Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Dark Hero: The Fascination of the Metaphor

The question has been asked and given various answers by now: what is it about The Twilight Saga, and vampires in general, that is so fascinating?  There are several books on the subject of the Twilight obsession.  One of the very best is titled Spotlight, which I've been meaning to review, but haven't -- not yet, anyway.  That's because this book is so rich in analytical detail, I think it would take several reviews to do it justice!   I will have to go back and actually re-read it, so I can be sure to write a fairly decent review of it -- without giving short shrift to any of its beautifully elucidated topics.

I have just ordered a book on Amazon that deals with The Twilight books and the religious ideas interwoven throughout the series.  This is an approach that interests me greatly.  The book is titled  From Twilight to Breaking Dawn: Religious Themes in The Twilight Saga.  Other books might focus on other aspects of the series, like Spotlight,, whose author analyzes the books from a strictly literary point of view.  There's also Twilight and Philosophy, which should prove to be a very fascinating read..

I have only read two of the books that analyze the Saga -- Spotlight, and yet another book, The Twilight Gospel, which I found rather disappointing, because it criticized the series on the basis of its alleged antagonism to Christian Fundamentalist views. 

Fascinating as the above approaches are, however, I think the Twilight phenomenon, and indeed, the whole subject of vampires, has deeper, psychological roots.  I read an article dealing with this a short time ago.  You can find it here.  The author, Michael De Groote, a staff writer for "Deseret News", makes an excellent point that all men are vampires.  This might sound ridiculous, but he means that Edward Cullen is a metaphor for that part of a man's personality or psyche that can hurt a woman very, very badly.  Not only that, the metaphor also encompasses a man's superior physical strength.  In other words, men have a terribly great capacity to hurt the women they are close to, most especially those who are in a romantic relationship with them.  Of course, women can hurt men, too.  However, I would say, in answer to this objection, that a man's capacity to hurt a woman is far greater than that of a woman to hurt a man.  A man can inflict inner scars on a woman, scars that, although invisible to the eye, often take years to heal.  Sometimes they never do heal...  Furthermore, men have been known to kill their wives or girlfriends with a single blow.  They are also much quicker to kill with weapons.  Wars are started by men, after all, as we all know.  Little boys have an innate potential for violence that little girls might at times try to emulate, but are not entirely able to.  Has there ever been a female equivalent of Hitler in the history of the world? I sure can't think of any!

So Edward Cullen is a metaphor for that part of a man that can inflict great harm on a woman.  All other fictional, romantic vampires are also metaphors -- Christine Feehan's Carpathians, for example, as well as Amanda Ashley's dark heroes.  What do they all have in common?  They strive to control the monstrous part of themselves.  They try to keep the women they love safe....from themselves.  This, I believe, is the heady attraction that pulls Isabella Swan toward Edward Cullen.  This is what pulls the readers of The Twilight Saga, most of whom are female, toward Edward Cullen, as well.  For we the readers readily identify with Bella.  We become Bella as we read. 

Is there anything more attractive than a man -- who is powerful enough to crush a male enemy to a pulp, leashing his great physical and mental powers in order to be gentle with a woman?  In spite of considering myself a feminist, I cannot help but be obsessively attracted by the idea of such a man.  Perhaps this is an innate trait in all human females that no amount of feminist proselytizing can ever do away with.  Yes, I, along with my fellow feminists, want to find my own power, and be independent.  And yet....I melt at the thought of a powerful, wildly attractive man controlling his own power in order to avoid hurting fact, taking every precaution not to do so.  Sigh....

Feminism or not, we women still love to read romance novels, and there's nothing dearer to our hearts than the stereotypical "happily ever after".  It's what moves us to tears, whether or not we're willing to admit it.  At the end of the day, after the corporate grind is over, we can kick back with a good romance novel, and enjoy being sweetly ravished by a dark hero who is intent on pleasing us, on making sure that we are not harmed, especially by him.

I believe there's another very important aspect of the vampire ethos, however, and that is a woman's innate compassion.  Where a man might simply write off another man -- a criminal, perhaps -- as incorrigible, a woman will be more willing to give him a second chance, as well as the benefit of the doubt.  So the heroines of the vampire romances we so love to read will always strive to see the good in their vampire boyfriends.  The boyfriends appreciate this, of course, and it makes them fall even more in love with their human girlfriends.

This all goes back to the old fairy tale of "Beauty and the Beast".  We women still nurture the fantasy of redeeming a bad boy with our love, of seeing the good buried in him.  So we have the enduring myth of the romantic vampire, going through lonely centuries, enduring his own inner torment -- the realization that he is a monstrous anomaly --  until he finds that woman who is willing to give him a chance, who is able to go beyond the monster to find the good man in him.  I know I keep referring to vampires as male, but the thing is, most of the ones I've encountered in vampire romances are male.  I don't know about other readers, but I prefer vampire romances in which the woman is human, and her love interest is a vampire.  I believe that's because of the reasons I have detailed above.  

In the case of Edward Cullen, there is yet another factor -- he has a family.  None of the members of his family are actually related to him, but this fact endears them even more to the reader.  They are bound together by a common purpose, and ties of loyalty.  Edward is not a solitary vampire, and yet, his loneliness is very real, because, of all the Cullens, he has no mate -- until he meets Bella, that is.  Bella completes the Cullen family circle, which means that the Cullens now make up an even number of members.  There is a sense of completion in that, and it's very satisfying.  Even numbers represent wholeness to the unconscious mind, and it is that part of the human psyche that subliminally perceives these things, when they are woven into fictional drama. 

Every writer of vampire romance has her own unique take on the vampire myth.  Some adhere to the traditional version, with all the trappings of superstition such as the vampire's inability to stand the sunlight, which will, in fact, destroy him in a burst of flame, the use of crosses and garlic, sleeping in a coffin, etc.  Other writers create an entirely new world for their vampires.  Some of them even use humor in their stories, like Lynsay Sands and Kerrelyn Sparks.  I love the brooding, tortured vampire, as written by Amanda Ashley.  Stephenie Meyer has traveled a middle road.  Her vampires are not entirely of the traditional sort, except, of course, for the Volturi, who actually enjoy killing.  The Cullens, while not entirely in the brooding category, carry with them a sense of morality and social responsibility that brings them into very close affinity with Ashley's vampires.  Meyer's fertile imagination has created a very original reason for their avoidance of bright, sunny days -- they sparkle in sunlight; therefore, this would reveal them for what they are.

Along with the allure of the man who controls his dark urges to protect his beloved is the whole aura of darkness and mystery surrounding the vampire.  The heroine of a vampire romance is also attracted to this.  Even though mystery has been touted as a feminine attribute, which fascinates and attracts men (thus the phenomenon of the 'femme fatale'), women, too, are pulled in by it.  The lure of the unknown, the possibly exciting, the unusual, the fantastic -- this fascination is one of the characteristics of the human species.  We are innately curious.  We want to explore, discover, experience, that which puzzles us.  When coupled with the possibility of romance and love, the lure is nearly overpowering....

So the dark hero mesmerizes his love interest, and thereby, the reader, who is pulled inexorably along, turning page after page, until the inevitable happy ending, which never fails to draw a sigh of satisfaction.  At least, that's how I feel when I have finished a vampire romance.  That's how I feel after reading a Phantom of the Opera fan fiction story, since I utterly dislike the original novel, written by Gaston Leroux. 

Although Erik, the Phantom, is not a vampire, he is surrounded by mystery and the darkness of his own despair, because of his deformed face.  As originally written by Leroux, he is no more than a horrible monster who must possess Christine, the opera singer he is obsessively in love with, no matter who or what he destroys in the process.  Not so the Phantom as reinvented by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  In the famous musical and movie, Erik emerges as a man tortured by his darkness, who nevertheless loves Christine enough to ultimately free her so that she can go away with the handsome, rich Vicomte. 

Numerous fan fiction writers, including myself, have attempted to rectify what we see as Leroux's failure to have Christine fully accept and love Erik,  in spite of his deformity and inner darkness.  We have thus written stories in which this is exactly what happens.

It was the Lloyd Webber Erik, the fan fiction Erik, who lured me to the romantic vampire's lair -- the hidden domain of the man who thinks of himself as nothing more than a monster, the man who is completely unaware of the polished diamond he carries within -- his true, inner goodness.  Only his soul mate, that woman who is brave enough to venture into the monster's lair, can awaken him to his true self.  Only that woman can bring him back to who he really and truly is -- a man who is not a monster at all, and instead, one capable of love and all the virtues he cannot see in himself...  His soul mate, then, becomes a mirror for him, since, in most of these romances, the vampire casts no reflection in a real mirror.  His soul mate thus gives him his true reflection back to him.  His soul mate is his only hope, his only salvation.  Interestingly enough, this ties in quite well with the current spate of books about the return of the Sacred Feminine. 

Here, yet another reason for the hypnotic allure of these tales emerges -- the theme of the woman as savior of the man.  This is a woman's true power -- not the power of brute strength, but the power of love.  It is the power to see the best in a man, to urge him toward the light, and out of the darkness. 

Christine should have reflected Erik's true nature to him in this way.  Leroux, perhaps because he was a male himself, failed to see the inherent beauty of such a concept, and wrote a story of twisted obsession, nothing more than a typical tale of horror.  Had he been a woman, he would have immediately latched on to the opportunity to write a sublime romance instead. 

Lloyd Webber is a male, someone might object, and yet, he has turned the original story into the romance it should really have been in the first place, although, alas, there is no happy ending; at least, not for Erik.  Could it be that, since Lloyd Webber is a child of the century that gave birth to Carl Jung, who brought forth the concept of the animus (a woman's inner male), and the anima (a man's inner female), he was able to see what Leroux could not?  This is definitely food for thought...

The dark hero's soul mate brings him out of the pit of despair and darkness he has thus far been trapped in.  Able at last to love, because he himself has been loved, he is transformed, even if he remains a vampire, even if, as in the case of Erik, his physical deformity is not cured.  At the end of the story, the hero is no longer mysterious, no longer as dark as he seemed.  For he has become that most wonderful of creatures -- a man eternally united with his beloved, eternally devoted to her....

And that, for those men who still can't understand women, is exactly what women want.


  1. Wow, such a deep and thoughtful analysis, Maria! I have to say I think you're right-- the bad boy/vampire boy type continues to entrance and intrigue because some universal part of them appeals to the female masses. Cool how many non-fic books have been written about Twilight-- only Harry Potter has been analyzed so many times before, as far as I know. :)

  2. Yes,it's true that both series have sparked the publication of several books that analyze the stories and characters. I believe that's due to the deep archetypal power of these tales for the human psyche.

    Thanks for the visit and the great comment!! : )


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