Sarah Rees Brennan (sarahtales) wrote,
Sarah Rees Brennan

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Caught In A Transformative Romance

So I was grumbling to people, as I do, about books. And at one point I was saying 'Oh, how can someone want Character A and Character B to get together?' And I was answered: 'Well, they're attractive, and get on well...' To which I: 'But surely that's not enough?'

Obviously it is enough in real life, at least initially. But just as I demand little more from life than a comfy chair and a delicious drink and an excellent book, I would not be thrilled by a book about someone in a comfy chair with a delicious drink and an excellent book. So yes, with the romances in fiction that I love passionately, screech about and chant 'Kiss kiss why will you not kiss' at the page or screen, they have to be a certain thing.

The romance I love is a transformative romance.

My demands are as follows! a) I have to like Character A very, very much b) I have to like Character B very, very much and c) I have to like Character A and Character B much more together than apart. I have to love their interaction, the way their conversations with each other flow, the subtly or not-so-subtly different people they become with each other.

Which may be the point: I have to love them, and yet also want them to change.

This makes me feel a little bit like a Golden-Curled Innocent Young Miss who thinks she can change the wicked ways of the rakish marquis.

But not quite, because it does have to be a mutual transformation.

edited to add: And transformation is a difficult, uncomfortable process. The characters are usually going to have some conflict with each other because they're changing each other - and that's how I like the trope of romantic partners who initially don't get on, or at least have spiky moments. If I don't get the sense they're changing each other, I won't like the not-getting-on. But if I do...

See also: Pride and Prejudice = The Title Is Literally The Two Besetting Faults The Protagonists Have & The Fact They Counteract Each Other Is Why They Are Meant To Be (Also It Was Originally Titled 'First Impressions' But Please Ignore That).

In Beauty by Robin McKinley, there are two literal transformation moments: the moment Beauty transforms the Beast into a man, obviously, but also the moment where the prince shows Beauty herself in a mirror, and she sees that she has not only become beautiful but regal, dignified - that she has grown into herself as the Beast grew into a different person, too.

It's rarer for the girl to have the Big Transformation than the boy, so I love it that in Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones the heroine Sophie is the one under an enchantment, and thus the one literally transformed at the end. Sophie is enchanted to look like an elderly lady rather than a monster, of course, which is a bit of a significant difference!

Robin McKinley's Chalice

HEROINE: I have to become co-ruler of a land and vital magical personage! And I am a humble beekeeper!
HERO: I have to become co-ruler of a land and a human being! And I am mostly made of fire!

Margaret Mahy's The Changeover

HERO: I have to overcome my abusive childhood, learn to care about others, and to be less of a freakmonkey.
HEROINE: I have to overcome evil, undergo a Spiritual Journey, and become a witch. This transformation will literally cause the bones in my skull to move around.

There's the question of names that signify transformation: in Beauty Beauty's name was given to her ironically, as she is the plain sister, and the Beast shows her it's a true name. And the Beast tells Beauty he has forgotten his name, and she will have to give him one. Sorry Carlisle of The Changeover both complains that he has to introduce himself whenever he apologises and routinely does things that are kind of awful without seeming very apologetic at all about it: however, near the end of the book he says 'I'm sorry' to Laura, obviously meaning it, both genuinely remorseful and self-consciously aware of both his name and his feelings. It may also be significant that Sorry alone in the book calls Laura 'Chant.' And in Chalice we don't know the hero's name until a good way in, and then we are offered the choice of two names for him: the one he remembers, and the one Mirasol the heroine remembers. He uses the name she gave back to him to tell her he cares about her. Similarly in Howl's Moving Castle, Howl has to wait until the end to see Sophie's true face, but it isn't until a long way into the book that she learns Howl's actual name - that the glamorous heart-stealing wizard is really called Howell Jenkins.

And in Pride and Prejudice, it is only after Darcy has received the huge hit to his pride of Elizabeth turning him down, and after Elizabeth has just read the prejudice-collapsing letter from Darcy entitled 'You May Be Interested to Know the Villain Of This Novel is Mr Wickham' that we read, for the first and only time, Darcy's first name.

I like the idea of love being someone knowing your true name: and when someone calls you that, you have to answer.

And I love fantasy for yet another reason - that things like 'someone knowing the real you' can be actualised, that love can be turned into magic.

This blog post may not have come as a big surprise to anyone else, since now I have written it all out it's been clear what I like for years, and how what I like keeps cropping up in the books I love. It clarified things for me, though - what's really important to me in my fictional relationships, and why I sometimes really don't get romances everyone else goes crazy for. (It made me realise who I want to get together in Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices series, only I can't talk about that yet. But soon Clockwork Angel will be out, and I shall!)

But what kinds of romance really get you, and what specific fictional romances do you really love?
Tags: book recommendations, books, bookthoughts, fantasy is awesome
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