When Did Gaston Become ‘The One’? The Change In Romantic Leads In YA Paranormal Literature

*spoilers for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Meyer’s Twilight Saga, Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush and Kate’s Fallen*

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What is this 'Twilight' shit?

Remember in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, when Belle is practically besieged by that ‘boorish, brainless’ Gaston? Remember how he’s the handsomest, manliest, most desirable man in the village? And remember how Belle refused him and fell in love with the gentle, kind, caring, yet ugly Beast?

Whatever happened to Beauty and the Beast ideals in Young Adult fiction – particularly paranormal romances?

Passive, Romantic Heroines

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ZOMGSHINY!

Nowadays, heroines like Bella, Luce and Nora choose to be with men far too similar to Gaston (drop dead gorgeous, way too controlling, and no outside interests besides their woman!). All we ever read about is how they’re so in love with their boys for no reason other than their looks. Their romance scenes are so charged up with sexual tension, and neither has any outside interests apart from each other. There is never any mention of the boys being sensitive, patient, kind, caring, gentle, a good listener and a million other attributes girls should fall in love with boys for. It’s only ever about their looks. Their personalities are never desirable either: Edward terrifies Bella with his mood swings and controls her every movement; Daniel constantly keeps Luce in the dark and swings violently between hating her and kissing her in unfulfilled passion; and Patch is a psychopath stalker who wants to murder Nora. And the thing is, these girls are more than happy to fall into the role of ‘damsel in distress’.

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Hey, you're not my ShinyBoi. You smell like wet dog. Get away from me.

The girls I mentioned above aren’t in control of their own stories and are too often a victim of circumstance. They would never choose the same things Belle chose. Belle chose not the marry Gaston, to go after her father, to enter the castle and take his place; and then she chose not to go to dinner with the Beast which led to her choosing to leave the castle when he bellowed “Get out!” and ended up being attacked by wolves. Can you see Bella Swan making any of these brave choices?

Me either

And so the Lion fell in love with the Lamb... and it was tasty with mint sauce.

Me either.

She fell for the hottest guy in the village school before she even knew anything about his personality – and also, when she already had whiplash from his mood swings and his “Let’s be friends/actually you need to stay away from me.” Would Bella/Luce/Nora fall for Gaston?

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You're ugly. I can't love you. You respect me too much. And you're not even shiny.

Yes.

Asshole Heroes

And then there’s Gaston, who, once refused, tries to force Belle to marry him by putting Maurice in an insane asylum to force her hand. Gaston is just like the boys of YA paranormal romance I despise, trying to control the girl he wants, even if it impacts on her negatively. He doesn’t care beyond making Belle ‘his’ and he’ll do the most despicable thing to earn her: including eliminating the competition.

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"Gaston... Bruce Campbell called... He wants his chin back."

Now, while the love triangles in YA paranormal romance don’t often go to this extreme (the boys don’t often want to kill each other), they do play dirty. Edward gets his sister to kidnap Bella to keep her away from Jacob, and Daniel actually fights Cam, if my memory serves me right (I don’t remember it very well, because I’ve tried to wipe Fallen from my memory). Patch even sexually assaults Nora, and plots to kill her. What kind of a role model is this, who goes back to him after being mentally and emotionally abused? What kind of role models are Daniel and Patch and Edward to aspire to – men who tell their women what to do, emotionally abuse them, and control them as if they have no will and autonomy of their own?

Let me reiterate this to you, ladies of the 21st century: Assholes are not sexy.

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Assholes. NOT sexy. End of story.

Brooding Beasts

Where are all the boys who are more like the Beast? Someone who is gentle and caring and will let you go if you need to. Someone who waits for you. Someone who won’t abandon you no matter what, and has no interest in anyone else (romantically) besides you? A boy who will not try to control you (he let her go, didn’t he?) and after Belle ran away from the castle, I’m pretty sure (as in, I know) she came back of her own free will and chose to stay there. Even though the Beast says, “You’re no longer my prisoner,” she hadn’t been his prisoner for a long time. Sure, at first she was a prisoner, but even so, the Beast treated Belle with a lot more respect than a lot of YA boys do their own women. And what happens when Bella meets Jacob and Luce meets randomly-created-love-triangle-guy (had to look up his name, it’s Miles)? They’re both sweet, caring, lovable guys. In fact, Bella ends up falling in love with Jacob. She just loves Edward more. Because he’s shiny. And she’s a twit. Luce feels the need to kiss Miles even though she’s so sure she’s in love with Daniel – because he’s shiny. And she’s a twit. Are you seeing the pattern here?

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I don't know about you, but I always kinda preferred him this way. I think it's the cloak. Or maybe the horns.

Inevitable Love Triangles

Where is the beauty in falling for a gorgeous hunk of manliness who wants nothing more than claim you for his own? So he’s hot: does that give him the right to be a chauvinistic narcissistic prick? Some girls would love this: some girls aspire to be trophy wives. That’s fine, if it’s your thing. But I don’t want to see millions of girls reading these types of stories and thinking that the only thing they need to aspire to is to be in a relationship with some really hot guy with no personality.

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I love ME! Who do YOU love?

You know why these girls always end up in love triangles and genuinely can’t seem to choose for a while which guy they want? Because the ZOMGSHINYTRUELOVE4EVA guy isn’t really that great. That’s why Bella kisses Jacob, and Luce kisses randomly-created-love-triangle-guy (Miles). If Belle was as stupid as these YA heroines, she’d make out with Gaston for a while because ZOMG HE’S SO HOT!!!

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What do you mean, I'm not your type?! I'm EVERYONE'S type: I'm gorgeous!

Actually you know what? If you wanna be stupid and go fall in shallow, materialistic, looks-based love, go for it! You can take Gaston and become his baby factory to his ‘six or seven strapping boys’ and massage his stinky feet. I’ll live with a gentle, kind, caring man who turns out to be the prince that learned to love.

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You mean, you're not a big brooding beast? Oh OK, I'll still take you.

Ladies of YA paranormal romance, for the sake of my sanity, please find a real man that isn’t afraid to show you he cares, to open himself up, and can be a weathered rock in a storm. Give me a Beast any day and let the Gastons, Edwards, Daniels and Patchs go back to being an annoyance.

Posted on June 7, 2011, in The Wonderful World of Disney and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. I love this post.

  2. Excellent post. I think Belle is probably the only old Disney heroine who wasn’t either shallow or a brat.

  3. I love Beauty and the Beast. The notion of Belle being stupid enough to find Gaston appealing is perfectly revolting.

    On the plus side, Disney is so widely adored by kids (boys as well as girls) and adults (men as well as women) alike that it’s a powerful influence. It’s noteworthy that recent Disney heroines are intelligent, independent and tough – a far cry from the passive damsels of a few decades ago. As long as that trend continues… great. If Disney, too, starts turning out heroines that are stupid, shallow and weak and heroes that are controlling, violent and dense, we may as well just declare the world Over.

    I’m hoping for more ladies like Belle and Meg and Mulan. They all rock.

    • I feel that with the Renaissance now over and the boom in YA romance, girls of the next generation are being swamped with Bella-wannabes instead of Belle-wannabes. In the Renaissance and post-Renaissance, Disney did very good work with their heroines, making them brave and spunky. In fact, Rapunzel from Tangled is probably my favourite heroine from the past few years. Pre-renaissance, we were shown passive princesses like Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, who all needed to be rescued by their Princes. I was so glad when things started changing for the better. I feel now like we’re regressing in YA literature.

  4. Now as a guy who has been compared to beasts in the past I fell in love with this post, and not just because Lissa wrote it, but because it tackles an issue that a bunch of authors in recent years seem to be trending.

    Now I actually read the Twilight Saga and the first thing I thought was “GEEZUS! This is like a “How To” guide for grooming girls to be in abusive relationships. The whole “falling for a controlling douchebag” mentality of YA writers at large strikes me as massively, massively 1950’s stereotypical… It’s moronic.

    It’s actually gotten to a point where teenage girls that I know personally and consider friends are attaching themselves to guys because “they’re hot” and I cant help but think “you’re gonna get burned” whilst I stupidly say “It’s your choice”… Inevitably they get burned I think “I hate being right at times” whilst saying “How can I help”… Now this means that yes I’m a big softie but I don’t care about that it’s who I am, BUT what I do care about is that these books are basically setting girls up to be hurt because authors, and their editing teams, seem to be forgetting that these young teens are in fact very impressionable and take this stuff seriously….

    And I think I’ve ranted for quite long enough now and I’m going to end it just by saying I honestly cannot wait until this phase passes and girls will start looking at decent guys again so that they are less likely to get themselves hurt by emulating and idolising these, blatantly, screwed up relationship ideals.

    Archer

  5. This. SO MUCH. You articulated my thoughts about what disturbs me in YA paranormal lit so very well.

  6. I love this so very much. I still don’t understand how grown women (including my about-to-turn-40 sister-in-law) are all “ZOMG, EDWARD CULLEN!!!!”. It’s kind of terrifying…

    Incidentally, have you read Kelley Armstrong’s YA Darkest Powers trilogy?

    • I have not read anything by Kelley Armstrong yet, but I do intend to rectify that when my partner and I move back to Australia and I can start buying/borrowing books again.

  7. Rachel Russell

    This was the best rant I’ve read in a while. Amen, lady. I agree wholeheartedly.

  8. Great post, Lissa. You’ve articulated some of what I think about Twilight and other books like it. Bella and her ilk are terrible role models for girls, and Edward is a terrible role model for guys.

    Belle is my favourite Disney heroine, partly because she loves books. The picture of beast with the caption “I don’t know about you, but I always kinda preferred him this way. I think it’s the cloak. Or maybe the horns” made me laugh, because I’ve always preferred him in his beast form too. Even though I can’t help feeling that it sort of promotes bestiality, but oh well!

    • Bestiality? Maybe. I just think he’s cute, not ugly, and he’s got a magnificent voice. He’s kinda like a cross between a lion, a bison, and a dog. Also, I think they tried too hard with the prince version. It seems over-drawn and just looks a bit weird, especially his coloured lips.

      • Well you know… I know it doesn’t really promote it, and we (the audience) know he’s really a prince, but Belle doesn’t until he transforms, so she sort of does fall in love with an animal! But to be fair, it’s his character she falls in love with, and in terms of character, Beast is beautiful. One of my favourite scenes is the one where Belle and Beast are out in the snow, and you see his sweet side starting to emerge.

        I think the prince looks all wrong, his lips (as you said) and his nose especially. I’m very particular about noses. Perhaps it’s slightly judgemental/anal but I will sometimes decide how much I like a person based on their nose.

        • Exactly. Belle has no idea he’s really a prince. Maybe she guessed something horrible had happened to the castle to make everything transform – after all, he’s only been transformed for around 10 years, and he’s a prince in a castle within walking distance of a village. Surely the village remembers having a prince only a decade ago? Obviously Belle doesn’t know about it.
          If you like the snow scene, you might enjoy the ‘sequel’ – Belle’s Magical Christmas – which is set during the winter they were falling in love. Not really a sequel, more like an untold story. It’s really predictable but I enjoyed it (because I love Beauty and the Beast).

  9. ^^Seems a bit more like furries to me, since the Beast can talk.

    • The man I ended up engaged to is built like the Beast with long dark hair and a temper and personality to match. Maybe he’s what I wanted ever since I was a kid watching Disney. *shrugs*

  10. Excellent rant. I guess “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance” applies to feminism too…

  11. Fantabulous post! Everything you said = So very true. And I had a little chuckle to myself because I realised my MMC love interest starts off as a beast and is turned into a man in the end and it didn’t even occur to me that I was doing a Beauty and the Beast.

    Also, I remember almost nothing from Fallen and Hush Hush. I must have scrubbed them from my memory too.

    • That is so awesome, Sari! I started off deliberately offering a choice for my heroine between a Gaston and a Beast, although at the time I didn’t realise. I’m so glad you wrote a Beast-like character, even if you didn’t realise it. We certainly need more of them.

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