Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Supernatual Archetypes

Many of you know me from a message board attached to masqthephlsphr's wonderful site All Things Philosophical on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series. (ATPoBtVS&AtS) Over there I was lunasea.

Many of my essays on ATPoBtVS&AtS were based on Jungian theories. Some of these essays can be found in my memories at my livejournal:
More Angel,
more Buffy,

While you are there, you might want to check out my best and most personal Joss essay.
I'm not Damaged.

At the core of Jungian theory is the Collective Unconscious and the archetypes. These are defined as "the psychic component to instinct." Some of the forms they take are mother, teacher, healer, monster, and so on. Horror movies and literature hits us so hard because they tap into these archetypes.

As our views of the psyche have changed, so have the forms supernatural creatures take. Vampires and werecreatures haven't been defanged/declawed to make them more palatable. They have evolved as we have. Because of men like Dr. Jung, we are more aware of the unconscious. Our vamps don't have to spend half their time in death sleep, and our weres can be aware of and in control of what happens during their changed forms.

As our attitudes change, so do the forms the archetypes take. What needed to be expressed in repressed Victorian England isn't the same thing as what 21st century Man is dealing with. Post sexual revolution, sexuality isn't something we fear. In the Information Age, we aren't afraid our animal sides will take over. So what happens to how the archetypes are expressed?

In urban fantasy and paranormal romance, often the story is about how supernatural creatures interact with humans. This is best illustrated in Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series, where not only are supernatural creatures out of the closet, but the world itself is built on shifting periods of "magic" and "tech." This is also illustrated by the romance storylines where a human female and a male supernatural have to find a way to make their relationship work, often resisting their attraction at first. We do not fear sexuality or our animal sides, but we have yet to fully integrate these sides. Our stories represent this.

If this were all these stories did, there wouldn't be an entire sub-genre that is popular enough to do well in these hard economic times. These books aren't built on fear. They have more in common with Joss Whedon than Bram Stoker. They are not genre literature that typically is plot driven. UF/PN is strongly character driven and each one not only has a unique universe where their are different mixes of supernatural creatures who have different powers and weaknesses, but the characters deal with different issues.

The sub-genre is driven by women. We are the majority of writers, the majority of readers and the majority of characters. Despite the equality of men and women, we have different psyches. We evolved to be different, so our archetypes are different and we look for different things for our entertainment.

A main theme present in UF is freedom. Sexual freedom, illustrated by Riley Jensen and Anita Blake. Freedom from societal expectations, illustrated by Faythe Sanders. Freedom to chose who we want for a partner.

Another common theme is dealing with the hand you have been dealt, illustrated by Sookie Stackhouse, Anita Blake, Mercy Thompson, and Elena Michaels. As tired as i get of characters whining about being supernatural, they whine because part of their storyline is accepting this.

Another theme is an outsider fighting the system, even the one they are supposed to be part of, illustrated by Harry Dresden and Faythe Sanders. Sometimes it i someone who is different feeling like they are an outsider, illustrated by Kate Daniels and Mercy Thompson.

These are issues, even as evolved as our society is, that women are still facing. Often these issues are repressed, not because we want to repress women, but because we like to think of ourselves as having evolved to a state of actual equality. These are issues that will probably always be present to some degree in both sexes, but the popularity of this sub-genre shows that these issues are strongly in play currently, especially in women.