George Gordon, Lord Byron, to be precise
(Big thanks to one of my favorite authors, Alma T. C. Boykin for sending this to me. If you haven’t read her Familiar Tales, you’re missing out. Check out her Amazon author page here.–ASG)
Apparently, the ability to work magic in an urban fantasy setting, if you are male, requires having dark hair. At least, that’s what all the cover art that I paged through depicts. Dark of hair, dark of eyes, brooding of mien, wearing dark clothing (leather jacket not strictly necessary, but encouraged), I found all of two exceptions, one blond, one possibly red headed. It was just as bad when I read cover copy, except now all the paranormal romance heroes are brooding in mysterious, isolated castles, cursed into a gloomy existence until a Strong Woman™ arrives and true lust will save them.
Arrrrrrrrrr [gasp] rrrrrrrrrrgh!!!!!!!
Someone save me from Byronic heroes, please. And from Strong Women™, but that’s a rant for a different time. I know, Byron himself would have erudite, scathing, and probably exceedingly pointed words for the plethora of protagonists modeled on his reputed nature. “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” is how he was described during his life, and the last one does seem true. He, Shelly, and others came to bad or at least short ends. Byron (1788-1824) was foremost a poet, not a novelist, unless you count epic poems as a sort of novel. However, with his dark hair, physical deformity, somewhat grim personality, eccentric behavior, questionable morals (or at least appearance of questionable morals), and tendency to party far too hard, Lord Byron became the model for a certain sort of protagonist. I think the first “classic” Byronic hero is Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, the heroine’s employer. He lives in a mildly creepy manor house and comes with a secret or two. He’s also the model for lots and lots of Gothic romance heroes as well, and it is a short jump from Gothic romances (Mary Stewart-type) to Paranormal Romances [PNR].
Since two of the characters in one of my current series could easily fit the stereotype of the Byronic hero if they tried a little harder, I probably should not be casting either aspersions or stones. But I will anyway, because ye gads! Can we please have a non-dark, non-brooding, urban or rural were-creature or magic user main character, please? Or if we have to have a vampire, with a castle, how about one who has sort of worked out how to keep his sanity and doesn’t see all women aside from the Strong Woman™ as toys? There’s a reason Count Taka is a delightful romp of a send-up. C. Chancy does a good job with a vampire who commercializes commercialized folklore for profit and self-defense. I played with the trope in Wolf of the World with a werewolf who hates vampires and is a staunch Hungarian Calvinist Christian. The female lead really is a strong woman, a former Division One college softball player with a mean throwing arm and more common sense than an entire wall of PNR heroines combined. OK, so Gregor does have dark hair and broods. Sorry about that.
Byronic heroes seem to live with a black cloud hanging over them. Mr. Rochester certainly had his moments. Others, as seen from third-omniscient point-of-view, mope about the lack of females of their kind, that women don’t live long enough and so are just play-things, that women are weak and vapid so why bother, that the male’s passion overwhelms women physically. . . Sorry, that was one where I laughed so hard that I didn’t bother finishing the sample. You’d think that after hundreds of years, a vampire or other super-long-lived creature would learn some emotional coping skills. But the trope is “the Strong Woman™ who truly loves him/is his fated lover will save him,” so brooding and morose it is. Yawn.
Rants aside, the romance genre is one where trope and reader-cookies dominate. Romance readers tend to be super-readers, and they know what they want. So any writer worth his or her salt who tinkers with genre tropes needs to do it carefully and for good reasons. Other genres are more forgiving, or so it seems, than romance. This extends to PNR, but . . . things can go too far. The over-abundance of Byronic bad-boys makes me go “blargh.” The character is easy to write, if you are in a hurry. Taciturn, in a remote and exotic location (or concealed in a not-so-exotic location), good looking in a dark-haired way, has a reputation for danger or rouses the heroine’s suspicions, these are all shorthand for a Byronic protagonist. Mafia romances are new Byronic option. Dark haired, morose (for Italian versions of quietly gloomy), often competing with someone else for the girl’s attention, the Mafia Junior-don fills the same niche, without the magic. Although I suspect there’s a Mafia-PNR cross over romance out there, somewhere.
I have two, possibly a third, Byronic characters in the Familiars world. Arthur Saldovado is the obvious one, although he doesn’t brood that much. If he did, he’d have succumbed to depression or some other mental problem decades ago. Arthur has dark hair, dark eyes, is a Goth, wears dark colors or black, seeks remote places for solitude, and has a mysterious past. He can radiate “dangerous man” without trying too hard. André Lestrang, although blond, broods, is a Goth, wears black, tends to be restrained and distant, and lived in exotic locations (when sent there by the US military). The third character would be the Lone Hunter, although I don’t know enough about him to be certain yet. Granted, I write stories where romance is an element, but they are not Romances. That would be Wolf of the World, almost. I didn’t follow all the needed beats, so it is more of an adventure with a very strong romance element in it, if you go by the formal requirements of most romance sub-genres. The romance doesn’t drive the plot.
Too many writers are leaning on the Byronic hero, in my opinion, and based on what I’ve read, not doing it well. I realize that a lot of readers disagree, if you trust the ratings on the ad copy and the sales numbers on the ad copy. At this point, I’m about ready to track down George Gordon Lord Byron, wherever he is, and pelt him with remaindered PNR and Mafia romance novels until he repents and promises to go back and un-write Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and a few other things. “The Destruction of Sennacherib” can stay, though.