Monday, April 17, 2006

O Mores!



At one time, just about anything that included a paranormal element was described as "Gothic fiction."
Even Wilde's Picture of Dorian Grey.

It became a genre, usually involving a beautiful woman, secluded in a haunted castle/mansion/island with a tortured Byronic hero and various emanations, spirits, ghosts and jealous, evil other women or crafty cousins.
Or they were classified simply as ghost stories or horror tales, viz Poe and Lovecraft, etc.

Vampires and werewolves have been very big in paranormal fiction. Just as dragons and elves have been in fantasy.
They have also achieved variety.
Writers have searched the folk lore of various cultures and their own imaginations and come up with an amazing and entertaining variety.
Werebeasts and undead of every description, history, transformation and location.
Urban fantasy replaces Transylvania, Egypt and remote Scottish castles.
Beast form is no loger restricted to the wolf, (though I hope sometime to read of one named Luc Garew) and expanded in all sorts of clever creative forms.
I don't think these doppelgangers and vardogers, these physical alter egos, these cultural memories, are going to disappear from popular fiction anytime soon.
Among other things, they happen to reflect a current urge in society for eternal youth and life in a more complex and available means than Ponce de Lion's quest.
What has changed - shifted - in these shapes from myth and legend, is their role.
No longer demonic, evil, harbringers of hell and eternal damnation the werebeast, the draclu, the bloodsuckers may now be detectives, law enforcers and tortured good guys, fighting the dark.
Monsters with soul.
With this enhanced role has come emotional complexity, ethical conflict, societal complication. Exploration.
Very rich.

35 comments:

Savannah Jordan said...

Bernita, your post is all me; tortured souls, vampyres and were's of every make, mood and breed. Thank goodness paranormal isn't your usual paranormal anymore!

James Goodman said...

Yes, I have noticed the shift as well and hope to one day contribute to it. Great post!

Bernita said...

In some ways, Savannah, it's broken from the strict conventions - or more precisely has added to them mainstream elements.
Another kind of "transformation."

I find it fascinating on many levels, James, and I'm sure you will.

Erik Ivan James said...

I'm incorporating some of the "shift" into my novel. A satanic variation. It shows up in both human and animal; separate.

Dennie McDonald said...

My RWA chapter has a contest every year and the last 3 - the paranormal category has won for best overall - for what it's worth

Bernita said...

Now that's very interesting, Dennie - wonder if it had something to do with the added danger, suspense that a paranormal may bring to the bed...er..table.

Double trouble, Erik? Certainly will add excitement.
I find the expressions "shape-shifter," and "skin-walker" very evocative - and provocative.

Rick said...

My impression is that it started with making vampires (or werewolves, etc.) sexy rather than hideous. I'm not drawn to the paranormal myself, so don't really follow it, but my impression is that when I was growing up the creatures of the night were as ugly as orcs, and just as lacking in moral complexity or ambiguity. Once they became attractive, their moral coding began to change as well.

Bernita said...

To make them believable as protagonists as opposed to antagonists, wouldn't this change have to occur at the same time, Rick?
Beautiful seccuba/daemons and Quasimodo's notwithstanding?

jason evans said...

I'm such a sucker for Gothic fiction (especially traditional). There must be a psychological study somewhere of just what mental/emotional strings it pulls.

Bernita said...

Probably, Jason.
Beauty in peril? The chivalrous aspect?
Shivery anticipation of who is good and who is not when the mask of appearances are stripped away?
Grown-up fairy tale deliverance?
Some of them contain all the elements of old folk ballads, such as the riches,treasure and gold, the lord and maid plot,the dark castle, but usually with a happier ending.
Both ritual and romance.

Lady M said...

I think there is a very big difference between Goth and paranormal and fantasy.

Fantasy = magic and creatures both benign and evil - but usually for the specific good triumphs over evil. Piers Anthony, JRR Tolkien, etc.

Goth = Dark imagery, usually vampires and ghosts of evil intent - Not necessarily always explicit about the vampires being vampires - but eluding to it. Rarely happy endings or endings that make you feel more comfortable being a part of the evil that is being written about in a slithering way... Craft, Poe, etc.

Paranormal - Distinct descriptions of Vamps, weres, etc. Usually set in today's timeframe (not always, but usually) or an altiverse. Mostly happy endings - or cliffhangers. LK Hamilton, Anne Rice, etc.

I dunno - I like 'em all.

But I like those that blend them all well.

Lady M

Bernita said...

Hmmm.
Forgot that "gothic" as in gothic romance had morphed into "goth fiction."
An important distinction.
Thank you, Lady M.

Dakota Knight said...

Bernita, I totally agree with you. I remember many years ago when a Harlequin Imprint released a book named "The Ivory Key" about a woman who falls in love with a ghost. At the time, I was like, whoa, that's way out there (keep in mind, out of the many many romance novels I've read, I still remember it.) Obviously, the book was way ahead of its time. I think the emerging popularity of paranormal fiction stems from the fact that people want to be entertained; they want to suspend reality and imagine an alternative reality. It's a very interesting trend.

Bernita said...

Thank you for coming by, Dakota. You have an intelligent, thoughtful blog.

ivan said...

Ghostly lover.
I can dig it.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Off topic...Savannah, that's a very cool pic!

Very though provoking post, Bernita! Even in christian fiction, these creatures...that were once an emphatic taboo are now creaping into what we call 'edgier' fiction.

I think suspending reality is fun and can be very creative, although it's really not my cup of coffee..LOL!

Your statement, "Monsters with soul." is the result of publishers looking for something that's new and fresh and hasn't been done to death.

Soon these heartfelt monsters will be cliche...and there'll be a need to add another twist....

If someone could think of that newer twist now, they could clean up in book deals!

Bernita said...

Pun intended, Ivan?

Doesn't surprise me, Bonnie, considering how many clergymen figure in ghostly annals, either as spirits or observers. Even the Wesley family themselves claimed to be haunted by a poltergeist.

And yes, meant to mention Savannah has a new dark beauty avatar.

Rick said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rick said...

Bernita, you're probably right that the double transition happened at the same time, though I'd guess that conceptually making them sexy was the starting point, which logically required the moral change as well.

At least in fiction aimed largely at women! In male-oriented fiction I suspect it's a bit different. It is more comfortable with beautiful but implacably evil - after all, she can just be killed off at the end. As Mickey Spillane said, "it was easy." Compare to the long, if perhaps a bit porcine, tradition of disposable love interests who aren't even Bad, but still as surely and conveniently doomed as a red-shirt on Star Trek.

Oh, I'll also give my endorsement to Savannah's avatar!

Bernita said...

Not sure, Rick.
They may be there, particularly in the gothic romance/mystery, only more attenuated or more suitably disguised. Always seems to be the smiling handsome devil who turns out to be wicked and the brooding handsome devil who turns out to be good.
The male daemon tends to off himself by accident - those cliffs around the dark mansion being so convenient, or the hero dispatches him by proxy for the girl.
Interesting to see the succubae revitalized.

Bailey Stewart said...

This is a very thought provoking post with some very good responses. I think just about everything I can think of has been covered.

Bernita said...

Au contraire, Eve, I'm sure it hasn't! But we'll take a bow anyway. Thank you!

Anonymous said...
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December Quinn said...

Luc Garew. *snicker*

I love paranormals. As you know, I'm almost done with a vampire novel and it's been a blast. I love writing them and reading them, so it's exciting to see them still popular.

Now I'm just waiting for historicals to really come back...

Bernita said...

Loopy of me, December.

I think there's still a lot of area to be explored with the vamp/werebeast sub-genre.

I thought it was only the regency type of historical that had tanked in the market? Other eras still wanted?

December Quinn said...

Loopy indeed! Tee-hee.

Harlquin closed down its Historicals line, and a lot of pubs cut down theirs. They didn't die completely, but they have faded.
I'm convinced they're going to resurge soon, though. And I have my fingers crossed because I love writing them and reading them.

Lisa Hunter said...

Excellent post, Bernita. I think Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was the first paranormal story where the monsters has a soul -- and that's why it's so powerful. If we see something of ourselves in the "monster," the story has more emotional power than if we can just dismiss him/her as evil personified.

PRNewland said...

Great post!

Paranormal fantasy is my latest favorite genre. I had started work on a novel in this category before I knew it really existed. Then I stumbled across LKH and a few others and have been hooked ever since.

I've been researching some of the old myths myself to incorporate what I can in my story, even though mine has a much more SF take on vampires. I think the current incarnation of vamps in books and film all goes back to Stoker's interpretation. Before the 19th century novels that followed in the wake of Dracula, vamps in particular were much more beast like, more like zombies than the sophisticated, charming creatures we have now.
I haven't written or planned any tales with shape shifters, but you never know. With all the creative writers emerging in this genre someone is bound to give me an idea for one of my own. :P

Candice Gilmer said...

Okay, it's time for me to play devil's advocate... (((Getting out the horns)))

There are a TON of vampire fics out there, and granted, I'm glad the impression of vampires has changed, (and I like to thank Joss Wheadon/Buffy the Vampire Slayer's creator for that...), is it me, or is the market horridly saturated with them?

At the con I went to a few weeks ago, it seemed like a LOT of the books had some sort of paranormal edge. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy paranormals, (Just finished Dark Lover and Lover Eternal by J R Ward, and they were fabulous), but seriously, how many variations on the "torn soul of the angry vampire" can be done?

(((holding up umbrella to shelter me from the onslaught of crap I'm about to get))) :)

kmfrontain said...

Oh, I loved Mary Shelley's Frankestein. It was sooo much more of a good read than Dracula. Mary Shelley is my writing heroine. Now she was way ahead of her time.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Oh contrare Candice, that's what I was talking about. There needs to be new twists to the old stories to make them saleable...and the person that thinks up that new dimension is going to be a publishers dream...

And Candice, Bernita runs a wonderfully civil livingroom...everyone is invited to participate...and all don't need to agree...just be respectful!

December Quinn said...

Vampires are becoming a much harder sell with the NY pubs than they were even a year or so ago, Candice.

There might be a lot of them out there now, but by this time next year I imagine you'll see considerably fewer being released. Apparently weres are the hot thing now.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Lisa, KM.
Would you say King Kong replicates the same theme?
Both are "monsters" in the clear physical sense, unlike the vampire-next-door-in-the-closet.

PR, thank you for coming by and posting.
Research is a smart thing.
New twists on cultural myths resonate with readers on a sub-conscious level, and the writer can play "what if?" and apply their original twist to an embedded theme.

Wondered about that, Candice. Has anyone done the amnesiac vampire lover's secret baby yet?
Bonnie is right, contrary opinions/insights welcome - no discussion without some - this is not a everyone-raise-their-hands topic.

These trends seen to come in waves, December. Hope it's not too long.

In a sense, Bonnie, that's what urban fantasy does, moved the characters to a new location. Gives a fresh take.

Hope I've not missed anyone.

kmfrontain said...

King Kong? Oh, I don't know. He was an animal with a fetish, if you ask me. ;-)

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