I’ve lived long enough to see speculative fiction go through a few phases. In the 70’s when I was a wee lad, I witnessed the birth of modern special effects, kicked off by Star Wars. A ton of eye candy movies followed – some good, some not so good – until the genre exhausted itself. Next came the modern superhero movie, which we’re still enjoying even if we’re diving into the second string.
Sure, sci-fi and heroes are still in the game, but you’ve got to admit the real star right now in speculative fiction is fantasy, specifically the paranormal. Harry Potter, The Twilight Saga, and countless book series are huge and only seem to be getting bigger. So, what is it that is attracting people to the paranormal? What in these stories do they identify with so strongly? Let me offer some thoughts…
1. Yearning for Hope. Sci-fi offered technology as our hope. Unfortunately, we saw on 9-11 how technology can be misused. In an era when our politicians proved themselves falliable and technology too dangerous, we needed heroes to put our hope in. We still like heroes, but face it – they’re not real. So, what’s next? Since the future is too scary, maybe we need to return to the past. Almost all paranormal has roots in the past, so maybe this forgotten knowledge can be our next hope.
2. Searching for Meaning. Almost all paranormal fiction portrays an ordinary protagonist living a mundane life suddenly finding him or herself pulled into a much bigger story – one where they actually matter. This is true of lots of fiction – especially speculative fiction. Paranormal fiction, I think, takes this concept much deeper. The contrast between normal life and paranormal life is much greater. Where heroes and technology embrace (in most cases) ordinary life, the paranormal seems to avoid it.
3. Taming the Monster. Paranormal romances are likely the largest slice of the pie right now. The common thread in them all is a mismatch between one normal partner and one paranormal partner – usually a monster. In no other time has the monster been treated so sympathetically. I wonder if that’s because there has never been a time where our inner darkness is so exposed to the world via social networking and the like. When we mess up, everyone finds out. Maybe it’s not that we identify with the normal in these stories, but that we identify with the monster. Maybe we hope someone out there can tame us with their love?
That’s what I think… how about you?