Paranormal Romance

Separately, the terms paranormal and romance are not new terms. Romance has been widely referenced since c1300, and paranormal has been used since 1920. However, placed together, the term paranormal romance is new to our society; it was not referenced until 1980 and was not a popular term until the 2000s, a period when there was an increase in publishing books of this genre.

The term romance has a broad terminology in terms of different languages. The word romance comes from the Latin word romant meaning ‘in the Roman manner.’ Some of the Romance languages, such as French, Spanish, and Italian, came up with the word from Latin.[1] This meant the word itself was borrowed but the meaning changed to represent the new language. In a dialect within the French language, the word romance meant ‘verse narrative’ which referred to the artistry within elite classes. Within Spanish and Italian definitions, it pertains to a more adventurous or passionate tone. Paranormal is a newer term, but synonyms like supernatural, phenomenon, abnormal, and mysterious were more frequently used, prior to paranormal romance‘s rise in popularity. The word paranormal means “beyond normal explanation” or that cannot be described by logic or science. [2] Para, meaning beyond, above, or incorrect, implies the opposite of regular when paired with normal. Normal comes from the 17th century reference of being “right angled” which adds to its connotation of correctness. Together, the word offers a combination of regularity and abnormality, which results in an interesting comparison of implications.

Taking into consideration the history of these two words, we can see how their relationship has evolved over time. The origins of the words separately include their own history but still offer new interpretations including this “access of inner life” offered in novels of this genre. [3] Romance, having more of a complex definition, gives the combination of the two words variety. On the other hand, paranormal gives this combination specificity when discussing literature belonging to the genre.

Historical Roots

While paranormal romance is a relatively new term, the themes that are present in it can be traced back to folk and fairy tales. Similar to the tales of beasts turning into men, paranormal romances “frequently depict their male protagonists who are literally beasts or monsters, often vampires, [or] werewolves,” as changing through the “love and trust” of a human female protagonist.[4] Beauty and the Beast has been cited as prototypical inspiration for the paranormal romance genre. It follows a plot line similar to most texts of this genre–an innocent girl is trapped with an “austere, powerful and amoral. . . beast”.[4] Even though the beast is cruel, the girl is somehow fascinated with him and eventually wins him over: “The heroine must do more than just exist, to be worthy of the hero she must act, thus earning her access to the hero by successfully completing a test.”[4] Other examples of progenitors of the genre could includeThe Frog Prince, Bluebeard, and the myth of Hades and Persephone; although these examples do not adhere as closely to all the conventions of the modern romance novel, they still feature some of the most significant ones, particularly that the female protagonist must overcome the supernatural and secretive characteristics of the male love interest.

Genre Characteristics

Paranormal romance is specifically characterized by “diverse topics such as time travel, futuristic settings, magic, shape-shifters, supernatural creatures like werewolves and vampires, or other-world settings.”[4] Generally, vampires and werewolves are the identifying features of paranormal romances.With popular stories such as Twilight and Vampire Diaries, paranormal romances have adopted a sort of cliché definition of strange creatures falling in love with humans. This is not inaccurate but is a generalization.

Some words that could relate to paranormal romance are fantasy, magical, urban, supernatural, or monster. All of these words involve some sort of inhuman characteristic that could not be explained through science or logic; things are not normal and also significantly “unexpected.” Magic and fantasy are broad terms that fall under the category of paranormal. They include creatures and beings that have powers beyond what is normal.

Generally a text can only be a paranormal romance if the abnormal affects the relationships too. A primary theme of all paranormal romance novels is the interaction between the normal and the abnormal, especially with respect to the lives of the protagonists. If that interaction does not exist, it is not a paranormal novel regardless of setting.

Of course, paranormal romance shares many of its characteristics with the traditional romance novel: “the basic scheme of the romance novel common to all is a narrative with ‘a heroine, a hero and incorporating a couple of quarrels with a happy ending.’ Simplistic as this description may appear . . . it is about the only one fitting the genre as a whole.”[5] Recurrent themes in the romance novel include the mysteriousness of the male, the sexual innocence of the heroine, and the contrasting experience and sophistication of the older man.[5] Furthermore, Anne Kaler says, “Romances are a lot like sundaes. The specific ingredients vary, but do not deviate much from the basics of ice cream and topping.”[6] However, it is clear that many paranormal romance novels take these “ingredients” and amplify them; for example, rather than the love interest simply being an older, successful man, they are centuries old and experienced beyond normal human capacity.

Paranormal romance novels frequently use vampires or other paranormal heroes “as a vehicle that allows the author and the reader to indulge a craving for an old-fashioned, generally wealthy, and socially dominant gentleman and a fantasy of stable and secure gendered expectations”.[7] Paranormal romances rarely use female protagonists as the supernatural figure in the story; it is commonly the male who has supernatural characteristics, and the female who is “danger-[prone]” and “clumsy.”[7] Scholars argue that the reason for this is not to be “anti-feminist,” but to create male characters that twenty-first century women want. Vampires (and other supernatural heroes) are characterized as passionate, protective, and simultaneously wise and reliable. Of course, there are many exceptions to this rule, which critics acknowledge, but if the popularity of Twilight and related novels is a barometer for the most important trends in the genre, then critics are correct, as that description is primarily based on Edward Cullen, the main vampire figure in the Twilight series.

Reception

Paranormal romance is a part of the genre of romance, but the characteristics specific to paranormal romance are what bring its popularity. However, romance novels have long been criticized for being “marshmallow fluff,” and not literature of value for our society; paranormal romances receive this criticism as well.[6] This prevents some readers from exploring the genre; many readers state that they had to be forced to read a paranormal romance novel, but once they did, they really enjoyed it. Despite the genre’s lack of support in some parts of the literary world, romance novel sales make up fifty percent of the paperback market, proving that overall, these books are well-received.[6]

Paranormal romance did not become popular–or even exist–until the publication of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. She introduced the most popular plot pattern for paranormal romances, the vampire and werewolf as “new heroes”,[8] a term used to denote the difference between the heroes of traditional romance novels and the heroes of paranormal romance, mysterious superhumans of strange origins. The new heroes of paranormal romances are the main reason the genre is popular, some critics say; they give adolescent girls the opportunity to “experience,” through reading, a new world with a new kind of hero.

Another factor that contributes to the popularity of the genre is the ability of the main couple to overcome great trials and have a “happy ending.” In paranormal romance, the trials that the couple overcomes are amplified. They have to overcome their differences in “species,” along with time, since the hero is usually immortal and the female protagonist is not. Because paranormal romances heighten the amount and seriousness of the couple’s trials, readers gain more satisfaction when the “happy ending” occurs.

Finally, one proposed reason for the increase in the popularity of paranormal romance is that the parents of the girls (primarily, mothers) that read these types of novels start to read them, too.[9]. Writers for adults have taken this into consideration and have begun to publish paranormal romance novels for adults as well.[9] Even though not all of the paranormal romance novels that have been recently published have reached the level of success as Twilight, this genre is continually being written and read by readers of all ages today.

Works Cited

  1. Jump up “romance.” Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
  2. Jump up “paranormal.” Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
  3. Jump up Shumway, David R. Modern Love. New York: New York UP, 2003, p. 59. Web. 31 March 2015.
  4. Jump up to:4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Lee, Linda J. ‘”Guilty Pleasures: Reading romance novels as reworked fairy tales.” Marvels & Tales 22.1 (2008): 52-66. Web. 3 Apr. 2015.
  5. Jump up to:5.0 5.1 Paizis, George. Love and the Novel. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998, p. 36. Print.
  6. Jump up to:6.0 6.1 6.2 Kaler, Anne K., and Rosemary Johnson-Kurek, eds. Romantic Conventions. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State U Popular P, 1999, p.1. Print.
  7. Jump up to:7.0 7.1 Mukherjea, Ananya. “My Vampire Boyfriend: Postfeminism, “Perfect” Masculinity, and the Contemporary Appeal of Paranormal Romance.”Studies in Popular Culture 33.2 (2011): 1-20. Web.
  8. Jump up Massey, Heather. “Why Has Paranormal Romance Taken Off, But Not Steampunk Romance?” Heroes and Heartbreakers.com. Macmillan, 2 May 2012. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.
  9. Jump up to:9.0 9.1 France, Lisa Respers. “Vampire Romance Novels Suck in Readers.” CNN.com. Cable News Network, 25 Nov. 2009. Web. 27 Mar. 2015