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?

Freudian Friday: Bill Compton

Last week we talked about Eric Northman for Freudian Friday, and this week we’ll continue the True Blood theme with King William Compton of Louisiana.

Remember, this blog post is about the HBO television series True Blood, not Charlaine Harris’s series of novels called The Southern Vampire Mysteries.

I will drink you for breakfast.

Bill’s early life is a wee bit more yawn-inducing than Eric’s, but his actions over the course of the show would have any psychotherapist salivating at the thought of his analysis fees: he certainly bemuses me.

He was born (according to Wikipedia) in 1840, got married, had kids, fought in the Civil War, and had a pretty normal life until after the war. Do-gooder that he was (and sometimes is), he stopped on his way home to help a poor widow… who turned out to be a vampire. She made advances on him, he said no, and for some reason—this being True Blood, after all—that just turned her on more, so she turned him into a vampire.

Bill goes on to live the crazy life with Lorena, his Maker, wreaking death and destruction on several cities until Bill regrows a conscience. Eventually he tires of it—as brooding heroes usually do—and begs for his release, threatening to kill himself if Lorena will not set him free.

Fast forward another 50 years or so, and Bill returns to Bon Temps, his hometown, and home of his many-times great-descendants. He meets up with Sookie and, after she saves him from some baddies and he rescues her in return, spends the rest of the show either saving her, doing the naughty with her, or lying to her. He’s also embroiled in vampire politics so deeply I’d need a shovel, a plumb line, and some night vision goggles just to explain it to you.

I think they're married in real life.

So for the moment, let’s look at Bill’s relationship with Sookie, since that’s the easiest bit to break down for a Freudian context.

The basic underlying fact is that Bill and Sookie love each other, but like so many vampires in love with women in urban fantasy, he lies to her and takes away her choices. Bill kills the uncle who had molested Sookie as a child without asking her permission; he’s constantly feeding on her to save his own life; he cheats on Sookie with his Maker in the single most disturbing sex scene I have ever had the misfortune to watch; he knows that she’s not fully human and never says a word; he deliberately puts Sookie in danger so he can rescue her and she’ll love him more; and the list goes on and on.

But why does he treat Sookie this way?

In his human life, he delayed returning to his own family in order to save a strange woman. But as a vampire…? He kills for fun and necessity, and despite giving up his “murderous” lifestyle, he still kills when he deems it right. This isn’t like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where a demon takes over you when you become a vampire. Sure, you get a lot of wild-animal urges and a nasty temper, but you’re still you.

This tells us that Bill will do anything to further whatever cause he’s working for at the moment. Put off seeing your wife to save a widow? Sure. Kill a queen who has gotten inconvenient so you become king? Okay.

The trouble is, we don’t and have never know Bill’s endgame. He’s ultimately working for himself: he may or may not have designed the original attack on Sookie to make her trust him. She may or may not be a precious resource of fairy blood that he’s working to save because her blood lets vampires walk in sunlight.

He may actually love her and just has a barbarian’s way of showing it.

What do you think, readers? What are Bill’s motivations? Why does he lie to and mistreat Sookie? Is there any justification for his machinations? How does novel-Bill differ from television-Bill? 

Does this image sum up their relationship?

Freudian Friday: Eric Northman

Looks innocent -- will actually rip out your spine. Image via FanPop.com

Ah, Eric Northman, True Blood‘s big hunk of man-candy. While I’m partial to Alcide, I can admit that Eric is the more interesting character. He’s sexy, funny, dangerous, wounded… what’s not for a Mary Sue like Sookie to love?

Okay, that was mean. I’m not a huge fan of Sookie, but we’re not going to talk about her. In fact, we probably should’ve talked about her about four weeks ago when we were still talking about the ladies of urban fantasy, but I forgot her. She is, if you ask me, eminently forgettable.

But we’re talking about men now for Daddy Issues (Mommy Issues?) in Urban Fantasy, and Eric is a prime candidate.

First, a warning: this blog post is only about the Eric of the HBO series True Blood: I’ve read only a few of Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries, so I can’t talk in an educated way about the books.

So, what do we know about Eric’s background and upbringing? Eric was a viking in his youth, and we learn that Eric desperately wants revenge against vampire king Russell, who, 1000 years ago, killed Eric’s entire family and took his father’s crown to add to a collection of victim’s prized possessions.

We also know that Eric deeply loved his Maker, an ancient (and also cute—this show is sick with attractive men) vampire who is old enough to have grown weary of his hatred of humans and the resentment he feels toward the world. Godric ultimately “meets the sun,” and Eric offers to join him, saying he cannot live without his Maker. Godric’s death makes Eric weep tears of blood—literally, ew—and Sookie sees the softer side of the bad-boy.

We also know that occasionally Eric will sacrifice himself to do the right thing. He’s also loyal to and protective of his own progeny, Pam, up until the point where she isn’t willing to die for the woman Eric loves.

Image via FanPop.com

But what do these things tell us? We really don’t know too much about Eric’s background, so we have to look at his actions during the show to speculate why he does what he does. We learn that he loves Sookie, and he will do anything to protect her, whether she likes it or not.

We learn that (in his mind) he is more faithful than Bill (Sookie’s first choice lover), waiting for Sookie while she’s lost in Faerie and buying her house to keep it for her.  It’s sweet, in a way, that he trusts she will return to him, and he tries to protect her even when she’s not around to benefit from it.

On the other hand, can you say stalker? He forces Sookie into intimate situations, and gives her no choice but to feel grudgingly grateful. He’s loyal, yes, but loyalty isn’t always about grand gestures (joint suicide, house buying, etc.)—sometimes it’s about giving your loved ones the support that they need, and Eric’s idea of support seems to be killing the people who upset you.

Eric is incapable of small gestures, though, which could be a reaction to his inability and perceived failure to save his family. Plus, Godric chose to die and leave Eric behind. Perhaps Eric takes Sookie’s free-will away because free-will would allow her to walk away from him.

Ironically, it’s when his will is taken from him that Sookie really falls for him. When he falls prey to a witch’s spell and forgets who he is, he becomes a good man, even an innocent, who relies on Sookie’s help and protection to keep him from destruction.

That may say more about Sookie than it does about Eric, but it also tells us that the boyish, mischievous, loyal Eric is his true nature—the callousness, the cruelty, and the rage all come from his conditioning. And 1000 years as a vampire is likely to give anyone a few issues.

So, what’s the bottom line for Eric? Combination hero/martyr/murderer complex? Rage issues? Will he spend his whole existence trying to make up for the losses he couldn’t control?

What do you think, readers? What are Eric’s motivations? What actions of his deserve analysis that I didn’t get to in this blog post? You want to hear me talk about Sookie, Bill, and the rest of the gang? Let me know!

And now, because you made it all the way to end of a long blog post, it’s time for a gratuitous shirtless picture of Alexander Skarsgård:

Happy Friday. Image via StraightFromTheA.com.