Continuing with our Fantasy Romance month, we want to give a big welcome to R. F. Long.
Why Fantasy Romance?
By R. F. Long
Why do I write fantasy romance? Because I love it – always did, even when I didn’t know it had a name. Why do I love it?
Ah, there’s the question
The key ingredient to any love story is an adventure, a journey into the unknown, a mystery. A vital part of a fantasy is that the main characters strive, against all odds, to achieve their ends. Bringing the two, fantasy and romance, together heightens the effect. One builds on the other, with startling results.
I learned to read precociously early. My mother was a teacher and I suspect she taught me as a means of keeping me occupied. I read and I read and I read. I’d soon read all the books in the junior library – those that interested me, anyway. The Bumper book of Football Heroes stayed firmly on the shelf, as did anything relating to flying insects – *shudder*. But books involving swords, archery, medieval history, mythology, castles, Celts, Egyptians, Romans – oh yes, they were mine.
I got a special pass to the adult library, there being no such thing as YA back in the pre-historic era. And whole worlds opened up to me.
I can’t tell you what my earliest fantasy romances were. It always seemed to me that a romance was an integral part of not just a fantasy story, but of any story – part of what made rounded characters, characters I liked, was their ability to love. They didn’t have to end happily. Given the strong diet of Celtic legends they usually didn’t. They didn’t have to be resolved at the end, of even brought fully to the surface – they dwelt within the tales I read like a constant undercurrent, another theme to add depth to the characters and their stories. Maybe others didn’t notice them. Maybe the authors didn’t intend them to be there, but I found them nonetheless – love stories inside tales of enchantment, adventure and excitement.
Romance comes from the stories of the middle ages, told in the vernacular – mainly the romance languages: French, Spanish, but also in English and German. They were stories of the people rather than the church, earthy and action packed, of fabulous beasts and adventures far away. They tied in with the tradition of courtly love and the chivalric culture. Stories included King Arthur, Charlemagne and Alexander the Great. They were often the preserve of woman and their minstrels. Eleanor of Aquitaine played a huge role in the promotion of courtly love, its poetry and chivalry which placed woman at the centre of a male world – the object of that love. Such stories provided an escape, adventure and the first expectations that women could be loved for themselves. Love which wasn’t about duty or power, but about devotion, loyalty, and – a stunning fantasy at the time – equality. The woman could partake of the adventure, help her hero or refuse to do so, waiting for him to prove himself, but she was loved for herself and not for her possessions or her bloodline, something rarer than Holy Grails or Unicorns.
But these stories also encompassed fantasy and adventure. Knights and heroes travelled through distant lands, encountered great danger, fabulous beasts and supernatural enemies. They reworked older tales, rewording and retelling them for a modern audience, in exactly the same way we do today. They were helped and hindered by fairies and monsters, struggled and suffered through dangers untold until they won the love they so desperately craved, usually discovering that she has helped, advised and supported them throughout their trials. Hero and heroine gained a measure of mutual understanding and equality unheard of in the daily lives of those listening. Fantasy indeed. But fantasy teaches people to dream, and dreams become expectations. Pretty soon those same women were saying – why not me?
At their core, these early fantasy stories were love stories.
Fantasy and romance have always fitted together. Whether it’s just the brief mention of Eowyn and Faramir in The Lord of the Rings, or Gawain accepting that Ragnall has her own mind and desire which makes them blissfully happy in their marriage, or even a story like that Jeren and Shan in my own Tales of the Holtlands, where their love is the one thing they can hope to gain by fighting.
Interestingly, while I always wrote fantasy my stories only seemed to really click for me when I realised that the romance aspect was just as powerful as the fantasy. Instead of making it take a back seat, I needed to let it co-pilot the story.
I’ve encountered some marvellous tales over the years. Arthurian legends of course are amazing source material for a fantasy romance writer and there have been many.
Diana L. Paxson’s fascinating reworking of Tristan and Iseult, The White Raven, remains one of my favourites.
Another which surprised and enthralled me was Claudia Edward’s Taming the Forest King, where a strong, heroic and slightly jaded heroine must choose between two men (and avoid a civil war, assassinations attempts and magical traps along the way) and completely threw me by choosing not who I thought she would, but the one I wanted her to!
I often return to the Servant of Empire trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts (Daughter, Servant and Mistress of Empire), the wonderful, complex character of Mara and her fraught relationship with her husband and the otherworlder slave she loves.
On the darker side Alan Garner’s The Owl Service remains with me to this day – and drawing on the Welsh tragedy of Blodeuwedd it is a dark love triangle indeed – but an enduring, fabulous and moving book.
Well written romance takes us to the core of the human condition. It encompasses the need for love, loyalty, protection and support – the primal urge not just for a mate but for a partner. Coupling this with a fantasy environment allows both writer and reader to examine the extreme extension of those concerns. It’s bad if your lover is from another town or another social sphere, but what if he’s not even human? What if her entire society is at war with yours? What if powers beyond your ability to control are telling you who to be with forever, or are pointing at the one you love as someone, or something that must be destroyed? As the what ifs get bigger on a primal level, so too do the conflicts.
And conflict is the lifeblood of any story.
Romance is the most flexible of genres, happily melding to all kinds of stories. But then love is universal, or even multiversal. We’ve all felt it, strived for it, found joy or heartache in it. Romance is about taking risks, about throwing ourselves into an adventure. Fantasy amplifies the emotions, the risks and ultimately the satisfaction.
Why do I love fantasy romance?
What’s not to love?
R.F. Long always had a thing for fantasy, romance and ancient mysteries. The combination was bound to cause trouble. In university she studied English Literature, History of Religions and Celtic Civilisation, which just compounded the problem.
Her Holtlands Novella The Wolf’s Sister: a Tale of the Holtlands , its sequel The Wolf’s Mate and her novels The Scroll Thief: a Tale of Ithian and the paranormal romance novel Soul Fire are now available from Samhain Publishing. The Scroll Thief and Soul Fire are also now available in paperback. Songs of the Wolf a paperback edition containing both Holtlands stories will be out in December 2010.
Her contemporary YA fantasy May Queen is coming soon from Dial Books for Young Readers
She lives in Wicklow, the Garden County of Ireland, and works in a specialised library of rare and unusual books.
But they don’t talk to her that often.
Find out more at her website – www.rflong.com, or on Twitter @rflong