When I was in school I minored in psychology, quite by accident on my part, and high hopes on my advisor’s part. Trust me, psychology is nothing more than manipulating people through learned behaviors and that kind of power in my hands is not a good thing. It was good thing I did when I refused to take the three or four credit hours I needed for the double major.
Several times a year some old school friends and I get together in a chat room and catch up, and we always have a December get together. End of year sort of thing. We’ve lost a few members through death or disinterest, but the five core members of our little group have remained. The others in our group all graduated from medical school, except one, who didn’t like the pressure and went into pharmaceuticals, I think. I was the only one in an “allied field” as it’s become known, as I majored in biology, molecular biology to make that point as fine as possible. I was very good at microbiology and was fascinated with the mitochondrion since I discovered it as age eleven.
I’m the only one who doesn’t work in science at all. I left the field over twenty years ago, in pure disgust over the environmentalists ruining peer review and grant begging. I made the observation that if you wanted to get your grant money just add, “…and its effect on the environment.” To the end of any abstract. It’s now called global warming.
I received a fair amount of ribbing when I began writing romance books. I read them in college in between science texts and trade journals. I’ve been listening to jokes about my bodice rippers for over thirty years. I can take a joke. However, when I dived into the pool of people who wrote them, that brought my friends up short. For the first time, I heard, from them, that I was throwing my education away, and didn’t I feel guilt for not using my education for the betterment of mankind. I know, I laughed that they really didn’t know me if they could say that with a straight face.
So, I explained. I had already had two glasses of scotch and some Christmas cookies, so I completely did everything off the cuff from vague memories of Dr. William’s and Dr. Cadwalder’s lectures on abnormal psychology and psychological paradigms.
I have re-read the logs and this is what I have managed to put together to justify my use of my education while writing what they consider trivial chick lit.
Every genre of literature has an archetypal hero/antihero/villain. All of these archetypes are based on innate fears we bring into the world with us. Infants show fear of spiders and snakes before exposure to those creatures, showing that fear is not a learned behavior, but an innate one. That is why a fear of spiders can rarely be allayed, because it’s part of our genetic makeup.
When we look back on evolution and evolutionary psychology, humans have an innate fear of cat-snake-bird. This is our genetic fear of things that hunt in trees that primates learn to identify and avoid. Our eyesight is developed to be able to discern their markings in a tree so that our primate ancestors could identify and thereby avoid predators.
The cat-snake-bird that breathes fire is a dragon, a symbol, a representation of all of our fears as early man developed. The ultimate predator. So, we need a warrior, a gladiatorial archetype to defend us against this ultimate danger, a protector and thus was born the romantic archetype in Chivalry, which is still present in our literature today.
The dragon was also the ultimate antihero in that it’s job, in our mythology was the protector of virgins and treasure. Dragons are a symbol that are found worldwide.
You can go back to Marduk, the Babylonian god who has a dragon he’d made into a pet. Marduk had faced the danger, protected the world and tamed the cat-snake-bird that breathed fire. He was the hero who slew Tiamat, and used the pieces of her body to create heaven and earth. Tiamat had created the dragons and monsters of the world before Marduk killed her. He is therefore the savior or humanity, a hero.
So, the archetypes we use in romance writing for our protagonists and antagonist go back sixty-million years. Much longer than literature itself.
Without even realizing what we are doing while we’re reading we are identifying danger and protection through the imagery of the words. If you doubt me, you’ve never read Byron.
In the past few years there has been a veritable gold rush in the genre of paranormal romance. You cannot swing a dead cat without hitting someone who is writing about vampires, werewolves or dragons.
Vampires, werewolves and dragons are all literary devices which all hearken back to the cat-snake-bird because they are the ultimate predators and therefore an extraordinary hero is needed to vanquish them. And so, we created the Knight Errant.
It was at this point I was basically in pure bullshit mode and pulling things out of my ass from long forgotten lectures and books read on evolutionary psychology and the thimble of knowledge I have on anthropology. I had to throw in the Babylonian mythology because it was something I’d recently read and it fit. I was literally putting this together as I wrote.
All of my scholarship, bogus and real, garnered one response. “Wow. You’ve really given this some thought.”
Yes, I had thought long and hard before I sat down to begin writing down the stories that had inhabited my brain for far too long. I never begin any endeavor without giving it a great deal of thought and trying to figure out all the angles, because I’ve spread myself very thing several times over my life and I don’t want to get back into that place.
It may seem frivolous to many that some people choose to write about magic, space travel, other worlds, but for many of us this is serious business. I don’t write my stories for the money. I think my royalty statements prove that. I write because I have characters and plots in my head trying to get out. There are several writers I know who tell me their characters speak to them, demanding their story be written. Now. I get that, I really do.
Yes, I write romance books. I write interesting stories that I think tell good stories. Just because they seem silly to some, does not mean they are silly at the basic root of the tale. As with all human stories, they are cautionary tales to teach people to beware of the dangers of the cat-snake-birds in our midst, how to identify and avoid them. I can’t think of anything more important than that.