Fifty Shades of Horror Lite And The King of Sweden

Please note: The following contains adult subject matter. Readers are advised.

“…Saw a werewolf drinkin’ a Pina Colada at Trader Vic’s
His hair was perfect.”
-Warren Zevon

We learn the fairy tales of old at our parents knees, at a time when we can barely express ourselves. Even then, most of us understand these archetypal tales almost instantly: Children need to be wary of very strange old women who offer them delectable treats. Conversations with articulate wolves in the darkest part of the forest are incredibly bad. Only by being clever can we survive the machinations of the trolls under the bridge.

When the brothers Grimm set about collecting the tales of Europe, they noticed both the similarities of some themes and the bizaare, dream-like nonsense of these stories. The soul of the folk; “das Volk dichtet”, as Jacob Grimm called it, brought forth archetypes whose actions varied not only from place to place, but over time and social changes. One example is a version of Red Riding Hood which emerged in 16th century France, wherein the wolf spends the night with Red Riding Hood, then devours her the next morning. Clearly, the French people “responded” to their exploitation at the hands of those in power well before the French Revolution.

This time last year, I blogged about the acceptance of the Vampire into mainstream society, and how this acceptance of the Monster has changed and been changed by popular culture, but there is a limit: we are now dressing up those archetypes in bespoke tailoring and expressing a singular desire to give up all we are to them in exchange for the need to avoid making decisions for ourselves. Why? More about that later. In the meantime, I’ve long grown weary of horror lite: Stories about well-dressed werewolves sitting at outdoor bistros drinking capuccinos and discussing their angst about the next full moon, an endless line of martial arts heroines matching their outfits to the evening’s vampire-hunting expedition. Sure, it’s been going on for some time, but as a bookseller I’ve watched the covers of romance titles in bookstores everywhere go from a selection of bare-chested Cowboys or Scottish Lairds (usually sporting a lithe young woman languishing on their shoulders), to pale, bare-chested young men with glowing eyes (usually sporting a lithe young woman languishing on their shoulders). Believe it or not, the monster in bespoke tailoring and the emergence of horror lite are related. Worst of all, these “urban fantasies” as they are called, are beginning to move into the horror section!

How are these two things related? When you take the horror out of horror, what’s left? There is no expression of the need for us to master, conquer or otherwise face the darkness within the human soul. There’s no acknowledgement of evil, and (worst of all) there is no boundary to describe, if only in a tentative manner, the chaos that is human tragedy.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll explore the connections between horror lite, the 50 Shades phenomenon( a singular phenomenon with vast differences from the tales of A.N. Roquelare and their like) and the seismic shift in romance tales. Until then, pleasant dreamssss…


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