LOVE CHANGES EVERYTHING
The song “Love Changes Everything,” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Aspects of Love,” recently came on my iTunes playlist, and one of the verses really got me thinking about the place romantic relationships hold in fantasy literature: and by this, I mean more traditional fantasy, with sorcerers, mages, elves, dwarfs, witches, dragons, and the like. Urban fantasy with its vampires and werewolves is fine, but I don’t read it, and I’m aware the focus of these stories is often romance (thinking of “Twilight,” for instance.) I’m thinking about fantasy along the lines of “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings,” where love is NOT the major plotline. Here’s the verse that stuck with me:
Love, love changes everything:
Days are longer, words mean more.
Love, love changes everything:
Pain is deeper than before.
Love will turn your world around, and that world will last forever.
Yes love, love changes everything:
Brings you glory, brings you shame.
Nothing in the world will ever be the same.
RAISING THE STAKES
What the verse made me realize is that the lyrics are kind of cliché and melodramatic, but they’re also true in a way that explains why romantic relationships make such great subplots in epic fantasy. Epic fantasy, just by the name, can’t really throw too much attention on romance as the major plotline, but even Homer’s Hector has his Andromache and his infant son at home. Odysseus has Penelope, who has to thwart all those annoying suitors. While the “epic” aspect of fantasy often involves conspiracy and confrontations between good versus evil of a military nature, a good romantic subplot helps to raise the stakes. That’s why Arwen matters in “Lord of the Rings.” As if the whole fate of Middle Earth hanging in the balance isn’t enough, Aragorn has his one comfort–that of thinking the elven maiden he loves can at least escape with the rest of her race–pulled out from under him. Why?
Because love makes pain deeper and triumphs greater. It lengthens that deepest dark before the dawn, and we can all relate to love. I, for one, find it hard to imagine storming a castle or confronting an army in battle, even if I write about those things from time to time. I’m perfectly capable, though, of putting myself in a frame of mind to consider how I would feel if faced with the prospect of never seeing those I love again. Imagining a fake kingdom toppling, that’s a bit vague. Imagining never being able to hear my two-year-old nephew’s voice again or to tell someone I love what he means to me: that’s real. That’s terrifying, to be honest. Like C.S. Lewis notes in his book “The Four Loves”:
Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.
There’s nothing epic about a heart intact, and none of us escape life with a heart in tact. Who would want to? Who would trade that “security” and “safety” for the real essence of life?
THE DANGERS OF ROMANCE IN FANTASY
I can only speak from my own experience here, and the major danger I have faced concerning romance in my fantasy trilogy is putting a bit too much emphasis on who loves this person or that person and will they end up together? This is especially the case in book two, “The Magic Council,” where I’d say the greatest percentage of page time is devoted to a love story than in the other installments. Each story is different, though, and should be. This shift in the prominence of romance is accompanied by a lighter tone and a shorter word count, because those adjustments make sense given the changes to the kind of story the second book tells. A healthy balance is needed between your fantasy love story and magic, and battles, and various other subplots. For me, striking that balance is one of the great challenges of writing, but it’s so amazing when you finally feel you’ve found it! Readers don’t pick up a fantasy story for a simple romance, after all. When people want to read a romance pure and simple, they go for a romance novel.