Transformations and Fairy Tales

Celebrate Romance–MC speech 2006

Welcome one, welcome all to our annual celebration of romance and romance novels! This year finds Celebrate Romance in sunny southern California. To many, this place symbolizes the good life—the kind of idyllic world that many of us aspire to. Remember, here all the men are handsome and strong and all the women are beautiful and blonde!

But the reality is that Southern California is a lot like the world of romance novels. There’s a lot of diversity to be found in both! While the world might conjure up the movie business as the heart and soul of this area, there is a lot of high-tech work and a large number of jobs that are just like the ones found in many other sections of this country and the world. There’s just an added element of glamour being in the midst of such a highly visible and influential creative industry.

Romance is a creative industry, too. Out of nothing come stories of hope and anticipation, of dreams and desires, of expectation and transformation. Gee, that does sound an awful lot like Hollywood! But romance also features that diversity that the true Southern California contains as well.

One of the hardest things to try to explain to a non-romance reader is that there is no “one type fits all” when it comes to romance.

One of the hardest things to try to explain to a non-romance reader is that there is no “one type fits all” when it comes to romance. Sure, there’s a man, there’s a woman, and there’s love. But that’s about it. On top of that you’ll find mystery, you’ll find adventure, you’ll find comedy. The characters range from passive to active, from cerebral to visceral, from optimistic to despairing. Let’s face it. There is no limit to where romance can go. It’s got a simple basic structure that can support any type of story. Just like Hollywood has a structure of moviemaking that can support any type of tale.

Romance has seen a lot of change over the past several years. Some of it shows us interesting new developments, like the growth of interest in paranormal stories. And there are sad stories as well, like the demise of the traditional Regency in 2005. In Hollywood, we’ve seen the introduction of technothrillers like The Matrix replace the tried-and-true Western. But evolution happens to everything—sometimes preferred, sometimes not—and we all learn to live with the changes that bring a loss of old comforts and the excitement of new thrills.

But the real parallel between the land of Southern California and the land of romance is that they’re both inhabited, at heart, by storytellers. Writers of romance want to entrance you. Readers of romance want to be entranced. Just like the movies and TV, romance uses characters we come to care about to drive us to read about them, to hope for their happiness. They want us to believe in happily ever after endings. Just like in fairy tales.

I’ve been reading a fair amount about fairy tales lately and their meanings in women’s lives—not just the usual reread of Bettelheim or Opie, but a new book by an author named Joan Gould. In her work Spinning Straw Into Gold, Gould shows how fairy tales illustrate the major phases of a woman’s life. In particular, she delves into the transformations that move women from one period of life into another. If you look at the classic stages of a woman’s journey from ancient days—Maid, Mother, Crone—you can see those stages reflected in fairy tales and, indeed, in today’s romance.

Romance primarily deals with that transformation from Maid to Mother, from a virginal stage of minimal self-awareness to a consciousness of self and sexuality, of the need to move away from childhood and into adulthood and adult relationships. It’s a time when the heroine becomes aware that, no matter how rich her life may be, she needs more. She needs to share that richness, both of her life and of herself, with another person. She needs romance.

This is a heady, transformative moment. For many of us, we’ve experienced and moved into a relatively stable stage of an ongoing relationship. Or we may still be awaiting that magical moment. Romance gives us a chance to rekindle those exciting feelings once more, or to anticipate them. It reinforces the thrill of one of the major events we go through in life. And it gives us that thrill in endless variation.

If you look at romance, you can see that many of them reflect fairy tales. We’ve all seen variations of the Cinderella story in our romance novels, where the heroine is saved from a horrible life. Sometimes she does this by herself. Sometimes there’s a form of fairy godmother present. But by going through change, she discovers a man who gives new meaning to her life, who makes her future more exciting than she could have ever imagined when she was doing the equivalent of sweeping the ashes at the hearth.

Another fairy tale seen over and over in romance novels is the classic Beauty and the Beast. The title itself is used by many romance novels, and the theme of the heroine rescuing the trapped, scarred, beastlike hero is one of the all-time favorites of romance. Beauty and the Beast offers the heroine a great empowering opportunity, and it’s a story romance writers and readers love to capitalize on. In her book, Gould cites several variants of this fairy tale that are classics of literature, like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Science fiction and fantasy readers have also seen variations of this story. Robin McKinley’s classic Beauty comes to mind. She even rewrote this years later as Rose Daughter! It seems that much of literature comes from fairy tales.

You can find all sorts of fairy tales in romance. Rapunzel trapped in her tower, Snow White escaping from an evil stepmother bent on killing her, or Sleeping Beauty hiding away until she is saved by her handsome prince, are all themes you can find in romance novels as well. Romance relates to something primal in women, which needs to be drawn upon and experienced again and again. It reminds us of our value sexually and socially. It shows girls moving into full womanhood, able to establish lasting, adult relationships with someone who cares. It’s about that satisfactory ending. There’s a reason we keep referring to the HEA online. We know that happily-ever-after is a wondrous thing.

Romance relates to something primal in women, which needs to be drawn upon and experienced again and again. It reminds us of our value sexually and socially.

Another wondrous thing, of course, is friendship and companionship. Interestingly, this is rarely seen in fairy tales. In part, that’s because the heroine needs to make changes, make a journey in her life, and friends are often a reminder of the old ways that need to be changed. Romance can also reflects this—how many romances have you read that are basically two-character stories, where the heroine has no one to relate to but the hero?

But romance can often show a strong tie of friendship as well. Most contemporary romances and chick lit show the heroine with a circle of friends, a strong support group around her. She relies on their wisdom and insight to give her perspective in unexpected areas. Where, you might ask, can you find these leagues of extraordinary gentlewomen?

Well, I can tell you where they are. They’re right here, at Celebrate Romance! This event gives readers of romance a chance to gather and share with one another. This is not a writer’s convention. It’s one for readers (and we must recall that all writers are readers as well). It’s a chance for us to meet and greet and chat and share. If this is your first time here, don’t worry—you’ll make new friends before you know it. If this is a return visit, you know what you’re in for! Enjoy the presentations this morning, and feel free to share your thoughts in our discussions this afternoon. It’s a great time, a fun time, a joyous time for all. As the immortal Kool & the Gang said, “we’re gonna have a good time tonight. Let’s celebrate, it’s all right.”

So, without further ado, let’s move to our first speaker.

Back to Celebrate Romance

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