This weekend I spent a couple of hours with an old classic: Disney's Beauty and the Beast. This made me wonder about themes in novels, and different adaptations of them. In fact, the Beauty and the Beast theme has been adapted several times over in fresh and interesting ways.
The first one I read was Ravished by Amanda Quick. By the time I read To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt, I was long hooked. This became one of my favorite "fairy tale" themes, and I have most of the books that deal in some way with a quirky, fun and beautiful heroine and her outsized, rough-around-the-edges-but-hiding-a-heart-of-gold love interest. A petite woman with a big personality taming her not-so-Prince-Charming. Who doesn't love that? Also, I feel it's one theme that's closest to life - aren't many men really a bit like rough diamonds who need a good woman to polish them up a smidge? It's hard to argue with that, lol.
Then there's my absolute favorite classic, Jane Eyre, which strongly echoes this theme. We have a Plain Jane heroine whose mild-mannered ways, spirit and inner beauty touch the heart of the mysterious and gruff Mr. Rochester. The result - a haunting tale that has lived for centuries and will live through many more. There have been so many movie and televised adaptations of this classic story that I lost count.
After a short search I found a list of romance novel themes from the Romantic Times BookClub (2002), contributed by Megan Campbell. The author starts by breaking down what a romance novel is, and what the central elements are; then she delves into the theme, and I quote:
Once the central love story and optimistic-ending criteria are met, a romance novel can be set anywhere and involve any number of plot elements. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific sub-genres within romance fiction.
Chicks Who Kick Butt
Bad To The Bone...
Witches & Warlocks
Magic & Magical Creatures
Fairy Tale Romance
There's No Business Like ... Show Business
Emotionally Tortured Hero
Love and War
Mystery, Suspense & Thrillers
The Second Wife
Love & Laughter
Love on the Job
Romances Set in Scotland
Romances with Animals
Romances Set in Texas
Terms of the Will
May and December Romances
Beauty and the Beast
Rags to Riches/Riches to Rags
Doctors and Nurses
Nursing Back to Health
Disguised as a Male
Imperfect "Perfect" Heroes
Marriage of Convenience
All the above list is relevant today, although I imagine by "Romances with Animals" she means heroes and heroines who own pets. I'm a bit unclear, and frankly, stumped on that one! :-D
Being that the article was written in 2002, I think there's be even more to add to the list. For instance, popular today are themes that involve in some way the Victorian era, a time period rife with interesting research relating to the Industrial Revolution, the Occult, etc. A new "offshoot" of this is the steampunk genre, a type of speculative fiction which, however, is not only limited to the Victorian age anymore. We have themes of romantic suspense, such as heroes and/or heroines with secret lives. Themes involving billionaires with babies (Mega-publisher Harlequin likes to publish books with this theme - and we'll have the opportunity to meet with one of their authors this Wednesday, Catherine Mann). We also have paranormal, fantasy and sci-fi themes that explore new worlds, new planets, and new forms of life. There are themes involving ancient worlds (Greece, Rome, Sparta, etc.) and mythology (the gods, Olympus, etc.); multicultural themes (mostly in contemporary but also in historical romances); chick lit (and no matter what they say, I refuse to believe it's dead); and dark themes (kink, dark fantasies, etc. - mostly explored in erotica). And what about the Romeo and Juliet theme? Immortals?
The sky is the limit... or is it? Actually, there's hardly any limit to the imagination. It seems that publishers are always on the lookout not only for fresh voices, but also for fresh themes.
We all have reasons for liking something. Personally I love the Beauty and the Beast theme because it celebrates inner beauty, despite physical flaws and a misleading outward demeanor. This story involves one person chipping off at layers of disillusionment and cynicism, to find the treasure beneath - a person worth loving.
So, I'd like to ask, because I'm a curious busybody: What's your favorite theme in romance novels?
That's all for today, and I'm off to see about getting my hands on a copy of Beauty by Robin McKinley.
Please don't forget to check in Wednesday for Catherine Mann's interview. She will be giving away not one but two copies of her books to two lucky commenters from the US and Canada!
~ Angela ~
No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love. "Mile High to Heaven" and "Mr. & Mrs. Foster" available at Whiskey Creek Press Torrid.