A synopsis of my forthcoming talk for the University of Sunderland’s Spectral Visions group; more details to follow soon:
The Twilight phenomenon has made us aware of a new kind of story about monsters. In these narratives the protagonist, instead of fleeing from it in terror or hunting it down, embraces the monster. Twilight was not the first of these tales (nor the best) and sparkly vampires are not the only demonic lovers. But despite a long history of monstrous couplings in literature, myth, and folklore, a distinct contemporary genre has emerged, called variously paranormal romance, dark romance, Gothic romance, or dark fantasy (though the definitions are imprecise and shift in reference).
The best known incarnation of this present-day demon lover is the sympathetic vampire, who was probably the first of these paranormal paramours to emerge from the shadows. But werewolves, angels, demons, fairies, trolls, cyborgs, and even the unlikely zombie have become objects of desire in these fictions (in film and TV as well as novels).
Such novels appeal to (or seem intended for) a mainly female and often young adult readership, which has led to some belittlement. But many of them are daringly creative, often questioning, and can be stylishly crafted with considerable literary care. Their presence is of more than sociological interest and the rise of new genres—new possibilities for writing and seeing, in other words—is itself of interest to those who value literature.
Literary monsters nearly always represent some kind of otherness—groups of people or sets of values deemed threatening to some elements of society. Their outsider status may be owing to class, ethnicity, or sexuality. Genres—kinds of writing—themselves correspond to different sets of values and different ways of knowing or looking at the world.
In this talk, I will be giving an overview of the wide range of these stories of loving what is dangerous, alien, and terrifying. I’ll give a brief account of how paranormal romance emerges out of an uncanny mating of the familiar scary Gothic horror and the oft-despised genre of romantic fiction (and other genres, too). Here, we can see what the collision of different perspectives can achieve and how it might be appealing. Through these novels, I’ll show what monsters may mean in today’s culture and what the dangerous loving of them might signify.