Thursday, February 26, 2009

Drifting to the Dark Side

by Nancy

I was seriously tempted to blame this blog on Anna Campbell.  Her tortured heroes and tormented heroines make for darker reading (although fabulous!) than I usually think of when romance comes to mind, and I find myself reading darker books lately than I once did.   The change struck me when I finished Tempt the Devil.  I loved it but realized it was a far darker book than I'd thought of myself as liking.   When I looked back, however, I realized my drift toward the Dark Side of the Force started a long time ago.  I just didn't stop to recognize it.   Today I'm going to trace that drift.  As you read, please think of your own preferences and what shaped them because we'll come back to that later.

Here are some springboard questions:  Do you prefer Fitzwilliam Darcy or Heathcliff?  Georgette Heyer's Marquis of Alverstoke or Charlotte Bronte's Mr. Rochester?  Luke Skywalker or Han Solo?  Aragorn or Acheron?  Superman or Batman?  Stargate SG-1 or Battlestar Galactica? Hugh Jackman as Leopold in Kate and Leopold or as Wolverine in X-Men?  Hugh Jackman as Whoever?

Once upon a time, I would have chosen the first option, the less tormented one, in every one of the questions.  Heyer's Earl of Worth (Regency Buck) was about as dark as I wanted to go.  Somewhere along the way, something happened.  My tastes have been going darker for a long time, but I just didn't notice.  It was sort of like drifting on a raft in the ocean and suddenly realizing the shore had receded.

I think it started when a college friend gave me a copy of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  She was appalled that I, who so loved comic books and science fiction, had never read it.  If you've read the books or seen the films, you know this is not a story of sweetness and light.  Frodo struggles with the ring and ultimately succumbs to its lure.  Boromir, a hero of his people, falls from grace in attempting to steal it, only to redeem himself by dying in vain for Merry and Pippin.  At the end, Frodo finds that the peaceful, pastoral Shire holds no peace for him.  I hated that ending and still do, but somewhere along the way, I came to see it as right.  I can't tell you how many times I've read that trilogy.  I've lost count.

In high school, I hated and despised Wuthering Heights.  I still wouldn't go so far as to say I like it.  Neither Cathy nor Heathcliff is likely to be anyone's BFF, and I can't see either of them as pleasant company.  Yet I now find the story compelling and the character study fascinating.  I admire the book despite its dark undercurrents.

A lot of the 1980s romance novels were very dark in their sexuality and in the characters' experiences.  I read many of those books and have kept a handful all this time (Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss, for example because Ruark was so great even though Shanna was a brat for most of the book).   I read plenty of books with less tormented characters--everything I could find by Patricia Rice, Mary Jo Putney, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, and Jayne Ann Krentz's various incarnations, to list just a few.  These characters had experiences ranging from the painful to the horrible, but they mostly weren't brutal, as in those 80s books.  Of course, a lot of the brutal things that happened in those earlier books didn't seem to have realistic aftermaths for the characters, which made them slightly unreal and perhaps less disturbing than they would have been a newspaper story.  As I write this, I'm realizing that the books I kept didn't have a lot of physical or sexual brutality and had the hero and heroine with each other and no one else.

Then there're the late Dame Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles.  Francis Crawford of Lymond could be the poster boy for tortured heroes.  I made it halfway through the first book, The Game of Kings, and phoned the friend who'd given it to me for Christmas.  "Is there anybody in this book besides this blind girl I'm going to like?" I asked, after a more tactful leadup.  There was a short silence, and she replied, "Well, I can't promise, of course, but I think if you keep reading you'll be glad you did."  Oh.  My.  Word.  The last hundred pages or so turned everything inside out, and I adored Lymond, who had come across as a serious jerk until then.  I bought the other five massive paperbacks, reading every spare minute, reading before work, through lunch lunch, reading far into the night, and finished them all in under week. (No, I didn't have much of a life beyond work then.)  When my mom and I went to England, I found the equally massive hardbacks at Foyle's bookstore and lugged them home in my suitcase.

Science fiction and fantasy did their part in leading me toward darker waters.   Elizabeth Haydon's Rhapsody series is extremely well done but isn't for the squeamish.  As I reached the halfway mark in the first book, Rhapsody, I found myself wondering why I was still reading and concluded it was because I had to know what happened.  Even in comic books, the stories I found most engaging were the ones in which the heroes had the most to overcome.  Which may explain the appeal of Battlestar Galactica, which I don't love the way Trish does but can't seem to stop watching anyway.  Yet if I had to list preferences in TV shows, I'd pick Stargate SG-1 or Heroes (which has taken a definite darker turn) over BSG despite giving BSG credit for grittier, more intricate plotting and characters, and how strange is that?

Then there are the Dark-Hunters.  I put off reading this series because I had an unfortunate feeling that liking them would lead to obsessive serial reading, as with Lymond.  It did.  And the comic book geek in me wants to read in order, a habit with problems of its own if the next book doesn't happen to be in the store.  Every one of the dark-hunters died a horrible death.  That's part of their motivation.  And Acheron himself had a life brutal beyond horror.  But I asked for and got his book for Christmas and had devoured it by Boxing Day.

I can no longer deny that I've drifted far from the bright shore and into the dark ocean.  I still love books that don't feature such heavy torment. The banditas run the gamut of light to dark, and the other books I've read in the last year fall i varying points on that spectrum.  In fact, those less brutal books are still the bulk of my reading.  The characters still have things to overcome.  I think that would be called conflict.   It doesn't have to be vicious, but it does have to be deep and difficult.  So maybe that's the answer, that I like the triumph after the arduous struggle and, with age, have come to appreciate the darker side of it more than I once did.

So, getting back to our original questions--I pick Darcy over Heathcliff, Alverstoke over Rochester, Luke over Han (with respectful raspberries to Joan and Beth), Acheron over Aragorn by an molecule, SG-1 over BSG, Superman over Batman, and Wolverine over Leopold.  With a serious nod to the "Hugh Jackman as Whoever" option.

What about you?  Do you gravitate more toward lighter or darker books?  What are your favorites in either category?


Donna MacMeans said...

Baby come back! The bird lands in Ohio again! I think...I think...

I'm still basking on that sunny shore, Nancy. My picks are Darcy, Alverstoke, Han Solo, Aragon, SG-1, Superman, and (sigh) Leopold.

But tastes change over time. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

Plus I'm doing tax returns - I NEED the lighter side (grin).

Tawny said...

heehee - nice snag Donna.

LIght and dark... I would have said without hesitation that I lean toward the light, except you put LOTR in there. I love that series and really never thought of it as dark, so now I have to think. I loved Anna's TTD, too, but didn't think of it as dark either.

So let me change my answer. I read light - in contemporary. In paranormal or historical, my tastes differ. Probably, if I had to analyze it, because those sub-genres are less likely to make me worry about it being real in my day to day life. Sauron was evil, but I'm not too concered that an ork is going to beat down my door. A mad rapist who sneaks into the backseat of cars at the mall? Yeah, that is gonna freak me out.

Jane said...

I like both, but I prefer darker stories. I love stories that are gritty, gory and leave nothing to the imagination. My favorite dark reads include books by Allison Brennan, Karen Rose and Pamela Clare. I also enjoy light reads when I'm in the mood for something uncomplicated. My favorite authors for light reads are Elaine Fox, Susan Andersen and Rachel Gibson.

Congrats on the GR, Donna.

Joan said...

Man, if only I hadn't been caught up in the darker world of Gena Showalter's VAMPIRE'S BRIDE I might have gotten the birdy down here.

I gravitate toward a good book. Be it lighter, be it darker if the story grabs me, if I care about the characters...I'm there. I like to mix it up though as too much dark at a time weighs on my brain too much. (I'm with you Tawny, not likely that an ORC will knock down my door but ever since reading Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooter book (title slips my midnight brain)with the serial killer in Maine? Eyelids in Tupperware? Kidnapped somebody dressed as a NURSE?'ve never SEEN anyone lock their car door after getting in faster since then.

Han Solo and Wolverine all the way!


limecello said...

Congrats on the GR, Donna!!

And you got in an entire comment too! ;)
My tastes change as well - depends on my mood, and all that jazz. I've always love a good, angsty hero though. Note, there's a difference between angst and whining. Like one, can't stand the other. I'm an equal fan of both.

jo robertson said...

Oh, Nancy, I do love the dark and tortured heroes. Heathcliff, Mr. Rochester -- I love how they've come to the dark places in their lives, initially through no real fault of their own, but later through their personal decisions and torments.

And Hugh Jackman as Wolverine -- definitely!!! Except I truly loved him singing and dancing his way through the Oscars this week. What a man!

Helen said...

Congrats Donna enjoy your day with him he has had a few Tim Tams and has been playing with the Babies today.

I too loves Tempt The Devil but I like all different types of books I read Shana and all of Kathleen Wodiwiss's books and loved them all. I would say I am with Tawny and Joanie if the story grabs me I love it no matter whether it is dark or light for a long time I only read historicals but have branched out into some paranormals and have really enjoyed them and am reading lots more genres. I still haven't read a vampire one yet they just don't seem to call to me but I won't say I won't read one.
My picks Han Solo and Leopold I haven't seen any of the X-Men movies.

Have Fun

Treethyme said...

Ooh, lucky Donna -- I can feel the GR vibes reaching out to me across Ohio!

Okay. This is a subject I've been thinking about a lot recently. Like you, reading Tempt the Devil made me realize that I really do lean toward the darker books these days: Anna's books, the darker books by Anne Stuart and Linda Howard, the J.R. Ward books, and so on. I don't know why, I guess maybe because I'm older, I want to read about people who are more flawed than perfect, more tortured than perky. But maybe that's just me.

Nancy said...

Donna, you snagged the bird! Are you going to teach him to use a calculator?

Yep, you're still sunnier, except for Han. Aragorn lost out to Acheron with me mainly based on the books. If I had to evaluate the movies, it might have to be a tie.

I feel for you on the tax returns. The dh and I are so grateful to have people like you around--you know, people who can sort through all those forms and come out with the actual tax owed or not.

Keep that bird busy! *g*

Nancy said...

Tawny, that's an interesting distinction--contemporary versus historical. The dark-hunters are contemporary but paranormal. LOTR and Rhapsody are pre-industrial worlds with epic fantasy. Lymond, of course, is historical, starting out in Scotland and going all the way to Russia before winding up in Scotland again.

I wouldn't say TTD is dark in the same way Acheron or the dark-hunter books are in that there's no ugly violence, but I think the characters' pasts, especially Olivia's and the hopelessness it gives her, are. Lymond, whom Anna Campbell and I both love, had a horrible life during the time he was away from Scotland, and his romantic conflict is similar to Ash's in that he doesn't feel worthy of the woman he loves.

What she does in response is amazing and ends up with them both in torment, but I'm not telling.

LOTR is dark to me in the strong presence of evil, as symbolized by the Nine Riders and the Ring itself and in the grim situations the characters constantly face. I wouldn't say it's dark in the same way a horror novel is.

It'll be interesting, too, to see what different takes people have on what constitutes light or dark.

Nancy said...

Jane, I think the suspense authors you mention are great, but they're too intense for me. Maybe it's Tawny's contemporary/historical realism distinction. I'm not as familiar with the others, but I enjoy Susan Andersen, too.

Nancy said...

Joan, I read Gena Showalter's "Darkest" trilogy, the one based on Greek mythology, and it's another example of my drift to the dark side. Those books are intensely dark with horror elements, but I devoured them.

I knew you would pick Han. :-)

Nancy said...

Limecello, there certainly is a difference between angst and whining. The latter is a wall-banger.

Some (certainly not all) chick-lit had a whiny tone, and that was one problem I had with that subgenre. I always had to read a bit before plunking down the money.

Nancy said...

Jo, I missed the Oscars. I was mired in revisions. I heard Jackman was fabulous. I also read that he went up and down the aisles during commercial breaks passing out cookies. Since he brought our beloved TimTams to Oprah, I wondered whether that was what he passed around.

I had more sympathy for Heathcliff, but Rochester had to do penance for his choices in the end, which redeemed him, I think. I'm doing a lecture on vampires tomorrow and read a book that said vampires were often not considered to be at fault in becoming vampires. Turning someone into a vampire is a relatively new aspect of that tradition.

Speaking of vampires, Robin McKinley's Sunshine is the first vampire book I actively liked. The vampires are grotesque and awful, except for the hero, who is still distinctly not human. The heroine is kidnapped by vampires to be bait for the hero, who declines to eat her. When she escapes, she frees him as well. In daylight, which is lethal to him. I'm not sayin' how, and they gradually develop a romantic attraction--but no HEA. I really like this book and have taught it 3 times, but I am not generally a fan of vampire books. It's shelved in Horror, for anyone who's interested.

Jackman's Wolverine is more to my taste than the one in the comic book. But I prefer Scott (Cyclops) to end up with Jean--going for the light on that one. Except they killed him in the movies, though not in the comic, last time I looked.

Tawny said...

It'll be interesting, too, to see what different takes people have on what constitutes light or dark.

Realism. Thats a good term, Nancy. I also like how you define the darkness of LOTR. To me, thats the perfect foil for the light - the hope, that story embodies. True good and true evil and all the shades in between. In a nice middle earth, safe not gonna take over my cozy life kind of way *g*

Nancy said...

Helen, I think you'll have a fair amount of company in the lair with your picks. I read a lot of historicals, too.

Nancy said...

Treethyme, J.R. Ward is very popular in the lair, also. I do think age has changed my worldview and has made me more receptive to the darker elements in stories.

Nancy said...

Tawny, you make a good point about the darkness in LOTR being the foil for the light. They leave the sunny Shire for the darkness of Mordor and eventually return, but changed.

Tom Shippey, who holds one of Tolkien's former chairs, wrote J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, in which he argues that part of LOTR's appeal is the struggle, the temptation the Ring presents for some of the characters, and I think I agree with that. Absent that, it would all be too . . . simple, somehow.

Like The Hobbit, which I immensely enjoyed but seldom re-read. It doesn't have the depth and texture, probably because it was envisioned as a children's story.

An excellent book about Tolkien is John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War: The Road to Middle Earth. It talks about Tolkien's experiences on the western front as well as the losses Britain and Tolkien himself experienced as a result of the war. All but one of Tolkien's closest school friends died in the war, and at least one died on the first morning of the Somme.

Anna Campbell said...

Donna, the Rooster has landed!

Nancy, ever since I first read your post, I've started wearing long black cloaks and a plastic black bucket over my head. Not to mention I've started to breathe like a grampus. Could I be Dork Vader???!!!

Yanno, I know it's kind of cheating but I like 'em all! Depends how I'm feeling. Sometimes I want champagne sorbet. Sometimes I want rare roast beef. What's nice is that in Romancelandia right now, I can get them both. Yum!

Thanks for all the positive strokes for TTD, people! Perhaps I'm just hyperventilating with pleasure at all the nice things you're saying and I'm really Dork Skywalker and not Dork Vader at all! Actually that book felt tremendously dark as I wrote it - accessing the emotions that Olivia went through as she tried to come to terms with her past (and imagining that past as fully as I had to to write the darn story), that really did take me into some shadowy realms.

Hey, Nancy, lovely to see Lymond getting a wrap. I still think they're the best books I ever read!

Christine Wells said...

Hi Nancy, what a great post. I'm like Joanie--whether I like light or dark depends largely on my mood and on the skill of the author.

I suppose I often enjoy novels that tread that line between serious undercurrents and flippancy, wit or humour. Jenny Crusie often tackles serious subjects that way. Liz Carlyle has wonderful light and shade in her novels, as does Loretta Chase. But if I'm in the mood, I love reading Anne Stuart or JD Robb and if I'm in the mood I can equally chuckle along to PG Wodehouse or Heyer.

Personally, I'm starting to write darker because they're the stories that are coming to me at the moment. I do love me some good banter, though!

Wow, Donna, you're hot tonight! Oh, and you won the rooster, too:)

Anna Sugden said...

Fascinating post, Nancy. I'm a split personality in that I love both.

I adore romcom and light woowoo paranormal and any romance with lines that make me smile (like our very own Beth Andrews' snark!) but I also love dark RS/thrillers - Allison Brennan, Mariah Stewart, Debra Webb, Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Gardner to name a few.

*sigh* Am I going to have to admit to never having read Sherrilyn or JR Ward? I've tended to steer clear of dark paranormals, but I keep being told their work is fab.

Like you, Nancy, I have to read in order. So, this could be a problem for me.

But, I'm equally at home with a Sandra Hill as an Anne Stuart. Perhaps my mood does drive what I read, but with my favourites, I just read! My debate at the moment is between SEP and Mariah Stewart.

Darcy, Hans Solo and Batman, definitely. My fave Hugh Jackman role is Van Helsing *drool*.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

I think after studying on it that I like the lighter with side trips to the dark side. Loved Anna's TTD, waiting for J.R.Ward's next book too, but I don't live on the darkside, just visit now and again.

Caren Crane said...

Donna, I can't believe YOU got the chook! I need to go see which way the Earth is spinning...

Okay, I'm back. *g* Light or dark, huh? I think it all depends on what's going on in my life at any given moment. I have read some very dark books, mostly at the recommendation of my mother. Apparently, she can't get enough of the VDBs. These are not romances, for the most part, but literary fiction. Every time I finish one, I recognize its power then pick up something frothy to counteract it. Some confection like a Julia Quinn. *g*

I always preferred Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester and all those dark, stormy heroes who made my young heart swoon. I married one of those brooding, slightly distant types of men, in fact. Truth be told, they're a bit hard to live with. *g* I wouldn't trade mine for anything, but it's a challenge.

So, sometimes I like to read (and write) about men who are strong, yet loving and affectionate. Men who are willing to abase themselves for love and admit they are wrong (every once in a while). I do prefer Han to Luke, but Han and I would have had some very loud arguments. *g*

Caren Crane said...

Dianna, I enjoy side trips to the Dark Side, too, but I keep running toward the Light! *g*

Terry Odell said...

On my way out of town to SleuthFest, a mystery writer's conference, but I saw the topic here and was a tad puzzled by 'dark side'. At the moment, I'm halfway through Anna's book, and I don't find it the least bit "dark". Sure, it's not a light comedy (but I don't read many of those either), but I like a bit of angst in my characters. Sometimes I like a lot of angst. But that doesn't say "dark" necessarily. Maybe I have a different standard.

Then again, maybe things will take a turn down a more shadowed path in the next section.

Nancy said...

Do I hear a strident. bass march in a minor key? Da da DUM da d'dum da d'dum. *g*

Anna, you are not Dork Anything! Get real.

You wrote: Actually that book felt tremendously dark as I wrote it - accessing the emotions that Olivia went through as she tried to come to terms with her past.

I think that's one reason I don't write darkness very much. It's a hard place to go. As you note, the writer has to go into it fully, explore it, and carry it around for a while to produce what appears on the page. And books that dwell there are very hard to read. In TTD, the darkness is more of a motif, like a countermelody running through a song. It's there, but it's only occasionally the dominant strain.

I ran across Dunnett's website, which says the Lymond books were tweaked slightly (my word, not hers) before being reissued. I haven't read the reissue, so I'm not sure what that means. Those books require a serious time commitment, but I think they're worth it.

Nancy said...

Thanks, Christine. Glad you liked it.

Both of your books to date had some darkness in the characters' pasts, and the sneak preview in the back of The Dangerous Duke does look like it's a bit darker in tone (I liked it, as you may remember). Liz Carlyle mainly seems to put it there also, but I agree that she mixes the shades beautifully.

We love Jeeves. I'm thinking the time has come to introduce the boy to Jeeves and Wooster.

At one time, my goal was to find Heyer in hardback. A number of the books I've lugged back from the UK were hers, many of them bookclub editions. They won't outlast me, but they're not exactly what the boy will be looking to keep when everything becomes his, anyway. Sourcebooks (hi, AC!) is reissuing them in very nice trade paper editions, so I'm looking to fill in holes.

Nancy said...

Anna S., glad you liked the post. Paranormal in general seems to be going darker, these days.

I watched part of Van Helsing on TV, but it ran too late for me to see it all. I may pick it up and show it to my class this morning, as part of the vampires discussion.

Nancy said...

Dianna, I love a good romantic comedy, too. And I prefer not to spend too long in the dark waters. After spending some time there, I want something lighter. I frequently turn to cozy mysteries for that, too.

Nancy said...

Caren, I'm sure you would set Han straight. You would probably also be an asset in keeping the Millennium Falcon in the air.

I can't handle literary fiction. It's too much of a downer for me, so I admire your perseverance in reading it.

Nancy said...

Terry, I think light and dark is sometimes a matter of degree and of perception. And, as I told Tawny, we may all have different takes on where the line is.

Have a great time at Sleuthfest. I hear it's great.

Nancy said...

I teach today and have prep to do, so I'll be gone for a while. I'll try to pop in before class, though.

I really do recommend Sunshine, by Robin McKinley. She started out writing YA fantasy and won the Newbery for The Hero and the Crown. Now she mostly writes YA, but this book has been in print for years despite not having a sequel. It's a dark book, and the heroine struggles with the darkness and light within her, but the ending is very upbeat. It has magic, paranormal creatures, and a twist on the traditional vampire concept.

Louisa Cornell said...

Oooh, Donna! Apparently the GR wanted to crunch some numbers - or maybe a stray tim tam or brownie or two! Congrats!

I do love the dark side! TTD takes you to some dark places right up to the end. Love it! And hey, you can't get any darker than Kylemore and Verity.

I love Rochester slightly more than Heathcliff. Heathcliff needed a few back of the head slaps at times.

Definitely Han over Luke.

Can't pick between Aragorn and Acheron. I LOVE them both. And I am a HUGE Dark Hunter fan. Have 'em all. Love 'em all.

Batman over Superman - I love heroism that rises out of pain.

Wolverine all the way, although Kate and Leopold is one of my favorite movies.

Then again, there are times I love the lighter side of romance. The Undead and Unwed series is a hoot!

Darcy will always be my pick, but I am a big fan of Heyer and I too am in the process of collecting all of her books in hardback.

And I've started C.S. Harris's Sebastian St. Cyr series (thank you La Campbell !) Great darker hero there!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Interesting post, Nancy.

Let's Phantom of the Opera I would have gone with Phantom hands down!

I really, really loved Boromir and Aragon.

Give me Zarek and all the Dark Hunters, the more tortured the better. Oh and Zadist from the Brotherhood series!! Want me to love your hero...torture him and make him darkness...tempt me...

Oh wait...I love darkness, what am I saying? That should be a Duh moment.

But I also love heroes that make you believe in right over dark, HEA...the kind of guy who can see the soul of the heroine no matter what she looks like, no matter her faults.

Trish Milburn said...

Well, you know I love the darker stories. My music preferences also often trend toward the darker (goth rock/heavy metal/grinding rock). After all, I saw Seether last night, who was one of the opening bands for Nickelback.

When the new Battlestar Galactica came out, I heard lots of rumblings of discontent from fans of the cheesy original series. Don't get me wrong -- there's room for cheesy too. But this new incarnation was just so awesome! Dark, with social commentary, and Starbuck and Boomer were girls! And they could still fly a mean Raptor.

Anna Sugden said...

Are you allowed to drool in front of your pupils, Nancy? Because Hugh in Van Helsing gear is simply divine!

Louisa - OMG - that's exactly how I feel about Heathcliff!!

Thinking about this a bit more ... I like dark books with a hint of the light side to them too. One of my favourites is PC Cast's Goddess of Spring. I also like light books with a hint of the dark side - Terri Garey's Nicki Styx series (Sammy is totally drool-worthy!).

I think this is why I like JD Robb - her books are dark, but there is some lightness within.

Trish Milburn said...

Anna S., embrace the dark paranormal! They're awesome.

Nancy, I loved Sunshine and wanted desperately for there to be a sequel.

Virginia said...

Congrats Donna on nabbing that bird! Have a good day with him!

I am with everyone else I read both. Although I think I read more toward the dark side, because I like flaw characters. I just finished Tempt the Devil and loved it. My taste in books have changed over the years. I do switch around a lot in my reading. I have been reading historicals for a while now so I am go to read a mystery next. As long as a book is well written and the story grabs me, I will read it.

Helen as far as vampire books go try Blood Moon by Dawn Thompson. I am not big into vampire books but I loved this one.

p226 said...

I've read the extremes in dark, and I've read the extremes in bright. What I've found is that constantly reading the dark begins to affect the prism through which you view the world. A dark book lays a thin layer of window-tinting over that prism. A bright book removes a layer. If you read the dark all the time, your prism becomes like obsidian.

An old Cherokee Indian was speaking to his grandson:

"A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy. "It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil--he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good -- he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too."

The grandson thought about it for a long minute, and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

Am I condemning dark books? Absolutely not. Like all things, there should be balance. If everything one read was all sunshine and daisies, one might wind up with a prism that's too light. One that ignores the dark realities that lurk in the shadowy corners of the world. I think that's the route to blissful ignorance, which can be a real problem when you're actually confronted with darkness.

As for my favorite in either category, I'm not sure I can name them. Though I can point out the extremes.

The darkest book I've ever read:
Johnny Got his Gun by Dalton Trumbo.

The brightest book I've ever read:
Return to Love by Marrianne Williamson

catslady said...

I can honestly say I've always been drawn to the dark side. I'm one of the few romance readers that does not require a HEA. I don't like predictable either lol. I just love LOTR. And like you said, Hugh Jackman as anyone!!!

I consider inspirationals and some contemporary and chick lit as light and really not my first picks in reading. You all have mentioned a lot of what I consider the dark side and I've either read or want to read most of those.

Janga said...

Either-or choices always make me crazy because I think about all the things that fall between the two extremes. I love light books. Rachel Gibson and Kristan Higgins are among my autobuys. I love some dark books. I feel sure Anna's Tempt the Devil will end up on my best reads of 2009 list, and Connie Brockway's All Through the Night is an all-time favorite. I buy Anne Stuart's books because I think she is a marvelous writer, but I sometimes wait to read them until my own life is mostly sunshine.

Most of my favorites are in-between, a substantive blend of light and dark without edging into darkness beyond my tolerance level. I stopped reading Elizabeth George, for example, after With No One as Witness. Some places I just don't want to go.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, thanks, guys! I'm feelin' the love! Thanks, Janga, Dianna, Virginia, Terry and Louisa! Mwah!

Joan said...

p226, I swear you constantly amaze me with your insights and philosophies.

I bet if you did a geneology search you'd find out you were related to Plato.

How do you feel about baklava :-)

Pat Cochran said...

Great subject, I find I tend to go
toward the light. (Not that Light,
I'm not ready to reach the "Great
Beyond!") Back to the subject: I'm
the person who couldn't finish
Peyton Place, just haven't decided
if it was because it was so corny or the subject matter! I love Anna
Campbell's books but that seems to
be as dark as I want to go. I just
read a book in which demons were
munching on their victims, that
was more than I cared to read!! I
did finish the book, though! I am
selecting Alverstoke, Skywalker,
Superman, & Stargate. The others
I could go either way!

Pat Cochran

Joan said...

I just
read a book in which demons were
munching on their victims, that
was more than I cared to read!!

I hear you Pat. But for the dark reads like this to be "acceptable" the author has to develop the characters. Make me care and know the inner turmoil of the vampire who has no qualms about sucking his enemies dry...there has to be a reason BASED in goodness to make it worth reading.

There has to be an "essence" of the form of goodness. Isn't that right Plato-226?


jo robertson said...

Treethyme, me too!! I think age does have something to do with it. If the characters have small flaws, from my great age LOL, I realize they're simply minor things that passing time with iron out anyway.

I like to see a flaw or conflict that requires great strength or character to overcome.

I'm a great fan of JR Ward too. What she does with her world building is awesome and the Brotherhood is nothing if not tortured!

Joan said...

I'm a great fan of JR Ward too.

I think JR does a magnifienct job of developing the characters of the Brothers. You feel me?


She takes men broken into hundreds of pieces but still bound together by duty and honor and dignity. Their heroines truly are their saving grace.

jo robertson said...

Well, I think that's the trouble so many readers of Wuthering Heights have about Heathcliff. He never really is redeemed. It's definitely not a romance. In fact, he becomes darker and more wicked as the novel goes on.

And it was a one-book wonder LOL. But then, again, Emily Bronte was only 30 when she died, so maybe there would've been more.

jo robertson said...

You do bring up a good point, Christine. Often what I write is not what I read. And writing has to come from the muse; sometimes she's just not in a happy, light, "perky" (as Treethyme) said.

p226 said...

Hahaha, I've never considered what the "P" in P226 might stand for. I have to say, I honestly don't know.

Cassondra might.

Surely it doesn't stand for Plato. Does it?

Claudia Dain said...

What an interesting post, Nancy.

I'm another LOTR junkie, but since I tend to slot books by tone and theme (accent on theme), I see LOTR as hopeful. So, they don't fall on the dark side for me. Dark moments, but not a dark ride.

Does this make sense to anyone but me? *G*

That said, I can go either way on dark and light characters and basic set-up; it's the theme that will decide the issue for me and the general tone in which the story is told.

I prefer light. I want hope. I want a resolution I can feel good about.

Cathy and Heathcliff? Go jump off a cliff already. The theme is dark. There is no hopeful and uplifting resolution. They are caught in a mutually destructive relationship; I really don't want a front row seat for that show.

Joan said...

Surely it doesn't stand for Plato. Does it?

Um, I'm kind of thinking it does...or SHOULD.

Feta cheese? Moussaka?

Nancy said...

Louisa wrote: Batman over Superman - I love heroism that rises out of pain.

That's a great way to put it. Superman aspires to protect and cherish while Batman acts to prevent and avenge. Batman took a more darker, vengeful tone in the '70s and '80s, when he really was the Dark Knight.

He's a more complex character than Superman, I think.

Nancy said...

Suz wrote: the kind of guy who can see the soul of the heroine no matter what she looks like, no matter her faults

The perfect hero, no matter his milieu! Well said, Suz.

Nancy said...

Trish, I'll grant you that this incarnation of BSG is better. It's just done better all around, including the writing. It's just a little too grim for me, even though I watch it regularly. I realize this is strange.

Nancy said...

Anna, drooling at the front of the room is discouraged. :-) But I'll grant you that Hugh Jackman in Van Helsing gear looks way cool.

Nancy said...

Virginia, I read a different genres, too. I've kind of given up on literary books because of the way most of them end, but I'll read one if I'm assured it doesn't have a downer ending.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

What a FUN post, Nancy!

And congrats on getting the GR, Donna! Put him to work on that 10 key.

What can I say? I'm a Rom Suspense gal, I embraced my dark side long ago. ;-) I LURVE to torture my characters, mentally and physically, and give me a tortured hero to redeem any day!

But do NOT give me dark, darker, darkest WITHOUT my HEA! I must have my light at the end of the tunnel, and it better not be that oncoming train. :-P

Dark is great, as long as I have the perspective of the HEA from which to enjoy it.


Nancy said...

p226, I like the Cherokee story. I do think there has to be a balance and that ignoring the darkness or wallowing in it an skew one's worldview.

I used to have a job in which I dealt primarily with people's misery all day. At the end of the day, I wanted something less grim than what came across my desk.

Maybe being away from that job for so long opens me to darker books than I used to like.

Nancy said...

catslady, I'm okay with not HEA also as long as the ending is upbeat.

I came to love the LOTR movies, though the first time we saw Fellowship, I spent a lot of time noticing what wasn't there. The second time, I was over that and could just enjoy it.

Nancy said...

Janga, I left off Elizabeth George, too, because I wasn't happy with the direction the books were taking. I'll probably check them out again, though, just to see.

Nancy said...

Pat, I can do without graphic munching by demons or other paranormal creatures, too.

I noticed that you could go either way on several. Some of them were hard choices, for me, too, but I figured I'd better pick since I was tossing them out. *g*

Nancy said...

Joan, I agree that I have to care about the characters in a dark book, or it just doesn't work for me.

Nancy said...

Jo, I'd agree that Wuthering Heights is not a romance. It has no HEA and no prospect of one. As you say, Heathcliff is never redeemed. Though the movie version I saw, lo, these many years ago made a desperate effort to get to HEA by showing the ghosts of Heathcliff and Cathy romping on the moor.

Kind of lost it the points I'd awarded for having Timothy Dalton as Heathcliff. :-/

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

TICD said: "Cathy and Heathcliff? Go jump off a cliff already. The theme is dark. There is no hopeful and uplifting resolution. They are caught in a mutually destructive relationship; I really don't want a front row seat for that show."

TOTALLY AGREE with you! Seen enough mutually destructive relationships in real life. But as Jo-Mama points, Ms. Bronte may have gotta around to a more uplifting story if she'd lived that long.

Still demanding her HEA!

Nancy said...

Glad you liked the post, Claudia. You wrote: I'm another LOTR junkie, but since I tend to slot books by tone and theme (accent on theme), I see LOTR as hopeful. So, they don't fall on the dark side for me. Dark moments, but not a dark ride.

Does this make sense to anyone but me? *G*

I think it does. LOTR is, in the end, a hopeful story, though elements like the passing of the Elves and the choice of Arwen, as well as Frodo's departure, are bittersweet. And the books have more light moments than the films do.

Nancy said...

Thanks, AC. I also find darkness easier to deal with if it leads to HEA or something positive. If the characters are just going to suffer, with no payoff--well, there must be a rerun of JAG or NCIS or West Wing running on some channel that I'd prefer to reading that doom and gloom.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey Nancy! Great post. Congrats on the GR, Donna! Whoohoo!

I'm fairly well entrenched on the Dark Side, although I confess to liking Darcy, Alverstoke, Han, Aragorn, SG-1, Batman and Wolverine. Well, acutally my darling Hugh can act in anything he wants and I'll watch. OH yes, I like to watch...(Anyone see Being There?)


Anyway, I think its odd that I'm such an optimist, very sunny and positive in outlook, but I read a lot of very dark fodder, and write it too. One of my former crit partners once said that "Unless there's at least a quart of blood spilled in the first ten pages, it isn't a Jeanne Adams"

Grins. Go figure. Maybe that's how I get it all OUT. Otherwise I might be a cereal killer or something. Snork. (And yes, I know its spelled was a joke. Lame joke, but still...)

Oddly enough, the DarkHunters bother me because they are very dark still, at the end of the books. Not unredeemed, but still...deeply dark. I'm pretty much up for hair-curling, hair-raising, gut clenching reading as long as I can end the book and go, Whew! It got better! :> I love Lisa Gardner, but some of her books bother me because there's still that unsettling feeling at the end. Then again, that's what makes her SUCH a great writer!

Like JT, I'm locking the doors really fast. Ha!

Then again, some of what I think is dark, others don't. Subjective, I guess.

BTW, did I mention I'd watch Hugh in anything? Or nothing? Grins...

Beth said...

Great post, Nancy! I agree with Claudia - for me it's all about the theme and tone. In my favorite darker books, the characters use humor and the hope of light to help diffuse the dark or at least, deal with it.

This is why I love shows such as Buffy, Angel and Supernatural. Even though they deal with some scary paranormal situations and creatures and the whole Good vs Evil (in a very real, very big way) the characters still have hope, humor and heart :-)

Karin said...

I think my tastes waver between the light and the dark. I generally need at least one or two lighter books after reading a dark one because they can just be too much sometimes.

As for your questions, here are the ones I'd choose:
Darcy over Heathcliff
Rochester over Alverstoke
Luke over Han
Batman over Superman
SG-1 over BG
Wolverine over Leopold

Christine Wells said...

Nancy, surprisingly, some men I know do like Heyer, including my father. But yes, do introduce the boy to Jeeves and Wooster! We have the television series on DVD and my 6yo goes around say "Bertie!" in this imperious, upper crust accent--perfect mimicry of Aunt Agatha. It's hilarious!

Ashley Ladd said...

Okay, I prefer Darcy, Wolverine, Hans Solo (need you even ask?)

Christine Wells said...

Claudia, that's an interesting take, because I tend to feel that genre romance generally has an uplifting theme with the mandatory happily ever after, but you still have light and dark tones--usually in an angsty romance, it's all about the hero's redemption, which sort of puts the reader through the wringer but ultimately, we get the HEA. I think a lot of readers find that cathartic.

Whereas, as you say, there's not much that's hopeful about Wuthering Heights! Lots of shades of darkness in fiction, aren't there?

Nancy said...

Jeanne, thanks. Glad you liked it.

Most of your picks from the list are light-side picks. I notice that Han continues to outpoll Luke. *sigh*

The Dark-Hunters are still dark, yes, but the hero of the book gets his HEA. Although not any more of them for a while, judging by what Artemis said to Ash about that. I don't like to feel unsettled at the end, which is part of what bothers me about literary fiction, I think. The characters have grown and learned, but they've still lost or suffered or whatever and that part isn't really fixed. They just bear it better.

This is a huge generalization, I realize, based on a limited number of books read in that category.

Nancy said...

Beth, I like humor in the darkness, too. "Whistling past the graveyard"--isn't that an old saying? Even if it's dark humor or gallows humor, it shows that the characters still have their heads on straight.

Nancy said...

Karin, anvote for Luke--yay! Too much darkness without some light leavening can get to be a real drag. And there are plenty of books in between, which is nice. Most of my reading is probably somewhere in the middle, the less brutal, less emotionally difficult books but still not to the realm of romantic comedy or even mostly humorous.

Nancy said...

Christine, I hope I get to hear your dh say that sometime! Hugh Laurie and Stephen Frye were great. Maybe we should rent those. I have this vague memory of getting one season for the dh, but they dont' seem to be around, so maybe I imagined it.

If all goes smoothly , we'll be visiting England this summer. We try to coordinate the boy's reading with our trip. Last time we went (9 years ago), we finished up LOTR (reading aloud) in a little town called Box, in Gloucestershire, and then moved on to Roger Lancelyln Green's Robin Hood (the boy vetoed the last part, where Robin dies). With no TV, reading aloud comes back into our routine, so we're discussing what to read.

The dh is advocating Dickens (speaking of journeys to the dark side), and I just don't know that I want to spend vacation immersed in the gritty side of Victorian London, no matter how uplifting Olver Twist may ultimately be. I may toss Jeeves into the pot and see what bubbles to the top.

Nancy said...

Ashley, you have a nice mix there of dark and light. We Luke fans are clearly outnumbered. Han has a following that's either much bigger, much more vocal, or both. :-)

Cassondra said...

See, now this is interesting. I see Aragorn as having some serious difficulties to overcome, although they're very different from Acheron's.

I write dark, but as for reading...okay here's the truth. The books that affect me most deeply are the darker books. But they are also the ones I save. I've had Fo's book since it came out, but I haven't read it yet...mostly because it's a longer read, and also because I have to be ready to read something that I know will take me this deep into the darkness before it leads me into the light.

I travel every step through light and darkness with a character--in particular with characters as powerfully drawn as those in an Anna Campbell book. I have to be in a mindset to handle that darkness.

I'm reading The Flame and The Flower for the first time right now. I dunno how I missed it, but I did. So now I'm going back and reading it. And honestly....I've had to set it aside. I started it, and couldn't take it. I had to stop, and I've been drowning myself in mysteries the past few weeks--lighter, romantic mysteries. Kate's Homicide In Hardcover started it. Now I can't stop.

I write dark, but to READ dark, I have to have my head in the right place.

So I guess I'm both. My tendency is to go dark, but I've learned to temper that, and save those books for summer, when the days are long, the breezes are soft, and the darkness can't hold onto me after I quit reading. I've also learned to save those longer, darker reads for when I have time to finish in one sitting. So I don't dwell there too long.

*sigh* I am a wimp. I know this.

The bottom line is that I need both, and both fill a need in my reading.

Cassondra said...

Oh, and BTW: Han Solo.


Cassondra said...

Batman. Batman all the way. I love the dark superheroes, because they're much more complex and believable to me.

It'd be nice if I could think of all I want to say before I hit "publish" wouldn't it?

Cassondra said...

Oh, I agree with Claudia. I thought LOTR was overall hopeful--a "light triumphs over darkness" theme.

Certainly, there were dark moments, but the truth is, if you don't show the dark, the triumph of the light at the end is far less...well....triumphant I guess. That's what makes it powerful for me.

But overall, I saw LOTR as a very hopeful series--both the books and the films. And I agree, Nancy, that it couldn't have ended any other way than Frodo's choice to cross to the Grey Havens. And it speaks of a deep truth. Once you've been in Special Forces and seen combat, it's really difficult to go home and sack groceries at Kroger. It just is. You can't go back, and that film with its ending, speaks to that in a way few things have in my observation.

Cassondra said...

P226 said:

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

This is a brilliant way to explain why, I believe, many of us choose to read deep and meaningful books--like those Fo writes--but we also insist on the happy ending, which our genre provides.

A lot of my friends don't understand why I refuse to watch movies that end horribly, and refuse to read books that will leave me depressed and emotionally damaged. In the past I've said, "life is real enough, and I'm not gonna pay money to be made sad." They scoff at this.

But the truth is, there's an inner sense for me that I need to feed the wolf of the light. Real life feeds the other wolf almost daily. I think it does so for a lot of people.

This is a fantastic parable. I'm glad I read through the comments. I think I'll print this and when people start riding me for my choices in entertainment, I'll just pull this out and hand it to them.

Nancy said...

Cassondra wrote: Oh, and BTW: Han Solo.


Aaagh! I'm surrounded! Han seems to have a stranglehold on the lair!

I bet he's in cahoots with that sneaky Demetrius. Ya gotta watch those gladiators.

And you wrote: It'd be nice if I could think of all I want to say before I hit "publish" wouldn't it?

Well, seeing as how I rarely do, I dunno why you should.

If you like dark superheroes, are you planning to see Watchmen? I suppose I will, but I'll have to be in the right mood.

Which reminds me of what you said about saving books because you go so deeply into them. I also have to be in the right frame of mind to read a book I suspect will be darker. And if it's too intense, as some parts of Acheron were, I read "with one eye closed," as a friend of mine used to say. What that really translates to is, I skim until the really awful part looks to be over.

Yep, Aragorn had some things to overcome. He had a lot more doubt and hesitation in the movies than in the books. I initially didn't like that but later concluded that Isildur's heir should have some reservations about the strength of his bloodline.

The part where the Dunedin ride to his aid got cut. I liked that part.

And you wrote (taking your stuff out of order): *sigh* I am a wimp. I know this.

Spewage alert! Excuse me? Good thing I'd put my tea down. You wanted to be in EOD, remember? Not a job for a wimp.

Nancy said...

Cassondra, you make a good point about needing the darkness for the light to be more triumphant. The harder you work for something, the more you appreciate attaining it, right?

What's that saying--the hero is only as strong as the villain in a story?

You know, Tolkien fought in the trenches on the Western Front. Most of his school friends died. Not taking anything away from Special Forces, who are extraordinary individuals, but I don't see how a person could do any of that and not be changed.

My class this week read Two Souls Indivisible, a Vietnam POW memoir. The graphic bits are mercifully brief, and it's ultimately an uplifting book about how two men from the segregated South, one white and one black, forged an enduring friendship.

Cassondra said...

P226 said:

I've never considered what the "P" in P226 might stand for. I have to say, I honestly don't know.

Cassondra might.

I am not certain, but I believe it stands for Pistole.

German. Pistole 226.

Sig Sauer Pistole 226.

A finer sidearm has not been made in this century, btw. I'm just sayin.

Well, maybe the P210....*sigh* I dunno....

Gerri Russell said...


What a ~great~ blog! I go for the dark hero every time.

Nancy said...

Gerri, thanks for stopping by.

Joan said...

I am not certain, but I believe it stands for Pistole.

{Shakes head} Nope. It stands for Plato.

And I wouldn't be at ALL surprised if the 226 wasn't code for...

Han Solo!!!!!


Barbara Monajem said...

Sorry for coming so late to this great party. I love the dark stuff too, in spurts. In recent historical romances, Anna's books (haven't read Tempt the Devil but it's where my next B&N coupon is going) and Elizabeth Hoyt's, especially The Serpent Prince, whose revenge-obsessed hero is astonishing. In historical novels, yes, I loved Lymond, but I think the spurts of him will be years apart. I devoured the first book, started the second, and put it down again for later. Much later. Dunnett's books are so full--hard to say exactly what I mean by that, and I've only read one, so maybe I'm extrapolating--that I can only take so much at once. Same goes for Diana Norman. I absolutely adore her historical novels. She brings the past to vivid, terrifying life, but the callous way she treats her heroines--they really ARE heroines, so amazing--means I can only take them one at a time. Recently, she wrote some historical mysteries under the name Arianna Franklin, and I have Mistress of the Art of Death waiting on my TBR pile until my stomach is feeling strong enough.
And it's not just her heroines. Everybody suffers, but I'm incredibly thankful for the highs and the education. I don't read much contemporary, but years ago I read an Anne Stuart with a delightfully dark hero, and I'm definitely planning to return there. So yes, I love dark and especially dark heroes, but they have to be dark and HEROIC, not dark to the point of dumb (there's a fine line). If they have a sense of humor, too, whoopee...

EilisFlynn said...

Fitzwilliam Darcy or Heathcliff?

I always thought they were both jerky, but at least Heathcliff had
the good grace to die.

Luke Skywalker or Han Solo?

I can't help but think that this is an age thing. If you're a young
kid, you can't possibly help but prefer Luke. If you're older, Han,
hands down.

Superman or Batman?

While Bats is entertaining (he is a psycho, after all), I've always
been fonder of Supes, but that could be because I actually got a
chance to write the character, decades ago!

Stargate SG-1 or Battlestar Galactica?

Don't make me choose!

Hugh Jackman as Leopold in Kate and Leopold or as Wolverine in X-Men?
Hugh Jackman as Whoever?

Didn't really like Kate and Leopold, but he was the best thing in it.
And I didn't like Wolverine in the comic, but loved Hugh Jackman as
the character.

You're making me think, Nancy. It hurts!

Julia Smith said...

What a fascinating post. I have always gravitated toward darker, tormented heroes. I find it hilarious when many romance writers get together and say how much they hate 'Wuthering Heights', because I can never get enough of it. I'm so glad romance is offering darker heroes and heroines these days. I still like a HEA, but I want it to be a tough, arduous road before I get there.

Nancy said...

Julie, Eilis, and Barbara, thanks for stopping by! I'm sorry I missed you on the first go-around.

Barbara, that's a very thoughtful analysis. I also save books, sometimes, until I'm in the right frame of mind.

Eilis, I still vote Luke, and I'm a lot older now. :-)

But most of the Lair went for Han.

Julie, I agree that the long, difficult road makes the HEA much sweeter. I think that may be one thing drawing me to darker books.