On Books, Reading, & Fandom
It should be clear from the offerings over in the Publications area of this site that my own preferences in fanfiction tend to run to a straightforward, well-thought-out, plotted, and written, G–PG-13 no ’ship, adventure story, a unapologetic Snapefic, or an engaging SS/HG. This marked preference for SS/HG when navigating the ’shipping lanes is a remnant in recognition of what was originally a somewhat higher general level of writing skill displayed in fics concerning this particular pairing.
This advantage is not so obvious now as it was, say, about this time in 2001 when this was still a “rare pair” and a comparatively small and much reviled subfandom, but it still usually is at least marginally higher than that shown in the ’ships more popular with the middle school set and younger, whose authors are often still grappling with the basics of how to tell a story.
But, then, certain allowances must be made. My introduction to this pairing was Textualsphinx’s classic ‘A Letter from Exile One Merciful Morning’. While some of the elements in this fic have remained unsupported, or even been contradicted in later canon, it is far too much to expect that the revelations of Book 7, or even the official death of one of the principals will be enough to actually sink this particular ’ship. (Although Textualsphinx’s introduction of what Rowling later defined as a Horcrux as a pledge of affection was highly disconcerting, some five years after she posted it.)
The ’ship is far too well established by now to merely sink, and of those who have boarded, only the most delusional can be unaware that it was effectively AU from the day it launched.
Interestingly enough, Letter from Exile was actually written in reaction to a fledgling SS/HG fandom as it was at that time developing, by an author who was, in her own words, “squicked” by the concept.
In structure, the story is a pure Snapefic, rather than a romantic interplay between the two main characters. In fact, more accurately it is a love letter to the reader with Hermione serving as a stand-in. But the ideas so explored, and the elegance of the writing was more than enough to open the popular imagination to possibilities not tapped by the fairly crude earlier work which prompted it. A .pdf edition of Letter from Exile can be found in the Publications area on this site.
This would probably be an appropriate place for me to add my own two cents on fanfic romance in general, including the requisite side note regarding slash:
I do not read fanfic for the opportunity of encountering “lemons”. I don’t give squat for lemons. I’m well over 21 and if I want to read smut there is no shortage of mainstream, professional-grade smut out there in my nearest mega-chain bookstore with a name that starts with B. And I don’t get off on the sheer outrageousness of reading it enacted by characters from popular childrens’ books, either.
I read fanfiction primarily for the fun of seeing how well its authors can tell a story, how solid a story they have to tell, and, as a secondary motive, to see how well they have risen to the challenge of sending recognizable characters through a new adventure while managing to keep them recognizable — and in character, all the way to the end. And, in the cases where the characters have been obviously tweaked, whether they can manage to keep the tweaking internally consistent.
The existence of slash fiction certainly doesn’t offend me. I regard the whole [non]issue a bit like that of modern art. I agree that some of it is well composed and very finely executed, but hardly any of it is anything I’d go out of my way to look at on purpose. And that is, indeed, my response to most slash. I have no authentic interest in slash, as slash. And it’s existence is very old news to me. I can remember the original Star Trek fandom perfectly well, for heaven’s sake.
Which isn’t to say that I refuse to read slash, or will not enjoy it if a particularly well written slashfic is pointed out to me. Because I have read a handful of slashfics that were very well done, and there was certainly no internal resistance that had to be overcome in order to read them with an open mind.
It’s just that in so much of the slash out there, the actual “relationship” is so very badly handled... For one thing, they are usually angst-fests as well and I simply cannot imagine those particular characters carrying on and flipping out in anything like that style in the first place.
And, moreover, I’ve noticed that in a the greater part of the [admittedly limited exposure to] slashers’ fics that I’ve found myself suckered into, the authors frequently didn’t telegraph their specific area of incompetence in handling “relationships” one minute before the point that they actually decided to go traipsing through the lemon grove —
...whereupon everybody was suddenly wildly OoC. [Out of Character] Which irritated me even more than it would have if the fic had been badly written from the get-go. In which case I would simply not have kept on with it in the first place. The loss of the investment of my time that I did expend on these fics irked me.
As to the depiction of the act itself; well, one of my lists went through a fairly lengthy thread on this particular subject some years ago and came to the general conclusion that for kicking off shoes and unwinding purposes (the traditional function of a hairdryer book) people don’t really want to read about sex portrayed realistically. The conventionalized literary “passion dance” is as contrived and artificial as a minuet.
And deliberately so. We suspend disbelief from the point of the virtually automatic arousal (with no more effort than one burning glance. As if) through all the rest of the process, right down to the sweaty afterglow. Looked at with a cool head, the whole business as it is presented often tends to be highly implausible, whether slash or het. Just an unabashed fantasy wherein everything simply works, as it is supposed to, without the slightest effort on anyone’s part. Now, just how realistic is that?
But it does annoy me when, at the first panting breath, there is an abrupt behavior shift in which the characters suddenly start acting like aliens to themselves. And not just the “selves” that the reader expects to carry over from canon, or even fanon, but the “selves” as they were specifically set up in the beginning of the same story.
It doesn’t always happen, I’ll grant you, but I’m afraid it does more often than most people like to admit. It’s as though the story suddenly got away from the author, or turned into something else in their hands. I’m sure this happens just as often — or even more so —in het romances, only with those I generally haven’t stuck around long enough to have to deal with it. In most het romances, bad writing, bad plotting and bad characterization are generally quite obviously bad well before anybody works their way up to the first kiss. The author is all too obviously channeling some afternoon soap opera. I do not watch afternoon soap operas.
And I resent being expected to hyperventilate on command.
And, actually, the above is a good definition of what has gone wrong. The author has apparently forgotten that they are writing a novel (or a story) and not an on-going television series. Remembering just what format one is working in seems to be a problem for newbie writers. Most often the confusion is whether they are writing for the page or the screen, but losing track of whether they are writing a single, coherent story or a never-ending saga is even more deadly to the effectiveness of the work.
Wambling on, aimlessly, for decades, agonizing over one’s “relationships”, punctuated by the occasional crisis I gather is the heart and soul of a certain form of daytime television. But you truly cannot do that in a novel. A novel requires a coherent *story*, with an identifiable beginning, a middle and an end — and you cannot effectively tell a story if you bury it in endless minutia. It loses its internal tension, all of its drive, and misses the point.
From where I have been sitting, the problem seems most acute (and in this regard it does not matter if it is slash or het) when the author has approached the project with an attention span that does not continue beyond the point they get the main characters into bed. I suspect that anyone who has read any appreciable amount of fanfic will be able to call up the recollection of fics which either start with a bang, or do a fine slow buildup right up to that point — and then, practically the morning after, starts wandering aimlessly in circles under the impression that a dissection of the characters’ feelings constitutes a story. It doesn’t. Often, even the reason or motivation for getting them together in the first place tends to fly out the window, leaving the reader with nothing but babble. Usually babble that devolves into titillation or repetitive episodes of hurt-comfort. I have limited tolerance for hurt-comfort. And I never bought the package that titillation constituted romance. Or a relationship.
To be honest, I have reached the point that I tend to feel a positive rush of gratitude when an author has the taste and restraint to “fade to black”, and return to the story afterward. The authors who have the guts do that, instead of pandering, can then stop stewing over inessentials (who really needs to know a fictional character’s specific bedroom technique? I mean, really?) and concentrate on that relationship (which exists primarily outside the bedroom) instead, and making sure that the plot and the story line continue to advance, and still work.
For what it’s worth, in my not-so-humble opinion, nothing will throw your characters into OoC territory like a smut biscuit. And it is amazing, the number of promising fics that never quite manage to survive that first trip into the bedroom with their apparent integrity of purpose intact.
Now, if what you, as a writer, are writing is a PWP (Porn Without Plot), well, hey, ignore me. No one who goes in for that sort of fic really cares about tipping over into the dreaded OoC. But if what you are working on is a full-length fic, please remember that you are going to have to keep on writing it — after you haul the characters off to the bedroom. And you are going to need to deal with the aftermath of whatever athletics and pronouncements you put them through while they were there.
And, far too often, for the reader, the experience of watching that process is like having to try to ignore a gasping fish flapping and flopping across the parlor carpet during a formal tea party.
If you aren’t absolutely confident that you can pull this off, don’t do it. Put your energy into not doing it with some style. Otherwise, your readers cannot promise to still respect you in the morning.
I have also been reading the works of Georgette Heyer and her imitators for over 50 years, and by extension, historical romances set in the Regency period, so I am hardly in a position to kick up a fuss when I know, going into a story, that it is going to turn out to include a romance as a major part of its reason for existence.
And, to return to the titular subject here, the highly conventionalized fanon Granger/Snape dynamics are a thoroughly representative example of one of the most predominant “foundation” story templates that drive the Regency juggernaut. There are some others, as well. But this particular one is solidly one of the top 3 in that paradigm, being only a lightly skewed variant of the “to reform a rake” model.
Which right there probably explains most of the otherwise inexplicable “sex god” hyperbole attached to “fanon” Snape. (In any pairing.)
LupinLover’s ‘Over the Silver Rainbow’ appears to have the distinction of being the first serious attempt at a Granger/Snape romance to have been posted on ff.net. Or at least no one seems to be able to recall anything — apart from some mild S/M which was about power rather than romance — significantly earlier. LupinLover’s fic was posted in September of 2000. I sought it out after reading A Letter from Exile, (which was posted in December that same year) and skimmed it.
Frankly, I didn’t think it was particularly good. I’ve since learned that the author was about 13 when it was written, which at that point in the fandom was uncharacteristically young to be dealing with this particular pairing. (The inimitable Mr Rickman had yet to add his unwitting contribution to the popularity of this particular ’ship.)
LupinLover’s youth was ample explanation for the clumsiness in its handling. The characters’ motivations were thin and the attraction between the principals dumped in without any sort of backstory. Overall, it seemed less of a soap opera than a soap bubble. But it does appear to have been the first serious attempt at SS/HG, so far as anyone has since been able to determine. The author removed it from the internet a year or two afterward. She was older by then and the level of purely technical expertise on display in it, more than two decades ago now, was such as might be highly embarrassing.
Textualsphinx’s spin-off/response appears to have been the real watershed for this particular pairing. Not all fans may care for Textualsphinx’s overtly “literary” style of writing, let alone her distinctly feminist slant on the subject, or her handling of it (although more of them certainly do), but no one can call it unimpressive. And it has certainly inspired far more successful attempts at emulation/contrasting viewpoints/rolling one’s own than LupinLover’s original fic.
However, I tend to suspect that all of this is really begging the question. I very much contend that ‘Over the Silver Rainbow’s’ “original fic” status as the “first” Snape/Hermione fic was primarily a matter of chance. The summer of 2000, after all, had seen the release of ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’. Once GoF was out, I think that this particular pairing’s debut into fanfic became inevitable.
By the end of GoF the character of Hermione Granger is a scant 3 months short of her next birthday (whether her 16th or her 15th became a subject of much debate until Rowling unequivocally settled the matter in a website update of 12/2004, in which it is made clear that Hermione is some 10 months older than Harry Potter: this contradicted all of Rowling’s earlier statements on the subject and rendered most of the established online timelines incorrect) and by this point in the series has clearly matured into an adolescent female of unquestionably “dating” age; nubile, by nearly all traditional definitions, even formally marriageable by the standards of the late 16th–17th century, and a formidable witch in her own right.
In the very same book Snape has openly been awarded the cachet of unequivocally (for the moment at least) being listed among the forces of the Light, complete with what is generally assumed must be an overbearingly dramatic backstory. We did not have any of these certainties prior to GoF’s release.
It was some years more before I realized that insofar as Severus Snape is concerned, the groundwork for his debut as a romantic lead had already been set up a year earlier with the release of PoA.
I defy anyone to read PoA and not come out of the experience with a raging case of the Snape-Loved-Lily virus.
This in defiance of the fact that there is not one word in PoA to suggest such a reading. The conviction nevertheless seems to leap out of the margins, go for the reader’s throat, and hang on like static cling. I still haven’t figured out how Rowling did that.
There isn’t really anything in the subsequent 3 books to confirm this reading either. But it seems likely that Rowling has heard of Derrida and was playing the “vast absence” card.
Consequently, by the time GoF was released, the fans had already somehow been encouraged to lead themselves up the garden path for the rest of the series, spinning multitudinous Snape/Lily theories. Many of which proved to be considerably off-target when the other shoe finally dropped in Book 7.
For myself: despite a conviction that we were being primed to discover some sort of an interaction between Severus Snape and Lily Evans, I was no longer able to seriously entertain the prevailing fanish interpretation of Snape-Loved-Lily after OotP (and, indeed, as I suspected, the actual relationship was something rather more substantial than a case of unrequited teen lurve). But it still took me until nearly a full year after OotP was released to manage to finally peel it off myself, and dispose of it. The majority of fans did not even try.
The fallout of contracting the Snape-Lived-Lily infection is that once you start mentally casting a character as one half of a tragic romantic pairing, to continue to regard him as a potential half of a different romantic pairing thereafter becomes all but unavoidable. And to follow this up in the next book by having the narrative identify him as a White Hat rendered him “eligible”.
And all of Rowling’s interview responses with their rhetorical questions of why are fans interested in the “bad boys” are thus rendered disingenuous in the extreme. She is the one who did it, after all.
So; we now have Snape, whose way with words even Rowling admits she enjoys, abruptly added to the short list of adult, but still comparatively young, heroic second leads, with a backstory which is presumed to rival Black’s, and quite eclipses Lupin’s. In a “universe” with as yet NO unattached, developed, female characters of their own generation. This is the kind of male character that the fans cannot resist trying to pair off with somebody. And if there isn’t anybody available, they will either engage in slash, or they will invent their own. (Cue the Mary Sue chorus line.)
Moreover, in a Rowling interview of about the same date, Snape’s age — and that of his contemporaries (stated as 35 or 36) — was finally made public along with the, at that point, fresh information that wizards’ lifespans may be much longer than those of Muggles. In short, positively inviting the interpretation that, among wizards, Snape, and his contemporaries must still be regarded as quite young men.
It takes very little time before it starts percolating through the collective unconscious that a “perfect match” for someone like “fanon” Snape (a much more attractive romantic prospect than the canon version, even before the release of Half-Blood Prince) would probably be very much like Hermione Granger — only about 10 years older. [Note: a 10-year age difference is pretty standard within traditional Regency conventions.] Factor in the new data of potentially much longer lifespans for wizards, and the 19 year age difference suddenly becomes far less of an issue.
For that matter just about everyone who is old enough to be reading romances is already personally acquainted with at least one apparently happy couple with a 15–25 year difference in age between the husband and wife. Such matches simply aren’t that uncommon. So it really isn’t that big of an issue to wrap one’s mind around, in itself.
Well why invent a copy when you can now enlist the original? LupinLover was first to post such a fic, yes. But given a few more months, or possibly even only weeks, there would have been some other. It was ready to happen and all just a matter of time.
As to the ins and outs of the underlying plausibility of a SS/HG attraction; if one sticks to canon evidence, I tend to agree that there isn’t much. Let it be said, however, that it has been pointed out, exhaustively, that to a quite late point in the series, the only young man Hermione Granger is known to have formally “dated” for any length of time in canon (if one ignores Cormac McLaggan) was both older than she, and, physically, a pretty fair extrapolation of an adolescent Snape look-alike. That detail hasn’t been lost on the fans, either.
Which is one of the reasons that some of the best stories which explore this particular relationship have the two of them “meeting” as potential romantic protagonists in some context other than a Hogwarts classroom. Usually in some context far removed from the classroom. But even very small differences in location can serve. Even a removal to the Hogwarts staff room is often regarded as quite sufficient.
But the fact remains that one cannot really see much likelihood of even a minimally canon-compliant ’ship launching from the Potions lab. (Certainly not now!)
Not that such couldn’t be done, or that it isn’t, in fact, being done, just that this projection simply isn’t as likely as one which postulates sending them both in different directions for a few years to let Hermione mature and develop a bit more, and to put Snape into a situation where he isn’t defending his home turf. Leveling the playing field, as it were.
I am willing to speculate that in most cases, the germ for the concept of the Granger/Snape pairing is the invocation of the generic cultural ideal of the “Marriage of True Minds”. This particular ideal is one of a standard set of cultural icons (“The Attraction of Opposites/Perfect Counterpart”, and “The Star-Crossed Lovers” are a couple of the others) all of which can be tweaked into a lot of different sub-variants. But the most common requirement for this particular class of tale is that both parties must be demonstrated to at least have minds.
Well, there is no question that this much is supported in canon. Hermione is at the very least a much brighter than average child, and if Rowling had the guts to fly the flag openly would be readily accepted as falling within the “gifted and talented” range.
It should be noted that Rowling has never actually stated that she does. And her depiction of Miss Granger throughout the series suggests that Hermione is merely a tightly-wound overachiever, and precocious with it. But then, Rowling only seems to value raw intelligence within rather narrow limits. Rowling’s whole love-fest for the Weasley family strongly suggests that raw “intelligence” or worse, “intellectualism” is emphatically not one of her fetishes. It took until OotP before we met even one Ravenclaw apart from Penelope Clearwater who we glimpsed briefly in Book 2 and never saw again, even though she was still at Hogwarts to the end of the year of the TriWizard Tournament, or Cho Chang who has never been more than a sweetly pretty distraction on the sidelines.
And, keeping this firmly in mind, we can also see that until Book 6, canon Snape was never depicted as being anywhere close to the level of genius that fanon Snape is almost always depicted, either. (And he is still is not depicted as being particularly “culturally-enriched”, which is a widespread fanon Snape trait.) But he has nevertheless always been admitted to be clever — or at any rate, “no fool” — and he has always been a sharp observer of whatever is going on around him. What is more, he usually only goes astray in his interpretation of these observations due to his determination to assign the worst possible motives to everything and everyone. Canon Snape is clearly an intelligent man who is blinkered by his own biases. Perfect anti-hero material, in fact..
(I think we can safely dismiss most of canon’s characterizations from DHs from consideration. Everyone in DHs was suddenly acting like a cartoon of themselves, with the exception of Neville Longbottom. And we also suddenly found ourselves back in kiddie-lit territory wherein no one was permitted to be brighter or have a more sophisticated thinking process than the presumably 10-year-old reader.)
As a side note to more directly address the attractions of Severus Snape himself: JK Rowling was not being a bit straight with us when the subject of former Professor Snape had been raised in interviews.
Either that or she is an unconscionable fool.
In particular, her steadfast pose of pretending not to understand the fascination that the character holds for the reader, and the deflection of so many questions regarding Snape to counter-questions as to why the readers should be so interested in “bad boys — that’s not smart!” appears to be all a part of a delaying tactic, intended to assure that the reader should continue to approach the series strictly from Harry Potter’s point of view. To that end, this pose was deliberate, and necessary. In fact, essential. She meant for Snape’s true position to come as a grand revelation. Which I am sure that it did. To Harry.
To some of the rest of us, not so much. But that is all water under the bridge by this time.
Since the release of PoA, not only has the reader been suffering from a viral Snape-Loved-Lily infection, a high percentage of the readers have also consistently interpreted the character of Snape himself as the “geek,” the “outsider,” the kid who is commonly mocked and picked on by the “popular kids”, and nothing has ever been able to deflect us from it. The Pensive junket in OotP gave us a positive wave of vindication on this issue. And I think that this is really the crux of the matter. The relevant issue is not who Snape is. It is who the readers are.
JK Rowling has been widely hailed as a phenomenon who somehow has been able to connect with “reluctant readers”. I will offer no criticism of this particular response to her work. But, allow me to point out that the bulk of JK Rowling’s readership, and certainly her adult readership are still precisely the same demographic that such fantasy adventure stories have always appealed to. Which is to say; reading children. And to an overwhelming extent, the adults who used to be them.
...who still tend to define themselves as the geeks, the outsiders, the ones who were mocked and picked on by the popular kids.
It might astonish a great many people to learn that a quite startling number of perfectly normal-appearing adult women habitually observe society from self-identified positions as “outsiders”. The “socialization process” of western society, i.e., male-dominated society, positively encourages this.
In short; to our perception, Severus Snape is us. Rowling still does not seem to realize this.
This is also a reading which goes a long way toward explaining the pronounced feminist slant which can be determined in the attitudes applied to the former Professor in a broad range of popular Snapefics. There is no other convincing explanation for this. It is certainly not supported by the presentation of the character in canon. But then, until the issue of anorexic body image came up, Rowling never attempted to give the public even the slightest appearance of having any kind of a feminist axe to grind. She still doesn’t, actually.
Admittedly much of this interpretation is probably attributable to Textualsphinx’s work, which, as stated, does have a pronouncedly feminist slant. But certainly not all of it. And, imho, persons who attempt to claim that it is impossible for a reader to identify with a character of the opposite gender, clearly have an exclusionary axe to of their own to grind.
Emotionally, of course, canon Snape seems to be arrested in late adolescence and showed absolutely no willingness to mature beyond that point. Much like Sirius Black — without Black’s extenuating circumstances. (One does not mature in Azkaban.) But, then, our other identification target, canon Hermione, is a fairly neurotic specimen as well. And not nearly as mature as her fans attempt to paint her.
An additional, and major cultural — although not canon — contribution to the launching of this particular 1000 ’ships (or fics at any rate) is the resemblance that both of the principal players have to two of the most highly identifiable stock character “types” from romance fiction, and, what is more, of two of the types who most frequently play the romantic leads opposite one another in the ongoing puppet theater which is Romance writing.
Romance writing, particularly the sort that enacts the “True Minds” scenario is a highly stylized form of storytelling. We are talking about Oral Tradition archetypes here. These are types that are as well established — and as recognizable — as those of the traditional Comedia del Arte. Overlaying this base, are the specific demands of the True Minds variant; that the dialogue should *sparkle*, and the narration be demonstrably clever. In short, we have wandered across the borders into the world of the Comedy of Manners, aka “high” comedy. As opposed to “low” comedy, which has all of the subtlety of a banana peel or a pie in the face — which it occasionally resorts to.
The True Minds scenario is not all that easy a one to pull off. The Lily/Snape=Star-Crossed Lovers model is far easier to handle, if you can be resigned to the inevitable unhappy ending. By contrast, the True Minds model is particularly difficult to finesse, even in a Comedy of Manners setting.
For one thing; it demands a much lighter touch than the “Opposites Attract” variant which can drag in all sorts of love-hate subtexts and whose dialogue can be enlivened by the sort of bickering that is fueled by raw energy rather than requiring actual wit. (The byplay between Hermione and Ron fits this pattern far more closely than any variant of the True Minds scenario.)
The True Minds model also tends to demand a higher level of plausibility and intelligence in the setting up and deployment of the various complications which serve as obstacles for the leads to have to overcome. This variant also has a narrower than average tolerance range for the use of “idiot plot” devices. (i.e., the plot only works if someone — or everyone — suddenly starts acting like idiots.) All in all, it can be a worthy challenge to an author who attempts it.
Such authors are assisted in their attempts by the fact that the stock character types who make up the “repertory company” which enacts these puppet plays are all individually specialized as to basic functions, but are not so individualized as to keep any of them from being able to act a selection of possible roles within each of their own considerable ranges. Which gives a puppet master a fair degree of latitude.
For example: although the puppet designed to play the younger male sibling might be easily distinguished from the one designed to play the military Captain, there is nothing to keep this young boy puppet from being drafted into service as the clever servant in one story, or the mooncalf-boy-who-wants-to-be-a-poet in the next. Or, indeed, Harry Potter himself.
The female puppets in this kind of rep company have even greater latitude, being chiefly distinguishable merely by age or social class (young ladies as opposed to maidservants) with only a few codified standard variations such as the bluestocking, the spoilt beauty, the hoyden, or the vamp.
With all this in mind it becomes laughably easy to see how the basic cartoon sketch of “Hermione Granger” can easily be shoehorned into the role of the freshly nubile, clever and “spirited” young heroine. While fanon Snape steps into the (Heathcliff) role of “Tall, dark and dangerous man with a Past” with hardly a more than a quick look-in at wardrobe.With all this in mind it becomes laughably easy to see how the basic cartoon sketch of “Hermione Granger” can easily be shoehorned into the role of the freshly nubile, clever and “spirited” young heroine. While fanon Snape steps into the (Heathcliff) role of “Tall, dark and dangerous man with a Past” with hardly a more than a quick look-in at wardrobe.
I contend that there is nothing remotely shocking or transgressive here. Nor subversive either, except in the mildest, most culturally ingrained interpretation of the term. i.e., that True Love will Conquer All, regardless of any of the capricious social absurdities that it may demand from its participants. These traditions long predate any such earnest modern overlay as that of legal statutes or cavils over the possibility of being thought to encourage student-teacher relationships.
Indeed, despite the fact that for quite a few people who do attempt to write Granger/Snape romance testing the boundaries and exploring the imbalance of power within the relationship is the whole point, such exercises should be more properly classified as “social dramas” than as “romances”. To the reader it quickly becomes apparent which one you have fallen into, regardless of the authors’ determination to call everything a romance. The fundamental dishonesty of pasting a boilerplate “happy ending” onto a social drama which does not deserve one is a loud and clear indication that you have strayed outside the stylized boundaries of romance writing and are wandering in some weird half-world in which its needs are not being met and its rules do not apply. Such hybrids may succeed as stories, but they are not romances.
Within the world that generated them, the puppets themselves are timeless, and wear their burdens of expectation so lightly that they might as well have been clothed by the Emperor’s own tailors, oblivious to the passage of these censorious centuries. In the purest of executions no one deliberately attempts to be outrageous in these pairings, or at least not any more outrageous than could be accomplished by judiciously painting one’s hair pink. Horrified whispers and flutters in the hencoop are not required by the management.
One could sometimes wish that the authors of these puppet plays were defter in the handling, perhaps. It is painful to see the strings get into too horrific a snarl. One could also wish that the authors had a clearer understanding of the traditions that they attempt to emulate. (Such as which one they are dealing with. A good many apparent “True Minds” openings tend to abruptly morph mid-way into “Opposites Attract” or some other pattern, and the transition is usually jarring.)
All that is required of the audience however, is to sit back and enjoy the show, and decide whether the individual playwright is worth encouraging.
Meanwhile, try not to be surprised if you happen to notice that the black-cloaked “Death Eaters” are hastily re-purposed generic brigands and “Lucius Malfoy” is as often as not to be found mouthing the same lines as in his previous role as the dastardly French spy.