Here’s the abstract for the paper I presented last week at the excellent Reading the Fantastic: Tales beyond Borders conference at the University of Leeds. You can download the paper from here, too.
Within contemporary fantastic fiction, a modulation of the Gothic has recently taken place: by ‘romance’ (in its present-day sense of fictions centred on romantic love). A new genre has emerged, the paranormal romance, where humans love supernatural creatures (most notably vampires).
In dark faery romance, there is a plot function which necessarily involves a genre shift too. Faery narratives almost always include a moment of entry into the other world. This in itself draws on earlier genres—the two-worlds fantasies of Lewis and others, the descent into the underworld of epic, and, of course, the Tam Lin theme of traditional faery lore itself. With these new fairy stories, the more traditional fantasy irrupts wholesale into the text rather than modulating it.
Faeries in paranormal romance have the viciousness and the predatory nature of vampires, together with their sex appeal. But they are associated not with death—rather with intensified life, life out of human control, and thus, nature. In the twenty-first century this inevitably evokes the values and concerns of environmentalism, though the monstrous nature of faeries means that the incorporation of these values is not uncritical.
Julie Kagawa’s darkly attractive fairies in her Young Adult novel, The Iron King (2010), facilitate clever play with genre and ways of knowing. Kagawa neatly draws on the folkloric motif of faery aversion to iron, representing a contemporary questioning of modernity. Kagawa’s Iron King of the title threatens the land of Faery through an ecocatastrophe that is manifested through further intriguing generic modulations.
But Faery (nature) is uncongenial to the human world, and that creates ambivalence. Kagawa’s novel crosses boundaries, both literally as the protagonists travel from the contemporary world into Faery, and formally as genre boundaries are transgressed, dramatising a dialectic of ways of perceiving the world, between environmentalism and humanism.