Monday, March 5, 2012

The Appeal of the Supernatural

Since the beginning of times, humans have been fascinated with the supernatural. What may have started as a possible explanation for natural phenomena before the birth of science has remained a subject of interest in both fiction and non-fiction. Storytelling has always provided a great vehicle to explore that which we cannot see or explain, and writers’ imaginations have run wild with possibilities. But what may have once been a niche in the wide world of literature seems to be rapidly becoming mainstream. Just take a look at all the books, movies and TV shows that deal with supernatural elements in a variety of genres and subgenres: horror, science fiction, psychological suspense, fantasy, time travel, magical realism, children’s fiction and more recently, comedy and romance. It’s apparent that in the last decade, supernatural fiction has soared. (Though technically there is not one specific genre called “supernatural fiction,” I will use this term to differentiate any fiction with make-believe elements from fiction based on the real world.)

The most common, and most recent, examples of the incredible rise and success of supernatural fiction are Harry Potter and Twilight. The latter alone has sold 116 million copies and the movies have allegedly cashed two billion dollars. No wonder so many writers, publishers and producers are paying serious attention to the metaphysical! 

But as we all know, supernatural fiction was born way before Harry Potter and Edward Cullen came into the picture (or in this case, into the paper.) If we look at the history of storytelling, we’ll find legends and fairy tales in every culture; all dealing with magical creatures, talking animals, witches or mythological gods who interact with humans or by themselves. Even the Bible is filled with supernatural phenomena!

Most modern fantasy/horror tales stem from three iconic figures. In the early 19th century, an 18-year-old girl came up with the idea of a man formed by an amalgam of body parts from dead people and brought back to life. The girl was Mary Shelley and the novel was Frankenstein. From a short story contest and a dream that inspired this young writer, the horror and science fiction genres were born. But the sad tale of Victor Frankenstein’s monster is not limited to horror fiction. It has also been rendered in comedies and cartoons.

Fred Gywne portrayed a jolly Frankenstein-like character in the 60’s sitcom The Munsters.

From folkloric tales and legends came shapeshifters such as the werewolf to capture the popular imagination. This moon-devoted creature has been rendered in a variety of ways, from the tragic tales of The Werewolf of Paris and An American Werewolf in London, to the 80’s comedy Teen Wolf and the romantic Jacob Black in the Twilight Saga. It’s interesting to see how this classical archetype has been repeatedly portrayed as the vampire’s nemesis. 

In the comedy-horror film, An American Werewolf in London (1981), David Naughton is an innocent American tourist who gets bitten by a werewolf in England. Like most lycanthropes in fiction, he goes through a painful transformation and acquires an insatiable appetite for human flesh that dooms him to a tragic ending.

David Naughton shocked by his werewolf transformation.

Third, but not least, is the infamous vampire. Initially borrowed from oral mythology and archaic superstitions, this archetypical figure has never been more popular. It is alleged that the inspiration for Count Dracula came from a real person, Vlad the Impaler, a Romanian prince from the 15th century who cruelly killed thousands of his own people. In 2005, author Elizabeth Kostova brought us The Historian, a novel that explores the possibility that this historical character may in fact have been the feared Dracula and may still be alive. The range of vampires in literatures is so wide that it can satisfy any taste. If you crave the Gothic antihero dwelling in dark dungeons and coffins, you can turn to Bram Stocker’s Dracula. If you enjoy the flamboyance and decadence of a more sensual vampire, you might be pleased with Anne Rice’s Lestat de Lioncourt. But if you’re weakness is the “lost soul” tormented by his own nature, you will most likely find this archetype in the most recent vampire renditions. The birth of the repressed and introspective vampire can probably be attributed to another one of Rice’s creations, the melancholic Louis de Pointe du Lac from The Vampire Chronicles. Many claim that the virginal vegetarian vampire, Edward Cullen, is a direct descendant from Louis.

Two  different depictions of a vampire. Tom Cruise as the self-indulgent and narcissistic Lestat, and Brad Pritt as Louis, the paternal vampire with a conscience.

Recurring themes revolving these three iconic characters are power, strength, repressed sexuality, sensuality, forbidden love, suicide, sacrifice and possession (sexual or by killing/eating/drinking the victim’s blood.) This last theme is a major element of children’s literature. How many wolves and witches haven’t set out to feed of children’s tender flesh? Likewise, aliens and zombies throughout the history of literature have gained strength from us tasty humans.

Another appeal of the supernatural is the ability to build alternative/parallel worlds that may or may not represent utopian societies for the writer and his/her audience. In these worlds, cataclysmic contests between good and evil prevail (whereas the real world has several shades of gray and it’s harder to “take a side.”) So am I right in thinking that in this way, fantasy/science fiction is simpler than real life?

In this epic battle of good vs. evil, it’s not difficult to pick sides.

From what I’ve observed, supernatural fiction can be divided in three large categories (correct me if I’m wrong):
  1. A human in a fantastic world.
  2. A fantastic character in the real world.
  3. Fantastic creatures in fantastic worlds.
To me, it’s easier to identify with number two.

In Ghost (1990), a man gets killed in front of his fiancée but stays on earth as a ghost to protect his beloved. The film, starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, is considered one of the most romantic stories of all times.

Which type of supernatural fiction do you prefer?

I know people who flat-out refuse to read or watch any fiction that isn’t rooted in the real world. It’s not my preferred kind of fiction, either, but I have on occasion enjoyed reading or watching these types of stories. Still, the popularity of the supernatural puzzles me. Do writers/directors have a legitimate interest in these subjects, or are they following a trend? Do writers believe in the things they write about? If the young adult market has become so large, what are adults reading? And here’s the last question for those immersed in this kind of fiction: are people reading supernatural fiction because it’s available everywhere, have they developed a taste for it because of its popularity, or have they always had a genuine interest in the esoteric world?


  1. I think I have the most difficulty reading fantastic creatures/fantastic worlds. I enjoy stories which have supernatural elements but are at least somewhat plausible or rooted in the real world, science or history - the Historian is a favorite of mine.

    1. Li, with the exception of "The Planet of the Apes" I find it hard to identify with fantastic creatures and fantastic worlds, too. (But I don't know if this movie counts since there are humans in this world.) I remember I read somewhere that the most effective execution of fantasy is to have a human in the fantastic world so that the reader can identify with this character. (For example in Cave of the Clan Bear). Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I love historical fiction with a paranormal element. And that's what I write, too!


    1. This sounds interesting. What kind of paranormal element do you use?

  3. Great subject Sister Lorena and one dear to my heart!
    The Gothic novel, mother of our modern Horror, Sci Fy, and Fantasy genres, was born during a crisis that afflicted European intelligentsia at the end of the XVIII century. Reason that had governed the scientific world thought the century was challenged by the early Romantics who perceived humans as helpless beings at the mercy of an irrational nature, and supernatural powers. The same crisis surfaced at the end of the XIX Century. Bram Stoker´s Dracula was a result of that current.
    So by the time Harry Potter saw the light in 1997, critics said “this happens at the dawn of every new century an it´s a passing fad.” But we are entering the second decade of the XXI ct. and the fad keeps on growing especially in literature. We have Sci-Fi, alternative history, fantasies of all sorts, paranormal, etc. And the phenomenon doesn’t seem to be tapering off any sooner.
    It reminds me of the Hollywood in the 30’s that brought forth Bela Lugosi´s Dracula, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein and Lon Chaney´s werewolf movies. That cinema was a product of the Depression. It was influenced by economic and social issues coupled with the fear of the rise of totalitarian regimes. Since we are going through similar times, maybe we need to escape through this sort of literature and that explains its appeal.

    1. "Reason that had governed the scientific world thought the century was challenged by the early Romantics who perceived humans as helpless beings at the mercy of an irrational nature, and supernatural powers." I've been reading about this in Steven Pinker's book "The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined." Boy, he is not a fan of romanticism! Spawned some good poetry and some horrible wars. Very interesting. I sure hope we're not seeing a rise of that counter-Englightment viewpoint again, though you can see some evidence for it. Most of the fiction writers I see who are coming out with supernatural stuff now don't seem to be part of that irrational, apocalyptic, glorifying-war viewpoint, though, thank goodness.

      I don't see supernatural fiction as a fad, at all: since it's been around as long as storytelling as been around, I think it's just an element of The Story. No more of a fad than romance. Your point about totalitarianism is interesting: so many of the supernatural fiction novels now offer an analysis of how humans get themselves into that particular pickle, and inspiration for how to get out of it. The Hunger Games, Ender's Game, Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Delirium, Cloud Atlas, and The Handmaid's Tale, are all books I've read in the last year that have some supernatural element and address the problem of dictatorships. But they aren't escapist: they're more like roadmaps out, or inoculation against.

    2. Forgive all my typos! Gosh, I need to edit my own stuff more carefully before hitting "publish."

    3. I agree with both of you that supernatural fiction is probably not a fad. What I think may be a fad is the current execution of it. By this, I mean the juxtaposition of the supernatural, sex and young/attractive characters in a contemporary setting ("True Blood" comes to mind) which is not the same as what the 90's offered with the Gothic and historical renditions of Anne Rice's novels, or "Bram Stocker's Dracula" with Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder, or "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" with Robert De Niro. Notice, too, how the execution of this type of fiction in the 60's was comedic ("I Dream of Jeanie", "Bewitched", "My Favorite Martian") and in the 80's it was all about teenage/high school light comedy ("Teen Wolf", "Back to the Future", "Weird Science", etc).

    4. Sister Stephanie,
      Do not bring up the Typo subject (blush, blush.) I let Word take care of typoes with dire results (“thought the century” really meant “throughout the century.”)
      I haven’t read the Pinker book, but it sounds good.
      We moderns tend to think of “romantic” as a positive adjective. In fact, The Romantic Movement espoused a very dark, backward mentality. They rejected reason, science (Mary Shelley creates the Mad Scientist cliché) and any form of progress. They went back to medieval culture for inspiration. So no wonder, gothic horror and fantasy was a byproduct of the romantic mentality.
      Indeed futuristic novels (Orwell’s 1984 is a good example) are maps of future dictatorships, but that is science fiction.

      Contemporary fantasy is all about finding supernatural powers within ourselves (vicariously through the protagonist’s journey) and use it against a world of evil. Harry Potter´s Hogwarth is an example of a logical, disciplined utopian society disturbed only by evil forces that have to be controlled or destroyed.

  4. And as my favorite supernatural genre, I have to say historical fantasy, although there is very few of it around.

    1. The only novels I've read of this genre are yours :))) Can you name others?

    2. Let´s see. Historical Fantasy goes back to the Arthurian Legends and the Arabian Nights, but the current fantasy fad has brought it back and has labeled it as such. Best titles: Susannah Clark’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (magicians fighting during Napoleonic times), Naomi Novak’s Temerarious series (Britain using a Dragon fleet to fight Napoleon). Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is another example. Outlander falls into a variety of Historical fantasy (the time travelling romance)

    3. Steampunk is sometimes classified as Historical Fantasy. But there are others who consider it a Sci Fy branch or alternative history.

  5. One thing that really chaps my hide when it comes to watching a film is when aliens are introduced into the storyline. Aliens make me groan every time I see them, because they're like the go-to supernatural beings that seem to fill in a sagging storyline (i.e. most anything Spielberg directs -- Super 8, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull [ugh!], A.I., Cocoon, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, etc.) and they're not even interesting! They are the most cliched element in movies anymore. I personally don't have a taste for the supernatural, never have. I'll watch it or read it from time to time but never do I find it believable, and for me to enjoy a story I have to find it believable.

    I recently read an interview with Brad Pitt where he said the most depressing movie he ever made was Interview with a Vampire, mainly because the shoots were at night in dreary weather and he described his character as static. He said he literally wanted to quit making it, but it would have been too expensive for him to get our of his contract. I find that to be quite interesting. From what I've seen, so much of the supernatural entertainment borders on the side of dreary and depressing and the characters -- even in films like Twilight -- aren't allowed to see the light of day.

    1. "Aliens make me groan every time I see them, because they're like the go-to supernatural beings that seem to fill in a sagging storyline"

      Ha, ha, ha! I haven't thought of this, but you're right. It bugged me in the films you mention, but there are some alien movies I've enjoyed ("War of the Worlds", "Independence Day", "Contact" and "ET", but I didn't care for Mel Gibson's "Signs".) Sometimes I wish they wouldn't show us the aliens. I like it better when it's left to our imaginations or if we have to wonder if it's really happening.

      I also read about Brad Pitt being miserable during that movie but I thought he had personal issues with Tom Cruise. I didn't know it was the gloomy atmosphere that bothered him (I can see why!)

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  7. Hi everyone, first time commenter. I’d like to take a second to congratulate you for the blog, but particularly Lorena. Discussing literature and movies with her has always been one of my favorite things, and I’m glad to be able to contribute to this project and encourage her on her road to success.

    For me, the appeal of supernatural fiction has mostly been due to the second category. The premise of a supernatural being living in the real world (although not necessarily during the present) and interacting with humans, has given the novels I’ve read a rich layer of meaning, allowing the moral of the story to be more relatable. I don’t mean that high fantasy doesn’t allow it though; I challenge any fantasy enthusiast to deny the appeal of a series such as The Lord of the Rings or, more recently, the Game of Thrones saga. The allure of escapism in epic fiction is undeniable, but ultimately, it all boils down to the humanity of the characters. Perhaps that’s why I have a soft spot for Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, which somewhat blends the charms of high fantasy with real world narratives. The novels aren’t set in parallel worlds per se, but in historical and sometimes archaic settings in which supernatural beings abound. As a lover for historical fiction, it’s pretty much a perfect combination.

    Anne Rice herself has stated that the vampires in her novels are metaphors for the outsider in us, and thus we’re meant to root for these deeply flawed, morally ambiguous, incredibly complex, but ultimately very human characters. Lorena mentioned Louis as the genesis for the contemplative and introspective and, dare I say it, depressive vampire, and I’d have to agree. The core of his angst relies on the fact that he made a choice that he can’t take back, and he has to spend all of eternity reconciling with the reality that it was by his own volition that he became the monster that he sees himself as. It is no wonder that out of all the characters in her novels, Louis is always seen as the most human. But regardless of him, practically all of her vampires are yearning for meaning and companionship, supernatural or otherwise. It’s at this point that romance and dark fiction can become practically undistinguishable from one another. Lorena also mentioned Frankestein, and that’s great, because it’s one of the pinnacles of the gothic horror genre (which I think reached its high point during the fin de siécle period, a moment in history in which the crisis of faith, among other things, brought upon a “rational” world that lacked gods other than men themselves, and gave us wonderful books such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or the famous, perhaps infamous, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Not to mention Dracula.) Most of the characters in gothic horror are also meant to represent some of our basic anxieties, and it’s the drama of their supernatural lives which ultimately makes them so moving for me. The tragedy of Frankestein, which relies on the abandonment of the monster by the doctor and the whole world, can be an incredibly poignant example of our own cruelty as a society.

    So far, and as I’ve stated above, it’s the humanity of the supernatural which I find appealing. But I’d like to discuss a different thesis I came across when watching a roundtable interview of actresses. In it, the conversation started to revolve around into the idea of empathy vs. sympathy (how we, as an audience, relate to a certain character, and whether we understand him or pity him), and the role of the monster in that dichotomy. Charlize Theron talked about her research for the movie Monster, and she mentioned a book she had read which brought up the point that we need vampires, werewolves, witches, etc. because we just can’t fathom the notion that we, as human beings, are capable of monstrous behavior. In that sense, the appeal of fantasy may not only be due to a metaphoric reflection of our own human condition, but the yearning to separate ourselves from those emotions that we may perceive as evil. I thought that was very interesting.

    1. My dearest Lone Wolf,

      Thank you for joining our discussion! You've made some very interesting points I'd never thought about. The idea that fantastic characters are metaphors for humans in both their most violent behaviors or in their depression/loneliness/guilt never occurred to me before (maybe because I've read very little supernatural fiction and mostly seen the movies, which are probably a lot more simplistic than the novels.) I'm now thinking that I should read more of Anne Rice's work or go back to your beloved "The Historian" (I'm sorry to say I never finished it.) BTW, have you read "The Angel's Game" by Ruiz Zafon yet? (If you don't have it, don't buy it. I'll give you my copy.)

      Interesting what Charlize Theron had to say in that roundtable. It surprises me because the character she portrayed in "Monster" (disturbingly based on a real person) was, to me, much scarier and horrific than any fantasy character.

    2. Welcome Lone Wolf,
      I enjoyed your exposition. The supernatural and literature have been married for centuries. The difference in contemporary lies in the specific division of genres. Critics and connoisseurs have made it very clear that Science Fiction and Fantasy are not the same. And there is a vast gap between horror and paranormal romance. The latter is the story of a couple in which one partner is not human. So vampires and werewolves in traditional horror genre are evil beings, but in PR they are romantic heroes or heroines. I think that is what clashes with the view that supernatural represents the darker side of human nature. I believe that the need to have a magic paramour or the longing to become like him or her (like Bella in Twilight) represents our vulnerability, our fear of being unable to cope with an overwhelming world around us and our wish to be all-powerful or be protected by an all strong invincible partner.
      Please, stick around.

    3. Thanks so much for the welcome Violante, I'll try to contribute whenever I can.

      I agree with your clarification, and I have to say that it may very well be the reason why I try to stay away from the whole notion of paranormal romance, particularly the trend that Lore mentioned in her first essay which is, admittedly, mostly aimed at teenage readers. I honestly don't know of any book of that genre that is directed towards adults of both sexes, other than "The Vampire Chronicles" of course, which have a lot of romantic and erotic elements to them, although they're not necessarily advertised as such. Perhaps any of you guys could recommend some?

      Having said that, I know I'm not the audience for YA paranormal romance fiction, in regards to the "Twilight" example you gave me, but to me, the idea of having a watered down version of a supernatural character who lacks the moral ambiguity and nuanced duality of most romantic and gothic "monsters" (or even human characters such as Rochester in "Jane Eyre"), is a little bit contrived. Why bother using vampires if you've practically stripped them of everything that makes them vampires to begin with? It's the profound struggle of the monster to overcome his inherent "evil" nature, and sometimes his failure in doing so, or the quest for companionship and meaning, which I find alluring. (I know that could be the gist of "Twilight", as seen from Edward's point of view, but I personally just don't buy it.)

      I tried to read those books and I failed, horribly. The only segment that was a bit more accessible to me was the unfinished manuscript from Edward's perspective, but only ever so slightly. However, I've watched the movies and have read enough about both the books and films to have enough of a groundwork to know why I dislike them. I know I'm biased, but I truly can't fathom the problematic message I believe that saga sends to young women, and I shiver at the thought of girls growing up with that warped sense of what romance might be. That upsets me far more than the notion of a fangless and sparkling vampire. But I digress, and I truly don't intend to open that can of worms.

      Lore, thank you for your words too. :) I know I sound like a crazed Anne Rice apologist (as far as I've gotten into her saga at least), but I'm also the first to admit that it's not for everyone. In that regard, I recommend you start from the very beginning and read "Interview with the Vampire", and if you enjoy it, then go ahead and read "The Vampire Lestat". More than a sequel, I consider it to be a companion piece to the first novel. Then, and only if you liked both of them, would I encourage you to read the rest, which can get a bit... out there. As far as my beloved "Historian" goes, it's an interesting blend of historical fiction with the supernatural, but I'd have to say that in that equation the fantasy element is relatively minimal. But it's a great thriller nonetheless.

      I look forward to discussing Ruiz Zafon with you in the upcoming months and particularly during your visit, and thank so you much for your offer to lend me that book. :)

      And lastly, yeah, Aileen Wuornos was a deeply flawed and disturbed woman. I can't think of any other film I've watched recently that made me cringe so much. But I appreciate the courage of Charlize's performance and the notion of realizing that, under very grueling and specific circumstances, one could empathize with the monster. Something similar happened to me while watching "The Reader", and that's why I bought the book recently. I don't know, I guess that theme is just something that I'm interested in, supernatural beings just make it more obvious.

    4. Dear Lone Wolf,
      I have to agree with you that having “good” vampires may sound far-fetched. After all, how could a beast that lives off other human being’s plasma be a positive character? But vampires are not the only paranormal creatures in supernatural literature. I use werewolves, because unlike vampire, there is a medieval/Celtic tradition of benevolent werewolves and shapeshifters. Moreover, supernatural beings don´t have to be monsters, angels are a good example.

      By the way, The Southern Vampire Chronicles (the inspiration behind the True Blood series) is an adult-oriented series, although I would describe it as paranormal chick-lit.

      I am sorry, if I sound facetious but I cringe when I hear the words “Twilight, ““girls” and “wrong message” in the same phrase. Over the years I have read mothers in blogs, forums, Amazon, and social media, complain about of the bad influence the Mayer book could have on their daughter. One complained that her daughter would think it was okay to let he boyfriend come through her window! Another was afraid, her daughter would, like Bella, fall for an “older man” (Like how many 100-year old cadavers hang around the local high-school planning to seducing teen girls?) I would say, though, that a protagonist that goes through three novels having no sex with he boyfriend, and only do it after they are married, is probably sending a very wrong message!

    5. I haven’t thought about that message, Sister Lorena. By the way, Bella´s fear of marriage came up only in New Moon, and it was after S. Mayer got so many critics from readers who said (yes the message issue again) that if Bella married or wanted to marry Edward , girls would think romance was much more important than going to college or having a career. About her need to join/be like Edward I saw it as an allegory of commitment and the need to be flexible and adapt to a partner, not as a pro-suicide message.
      Did you ever read my review on The Rader in my Spanish blog? Is a bit old, but it was my perception of Hanna´s character

    6. Heh, can I please rant for a bit? :)

      Actually, I don't have many issues with the points you mentioned Violante, as I find some of those critiques a little bit silly too. What did upset me however, and correct me if I'm wrong (my perception is based mostly on the films), is that Bella goes through three or four separate stories aiming principally for one thing: to become a vampire, so that she can be like her beloved. That's okay, it's her choice, she can become a vegetarian vampire if she wants to, I'm fine with that. And here comes Edward, older and presumably wiser, who acutely tells her: proceed with caution. Then, in spite of the fact that she's almost killed by a few vampires, he agrees to pursue a relationship, against common sense. Then, after what could have been another near death experience, he dumps her, without a warning and with no thoughts behind the fact that he's pretty much jilting a teenage girl rather cruelly. Okay, I get it, self sacrifice in order to protect her, part of the whole tortured vampire thing. Another thing to flagellate himself with I guess. Again, I could be okay with that. After that, Bella goes through a terrible depression (that's to be expected) and realizes that the only way she can continue to see Edward (or gain his attention, if you will), is by putting herself at risk. Not to be expected and not okay. She does just that, but luckily the shirtless shapeshifter comes and rescues her from herself. Until, in what is the go-to method of emotional abuse, the vampire decides to off himself and Bella has to rescue him. They get back together, but a disturbing precedent (for me) has been set: putting yourself at risk and almost committing suicide will get your ex's attention and encourage them to act on their “true feelings”, and you will get back together and all will be great. Again, not okay. After that, girl still wants to be a vampire. (For what reasons other than to be with her boyfriend? I ask myself. Is there any dimension to her decision making process other than Edward?) Sure enough, vampire boy reluctantly agrees, but only if she marries him. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, marriage is marriage, but it’s the following series of events that really disturb me. Skipping through most of the love triangle stuff, and another couple of rounds of putting the mortal girl in even greater danger, they finally do get married. Then they have violent sex she can’t remember that much of and leaves her bruised. He knocks her up, the baby starts eating her from within, she has to drink human blood to survive, looks like an emaciated skeleton, and finally, violently, disturbingly and very, very graphically, dies during childbirth.

      And only THEN does he turn her into a vampire?! I mean, come on! Bella has spent the better part of four movies, and I presume four novels, asking her boyfriend to please consider turning her, safely, peacefully, even lovingly. He refuses unless she does what he wants first, and even after that he still refuses, and when he finally does it it’s because he doesn’t have a choice. Because she’s dead.

      Oh boy. I, like you did before me, apologize if I also sounded facetious and a bit self-righteous. But I just had to take this off my chest, and I never have been able to do so before. So I apologize if I’ve offended any sensibilities.

      I can’t believe I forgot about “True Blood”!! But you’re right though, being a fan of the series I can tell that the novels themselves perhaps aren’t the sort of literature I would go for. But as far as a campy and pretty self-aware TV show goes, I think it’s great.

      I’m going to ponder on one of your other points Violante, the idea of the “good” and “noble” monster (vampire, werewolf, etc.), because I think that it’s an incredibly interesting concept, and something that the current “Vampire Chronicles” I’m reading are hinting at. I’ll let you know what comes to mind.

    7. My dear Lore, you beat me to the punch hehehe.

      I'll let you know what I think about "The Reader", as the notion of a modern monster, a Nazi woman, is what intrigued me about the plot. We'll see. I also look forward to reading your article Violante, once I'm finished with the book.

    8. Dear Lone Wolf,
      Rant, rant, rant at your will! This is a place for ranting. We want ranters!
      Lorena could tell you that around the middle of “New Moon” I threw the book across the room, and gave up on the saga. The movies didn´t help. Between he half-stoned look on K. Stewart´s face and Pattinson’s red eyes, you had the most unappealing couple the cinema had seen in years. Who could fall for a guy with rabbit pink eyes?
      The saga’s main problem, aside from turning Bella into an idiot, is that structurally it´s overlong and filled with unnecessary twists. There are plenty of pages I could have just nipped off, the superfluous material could account for that soap opera plot of Bella and Edward getting together and splitting at whim. Bu the way, you forgot one more caveat in the book, Jacob´s claiming of Bella´s daughter as a future wife. That disturbed the pedophile hunters immensely. As some wise critic once said, S. Mayer should have targeted an adult public and save herself a lot of trouble.
      The Sookie Stackhouse books differ a lot from True Blood. The series includes plenty of sex and gore you won't find in the books. And characters like Tara and he cousin are minimal in the books. Despite myself, I am hooked on TB, just because characters grew on me. Can’t wait for the new season to start.
      I didn´t want to impose my article on “The Reader “on you, but I hope you like it.

    9. Excellent analysis of "The Reader", Sister Violante! You offer great insight on Hannah's reasons and you've given me a lot to think about. Don't forget to read it, Lone Wolf! Hugs to both.

    10. Thank you Sister! But don´t neglect to comment on the other blog as well.

  8. My first supernatural-fiction love was the same as most people's: the fairy tale. I couldn't get enough of fables and fairy tales -- elves and mermaids and witches, oh my! -- and I love them still. In my teens I ate up fantasy, sci-fi, and horror (especially Stephen King). That's what all my friends were reading, too, so it seems like something that's been around for a long time. It's been a while since I was a teen, sigh.

    As an adult, I don't hold any supernatural beliefs (not even those of religion), so you might think I'd have turned away from supernatural fiction, but I still enjoy it. It's not the majority of what I read, but I work it into my regular reading schedule. Maybe this is not true for others who love speculative lit, but these stories are firmly in the fiction camp for me, and I don't look to them as factual in any way: I don't think vampires or fairies or angels really exist. I like the comments above about metaphor: I recently finished Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (a YA fantasy), and Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin: both stories use supernatural elements to talk about something very earthly: war. Both writers use fantasy to help us examine our ideas about war and politics. The Hunger Games, too, has a supernatural element (though it's mostly realistic dystopian), to great effect. When you look at most speculative fiction, it is really about humanity. The alien races of Star Trek clearly represent some aspect of human nature: Klingons are our warrior selves, Ferengi are our acquisitive selves, Vulcans are our logical selves, and so on. It's all about us! To take it literally and dismiss the show (and the entire genre of sci-fi) for not being "realistic" enough would be to miss the point. And what a loss that would be.

    In short, I do not need my fiction to be grounded in reality to enjoy it: it's fiction, so pretty much none of it is real. Sorcerers, aliens, other worlds, angels, spaceships, fantastic abilities, magnificent creatures -- these made-up things are all legitimate elements in storytelling ... just as they were when we were on our mama's knees. :)

    1. Oooops, I guess I should start watching "Star Trek". I was never interested in it, but what you say here makes me want to know more about it.

      My favorite fairy tales as a child were "Arabian Nights". I just loved how different those stories were from the classic princess tales (they were filled with so much drama!!) You know another TV show that I used to love but forgot to mention here? "The Twilight Zone". Did you ever watch it?

      You're right, Sister Steph. In fiction everything is a lie! (But some writers are better liars than others :-))

    2. I watched Twilight Zone as a kid, and was thinking I should rewatch with my own kids. Apparently it holds up well. What doesn't hold up well is the original Star Trek, so I would skip that. (I hear screams for protest from Trekkies.) We watched The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine with our kids and they *loved* both, although they had a slight preference for DS9. I'd highly recommend giving either/both a try. Another really fun sci-fi show for the family is Doctor Who, the current version. We got seriously addicted to that show (starting with Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor) and are anxiously waiting for the next season to be released for streaming.

  9. 'From what I’ve observed, supernatural fiction can be divided in three large categories (correct me if I’m wrong):

    1. A human in a fantastic world.
    2. A fantastic character in the real world.
    3. Fantastic creatures in fantastic worlds.

    To me, it’s easier to identify with number two.'

    Lore, I felt exactly the same thing when I read that.

    1. Do you have any favorites? (Let me guess: ET??? ;-))

    2. I think I was trying to accomplish this with Jason. I didn't succeed, but as I was writing him, a part of me felt like he was in touch with that 'otherness.'

      I think the supernatural aspects of literature that I appreciate most are subtle because since we don't, indeed can't, have an adequate grasp of that which supercedes nature, we sort of ruin it every time we try. Maybe ruin is not a good word. Distort? Sensationalize and yet diminish? Yes, if there were a word that meant sensationalize and diminish that would be what I mean.

    3. I understand exactly what you mean by "sensationalize" and I agree with you.

  10. There are other motives that account for this love affair with supernatural/esoteric fiction. In those genres a novelist can expand themes that are generally branded as “taboo”. In his “Song of Ice and Fire”, George R. R. Martin tackles (and not negatively) incest and underage sex with an older paramour.
    I went the Historical Fantasy path when I realized writing about the Second World War, and its times, was not only unfashionable but would not suit well with all audiences if set in a regular historical fiction work.
    By the way, I have yet t find a fantasy set during World War II or the fist half of the 20th ct. One exception is Robert. McCammon’s “The Wolf’s Hour” which describes the adventures of an Allied agent who also happens to be a werewolf. Witten in 1989, McCammon’s novel is a forerunner of current fantasy dealing with good and sexy monsters, but on the whole, the story is clichéd, badly-written and far-fetched.

    Another reason behind the appeal of supernatural, at least for a writer, is its possibilities to be turned into social commentary. In the XVIII century, French philosopher Montesquieu described in his Lettres Persanes (Persian Letters), the awe of a Persian noblemen visiting the French Court and how he expressed it in an epistolary exchange with a relative in Persia. Hiding behind this exotic but fictional character, the author could denounce and criticize the negative aspects of French (and Western) culture and society.
    In a way it reminds me how in the Harry Potter´s series, the magicians are constantly criticizing Muggles' (humans) small-mindedness and foolishness
    I had that in mind in my novel when I had human and supernatural beings interacting in a specific historic landscape that could provide the latter with a chance to denounce human’s savagery and lack of logic.

    1. "In his “Song of Ice and Fire”, George R. R. Martin tackles (and not negatively) incest and underage sex with an older paramour." I've only read the first book, but incest was practiced by thoroughly evil people -- it reminded me of the icky mom-son thing in the Pillars of the Earth miniseries ... the incest seemed a way to remind the viewers/readers how very, very, VERY evil these people were. Maybe there's something else later in the series though. The situation with Daenerys in that first book did make me squirm, since she is so young, but the way it was handled ... it seemed realistic. It was couched in a way I could manage, at any rate.

      Totally in agreement with what you said about using the supernatural as social commentary. I was trying to get at that above, but I was not as concise. :)

  11. One thing about Martin, he is not judgemental. When, Ned Stark confronts Cersei with her incest/adultery, she reminds him that the Taergeryans have been marrying their siblings for centuries. What is repugnant to Ned, and what constitutes Cersei´s sin, is not sleeping with her twin brother but betraying her husband and passing her children off as King Robert´s lawful heirs.

    It is said in the book (not the series) that Daenerys had been under the impression that she was to marry her brother (as was the custom in he family)and that despite his cruelty she would rather do that than marry Khal Drogo.

    And don´t be so hasty as to judge poor Jamie Lannister (I have a soft spot for him) as a thoroughly evil person. In later books he does redeem himself.

    1. Poor Jamie?! He must do something really spectacular later to redeem himself. :) I'm a Tyrion fan, myself, he cracks me up. I agree that Martin is not especially moralistic. I just got the next book in the series, going to start it today ... ooh exciting! Tying this back into the supernatural ... it's interesting how this series is classified as "fantasy" even though there's hardly any magic in it, at least not yet. It's pretty much straight-up medieval-society political maneuverings.

    2. Only the mad, the superficial and the mediocre (and yes, they do exist) readers would not love Tyrion. I worship him. But, again (and forgive my feeble attempt to redeem Jamie) Tyrion loves Jamie and his love is reciprocated.
      Ahh Sister Stephanie, don´t get me started on one of my favorite subjects: Martin´s work. I do think he includes some despicable characters, and the way he shows their evilness is through their lack of affection for another human being. Those paragons of evil are (see if we agree) Jeffrey Baratheon, Viserys Targaryen (although I think he had a messed up childhood and that could be an excuse for his behavior), Sir Gregor Clegane “The Mountain”, and (despite his many fans) Petyr Baelish “Little Finger”. I leave Tywin Lannister out because he does love Jamie and repellent as she is to me, Lady Catelyn Stark because she is a dutiful wife and a devoted mother to her own children.
      Going back to our original subject. Martin’s beauty lies in his creation of an alternative world that bears a great resemblance to Medieval Europe. As in medieval times, there are those superstitious who believe in things that go bump in the night, and those like Tyrion who frown upon such beliefs. But we, the readers, know there are White Walkers beyond The Wall, and dragons in Val Dothrak, and girls who are immune to fire. So, we know there is magic in this world.

  12. I've always loved Fantasy and Sci-Fi as a reader, so no wonder I write that now. This is going to be a long post consider yourselves warned ;)

    1.- The Worst and the best: Fantasy may help us to deal with those dark part of ourseleves, but with the good ones too. In Shelley's Frankenstein the monster is very human, yet negleted and left behind. It seems the true monster there is society. There are ghosts, vampires or werewolves with dark intentions and bloodthirst but there's also the hero who finds out he/she cand do amazing things he/she never thought of. One of my favorite examples on that is Michael Ende's Neverending Story. I love the way Bastian learn about the power of desires and imagination and in the end he gets to make it up with himself and his reality. That takes me to:

    2.- Scaping Reality: As a journalist I deal with dead, war and all of the worst human traits, so I do like to have my own scape to other worlds. There must be war and death as well in there, but it all has a logical appeal -that true life does not have-. Evey war has a good reason to be, and as all of you said well in books like Lord of the rings or Asimov Foundations it's easy to chose right from wrong. Nevertheless in Game of thrones and Geralt of Rivia sagas there are a lot of grays, you cannot chose who is right or wrong, but the characters are so humanlike you can finally understand them and their reasons (like in Wicked). Then fantasy leads you -as Bastian- to reconcile youself with the hard reality. There are heroes in both sides of the battle and we tend to forget that.

    3.- Imagination: Other think that's so great about fantasy is that everything -with a certain logic in it's own world- can happen. As a reader you can let your own imagination go wild and touch a completely new world like the one in Harry Potter. I guess that is why a lot of FanFiction is written on Fantasy and Sci-fi Books. For me as writer is even a bigger chance to just go wild in a begining, and create stories.

    4.- Taboo: I agree with Violante, delicate themes (such as facism, dictators, sexuality and more) can be easily portrayed in worlds or planets that are not real because the might be highly offensive for some persons in the real world. As in Starship tropers, Harry Potter, or Gulliver Travel's.

    5.- Matin: I've got nothing but praises to the Game of trones saga. Mainly because the writer is never judging anything and gives the reader te freedom to do so, or to change his mind as he gets to know the characters. I read another mexican writer (Alberto Chimal) saying Martin's work was way too long and unreadable, with no outstanding writing style. That reminded me Tolkien was took out from novel nominations by more or less the same reasons. Ironicaly, Chimal may never sell a half of the books Martin has...

    6.- Fantasy and Sci-fy understimated: Since Harry Potter and Twillight there has been a 'fever' for fantasy. That doesn´t mean evey fantasy book that comes out is terrible or good. Yet as a fantasy reader nowadays I have a pretty hard work on finding the good ones amongst the lot. I loves 'The eternal ones' by Kirsten Miller and looking forward to read the Sothern Vampires (True blood saga) even though I'm sick of vampires already -because of the never maturing Twilight-like characters I've seen. Still many people -at least in my country- think of fantasy books as something for children or teen (I'm mucho more grown than that). Fantasy is not a lesser genre. I hate when people say that. Ironically one of the greatest mexican novels that's known in the entire world if fantasy: Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo.

    I think that might be all for now :)

    PS. Sorry for the typos

    1. Welcome Scarlett! You guys are showing me a whole new perspective about these genres. I didn't realize there was so much symbolism in this type of fiction.

      Are you Mexican? I always remember "El Extrano Retorno de Diana Salazar" and "El Maleficio" as two very successful supernatural soap operas. Did you watch them? As a paranormal/fantasy fan, what do you think of those renditions? I've heard of Pedro Paramo but never read it. What is it about?

  13. Dearest Scarlet:
    Thank you for taking time to write such a meaty comment. Reading you makes me realize why Fantasy has become such a fine loom on which to weave my stories, and how I have followed its unwritten rules. Indeed, facing supernatural creatures forces the human protagonist to find unexpected inner strength.
    I haven’t read the Sapkowski books. Are they like Martin´s work? (Although nothing is like Song of Ice and Fire.) I want to read European fantasy and that´s the only example I know. Have you ever run into fantasy written in Spanish or anything that could pass for a Latino branch of the genre? Are we the only Latina Fantasy writers?
    Moreover Lone Wolf had me thinking about the existence adult Fantasy. Is the Giralt de Riva saga, adult Fantasy? The fact that our Spanish –speaking world frowns upon supernatural lit. as a serious genre may be the reason why we are both unpublished authors. Let´s do something. Let´s research to find Spanish authors (contemporary, otherwise we´ll fall into the novela de caballería) who deal with fantasy. Funny because realismo mágico is fantasy. Laura Esquivel´s “Como agua para chocolate” has tons of magic elements. And good for you! Stripping Pedro Paramo´s of all its allegorical elements, underneath there is a good ghost story.
    Southern Vampire Chronicles offers more variety than the Twilight saga. In the Sookie Stackhouse books you run into bad vampires, good vampires, gay vampires, etc. And if you are not into vampires, you have werewolves, shapeshifters, witches, ghosts, and Sookie recently found out that she comes from fairy stock. Let’s see of I can get you hooked on the series, but I warn you, they are much more gory than the books and include tons more sex and profanity.
    I know plenty of people who read Fantasy or Sci Fy to escape reality, but I see the genre not as a source of escapism but as a source of hope. Some of those books show you there is a way to beat the odds and remain “good”, or confirms the existence of benevolent supernatural powers that aids the protagonist in his/her quest.
    Who is this Alberto Chimal? Let´s tar and feather him!
    I am so happy to have a chance for a long overdue exchange. Due to our busy schedules, we seem to be relying entirely on Twitter for communication, and that is no good. Please try to come around more often.

  14. Hey Lorena! Thanks for the great post.
    I think I would be happy to read 1) and 2) because I would relate since there's either a world I know or a human in those alternatives. I would also prefer 2) though. I mean, I think 3) would be like what agents call "high fantasy" right? And I'm not a fan for reading those kinds of novels.
    But I think that people like to imagine fantastic stuff to be taken away from this sometimes-boring world! lol.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, amiga. Can't wait to read your stuff!

  15. Thanks for the warm welcome Lorena, Lone Wolf and Violante.

    Lorena, Pedro Paramo is part of a genre that I think only exists in Latin America- Spanish literature that portraits magical happenings in the real world. Other examples are "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez, Like Water for Chocolate (Como agua para chocolate) by Laura Esquivel or "The House of the Spirits" by Isabel Allende. I guess this might be considered plainly fantasy in english literature.

    Pedro Paramo tells the story of a man that goes to a town named Comala, to look for his father who left him and his mother when he was a child (the father name is Pedro Paramo) yet strange things happen in the town, and the people acts strange the next is a SPOILER (at the end we realize everyone in the town -our lead character too- is dead).

    As for the soap operas I never have been a huge fan of them, yet I must admit the idea of supernatural based drama made them much more appealing to me. In the US there was "Dark Shadows" that must be the epitome of supernatural Soap Operas. Besides the ones Lorena remembers there's a brazilian sci-fi based Soap Opera "The Clon" that aired some time ago (think there was a Univision remake recently) and also in Mexico TV Azteca aired "The other half of the sun" (La otra mitad del sol) about reincarnation (a remake of a colombian soap opera, I think).

    Violante, I totally agree with you. Fantasy is much more about hope than about scape. It helps us remember good guys can win. And, why not? that even bad guys can be redeemed.

    Sapkowski books are adult fiction, and very in the Game of Thrones line. Those two sagas are one of my (and my boyfriend :P) favourites. Geralt's saga has a lot of lovable complex characters, but It has more magic involved than Song of Ice and fire.

    Alberto Chimal (who violently criticized my beloved Martin) is a well known mexican writer of magical realism (not sure if he is known outside the country, very much doubt it, I enjoy his works though.

    I can think of a lot of latin authors working with magical realism, but a few on pure fantasy (like Cortazar or Borges. I recently read a couple of books by Eve Gil a mexican writer, she does fantasy. I also remember the spanish Laura Gallegos. The fact is, many of my fantasy writer friends are still unpublished as me. I hope the "Fantasy Fever" gets us an opportunity to publish, but sadly I have seen more translation than actual latin publishing.

    (more information in Wikipedia: )

    1. Dearest Scarlett,
      Talking about vampire craze, Johnny Depp is playing Barnaby Collins in the new Dark Shadows (Tim Burton of course)
      Laura Gallego is considered a children author (again that concept of fantasy as youngsters lit). But there is an Argentine called Adriana Ballesteros, and several Spaniards who write what Monica above calls “High Fantasy” (Epic or sword and wizard type). There are some exceptions. Clara Tahoce wrote “Gothika” a vampire story, and there is Angeles Goyanes who writes what may be described as historical fantasy.
      I can visualize tons of writers all over the Spanish-speaking world scribbling supernatural tales, but no agent or publishing industry interested in them. Buaaahhhh!
      Perhaps this is not the place to ask, but as my Beta Reader would you describe my work as Fantasy or historical fiction with a dab of realismo mágico?

    2. Oh! I'm looking forward to see Johnny and Tim's new movie (always been a fan). I also used to like the Dark Shadows revival in the 90's.

      I usually think in you work like fantasy. It maybe because the lobisomen (werewolves)and many other creatures you work with may be too much for dab of realismo mágico ;)

      I do love your work, my friend, I can't wait to see it in a bookstore some day. Let's work, pray and hope to get published :)

    3. Dear Beta-friend thank you, for your good thoughts, but I have given up hope of ever seeing my work at a bookstore. Perhaps on-line.. I saw the DS trailer yesterday, and din´t like it. They turned the story into something like The Addams Family. Dark Shadows had tongue-in-cheek overtones but it was a very dramatic story.

  16. Scarlett,

    I watched a few episodes of "La Otra Mitad del Sol" (Colombian version). It was a really interesting concept, unfortunately I couldn't watch the entire novela. I did see "El Clon." I enjoyed it, but thought it was unnecessarily long.

    The ending of Pedro Paramo sounds like something from the Twilight Zone! What a great twist. I'm not a huge fan of magical realism, but I've enjoyed some of Garcia Marquez, Allende and Esquivel's work. Did you ever read "La Ley del Amor"? It was one of the strangest novels I've ever read.

    1. Lorena,

      I haven't read "La Ley del Amor", but I will put it on my list right now ;D

    2. Cool. Tell me what you think about it. I loved the reincarnation theme and the illustrations/music element.


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