Monday, February 25, 2008

Blending Fantasy and Romance

When I was younger, I chose a book not by the cover or jacket summary, but by its thickness. Once I jumped into an author’s world, I hated to leave. Three (!) thick books, a trilogy, about little hobbits on an impossible quest to free their world from the Dark Lord lured me into the intriguing, complex, deliciously exciting world of fantasy. To this day, there’s nothing I love more than immersing myself in a world populated with sentient dragons, elves, or even humans governed, more or less, by the antics of the gods they worship. With science fiction and fantasy given over to trilogies and series, I can read for months to my heart’s content before I have to close the book on Tolkien’s Shire or Rowling’s Hogwarts.

As I’ve matured, married, and raised children, I’ve also come to love a good romance. Furtive glances, knotted stomachs, stolen moments. Strong heroes and heroines who battle overwhelming odds to enjoy fleeting comfort in one another’s arms. Unfortunately, finding a satisfying, meaty love story within the sweeping majesty of a fantastic world seems next to impossible. Stephen Donaldson’s The Mirror of her Dreams and Anne McCaffrey’s The Rowan aside, most sci-fi and fantasy authors offer tantalizing elements, but nothing a romantic can sink their teeth into. Aunt Pol ultimately gets her Durnik and Poledra is reuinited with Belgarath in Edding’s Belgariad, The Mule is lured to his downfall through his love interest in Asimov’s Foundation series, while Marion Zimmer Bradley’s women suffer for their warriors in her rich Celtic yarns. Yet, each contains little more than a few paragraphs or pages of attraction, and almost nothing of the fruition of a love affair. Readers savor Mary Stewart’s Authurian saga and catch a taste of Merlin’s love for Nimue but only Camelot on the silver screen immerses us in the depth of Lancelot and Guinevere’s passion, one of the greatest love stories ever told.

Conversely, Paranormal Romance, romance writers’ latest foray into the world of fantasy, offers tantalizing snippets of dark vampire and werewolf heroes, but world building is minimized, and often sacrificed, for the sake of character development and angst centering on bringing a male and female into a fulfilling relationship. Narrative describing rich fantasy worlds is limited as authors cash in on Urban Fantasy, which brings only the fantastic element, but not the fantasy, into our world.

Fantasy with romantic elements? Romance with fantastic elements? When will editors and authors take their cue from Hollywood? Which feminine heart didn’t flutter when Luke carried Leia in his arms as he leapt across the Death Star’s chasm? Whose eyes were still dry when Ron Howard’s Willow ran into the arms of his beloved Kaya? Peter Jackson, eschewing one of Tolkien’s beloved characters, Tom Bombadill, chose instead to spend precious film minutes entwining his saga with Arwen and Aragorn’s ageless love and concludes with a contented Sam and Rose Gamgee surrounded by their little ones.

Such movies lead me to believe there is an audience hungering for a convincing mix of genres. An intelligent story where readers are patient enough to immerse themselves in the world building and plot construction while rooting for the hero and heroine to connect.

It’s time for us to put pen to paper and fingers to keyboards and urge the world of print to give us the same emotional satisfaction Hollywood consistently provides.