So as Tracey mentioned, she and I (and other Supernatural Undergrounders Carrie Vaughn and Helen Lowe) went to Worldcon a couple of weeks ago. I do love a convention – the camaraderie, the inspiration, the education.
Sometimes the education is a personal one, in that you find out some people have some rather particular views of the world. An example of this occurred on the panel that Tracey and I did together – Girl meets boy meets dragon: fantasy and romance. A comment was made by one of the other panellists (can’t recall whom) in response to the question of why paranormal romance has become so popular – because it’s become politically incorrect to have alpha heroes in romance and with the beasties in paranormal romance we can indulge in the forbidden desire to be ruled by an alpha.
Tracey answered it well. I couldn’t formulate my answer then, but I know my mental “Noooooooo” was FULL of anguish.
Two weeks later, I’ve finally figured out my answer (yeah, I know, my brain needs time to mull things over). I have two issues with the statement. A) the assumption that there aren’t alpha males in romance any more and b) that we want a certain type of alpha male.
Back in the 70s and 80s, romance was ruled by a certain type of man. Many labelled him alpha male. I label him a jerk. This man was a leader – calm, poised, intelligent, determined, lethal (if required) – okay, fine, alpha. Except he also ruled his women with force. It wasn’t uncommon in these books for women to be kidnapped, raped, forced into marriage, blackmailed and so on.
The woman’s response generally went along the lines of “he’s handsome and rich and strong and he could have any woman he wanted and he’s chosen me so a) I must be in love and b) that makes everything he does OK.”
Thankfully, this jerk isn’t seen in romance any more but does that mean we don’t see alpha males? Absolutely not. So far this year I’ve read five non-paranormal romances. The heroes included a lord (love me a good Regency), a Nascar driver, a doctor, a paramedic and a fire-fighter. Everyone one of them was ruggedly good-looking, strong, hard-working, respected, admired, unwilling to give up at the first hurdle, a leader – in short, every one of them was an alpha male.
However, not one of them was a jerk.
So, having definitively proven that there are still alpha males in romance, let’s move to the idea that paranormal romance contains the old-style alpha male aka the jerk.
Now, I’m the first to admit that at times, those werewolves, vampires, shape-shifters, angels and the like leave a little to be desired in the social skill stakes. However, in my reading of paranormal romance (and I freely admit I’m not as widely read as most of you all here) I’ve never come across an alpha male who won the girl by being a jerk (and if he tried, then your typical PR heroine would kick him in the crotch and we’d all cheer).
The latest I read was Lord Conall Maccon, in Gail Carriger’s Soulless (I’ve only read this book – please don’t ruin the others for me). Maccon is one of the most alpha males I’ve read in a long time – he’s rough and gruff and so into his alpha status in the local pack that he even tries to woo Alexia as if she were a werewolf (loved those conversations – sorry sir, but that’s not how a man woos a lady in Victorian England). Even when you first see them together and he’s annoyed at all heck because this women just won’t show him the respect an alpha wolf deserves and growls his teeth off at her it’s just that – growling. There’s still beneath it all a grudging sense of – respect? Admiration? Lust?
He’s bad tempered, and finds the whole ‘why won’t she respect me, I’m an alpha?’ thing hard to handle, but Maccon isn’t a jerk. In fact, as the book goes on, the level of respect he has for Alexia becomes crystal clear and THAT’S why she falls for him (and also cause he’s hot).
So that’s my argument for why it’s so wrong to say that we read paranormal romance because we secretly still want the old-school alpha male. A – we don’t and b – we read paranormal romance for reasons other than wanting hot alpha males cause we get those in regular romance too.
So, what to you think folks? Do you think paranormal romance is the last bastion of the old-school alpha and do you think in 2010 we’re interested in reading them?