Well, as our friends on the paranormal side certainly know, the hottest movie ticket this week is the latest remake of THE WOLFMAN. Benicio del Toro does the growling as the furry fellow this time, with a supporting cast of Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving. Emily Blunt takes on the role of screamer/savior of souls.
This version of THE WOLFMAN looks back to the establishing 1941 Universal film (starring Lon Chaney, Jr.) for inspiration. Del Toro’s beast is not the sexy, protective, kills-only-bad-guys wolf of modern-day romance novels. You definitely do NOT want to be in the bedroom when this guy changes—or even in the neighborhood! He’s the bloodthirsty, kills-anything-in-range-just-for-the-fun-of-it monster of lycanthropy lore. And the movie that depicts him is heavy on the gore quotient—lots of blood and guts, decapitations, disembowelings and so on.
The man that shares the body with this beast is horrified by what he has become, of course. That is the point of the story. **SPOILER ALERT** His only salvation is the one offered by the original film—death. The filmmaker’s only concession to modern shapeshifter romance is that the woman who loves the man is allowed to kill him (with the proverbial silver bullet), and thus release his suffering soul.
Despite the special effects and the copious amounts of blood, it was surprising how faithful this film was to the spirit of the original film. Even more obvious was how paranormal romance has changed how we once viewed “the curse of the werewolf” (or the vampire, or the demon, or any number of other creatures of the night).
Writers like Christine Feehan took an old saw of Gothic romance—good woman stands up to and changes scary, tormented man—and put a crazy twist on it. Now it’s not just his past or his bad temper, but his inner wolf or his bloodlust that he’s struggling to control. She both brings the beast out in him (because she’s his destined mate) and helps him control it (because she’s who she is—and because she’s his destined mate).
And the readers ate it up. Wolves, vampires, demons, gods of half a dozen pantheons—all manner of formerly scary beings are now fair game, because the basic idea is the same. Love transforms what has the potential to be a destructive force into a positive one. Because she loves him, the creature, be he werewolf or vampire or whatever, can reveal his true self. She will accept him and help him “control” the beast. (Yeah, okay, generalized, but most stories will fit the formula.)
You don’t have to go very far to find an example of this concept in science fiction romance, though it may look slightly different at first glance. And if I may say so, it is one that is so overused as an example of SFR that it threatens to become a cliché. STAR TREK fan fiction is one of the roots of SFR, and romances involving the Enterprise’s Vulcan First Officer, Spock, are a given in TREK fiction (though not the sole impetus for fan fiction, as some would have us believe). There seems to be an irresistible appeal to the idea that a woman (human or otherwise) could make Spock lose his vaunted emotional control. Even J.J. Abrams was not immune to this appeal. Like many a TREK fan writer before him, he paired Spock up with Uhura in his STAR TREK film. (At least he proposed an alternative timeline for the romance.) It’s interesting that the “beast” that Spock struggles with is plain old human emotion, something so easily accessible for most. (Or is it?)
The more common equivalent we have to the “beauty and the beast” story in SFR is one in which the alien has powers which he fears would overwhelm his human lover or her world. He struggles to keep them hidden from her, but something about her just opens him up like a light-sensitive plant. Deidre Knight’s MIDNIGHT WARRIORS series addresses this. So, does Linnea Sinclair in GABRIEL’S GHOST and SHADES OF DARK. Again, the woman must convince her man it’s safe to let go, that together they can overcome whatever obstacles lay in their path. (Note that the woman often has to convince herself of this first!)
Finally, of course, you have the problems of cyborgs (Susan Grant’s HOW TO LOSE AN EXTRATERRETRIAL IN 10 DAYS) and alien programming (Ann Aguirre’s DOUBLEBLIND) and unearthly assassins with a lifetime of deadly training (Sherrilyn Kenyon’s BORN OF NIGHT).
So maybe we are starting to pick up on something that our sisters in the paranormal world figured out a while ago: It’s kinda fun to bring the big bad wolf to heel. (In a mutually respectful, free and equal relationship, of course.) We just need to convince a few more readers that the beasts they love to read about also roam among the stars.