Freudian Friday: Religion in Urban Fantasy

Throughout season four of True Blood, my constant refrain was, “This has to be offensive to Wiccans.” From what I know of Wicca, necromancy and murder aren’t high on the list of healthy pastimes.

More prayin’, less slayin’!

Now that season five has rolled around, though, my refrain is, “Whoa, this is super-offensive to Christians!” The vampires worship Lilith and call the “vampire bible” the true sacred text? Yikes.

It’s gotten me thinking about the treatment of religion in works of urban fantasy. Most universes with demons, ghosts, or witches tend to look toward Judeo-Christian mythology and either corrupt it or use it to ‘preach’ to the audience. On the other side of the coin, we have worlds like the ‘Buffy-verse,’ where Wicca is synonymous with the practice of actual magic and there’s very little worship involved. Religion seems to inform these universes by adding a vocabulary and a mythology rather than shaping them with any remnant of accuracy. And that may not be acceptable to viewers with strong religious belief, of any creed or pantheon.

While we can’t treat religion with kid gloves, we should ask: how far is too far?

Note: this blog post will deal mostly with Christian and Neopagan traditions, only because those are the religions with which I am most familiar. Please, if you can think of additional shows with treatments of additional faiths, leave a comment!

Let’s look at a few portrayal of religion in televised urban fantasy (and/or sci-fi):

Supernatural
Operating within the Judeo-Christian mythology, the Winchesters fight demons, ghosts, pagan gods (who inevitably eat humans), witches (who deal with demons), and even angels. Season five deals with the battle between Michael and Lucifer (yep, that Michael and that Lucifer), who want Dean and Sam respectively as their “vessels.” The boys end up locking both Michael and Lucifer into “the cage,” some trap in hell from which even an archangel can’t escape.

That’s dancing on the line of what may be offensive to some viewers, Christian and Neopagan, but the real rub comes from the show’s treatment of God: he’s missing. Portrayed as an absentee father who never appears in the show and causes endless speculation among viewers, God has washed his hands of the whole race and no longer acts even in the capacity of a deistic “divine mover.” And Jesus? The elephant in the room, so to speak, is never even mentioned.

Angels are not soft and fluffy.

True Blood
As mentioned above, we had a season in which Wiccans appear as harmless Goddess-worshippers and quickly fall under the management of a true witch who wields the power of necromancy and harbors a serious vendetta against vampires. Now we’re learning that the Vampire Authority is split between those who worship Lilith by rote and “terrorists” who fight in Lilith’s name to institute the factory-farming of humans. They quote scripture, too.

Characters frequently pray and ask for God’s protection against the supernatural, but we rarely see truly “good Christian” behavior. Our only experience with a pastor is a man who has an affair with a main character’s mother and later performs an exorcism. That’s… not very inspiring.

It seems that True Blood is an equal opportunity offender.

One believer tortures another.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy exists primarily in a dualistic, secular-humanistic universe. There is a First Evil, but the power of Good and the power of Evil are accessible to humans. The Powers That Be employ and equip champions like Buffy and Angel to fight Evil, but other humans are perfectly capable of fighting against evil without supernatural powers. I’m down with that—I really enjoy system built from the ground up, and this one is such that most dualist believers can place their personal mythology around the show’s framework, while non-believers can watch without offense.

But then there’s the whole sticky wicket of Willow’s “Wicca” and subsequent addiction to magic, which I’ve written about before. The conflation of Wicca and “Powers of Darkness” probably isn’t appreciated by practitioners of a religion that aims to harm none and live in harmony with nature.

Willow prepares to sacrifice a lamb as part of a spell to resurrect Buffy.

Charmed
Confession: I’m not a Charmed fan. I never watched it as a teen, and when I tried to watch it as an adult, it just didn’t click for me. (I believe the words “sooooo cheesy” came out of my mouth repeatedly.) The show uses Wicca/witchcraft and Wiccan/witch synonymously, even though the characters operate within a Christian framework. Angst follows when a protagonist who identifies herself as Christian discovers that she’s a witch—even though she’s a witch that fights demons.

The show jams Christian mythology and dualism together with so-called Wicca (which is duotheist, not dualistic) and witchcraft, and the resulting blend tastes a little sour to me. The internet is rife with diatribes from both religions, complaining about how the show is Satanic or just plain inaccurate. (Aside: if you like Charmed, please tell me why. I’m always willing to be convinced.)

I’m not sure how they end up reconciling witchcraft to a Christian outlook.

The X-Files
This show spans way too many episodes and monsters-of-the-week for me to discuss them all, but a recurring theme is Scully’s semi-devout Catholicism at war with the things she sees in the show. The show takes that juxtaposition seriously, and it deals with the ongoing battle of how people explain the presence of great good and great evil in the world.

Although the show portrays witchcraft as a “black art” at times, it also presents a villain from Orthodox Jewish mythology: perhaps, like True Blood it offends across the board. That said, I believe that the show portrays supernatural or religious power as good or bad, depending on what the user makes of it. In this universe, Christians are just as likely to do evil as witches.

Mulder and Scully continually debate the merits of belief in a higher power.

Doctor Who
The X-Files‘s stance brings us to our final example, the classic British sci-fi show that perpetually looks askance at religion. Religion is forbidden on shuttle platforms, along with weapons and teleportation. The universe’s Big Bad, the Daleks, are the ones who kill because of belief and blasphemy. The Doctor himself treats religion with disdain, attributing to it more death and woe than many other human practices. While a discussion of religion in Doctor Who could run textbook length, I think it’s sufficient to say that religion occupies a fraught position in that war-torn universe.

The Doctor mocks the “impure” Daleks, whose own technology does not recognize them.

That’s just a sampling of portrayals of religion in urban fantasy and/or sci-fi, and it doesn’t even include books. What do you think, readers? How well does religion stand up in a world of magic and mayhem? What other shows treat faith with finesse or with brutality?

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Top Ten Reasons I DO NOT Want to Be a Vampire

Last week, Emmie Mears wrote a blog post enumerating the top ten reasons she wants to be a vampire.

She said WHAT?

This week, I’d like to offer a rebuttal. In spite of the fabulous eyelash extensions she-vamps seem to get upon rebirth, the super-speed and super-strength, the eternal youth, and the occasional ability to turn into a bat, vampires are nasty parasites, little more than a sexually-transmitted disease. I’m just not down with signing on for that… and here’s why:

1. Vampires are parasites.
The definition of parasitism calls it “a type of non mutual relationship between organisms of different species where one organism, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host.” In the human-vampire relationship, vampires win… until humans die out because of global warming, and then the vampires are screwed because their only food source is gone. I can’t agree to join a race with such a glaring single point of failure. Plus, then I could be classed with things like tapeworms and fleas… ew.

So queenly, she relies on her servants for life.

2. I’m a vegetarian.
Those blood-colored juices coming out of your steak give me barfy feelings… so how could I possibly want to drink blood? I don’t like eating animals, so I definitely couldn’t like drinking humans.

I’m with Jessica: gross.

3. You’re just as likely to end up an animated corpse as a carnivorous supermodel.
Some alternate series, like Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series, portray vampires as meat puppets, controlled by necromancers who retain their humanity while they make their stinky minions do their bidding from afar. I also hear that in Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, vampires are nasty animated corpses… and that’s a bestseller! I’m just saying, it’s a big gamble: sparkly, stone supermodel or rotting puppet. And I’m not willing to take the chance.

This is what Angel is going to look like in 1000 years, Buffy.

4. Vampirism is a sexually transmitted disease.
Ever notice how vampire-lovers frequently end up vampires themselves? There’s a reason for that. Vampirism is passed through the exchange of bodily fluids, after all. And, since I’m monogamous, I’d be pretty darn upset if that particular disease got passed on to me.

This can’t be sanitary.

5. Murder is bad.
We have these things called laws, and those laws say that killing people is bad. If your very existence depends on committing murder, you’re probably a fellow. And also, not a very nice person.

“You can’t do that. It’s wrong.”

6. Eternal life is overrated.
In Kelly Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, vampires don’t live thousands of years… because they get bored. You can only go to high school so many times before it makes you suicidal. Plus, look at Godric in True Blood: after you’ve seen the world go to hellrepeatedlyand take your offspring with it, there’s really nothing left to live for.

High school biology again? I think I’m going to be sick!

7. Blood is salty… and salt equals bloat.
This is just Feeling Attractive 101, folks. Don’t go eating a bag of chips before a hot date, because it will make you look and feel all blimpy. And, even if you do look like a supermodel, if you feel like you can’t fasten the button of your jeans, you’re just not going to have the self-confidence to seduce that sexy young ingenue next to you at the vampire bar. 

And you can’t even check a mirror to make sure you don’t look like this.

8. I like food. And hot blood is just not as satisfying as hot tea.
I admit it: I look forward to meals. I like pie. And popcorn. And black bean burgers. I get positively murderous if I can’t have a cup of strong, sweet hot tea in the morning… now just imagine if I hadn’t had my hot tea for a century of mornings. That’s not a pretty picture. And we already talked about how killing people is wrong.

Giles looks much happier with his drink of choice.

9. SAD would get a lot worse.
No sun, ever? I already have to use a sunlamp for three seasons of the year. If it made me burst into flames, I’d cry every single day. And, in some universes, vampire-tears are blood. Worse, in other worlds, vampires can’t cry AT ALL. Depression + no tears = murderous Kristin again, and that whole murder-is-wrong thing causes a problem.

That’s not a good look for anyone.

10. I like to wear colors other than black. And corsets are so confining.
Sure, vampires look badass in their chest-exposing black shirts and their cleavage-exposing shiny corsets. But I like a little variety in my wardrobe… and really, my default uniform is jeans, t-shirt, and Converse sneakers. And no one would be intimidated by a short vampire in beat-up Chucks wearing a shirt with owls that look like Doctor Who.

Because the wannabe look is just SO cool.

Freudian Friday: Arlene Fowler Bellefleur

Let’s talk about a “normal” this week. One of the poor, less-talented, non-paranormal folks running around in the True Blood universe, dealing with a world populated by vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, witches, fairies, and who knows what else.

Back, fiend!

Arlene Fowler Bellefleur is a waitress at Merlotte’s, a coworker of main-character Sookie, mother of two wee-ones, gossip, four-time divorcee, and a seriously normal normal, terrified of vampires and anything else not fully human. When we meet her, she’s dating René Lenier, a laid-back (seeming) Cajun guy who turns out to be a racist (if that’s an appropriate term for someone who hates vampires) serial killer.

Okay, so much for the normal.

She survives the death of her murderer boyfriend with as much aplomb as we could expect anyone to have. She moves on, only to fall prey to the spell of a passing maenad and find herself (almost by default) dating a shell-shocked Iraq War veteran who turns out to be just about the nicest man in the entire show.

Sounds like a happy ending, right? Wrong. She quickly discovers that she’s pregnant with murderer-man’s potentially evil baby.

It turns out the baby is pretty weird. He likes decapitating barbie dolls and becomes fond of a seriously creepy doll, and then gets chummy with a ghost-woman who wants to steal him.

Arlene holds it together through this… more or less. She also learns to adapt to the craziness of the paranormal world she hates so much, gradually learning to deal with a vampire coworker and accept her seemingly-supernatural son. When baby Mikey is kidnapped by said ghost-woman, she’s frantic. She refuses cousin-in-law Andy access to her children until he gets over his addiction to vampire blood.

Arlene’s is probably the most promising story arc in the entire show. Not only does she come to love a good, genuinely kind (if damaged) man, she grows into a strong, flexible woman who will protect her children above all else. Her unfolding plotline in season 5 seems like it will allow her to dip into her thus-far untapped reserves of strength.

We don’t know much about Arlene’s background, except a little bit about her romantic history. All we know about her children’s father is that he was wild and he eventually left. We see her break down after René’s death, but she doesn’t mourn the murderer for long, instead responding to the timid approaches of Terry Bellefleur. But when Terry starts drifting away from her in season 5, Arlene fights for him, approaching the squadmate triggering Terry’s break-down and telling him to help Terry sort out his issues: she refuses to lose a man she is invested in.

But what triggers the shift and makes Arlene realize her own capabilities? Is it losing control to the maenad’s spell? Is it coming to see that, without her, her children have no one? Or is it that the world around her, filled with people she fears almost beyond reason, has driven her to adapt and use her strength to protect the ones she loves?

We’ve seen Arlene go from a comic-relief character, protecting her children against “good” vampire Bill with silver bracelets and having an exorcism performed on her home to a capable, collected woman actually seeking out a problem and dealing with it before it turns into a disaster… and that’s impressive progress.

Southern Vampire Mysteries vs. True Blood #3

If you recall, over the last couple of weeks Liv Rancourt and I have been having a discussion about the differences between Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries and the HBO series True Blood. The first week, right here on my blog, we talked about our favorite aspects of the show and the books. Last week, over at Liv’s blog, we talked about sweet Sookie, and Liv left you dangling with the question of how Eric’s scion, Pam, fits into this fictional world. So, without further ado, here’s the next bit of our conversation…

LR: …which brings up the subject of Pam. Of all the casting choices Alan Ball made, she’s my least favorite, because the book Pam was more like Alice In Wonderland with fangs. She’s also Sookie’s only vampire friend. What do you think of Pam? Is she a friend to Sookie?

KM: NO. She is not Sookie’s friend. I think I can say that pretty emphatically. I like Pam a lot (I think she’s hilarious, and a friend once told me I look like her, so that gives me a soft spot for her), but she’s definitely Eric’s henchwoman. She repeatedly gets pissed at Eric for putting the pair of them in danger on Sookie’s behalf. She’s definitely an ‘us-versus-the-world’ kind of gal.

I think I like her, though, because she’s kind and loyal underneath her prickly exterior. She’ll complain about helping someone, but she helps them all the same. She helps Jessica from time to time, or at least gives her advice—is Jessica much of a character in the books? Jessica is probably more of a character than Pam herself.

I’m going to redirect, though, to something you mentioned about humor. True Blood has its funny and ridiculous moments, but I think that aspect of the Charlaine Harris novels has really gotten submerged in the HBO-requisite sex and violence of the TV show. I might like the show better if the humor played a larger part, but the greatest part of the humor is making certain characters ridiculous: brother Jason, for instance, or parts of Lafayette’s role.

What role does humor play in the books? How does the darkness that’s so prevalent in the television series fit into the books, or is it entirely an interpretation?

LR: Had to think about this one a while. And then I had to pull out my copy of Living Dead In Dallas. Here’s one of my favorite moments that illustrates the different between the books and the television series. Eric and Sookie are at her house, getting ready to head to a sex party to try to find Lafayette’s killer.

“I have been to orgies,” he offered.

“Why does that not surprise me? What did you wear?”

“The last time I wore an animal hide; but this time I settled for this.” Eric had been wearing a long trench coat. Now he threw it off dramatically, and I could only stand and stare.  Normally Eric was a blue-jeans-and-tee-shirt kind of guy. Tonight, he wore a pink tank top and Lycra leggings. I don’t know where he got them; I didn’t know any company made Lycra leggings in Men’s X-tra Large Tall. They were pink and aqua, like the swirls down the sides of Jason’s truck.

“Wow,” I said, since it was all I could think of to say. “Wow. That’s some outfit.” When you’ve got a big guy wearing Lycra it doesn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination. I resisted the temptation to ask Eric to turn around.

“I don’t believe I could be convincing as a queen,” Eric said, “ but I decided this sent such a mixed signal, almost anything was possible.” He fluttered his eyelashes at me. Eric was definitely enjoying this.

In that scene, they’re talking about going to an orgy, but the emotional tone is more humorous than not. I don’t know if the TV series even tried to put Eric in Lycra leggings. There’s a goofiness about the visual image I get when I read this that undercuts the nasty nature of the subject matter. I find that all of the books, especially the early ones, are painted in Crayola colors, and I think it’s because the reader sees everything through Sookie’s eyes, and she’s an essentially optimistic character.

When they get to the orgy, the descriptions are filtered through her embarrassment at seeing people she’s known for years acting like fools (from her perspective). She finds friends and neighbors – including Tara, her best friend in high school – in a kinky situation, and her underlying compassion for them shows up in the details that make the page. The humor is there because that’s how Sookie sees the world.  The biggest difference between the two formats is that the camera’s eye is so much more objective.  Alan Ball didn’t have to look far to find the darkness, he just had to see it without Sookie’s filters.  (And did they put Eric in blue and pink Lycra?!?)

Okay, so we’ve covered some of our likes and dislikes and the humor thing and some of our ideas about Sookie. Now I gotta ask you, who does she end up with? Ms. Charlaine has said that Sookie will find her HEA with someone. From your perspective, which guy should that be?

If you want to know which sexy man’s team we come out on, you’ll have to tune in next week to Liv’s blog for the final wrap-up of the throw down!

Throw-Down: Southern Vampire Mysteries vs. True Blood

Does life suck more in tv- or novel-land?

Bonus blog post! Not only am I posting this from the past, it’s on a day I don’t normally post. How exciting is that?

Awhile back, fellow blogger Liv Rancourt and I got to chatting about the differences between the HBO show True Blood (in which I’m pretty well-steeped) and Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries (all of which Liv has read), and we ended up having a pretty long conversation. One thing led to another, and now we will celebrate the start of True Blood‘s new season and the recent release of Deadlocked with a FOUR-PART SERIES of blog posts discussing the differences between the books and the television show!

Let the throw down begin!

LR: Okay, Kristin, let’s get ‘er done. 😉

You’ve watched all four seasons of True Blood and I’ve read all of the Southern Vampire mysteries. Now it’s time to compare notes. Your recent blog posts suggest that you’re a mite bit tired of ol’ Sookie and her friends. What’s your favorite thing about the show, and what’s not working so well for you now?

KM: My biggest problem with the series sprang to mind first, so I’ll start there! (Sprang… what a weird word.) I’m bothered by the constant escalation of violence: the show has upped the ante so many times that it’s become harder and harder to shock the audience. It’s forced the producers to show really graphic violence, from a vampire king ripping someone’s spine out on national television, to a main character getting shot in the head in horrifying detail. The other side of the coin that I actually like is the realism that comes with this violence. The show writers and producers aren’t afraid to dance around truly appalling issues, like drug use in the poorer areas of the South, abuse, incest, and even just the harsher sides of friendships and love affairs. This unflinching vision of the fictional Bon Temps is probably what keeps me sticking around—in addition to the sexy men, of course. The world and the characters are real and fully imagined.

So I’m going to turn the question right back at you. I’ve only read a couple of the novels, and the twelfth book is coming out in May. Have they “jumped the shark” or are you still enjoying them? What are your gripes and likes?

LR: I think the answer to your question depends on how committed you are to the series. Like, if you’re the kind of person to hang around Ms. Harris’s website and endlessly debate whether Sookie should end up with Eric or Bill, if you use a calendar to track the days till the next book’s release, or if you’re planning a summer vacation to Bons Temps, you’re probably still along for the ride. A more casual fan, though, has likely noticed a change in energy, tone and style, and has maybe become disconnected enough to stop reading. I’m somewhere in between. I’ve spent time on Ms. Harris’s website, though not recently, and I’ve found the last two or three books to be more episodic and darker in tone, and generally a little disappointing.

Some of that darkness is a result of Sookie’s ongoing maturation and integration in the supernatural community. She’s done some things that would have disturbed her younger self and she’s had to find ways to cope with those deeds. On the other hand, especially with this last book, I thought maybe Ms. Charlaine had watched a little too much True Blood while she was writing it –  that the show had influenced the book, and not necessarily in a good way. The more recent books don’t have the frothy funny energy that the older books had, but whether you see a shark in the water depends on how hardcore a fan you are. And while I haven’t pre-ordered the next one yet, I will.

Intrigued? You’ll have to tune in to Liv’s blog next Saturday to learn just where our conversation will go. We’ll talk about Sookie’s Mary-Sueness and how those crazy fanged men in her life use and abuse her.

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?

Freudian Friday: A Woman’s Right to Know

One theme that has come up a lot in these Freudian Friday posts is the trope of a paranormal man who hides things from his beloved in the interest of protecting her. Typically this man is a vampire or at least someone with magical powers who has led a long, complicated life, and has secrets that would horrify or frighten the leading lady, or he keeps plans for her rescue a secret.

Urban fantasy relationships so frequently have the warning signs of abusive relationships, like jealousy and possessiveness, control of the woman’s actions, violent tempers, blaming the woman for relationship problems, and general dominance of the woman’s life.

But what about the common, passively cruel act of hiding things? It’s a form of control, because it prevents the woman from making fully-informed decisions, and it assumes she does not have the strength to live with whatever her man is hiding. Let’s look at some examples:

Edward quite literally sweeps Bella off her feet.

Twilight: This is the prototypical abusive paranormal romance. We all know Edward’s abuse signs: he removes the battery from her car to keep her from driving out to see a friend, he puts her in the role of “dangerous” sexual temptress by saying he might not be able to control himself, and the list goes on. Meanwhile, Jacob kisses Bella against her will, blames her for his temper, and acts consistently jealous. But both young men hide things from her in the interest of “protecting” her, not telling her when they’re going into dangerous situations or neglecting to mention their super-powers. At one point in the books, Jacob judges Edward for not telling Bella about an attack on her hometown while she was away, but Jacob himself misleads Bella into kissing him. They both assume she will not act rationally, so they manipulate her by withholding information.

A Discovery of WitchesMatthew refuses to tell Sarah about his past, to the point where an ex-girlfriend almost kills both of them because Sarah doesn’t know she can defend herself without qualm. That’s just one specific example: Sarah resorts to sneaking around to discover Matthew’s secrets because he won’t tell her why she is in so much danger. It’s a theme of the book, actually, and while the vampire eventually apologizes, that doesn’t make it okay. So much danger could have been avoided if Sarah had all the information she needed to make a rational decision.

In her dreams, she has control.

True BloodBetween the pair of them, Bill and Eric have hidden an encyclopedia of secrets from Sookie. Bill hides the true story of their meeting, his past, her powers, his plans… The occasions when he gives Sookie the whole truth are rare. Eric, similarly, is the strong but silent type, and doesn’t tell Sookie his plans for fear of drawing her into danger. If they loved Sookie, wouldn’t they love the whole her, bad decisions and all? It can’t really be love if they’re manipulating her into feeling something.

Your love makes me evil, baby.

Buffy the Vampire SlayerAngel and Riley both keep secrets about their identity from Buffy. Would Buffy have started to fall for Angel if she had known from the outset that he was a vampire? Would she have dated Riley knowing he works for a crazy, bigoted government agency? Even Giles keeps things from Buffy “for her best interest,” deciding he must neutralize Spike to keep Buffy focused. But Buffy is marginally better-informed than other paranormal heroines because she isn’t cast as the star of a romance: she’s a super-hero, and her romance with a vampire is even described as maudlin.

The trouble with this perfidious trope is that it suggests women will not act rationally if they have all the information. It also suggests that men can control women “to protect them.” It perpetuates the age-old stereotype that women are ruled by their emotions and therefore cannot be trusted to make logical decisions.

You could also just call it a lazy-writing trick: if my heroine knows everything, she won’t let me manipulate her into this dangerous situation.

But why is it so pervasive? Is it because mystery makes a man sexy? Is it because we like the vicarious feeling of giving up control? I confess that when I feel like reading romance, I do enjoy a man sweeping a woman off her feet from time to time. But sweeping her up and keeping her from ever walking of her own volition again really troubles me.

We need to think about what we’re saying by reading and writing this trope. Are we okay with women’s free will being taken away by the men who supposedly love them?

I’m not sure how this all plays into what Freud said, but doing the Freudian Friday posts has led me to observe a few upsetting trends in the romantic relationships portrayed in the urban fantasy/paranormal genre, and I want to put it out there for discussion.

What do you think, readers? Why has this trend taken hold? What about it makes readers salivate so? Does it bother you?