Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It's All Right -- He's a Wolf!

Werewolves. They are everywhere. Vampires are still around, of course, but it seems like werewolves and the other were-creatures are ubiquitous. I edit more “shifter” (werewolf or weretiger or were-something) romances than probably any other single sub-genre, and they show no sign of slowing down.

I am not complaining. I like paranormals, and I have no quarrel with the concept. What I have found curious is why such stories are so common. Authors continue to write them because readers continue to read them. What is it about this particular take on the romance genre that has taken such a deep hold?

Because we're awesome?

I got my first hint when I read a review of one particular non-werewolf story wherein the reviewer complained of the hero's possessiveness and dominating nature. To paraphrase, the reviewer stated that it wasn't as if the hero were a werewolf or something to make his claiming of the heroine palatable. 

That put me on the track, and I have, I am convinced, found the source and fountainhead of the appeal of the shifter story (and a lot of these things apply to the vampires, too). 

A werewolf, or whatever type of shifter, is expected to have several qualities, and, across the board, they do. 

They are physically strong. This is not that remarkable, as this is common to romance heroes, but their physical strength far surpasses that of the heroine – and the heroine does not mind. Furthermore, the hero has a protective streak, which does not, somehow, irk the heroine. 

They are dominating and demanding. They want the heroine to belong to them only. “You are mine” is a common refrain among shifter heroes. They want to claim the heroine as their one-and-only “mate”. This does not bother the heroines, either. It is part of the werewolf's natural “mating” instinct. He scents his mate, and he claims her for his own. There are no ifs, ands, or buts, and though the heroine is often given a chance to refuse the hero, he gives this chance with the inner caveat that he has no intention of giving her up. If she refuses him, he will simply pursue her further.

Yes, yes. You can get away with it, too.
But you are from a backward, barbarian culture.

They are perfectly loyal. They tell the heroines that they will love her and her alone, for their whole lives long, that there is no other woman for them. And the heroines believe them. 

None of these things would fly if the heroes were just ordinary men. Physically stronger than the heroine might be permitted, but it would certainly not be allowed to come to the fore. It cannot be emphasized too heavily. In shifter stories, the hero's superiority in physical strength is not glossed over. It is reveled in. All this strength does not threaten her, though it can give her a pleasurable frisson during lovemaking. No, because the hero is a werewolf, his strength does not diminish hers. Furthermore, his desire to protect is accepted as one would accept an animal's perceived need to protect its mate. It does not say to the heroine that he considers her weak; it says to her that he considers her precious. This is not permitted to an “ordinary” hero. 

As for dominating and demanding – outside of BDSM, these things are straight up not allowed. (And BDSM is an interesting comparison to shifters to be explored later in this blog.) A hero who is demanding, who requires that the heroine “belong” to him, that she be his and his only in so many words, is not acceptable. The hackles on the readers would rise, and the book would be panned.

The loyalty of a werewolf hero is never in question. He is bonded to his mate, with some sort of natural and/or mystical attachment that nothing can break. Human heroes have to go through a lot to prove that they are loyal, that they can be trusted, because the default mode for the heroines is to assume that men are untrustworthy.

All of these qualities are, obviously, ones that the readers find attractive, or else they would not read the books. But these same qualities raise feminist alarms if they appear in men. In paranormal beings, these qualities are acceptable because by acknowledging the strength of a paranormal hero, the heroine does not lessen herself.

Do whatever you want to, baby! You're paranormal!

Apparently, by acknowledging such strength in an “ordinary” hero, she does. 

This brings us to the BDSM sub-genre.* I see a lot of this genre, too, and I find it curious that many of the same qualities as belong to the shifter heroes appear in the “Dom” heroes, but again, because this passes as part of an established sexual practice, it is all right. Over and over, “the sub has all the real power in the relationship” is pounded into the reader. In other words, the reader is assured that the heroine is not becoming weak by becoming a sub. 

It seems that there is in most modern readers a feminist streak that will leap on anything that might possibly be construed as making the hero the heroine's superior in any way, even the most superficial physical ways, or that will lash out at the slightest hint of control from the hero. But equally, it seems that these dominating, ultra-masculine qualities do appeal to these same readers. It is what they seem to want their men to be, but cannot admit this without the paranormal veneer. The competition between the sexes is too tense. 

This concerns me, societally speaking. What good is a feminism that will not allow a woman to admit to what she actually wants? 

*I am not addressing actual BDSM practices, as genuine BDSM is quite rare in romances. What you find instead is a layman's guess about what it is like, and the image is all that matters for the story. This pseudo-BDSM, where spanking and wearing a collar are the primary characteristics of the relationship, is what is common.



  1. Have you read any of the Laurell K. Hamilton Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series? I would like to hear what you think of those books... They start out rather mild and progress rather vividly, sex wise, as the books continue... They are also shape shifter/vampire/preternatural books, but Anita isn't your typical heroine... Check them out. Let me know what you think.

  2. Wait. Anita is a vampire hunter? Sounds like a typical modern heroine to me.



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