Freudian Saturday: Triangles of Loooove

Well, yesterday has passed, and today brings a STORM OF DOOM to southern Indiana, but all is well.

So I ask you: what is an urban fantasy or a paranormal romance without a love triangle (or quadrangle, or dodecahedron)? Bella has her Edward-Jacob dilemma, Sookie has Eric-Bill-Sam-possibly Alicide-and, well, anyone else who may pop up. Rachel Morgan has, well, lots of people, including her best friend Ivy. Even Katniss has Peeta-Gale pseudo-love-triangle—which, being one my big problems with The Hunger Games, I will address later.

But why? What is it about love triangles that gets our little hearts pounding? We love to be Team Edward/Team Eric/Team Peeta, but why do we invest so much in these fictional relationships? (Is anyone actually Team Peeta? Though I haven’t finished the trilogy, so I don’t know who Katniss chooses. Or pretends to choose, the selfish minx.)

TVTropes.org assumes that anything greater than your standard love triangle blunders into comedy, and part of the writer’s job is to tie up all the loose ends. Meanwhile, my handy-dandy Penguin Reference Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (which I used to study for the literature GRE—a test I aced, by the way, though I have no PhD to show for it—and now happily use to discuss paranormal soap opera) says romantic comedy is “a somewhat vague term which denotes a form of drama in which love is the main theme—and love which leads to a happy ending.

But, while most of my examples have or may have happy endings, the love-angles portrayed are anything but comedic.

Let’s look, as we always do, at some examples.

True Blood: Sookie has so many potential love interests, it’s difficult to keep them straight, but—at this stage in the show—Bill and Eric are the main two contenders. One lifted her up out of her ordinary life, a life in which people thought she was eccentric or just flat-out crazy, and transformed her into a powerful, desired woman who can hold her own in the supernatural world. (More or less.) The other actually lets her act as that powerful woman, trusts her to survive and keep fighting, and declines to put her on the shelf. They both trust her at their most vulnerable, but both have lied to her, put her in danger, and done despicable things in the name of “protecting” her—and just generally, as well. There’s no clear answer here. She’s vampire crack to both of them, and they’re both immortal, so neither is really a feasible long-term partner. And yet we True Blood fans have our favorite, and actually care which of these unsuitable suitors she winds up with.

They're both pretty dreamy.

The Hollows: Ah, Rachel Morgan. First she dates a human thief she met when they were both cursed into animals and entered into rodent-fights. Then she dates a pretty-boy, semi-badass vampire. Then there’s a brief interlude with a nice, boring fellow-witch, and another with a reincarnated (though that’s not really the right word) 18th-century demon hunter she had a crush on when he was a ghost. (…huh?) Throughout the whole series, there’s the thread of question about whether Rachel will ever give in to the oh-so-dangerous temptation of her best friend Ivy’s love for her. And for a few weird shippers like myself, there’s her sometime-enemy and occasional-friend-and-ally, bad-guy elf Trent, who seems like the best fit all around. It’s never exactly a triangle, but Rachel has a plethora of potential lovers, and she’s hard-pressed to choose the one who wold suit her best. The point is, though, that Rachel trades up: she’s not human, and there’s no way she could be with a human. She’s more than a witch, too, and part of her character arc is accepting that: choosing a lover who can keep up with her is naturally part of that development.

The Hunger Games: Katniss goes off to the games accompanied by Peeta, who claims to have loved her for years, and leaving being her best friend Gale, a guy who, if you ask me, is far more suited to her needs. He’s strong, he hunts, he fishes, he’s a survivor. Peeta is dead weight to Katniss during the games: she pretends to be in love with him so that they can get the viewer support they need and possibly both survive the games. What troubles me about the love triangle aspect of these books is that it doesn’t seem to add to Katniss’s character development: it just makes her unlikable, at least for me. She uses Peeta, and that’s fine. But why have the guilt and the dilemma of “Which should I choose?” when the answer seems fairly obvious. To me, the triangle is just a ploy to have that Team Gale/Team Peeta aspect and stretch relationship drama out longer.

They're just not as sexy.

So, why the love triangles? Here are my theories:

1. We humans love drama… and since most of us will never experience a love triangle, we get to live vicariously through the soap operas we frequently see in fantasy. Writers can use the introduction of another lover to draw out a relationship conflict and keep us on the edge of our seats, salivating for whichever suitor we prefer.

2. Love triangles allow the writer to reveal and explore different aspects of a given character’s personality by providing her with two opposing lovers. The main character will develop over the course of the work and see who complements her better. To me, this is the better use of the device, because it acts enriches the plot.

What do you think, readers? Why do love triangles feature so prevalently in urban fantasy and fantasy generally?

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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 kimharrison.net

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!

Yikes.

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 Fridays: Daddy Issues in Urban Fantasy

Did you know that if you search Wikipedia for “daddy issues,” it’ll auto-redirect you to Electra complex? Neither did I. Now we both know.

That very Wikipedia article says,

The psychodynamic character of the daughter–mother relationship in the Electra complex derives from penis envy, caused by mother, who also caused the girl’s castration; however, upon re-aligning her sexual attraction to father (heterosexuality), the girl represses the hostile female competition, for fear of losing the love of her mother… The girl’s penis envy is rooted in biologic fact, without a penis, she cannot sexually possess mother, as the infantile id demands. Resultantly, the girl redirects her desire for sexual union upon father, and thus progresses to heterosexual femininity, which culminates in bearing a child who replaces the absent penis

If sexual competition for the opposite-sex parent is unresolved, a phallic-stage fixation might arise, leading a girl to become a woman who continually strives to dominate men (viz. penis envy), either as an unusually seductive woman (high self-esteem) or as an unusually submissive woman (low self-esteem).

Whoa. I’m not going to talk too much about the “actual” Electra complex, because that Freud was a wacky dude, I’m not a trained psychoanalyst,  and you just don’t see that much blatant Daddy-desire or penis envy (Buffy penis-monsters aside) in urban fantasy.

I want to talk about the plain-and-simple father issues of female protagonists in urban fantasy novels. The strong, self-sufficient female character, either an orphan or just independent, is a trope in fantasy novels, and a good one at that, but so often those strong women come with baggage. That’s part of what makes them interesting. No one wants to read about a perfect hero solving every crime. That’s just irritating.

However, that baggage often comes in the form of unresolved issues with her father. Maybe he abandoned her when she was a kid, maybe he’s a Bad Dude, maybe she loved him and he died, or maybe he’s just not who she thought he was.

Why? Well, parents are people we’re supposed to trust above anyone else. They watch over us at our most vulnerable, they shape us into who we will become, and they should be there to cheer us on when we’re an adult. Violation of that trust is a trauma, one that shapes all future actions and can even cause a person to try to prove herself worthy of that love—or to try to prove she doesn’t need it.

Additionally, withdrawal from family and community is a part of the hero’s journey. A hero isn’t a hero unless she can stand alone. Perhaps part of the reason female main characters frequently have father issues is because a woman’s father is “supposed” to be her protector: if a woman has to fight her battles without that protection or, worse, has to fight her battles against her father, that’s more dramatic, traumatic, and every -atic in between.

Let’s look at a few examples. We’ll talk about these girls in detail in the next few weeks, but I want to give you an overview before we start. (WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS)

Buffy: Buffy’s a tough chick, but she has continual fears of abandonment by her father, fears which eventually come true. Her nightmares reveal that she’s afraid her mom and dad got divorced because of her and that her dad doesn’t love her the way he should. She gets attached to Giles, expecting him to pick up some of the adult-slack after her mother dies, and becomes angry with Giles for refusing. Buffy’s a classic case of daddy issues, but she also shows that emotional baggage does not break a woman.

Rachel Morgan: Rachel thinks her dad died when she was a kid, and she spends a lot of her time trying to live up to his legacy. Later, of course, she finds out that he was not exactly who she thought he was and he engaged in illegal research, tinkered with her genes to keep her alive, and (BIG SPOILER), was not actually her biological father. Her real dad is a man she likes and admires, but—the horror—she was actually a little smitten with him before she discovered he was her dad!

Kate Daniels: Okay, Kate’s daddy issues are totally warranted. Her dad is the Big Bad, the chief necromancer, the Sauron of this universe. She was raised by a foster father to know that someday she is the only one who can kill her true father and save the world. If that won’t mess a kid up, what will?

Savannah Levine: Savannah actually (accidentally) killed her dad, who was also a big bad. That can’t be good. Savannah’s actually a fairly new POV character in Women of the Otherworld, so it will be interesting to see how her past will effect her actions in future books.

Dante Valentine: Dante’s parents abandoned her when she was born. Her social worker/father figure was killed in front of her by a mugger when she was an adolescent. Her daddy issues don’t manifest quite as obviously as some of these other girls’, but she has severe trust issues and ends up dating a demon.

So there you have it. Lots of women with lots of issues. (Don’t worry—we’ll get to the guys soon enough.) This is just an introduction, too. On future Fridays, we’ll look at why these women have these issues, and what it adds to their character development.

Here’s your part, though: Can you think of more women with daddy-issues in fantasy novels? What do you think these issues add to character development?