What first comes to mind when we think about the promise of romance? All the wondrous possibilities of new love? The belief that there is, indeed, a lid for every pot? The certainty that every book we read, in the romance genre, will end with the lovers together, and happy about it? All of those answers are true, but they are only scratching the surface. Want to go deeper? Then you’ve come to the right place.
Back when I was but a wee little princess, I devoured fairy tales by the truckload. Okay, book load. Read more about that in last week’s post, here. While not every fairy tale is a romance (and not every romance is a fairy tale) I always found, from my very earliest memory, that I gravitated to the stories where, no matter what else might transpire, the hero and/or heroine of the tale found true love as the greatest of life’s treasures (though the monetary kind were also usually in evidence) and ended the story by beginning a life together.
As I grew older, big enough to watch and follow TV shows, then sit through a two-hour movie, once again, it was the romance angle that drew me, and I would hone in on it like a hound on the hunt. Didn’t matter that I was too young, at that point, to experience romance for myself, or even fully understand what it meant. What did matter was that the two lovers, together, became something more than the sum of their parts. By the end of the story, the characters weren’t alone anymore, and they found that, in most cases, there was somebody -whom they thought was pretty nifty, so extra plus- found something wonderful in a part of the first character, that they had never seen in a positive light themselves. What’s that all about?
As it turned out, by the time I started shipping cartoon characters, and asking pointed questions about how multiple fairy tale princesses can marry guys named Prince Charming, but they are all different guys, I figured out that it was about connection and transformation. Together, the lovers, be they futuristic rock musicians, who solve crimes on the side, Norse gods and goddesses (I had a major mythology phase around first grade, and there was plenty romancing, though not always with HEAs, and love interests could include things like swans and trees, and one’s own reflection.) or, later on, the protagonists of young adult novels. Then I snatched a big, thick historical romance from my mother’s nightstand, at the far too young age of eleven, and I have never looked back, since.
So. Connection. Transformation. How does this all work in the world of romance fiction? Once I blew through that book from my mom’s nightstand, I started to notice some patterns. Many of the heroines of those earlier historical romance novels, were young at the beginning of the books, sometimes a lot younger than their heroes, and they would, of course, grow up from girls into women, usually wives, sometimes mothers, sometimes doctors in medieval France, or the first female sherriff in a small town in the western US, maybe pirates, maybe mistresses of their own fate, and they got the dude, too. Bonus point, the dude did his own version of growing up, too.
Granted, it usually wasn’t the same kind of growing up as our heroine did, because they started at different points. The disreputable rake, for example, becomes a devoted husband and doting father, by the end of the book. The pirate is maybe still a pirate, but at least he’s a one-woman pirate now, and he has a new appreciation of the woman he chased and/or avoided for the last few hundred pages.
Why might that be, you might ask? That whole thing about being greater than the sum of their parts? Totally applicable to romance fiction. Maybe we do want to be the heroine, or her best friend, and maybe we want the hero for our very own (then again, some of us would feel like we’re messing with somebody else’s man, because, dude, he’s clearly into the heroine,) but what always did it -and still does it- for me, was the way each individual pair of lovers (sometimes it’s two heroes, or two heroines, or some other combination) clicked, from two very different people, into…something else.
Those two lovers, at the end of the book, who have each other’s back, and are facing the future together? They’re still the same two people we met in the beginning, but they are also different. They’ve both had some major attitude adjustments and paradigm shifts, made some sacrifices for true love, and gotten something bigger than what they gave up, in return. Sometimes, we’re going to have a Gift of the Magi kind of thing, where they each sacrifice something huge for the other, which renders the other’s foal moot, because, well, mutual, but that’s the beauty of it. That’s going from a “me” and a “you” into a “we.” Into an “us,” That, right there? That is magic, my friends, and it happens in every romance novel. Every. Single. One. There is a sure thing I can count on, every time. Pinky swear.
So dear readers, I turn it now over to you. What is the one promise that brings you back to romance fiction, every single time? What’s your take on the whole connection and transformation angle? Have a favorite book that showcase it to perfection? A favorite author who hits it out of the park, every time? Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.