Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wolves and Vamps... No need to choose sides

The supernatural genre of romance has exploded recently.  I guess we can all blame the debate between Team Edward and Team Jacob but honestly I think this subject matter goes back much farther than that.  Perhaps it's more apt to decide if you are team Lycaon or Team Lillith.  If you really want to be accurate though you don't have to be either team.  Ancient folklore indicates that vampires and werewolves are not natural enemies but rather have an equal co-existence, sometimes actually being one in the same.  But my question is not whether vampires are better or sexier than werewolves, although I don't think I can pick a side since they both carry their own individual erotic punch.  My question is why do we find them so fascinating and darkly sexual?  Where did this begin?

First let me point out a few basic origins for each myth starting with werewolves.  According to Wikipedia, the concept of a werewolf (or "man-wolf") may have it's origins as far back as ancient Greece in the myth of Lycaon who was cursed by the God Zeus to become a wolf.  This was after he attempted to serve pieces of his son to the god in order to determine if he really was a deity or not.  A far cry from the sexy werewolves of today's fiction, movies, and television but it does pose an interesting catalyst for why we have made them sexy romantic heroes.  Cursed by a god,  and being misunderstood make for great romance fodder (what with women wanting to "save" the heroes from themselves and their lonely existence). 

Werewolf then...
Through the years though werewolves became monsters not heroes.  In the early Christian church, often times people were cursed to be werewolves by both good and bad angels for evil deeds they had done.
 "All angels, good and bad have the power of transmutating our bodies" was the dictum of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Again there is this idea that a man does not choose to become a werewolf but that he is cursed and may need to atone for whatever wrong he has committed.  Naturally he needs a woman  to provide a source of redemption that may cure him or offer him a way to end his solitary existence.  Great!  Sign me up?  Not so fast, obviously there has to be more to it than just saving him, what about his other attributes and the sexual excitement?  What does folklore say about this or even past literature?  Interestingly there is not a lot about that except that most of the folklore surrounding werewolves and shape-shifters in general indicates that they gain super human and super animal strength.
 In some fiction, the power of the werewolf extends to human form, such as invulnerability to conventional injury due to their healing factor, super-human speed and strength and falling on their feet from high falls. Also aggressiveness and animalistic urges may be intensified and harder to control (hunger, sexual arousal). 
 Wait! What did that just say...intensified and harder to control (hunger, sexual arousal)? Well there it is.  The second requirement for a romance novel hero.  Excessive strength, speed, healing and intensified sexual arousal.  This is why I think women find these characters irresistible.  The idea that these men can both protect their woman but also service her appropriately has great appeal.  Although most of the literature and folklore surrounding werewolves depicts them as monsters and revolve around curses rather than erotic imaging there are a few folk tales out there that indicate that sex is part of their curse (most often it is these same folk tales that depict werewolves and vampires as the same creature)

According to the first dictionary of modern Serbian language (published by Vuk Stefanović-Karadžić in 1818) vukodlak / вукодлак (werewolf) and vampir / вампир (vampire) are synonyms, meaning a man who returns from his grave for purposes of fornicating with his widow.

Werewolf now...
Well that gives a whole new meaning to the Merry Widow.  I really think in regards to the erotic depictions of werewolves and shape shifters in general, it has been the modern supernatural genre that has been responsible for the explosion of shape-shifter and were-animal romance.  Many authors pay homage to the myths and folklore of the past.  This can be seen not only in the written genre but also in television and movies.  In Nicky Charles's werewolf series she eludes to the old myth that werewolves are born that way and that it can not be contracted.  She doesn't delve into how they came into existence.  She does give them the improved strength, speed, healing and sexual arousal making for some very steamy animalistic scenes.  This has been true with many of the shape-shifter books, television and movies I've read and watched.  Some these have been Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter Series (curse), Trueblood/Sookie Stackhouse Series (born that way).  The only one that suggests that to become a werewolf you have to be attacked by one is Being Human but even that implies that there are were-animals out there that are born that way.  In all though, each of these stories maintain inhuman strength, speed, and over the top sex.

Therein lies that real reason I think werewolves have evolved to rival vampires in the erotic realm.  Animalistic, uncontrolled, unfettered sexual desire and strength.  As I've said before women want to be claimed in bed by a strong alpha type male.  I think it's instinctual.  The caveman who killed the most beasts and protected his mate went on to procreate and make more cavemen.  It has been proven that women sought out men that they felt would pass on these more alpha traits.  Be that as it may, as the world evolved from cavemen to business men so did women.  We became more alpha ourselves and didn't need the big, bad caveman to help us survive.  But that drive is still there, so we look for it in our entertainment and find it in the fairly taboo idea of being dominated by that alpha male (which lets face it is not something we 21st Century women want to admit).

So that explains that draw for team wolf, but what about team vampire?  There must be reasons why vampires have dominated our psyche for centuries.  The origins of the vampire myth are so old and so varied it's hard to pinpoint an exact culture which originated this myth.  Every culture around the world has some version of the undead rising to live off the blood of the living.  Unlike werewolves, however, vampires have caused mass hysteria around the world on several occasions.  The first recorded vampire activity was in what is now modern day Croatia.
1672.[79] Local reports cited the local vampire Giure Grando of the village Khring near Tinjan as the cause of panic among the villagers.[80] A former peasant, Guire died in 1656; however, local villagers claimed he returned from the dead and began drinking blood from the people and sexually harassing his widow.

Vampire then...
See even back then vampires were sexual creatures.  The mythology on this goes back even farther to ancient Greece and even Aztec mythology which also suggests a sexual facet to their vampire legend.
Aztec mythology described tales of the Cihuateteo, skeletal-faced spirits of those who died in childbirth who stole children and entered into sexual liaisons with the living, driving them mad
 So the idea that vampires would make for great romance subject matter has been well documented for centuries.  Still, why does the idea of the undead, drinking blood or turning into a vampire create such a sense of eroticism in  the audience?  Simple, immortality and ever-lasting love.  Most romance novels give the impression of the lonely vampire who is forced to live for millennia alone, as a truly sad and tragic fate.  But wait!  Along comes that one woman who will sustain him and keep him and save him from his lonely existence.  We all want to be that one woman.  I mean don't we marry with the belief that it will be forever, till death do we part?  But what if that love could last many lifetimes?  Although in truth probably not the great fantasy it portrays, but on some level because of our fear of death and the unknown it seems romantic to be able to keep the life we have now.  Psycho-analyst Ernest Jones in 1931 said this about the vampire mystique:
"vampires are symbolic of several unconscious drives and defence mechanisms. Emotions such as love, guilt, and hate fuel the idea of the return of the dead to the grave. Desiring a reunion with loved ones, mourners may project the idea that the recently dead must in return yearn the same. From this arises the belief that folkloric vampires and revenants visit relatives, particularly their spouses, first."
"People identify with immortal vampires because, by so doing, they overcome, or at least temporarily escape from, their fear of dying."
Finally Jones notes that when more normal aspects of sexuality are repressed, regressed forms may be expressed, in particular sadism; he felt that oral sadism is integral in vampiric behaviour.
Vampire now...
So are we repressed?  The explosion of the supernatural romance genre not to mention the report from NBC news citing the rise of erotica and romance since the introduction of the e-reader, seems to suggest that even in this day of equal rights and supposed sexual liberty, women are not feeling as un-repressed as we maintain.  The idea that a book like 50 Shades Of Grey can spark such controversy because of the BDSM nature of the story, seems to suggest some repression.  Believe me, some of the stuff in 50 Shades is tame compared to what is out there.  For example; Taking Instruction by Cheyenne McCray makes 50 Shades look like your boring Harlequinn romance.  It's not as well written I will admit but if we're just going by the sex and taboo BDSM topic alone it's definitely more descriptive.

Vampires also fulfill that need to look at our more dark desires of immortality and ever-lasting love.  And I personally think there's no greater erogenous zone than a neck, so I guess I'm a little biased in the vampire direction.  But on the grand scheme of things, although werewolves have some catching up to do in the romance department, they also make for very sexy, drool worthy heroes.  It's not necessary to say you prefer wolves to vampires, honestly you can like them both!  Both provide the reader with the opportunity to relish two very primal urges.  One allows them to get lost in the idea of a strong alpha male claiming them as their own and the other offers the get out of death free card along with some pretty core tingling necking.  Take a page from Trueblood's Sookie Stackhouse, vampires at night weres during the day. She's had them all and doesn't appear to be choosing sides.  I think that's how I'm going to enjoy my supernatural genre.  Now when zombies start to become erotic, romantic heroes, I may have to rethink my opinion on why we like those supernatural men. From one addict to another...happy reading!!

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