughts? Examples? Do I need to just shut up and write?

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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4 Responses to Paranormal Allegories

  1. Rob Graham says:

    I’ve written quite a number of vampire stories to date, and for me, vampires have always been an allegory for humanity itself.

    Vampires have great powers, and how they use those powers defines them. Vampires have dark powerful drives; blood lust and severe territoriality along with strong pride. Whether they are ruled by these things shows what type of character they are. Vampires are indeed, as you said, outsiders. This alienation is known by most humans as well, and it’s always a source of conflict.

    So when I write about vampires, I’m writing about humans. In my opinion, all literature is about humanity.

  2. So you’re writing about the choices humans make, and how they define us? How the vampires handle their drives?

    • Rob Graham says:

      That’s right, Victoria.

      Any sentient being is going to have a conflict within itself. The conflict between its emotions and its mind. It doesn’t matter if the person is a mortal human or an undead blood drinker. They’re going to have wants and needs. They’re going to make decisions about those want and needs. And they’re going to have to live with the consequences of those decisions.

      Conflict makes for great stories.

  3. So it does! And the vampire conflicts are on a more dramatic scale, so they make for great fiction.

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