Freudian Friday: Spike

First order of business: Thank you everyone for your kind words on Wednesday. Puck is doing well, and driving us nuts with his normal batty behavior, so things are looking good for the moment.

Second order of business: I am defying the laws of nature today, and you can find me in THREE places at once! Check out my “Field Guide to the WannaBlessedBe” over at Pat Thunstrom’s blog! And definitely check out my Buffy Wedding Lessons post at Emmie Mear’s blog!

Now. Let’s get Spike on the couch and strip him down to his hard, muscular chest, and…. erm… um… I mean, let’s get him to open up and share his issues.

Spike is the classic Mommy-Issues, Oedipal-Complex mess. Since this is our first week talking about Freudian issues for men, let’s see what Wikipedia says about the so-called Oedipus complex:

In psychoanalytic theory, the term Oedipus complex denotes the emotions and ideas that the mind keeps in the unconscious, via dynamic repression, that concentrate upon a boy’s desire to sexually possess his mother, and kill his father…

…In classical, Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the child’s identification with the same-sex parent is the successful resolution of the Oedipus complex and of the Electra complex; his and her key psychological experience to developing a mature sexual role and identitySigmund Freud further proposed that girls and boys resolved their complexes differently — he via castration anxiety, she via penis envy; and that unsuccessful resolutions might lead to neurosispaedophilia, and homosexuality. Hence, men and women who are fixated in the Oedipal and Electra stages of their psychosexual development might be considered “mother-fixated” and “father-fixated” as revealed when the mate (sexual partner) resembles the mother or the father.

Technically that whole “Electra Complex” bit we were discussing for Daddy Issues in Urban Fantasy was Jungian psychology, but, as I’ve said before and will no doubt say again, I’m neither a psychoanalyst nor a psychoanalytical literary theorist. We’re not here to split hairs… we’re here to dissect fantasy characters!

So cute but so bad.

Back to Spike. When we first meet him, he’s a badass vampire with inexplicable Billy Idol hair, who rolls into Sunnydale with vague plans to repair his batsh*t crazy girlfriend Druscilla and maybe kill the slayer if he gets around to it.

Over the course of the show, he becomes Buffy’s reluctant and then head-over-heels in love ally. We see him grow from a scary-funny villain with a lot of half-baked plans into a tortured lover who, unlike Angel, chooses to regain his soul. (If you want to learn about Spike’s full character development, you should definitely read Emmie Mears’s post about him, which covers his entire character arc, since we’re only going to talk about his issues.)

That’s all lovely. But let’s look at some the undercurrents of Spike’s character. His relationships throughout the show are rocky at best. He works to restore Druscilla sanity, who then, in a glorious Whedon-esque moment, carries a broken Spike from the wreckage of his plotting. Druscilla later leaves him for a chaos demon after he becomes too tame for her taste. Spike eventually falls in love with the Slayer, tenderly protects her sister, and then… tries to rape Buffy? Yikes.

He realizes the horror of what he has done, though, and seeks a soul in order to become worthy of Buffy’s love and forgiveness.

But that’s nor why we’re here. Since the writers handed it to us on a platter, let’s look at his relationship with his mother.

Look at the nerdy little poet.

Although we don’t learn it until the last season of Buffy, Spike loved his mom. I mean… really loved her. At the point when Druscilla turned him, Spike was a lovelorn young poet whose biggest fan was his mommy. Even after becoming a vampire, Spike loves his mom, going so far as to turn her into a vampire to save her from the tuberculosis that is ravaging her human body.

(Weird sidenote: Commentary on “Lies My Parents Told Me,” the episode in which we see all this happening, says that the woman playing Spike’s mother was cast in part because of her resemblance to Sarah Michelle Gellar. Um… ew?)

But Spike’s mother isn’t grateful for the transformation: nor is she even Spike’s mother anymore. She tells Spike she wouldn’t be able to stand an eternity of his snivelling, and, worse, says,  “All you ever wanted was to be back inside. And you finally got your wish, didn’t you? Sank your teeth into me, an eternal kiss- …You wanted your hands on me. Perhaps you’d like to finish what you
started, hum?

They made the Oedipus complex quite literal, didn’t they? Spike, horrified, retreats from her, resists her, until she tries to kill him. He then kills her in self-defense.

Is this the defining moment of Spike’s character? The moment when he couldn’t have his mother the way he wanted her—as a mother, not a lover—so he kills her and returns to Druscilla, the woman who gave him new life and is also a lover? He needs a woman who loves and punishes, a woman who can be that twisted lover-mother without actually corrupting the only pleasant memories he has. Hence his later pain-filled sexual relationship with Buffy. Is that all there is?

I don’t think so.

The brilliance of the character arc is that Spike’s evolution comes from the moment when he realizes that his mother loved him. It was the demon he gave her that made her say the terrible things she did. Spike is able to overcome his “trigger” by accepting his own agency, forgiving his mother, and taking responsibility for his actions.

And that is probably as much as any psychoanalyst could want for her patient.

What do you think, readers? How much does Spike’s relationship with his mother and with his creator shape his relationship with Buffy? How much do you love Spike and hate seeing me dissect him? Tell me all about it.

Freudian Friday: Bella Swann

Oh, come on. You knew we’d get to Bella Swann for Freudian Friday. She may not have serious daddy issues, but she has a lot of other issues worth discussing.

Before we get started, though, I want to issue an open call for nominations: Who would you like to see on the couch for future Freudian Fridays? Male, female, alien, you name it. I’ll continue with the urban fantasy theme for awhile yet, but I’d like to get to the wider fantasy and sci-fi genres as well. We haven’t even talked about Harry Dresden yet, so we’ll get to him, as well as some other male urban fantasy stars.

Why is her mouth always open?

So. Let’s talk Twilight. I read these books in 2009 when my fiance (then boyfriend) and I were moving from California to Illinois. We moved to California from Indiana after I finished graduate school in 2008, with all the high hopes that an internship at a newspaper in Berkeley and plenty of job prospects bring. But in the fall of 2008, the economy went down the toilet, taking all our job opportunities with it. Suddenly $1200/month rent for a one-bedroom apartment in a not-pleasant suburb of Oakland seemed dire as well as outrageous.

We packed up to move to rural Illinois, where we could live cheaply and help some family with financial issues.

It was not the happiest time for either of us.

I needed a distraction on the cross-country drive, so I picked up Twilight. It was blandly written, it promoted abusive relationships, and it was completely captivating. I bought the next three books at various stops along Interstate 80, and they kept my mind enthralled until we’d settled into the house in Illinois.

Because of this, I am and will always be a little fond of Twilight. 

Still, the series has its issues. More knowledgeable analysts than I have discussed Bella’s relationship with Edward and how it meets the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s criteria for an abusive relationship, so I won’t go into too much depth about their relationship. Other writers have also discussed how Bella as a character is essentially a mask, an unformed mold into which young girls can pour their own personalities and live vicariously through Bella’s romantic adventures.

That’s true, I think, but also not true. Bella does have a personality, defined by her relationships with others and her intense desire to sacrifice herself for those she loves.

Always putting her life on the line.

In the first book, Bella is willing to die to save her mother. In the second, she’s willing to die to save Edward. In the third, she’s willing to die to save, well, everyone. In the fourth, she’s more than willing to die to save her vampire-baby and, later, everyone else.

Selflessness can be a good trait, and unconditional love for your family is wonderful… but it’s easy to take these traits beyond nobility and into desperation. Bella’s only defining characteristic is a martyr complex, which Wikipedia tells me is often considered a form of masochism—unsurprising in this case, given Bella’s physical relationship with Edward. Bella lives to die, which she even says in the final books: it’s like she was born to be a vampire. Even after she becomes supernatural, her superpower is the ability to protect those she loves. She is a human shield… her purpose is to protect.

On a simpler level—which kind of makes it more disturbing—Bella defines herself in relation to those around her. She’s her mother’s protector, her father’s caretaker, Jacob’s best friend, Edward’s girlfriend/wife, Renesmee’s mother. Edward turns her into a living zombie, Jacob brings her back to life. There is very little time in the book when Bella is just herself, and when she is, she’s, well, boring. And she knows it.

And that is perhaps the saddest, most upsetting thing about her. Young girls are learning that they are nothing without the people (particularly the men) she cares about. Her only role is forming half a relationship.

Is this a happy ending?

I’m not sure we know enough about her to consider why she lives this way. her parents split up when she was young, sure, and that’s perhaps why she adopts a caretaker role for both of them. But all of Bella’s decisions, actions, and even her super powers are reactionary: she rarely does something because she wants to… except, perhaps, becoming a vampire.


What do you think, readers? Why is Bella Swan so determined to die? What upsets you about her? What do you like about her? Anything?

And don’t forget to tell me what other characters you’d like to see appear on future Freudian Fridays!

Freudian Friday: Rachel Morgan

Kim Harrison‘s Hollows series is and will remain one of my favorite urban fantasy series. By and large, each of the (so-far) nine novels is well-plotted, funny, and filled with compelling characters. Plus, this was the very first contemporary urban fantasy series that I read, and it kicked off my love of the genre.

I even wrote to Kim Harrison (aka Dawn Cook) in 2005, when I was still an undergraduate, to ask if what advice she had for aspiring writers. I still have that email somewhere, encouraging me to practice my writing and also find some other career I enjoyed to pay the bills.

Oops. I sure do practice writing, but I kind of belly-flopped on the whole enjoyable career bit.

image via

Anyway, that’s enough of a trip down memory lane—let’s talk about our plucky heroine, Rachel Mariana Morgan in terms of Freudian Friday. When we first meet Rachel in Dead Witch Walking, she’s quitting the system (also known as Interland Security: like the FBI for this world’s magical beings) and striking out as freelance investigator with the help of a living vampire named Ivy and a pixie named Jenks for back-up.

The step to leave Interland Security is a dramatic one for several reasons: one, no one quits the system without consequences; two, Rachel has not much money or clout for starting her own company; and three, her dad worked for Interland Services and seems to have died in that service.

Since we’re talking about Daddy Issues in Urban Fantasy, it’s this last reason that matters to us. Over the course of the series ***HERE BE SPOILERS*** Rachel learns that her father worked for a man conducting illegal genetic research, that he used that genetic research to tamper with Rachel’s blood and turn her into something more than Witch, and that (gasp) he was not actually her father!


On top of all that, Rachel discovers that her biological father is a musician she had a crush on once upon a time. In his grave, Freud is probably nodding, winking, and touching the side of his nose. This Electra complex isn’t even metaphorical.

So if all this information makes for great reading, but what does it mean for Rachel as a character?

First of all, her relationships are not the best. Jenks, her pixie-partner, likes to say she falls for the underdog—she likes a man who needs rescuing, fixing, or help all around. Her first boyfriend of the series, Nick, is a human and a thief. Her second boyfriend, Kisten, is a living vampire who dies twice protecting her. Her third boyfriend is a fellow Witch and an all-around nice guy—and he really doesn’t do much for her. Her most recent love interest is a resurrected Witch of questionable morality she met as a ghost when she was a teenager (it’s a long story).

So, what? Is she trying to atone for a life she shouldn’t have by saving the people around her? She should have died as a child, but her father’s explorations of illegal science kept her alive—as a half-demon. Rachel’s children would be born as demons because of that research. She shouldn’t exist, and much of her recklessness comes from knowing that.

We could say that she’s trying to save men because no one could save her father. But I don’t think it’s that simple.

Rachel’s character arc shows a gradual realization that life and magic are rarely black-and-white. With titles like White Witch, Black Curse, we see that Rachel is coming to learn that “illegal” and “immoral” acts are not always “evil,” and neither is the person who performs them.

The wonderful thing about Rachel is that she defies Freud’s categorizations. Sure, she pursued her career because she wanted to be like her father and perhaps be worthy of his sacrifice. But she also has her own demons (pardon the pun), and she’s living her life to atone for and own her own sins, not her parents’.

What do you think, readers? Is Rachel irreversibly screwed-up because of her parents’ actions? Did her father’s tampering with her genetic code ruin her moral code? How much are her parents’ actions actually effecting Rachel’s choices?

P.S. If you haven’t actually read this series, go get Dead Witch Walking right now! You won’t regret it, I promise!

Freudian Friday: Kate Daniels

It’s probably fair to have issues with your dad when your dad is the Big Bad.

image from

This week’s pick for Daddy Issues in Urban Fantasy is Kate Daniels, the protagonist of Ilona Andrews’s urban fantasy series of the same name.

Kate’s a kick-ass bounty hunter who, when we meet her, works informally for the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid. It’s a gig that sounds more benevolent than it is, since the Order is just as likely to kill you as it is to help you. Kate’s job is to clean up magical messes by killing things, and she does it well.

As we learn about Kate, we realize that she’s in hiding. Her blood links her back to her father, Roland, a Very Bad Man who is the world’s oldest necromancer and may or may not want to take over the world.

Kate was raised by her foster-father, Greg, whose death she is investigating at the beginning of the series. Greg rescued her as a child from Roland, who would kill to keep her from destroying his plans and, well, to keep her from existing. Greg raised her to hide and to fight, knowing that eventually it would fall to her to take Roland down.

Okay, I’m a little fuzzy on the details at this stage, but it’s been something like two years since I’ve read the early books. Cut me some slack.

Because of her background—and the knowledge that any of her blood left unattended could bring assassins down on her in an instant—Kate does not let people into her life. When we meet her, she has no friends and terrible taste in men. Part of her journey is learning to trust others and to accept her own power. She eventually falls into a meaningful relationship with the were-lion head of the Pack in Atlanta, she makes friends, and she “adopts” a motherless young girl.

While she does have a bit of a Harry Potter-esque martyr streak, that comes from being the only one to have the power to stop the biggest evil. And the fact that she’s willing to sacrifice herself for those she comes to love indicates that her isolation and hard childhood have not corrupted her: she can still love, and she’s not always willing to say that the end justifies the means. Some things are worth throwing it all away for.

Kate is an example of how Freud isn’t always right, at least in urban fantasy. Yes, she wants to take her dad down, but it’s difficult to say she has penis envy when she already has her father’s powers. She’s just as powerful as he is, only younger, prettier, and with a cause she’s willing to die for.

What do you think, readers? Does taking the metaphor out of an Electa complex completely reshape the meaning of daddy issues? Or is it all still metaphor, just an indication that girls need to overcome a father’s influence in order to develop fully?

For the record, I don’t think that last one is true.

Freudian Fridays: Selene

Confession, readers: I love Underworld.

I’m talking about the first movie, not the others. They’re not the best. But the first one is seriously cool, and it has a nice romance in it to boot. Goth-punk urban fantasy + romance = the recipe to make Kristin like something.

Image from Wikipedia

Let’s look at the main character, Selene. She didn’t make my original Daddy Issues in Urban Fantasy list of ladies with issues, but only because I temporarily forgot her (oops).

Selene is a vampire Death Dealer hunting Lycans… In other words, she’s an assassin who finds and kills werewolves, who have been at war with the vampires for something like a thousand years.

She was turned into a vampire by the Big Bad Vampire Viktor after he told her that the Lycans killed her family, and she became a Death Dealer because she sought revenge.

It’s all lies, of course. Viktor, her pseudo-father figure, killed her family and turned her because she reminded him of the daughter he killed for becoming pregnant with a werewolf’s child. Cute, huh? The werewolves, while not exactly innocent, neither started the war nor killed her family, effectively making her whole life’s work pointless. That’s enough to mess a girl up pretty seriously.

So when Selene falls in love with a werewolf (soon werewolf-vampire hybrid), it looks like history will repeat itself. Viktor, the person she trusted above all others, wants to kill her and her lover. But instead of bowing down to male authority, Selene stands up for her newfound love and eventually kills Viktor.

The movie dances along the line between girl-power and anti-feminist. Selene and another female character spend a lot of time getting slapped around (literally) by male authority figures. Michael, Selene’s lover, is the one with the awesome hybrid powers. Women are punished for having sexual relationships outside the box, and the only female Elder dies without having much part in the movie.

In spite of that, though, Selene is the one who rescues Michael. When he’s about to die, she turns him into a vampire, which is pretty refreshing in a genre where men turn women into vampires or women save their male vamp-boyfriends by offering blood. Selene is also the one to kill Viktor, saving Michael and herself—and everyone, really.

She recovers from the trauma of losing a real family, losing a foster father, and learning that her quest was based on a lie. Her entire worldview is shaken, but she has the courage and the vision to fight for what is right.

In other words, she might puzzle Freud. She does kill her foster father, though, so I suppose that puts her pretty squarely in Electra territory.

So what do you think, readers? Is Selene a new feminist role model? Is she destined to attract violence and cause the deaths of the men who love her? Or is the the hope of strong women in urban fantasy?