Friday, August 28, 2009

Vampires Suck: Feisty Female Heroines of Urban Fantasy Show the Undead Who's Boss

Over the last decade there has been a steadily growing trend for the urban fantasy genre in TV and literature, especially among young women. Laura Miller wrote an excellent article for concerning this. For those that aren’t familiar with the term, urban fantasy refers to romantic/thriller mysteries that deal with the supernatural (vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, etc.). Authors such as Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, Kelley Armstrong and Stephanie Meyers have made a name for themselves through urban fantasy literature and their books have developed cult-followings that give Harry Potter fans a run for their money.

My feelings about this trend are mixed. It is probably public knowledge by now that I hate the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers. Actually hate is too tame a word…loathe would be more appropriate.

The issue I have with the series is very specific; Edward and Bella have nothing in common, barely speak to each other, but somehow miraculously manage to fall in love because they like how each other smells. One small problem though…he is constantly fighting his temptation to kill Bella. Moral of the story; don’t let your boyfriend drink your blood, because if he does he may not be responsible for trying to kill you. Ahhhh, young love.

This message isn’t so destructive for adults, but for teenagers that are the series’ target audience? I think it is absolutely frightening that a message like this is being projected as “true love.“ Supposedly the books are supposed to promote Christian values, which is why Bella and Edward’s relationship is so sexually charged yet they are adamant about waiting to have sex until they are married. UMM, maybe they are adamant about waiting to have sex because it is a very real possibility that Edward may KILL Bella. It certainly gives a whole new meaning to using protection.

So hear that girls? Sex kills. And love is based on smell. And if you want to look pretty, you should always look slightly perturbed and pout a lot. And be incapable of breathing with your mouth closed. Yeah Kristen Stewart, I’m talking to you.

You will see something very different if you read some urban fantasy by the other authors I mentioned. In these, the main character is a female heroine who in some way is in an epic battle against supernatural beings. Paradoxically they are also dating and/or sleeping with the supernatural as well. Conflict of interests? Perhaps, but it sure is refreshing to see a young heroine who can hold her own against the undead both inside and outside the bedroom.

Twilight fans, take notes; these women are hard-core. They are strong, determined, smart, and sarcastic. They can vanquish you to hell, fight off a stampede of zombies and come up with witty comebacks all in the same chapter.

Basically Bella would pee her skinny size 0 pants if she had to face-off with one of these ladies.

Why does any of this matter? Because with any trend there should always be a healthy balance so that people can have their pick of type-cast characters. I AM NOT suggesting that these characters should be role models, but regardless it is undeniable that these stories have influence and we need to be aware of it. Sure it’s fictional, but unlike Harry Potter mania this genre is fantasy just the other side of realism. There is a basis in reality that makes the fandom go a little over the edge sometimes. If this is the case then its nice to know we are sending balanced messages about the role women can play in these environments. That way it’s each to her own; if you like the shy, gutless, I could be torn to pieces at any moment but I don’t care because my boyfriend is so dreamy type than Twilight fans can have at it.

If not, explore your options.

Here are some series to get you started:
Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris (now True Blood on HBO)
Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton (note: this series goes horribly downhill after book 10 so I would suggest discontinuing at that point)
Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

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