Friday, 10 May 2013

The Opposite of Heroic

Creating the villains in a romance novel can be a lot of fun. One type of villain is the Extremely Evil Villain – the truly treacherous mastermind of evil schemes. In historical novels, he’s usually intent on capturing the heroine and eloping with her (either because he desires her madly or because he wants her fortune). Or he could be the hero’s arch-enemy who is looking for a way to seek revenge – and what better way to do that than by stealing his enemy’s lady-love?

Then you can have the Comedic Villain or the Bumbling Buffoon… this kind of villain is usually the most entertaining to create. Just think of Mr Collins in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. His stuffiness and lack of humour and intelligence make him a truly memorable and annoying character… and although it’s a little strong to call him a villain, perhaps, the negative emotional reaction he engenders in me as a reader causes me to sneak him into this category!

Of course, a romantic novel is often not complete without the requisite Villainess – she comes in many shapes and forms, but the common denominator of the Villainess is that she usually hates the heroine! Miss Bingley in Pride and Prejudice is a classic example of a Villainess with her snobbish nature and nasty character, but Elizabeth Bennett is more than a match for her in wit, intelligence and humour, and Mr Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth, rather than the unpleasant Miss Bingley, which is a truly satisfying result.

It may seem as if romance novels feature a number of stereotypes – the strong masculine hero vs the evil villain; the charming heroine vs the nasty villainess, however I would venture to say that if you dig a little below the surface of a romance novel you may discover hidden messages of hope as well as joy. Of course we’re all a mix of good and bad – and I’m sure we’ve all been heroic on some occasions and cowardly on others. We’re human after all, and the nature of being human is our fallibility.

Romance novels focus on good triumphing over evil, which is often symbolised with the hero vs villain theme in a story. And this usually culminates with the requisite HEA (happily ever after), where the hero triumphs over all the odds and rides away victoriously with the heroine on his saddlebow.

People who focus on good things are often happy in themselves. And focusing on happiness is a recipe for actually becoming more happy. Sadness and tragedy are part of life, but so are happiness and joy. And yet stories which focus on tragedy and the darker side of humanity are often seen as more representative of life than stories that focus on comedy or love. A tragedy is always taken more seriously than a romance and I question this. Why should something that is considered more “realistic” because it features darker themes be more acclaimed than a joyful story?

If you watch the news on television or read newspapers the focus is usually on the negative, and the good is often left unreported. I’d say the same applies in the literary world. Books focusing on tragedy are often commended but the happy stories go unreported. And that saddens me. Sometimes we all need a HEA.

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