If you read folklore or fairy tales, you will find that the paranormal creatures are more dangerous than they are sexy. If they seem sexy, it’s just as bait to lure you in so they can eat you. Mermaids, sirens, alluring maidens sat near ponds – they’re just hungry. Vampires, werewolves and zombies used to be grim, grotesque and horrifying. What happened? Somewhere in the 20th century, the dangerous supernatural creatures of our folklore turned into objects of desire.
For me, those paranormal creatures have always suggested the wild and the wilderness. They may be the un-tame hazard inside us all. They are the things we find monstrous about ourselves as well as the things we fear in the dark, in the woods and in the wilderness. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that sexy paranormal stories come at a time when we’ve pushed wildness to the margins. With deforestation, everything mapped, and wild places exploited for profit, where is there left for paranormal creatures to haunt your imagination? And so, just as the wild places are commodified and exploited, so the paranormal creatures become sex objects.
There may be social aspects too. We’ve broken down a lot of taboos around the world about who can love whom. There’s still a lot of work to do. It’s no longer comfortable to present people of a different ethnic background to your own as the exotic, desirable mystery. Romance depends on the beloved being difficult to obtain. As the barriers to human love come down, keeping the story shape alive calls for new challenges. The paranormal creatures slot neatly into our desires for certain story shapes.
As we become more alert to gender politics, the bad boy archetype of many a romance novel becomes less attractive. Women writers may be less keen now to sell us the aristocratic male with issues of authority and entitlement. He’s a bit old fashioned. Werewolves on the other hand have much better excuses for anger management issues, and are the ultimate bad boy you might want to tame.
For me, there’s a process here that goes along with a lot of other human processes. We see everything as existing for our use, benefit and amusement. We no longer imagine anything is more powerful than we are. The monsters of our old stories can’t continue as monsters any more. We turn them into sex toys. If I thought this was a case of replacing violence with love, I’d be a good deal more comfortable. To me, it seems like yet another expression of how we like to knock mystery and hazard out of the world in order to better own it, tame it and contain it.