Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Demon Lover

The worst sort of demon lover has been around since storytelling, threaded through myths and folklore, gaining notoriety with the rise of the ballad, where supernatural lovers were lethal: The Elf knight who killed the daughters of seven kings. The devil who disguises himself as a dead husband to drag the bride to hell. The murderous Long Lankin who seduces the family's nanny into helping him kill. And then there are the denizens of fairy tales: the wealthy and charismatic Bluebeard who murdered his wives; the cannibalistic Robber bridegroom who lures young women to a blood-soaked cottage. In Greek myth, Hades, god of the underworld, steals Persephone, the daughter of a nature goddess and convinces her to remain with him for half of every year.

There is the demon lover in disguise, best presented in the form of Eros, the god of love, a force feared by many. Psyche must never see the face of her lover, he warns her. And, when she does, this causes a separation and the need for a quest to, literally, find love. There is the masked Phantom of the Opera, an elegant and tragic figure who haunts Christine the opera singer. In the Scottish ballad 'Tam Lin,' the perilous and seductive faery knight of the title turns out to be mortal after all. Eros is the rich boy with an empty life. The Phantom of the Opera is a talented man who was horribly wronged. Tam Lin was snatched away into a cold spirit realm.

The dark lover who is a beast with a heart of gold is often male, with the exception of Melusine, the half serpent, half woman fairy of the French tale. These beasts also inhabit myths and fairy tales. Zeus takes on the guise of a swan, a bull, and an eagle to seduce his lovers. The white bear in 'East of the Sun and West of the Moon' charms the sisters Rose Red and Snow White. And, of course, there is Beauty's Beast, under an enchantment because he was, formerly, a selfish bastard who angered a faery. The beast isn't wicked, only misunderstood and a little savage. He needs to be tamed.

Gothic literature was where the demon lover really began to thrive. Wuthering Heights' brutal Heathcliff. Jane Eyre's Mr. Rochester. Dracula. Keats's La Belle Dame Sans Merci , vampiric and alluring and based on the Greek Lamia. The dark lovers of these tales were forbidding and forbidden. Poets, the rock stars of that age, were in the same category.

The dark lover rules the universe of romance novels as the highlander in the kilt, the turn-of-the century rake, the noble savage, the guy in the band or the motorcycle gang. Like the beast, he always needs to be tamed. Without so much of an edge, he's the mainstay of YA novels. He or she is half human and half Other; vampire, angel, fairy, witch, ghost, alien. (Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl, Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, Cinder by Marissa Meyer.) The thrill of the relationship for the hero/heroine in the YA novel is finding an ally in an otherworldly force. It's empowerment.

In the silent film Phantom of the Opera, the phantom tells Christine, "So that which is good in me, aroused by your purity, may plead for your love." That's the basic tenant of the demon lover: evil attracted to innocence, darkness attracted to light. Apollo, chasing the nymph Daphne, is a devouring force of nature and would burn her to cinders. She knows this, and, to keep from losing herself, she becomes a tree, thus keeping her individuality, for the demon lover offers a loss of self, a return to the wild, an ecstasy of being more than human.

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