Brief History of Paranormal Romance
by Marilynn Byerly
Copyright © 2007 by Marilynn Byerly
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Here’s my version of a brief history of the PNR [paranormal romance genre]. I’ve been involved in the market since the early eighties so I’ve paid attention. :g:
The paranormal romance’s roots come from the Gothic romance and science fiction/fantasy.
Most scholars consider Smollett’s FERDINAND COUNT FATHOM (1753) to be a precursor, and the first true Gothic was Horace Walpole’s CASTLE OF OTRANTO (1764).
The true element of romance, at least our definition of it, didn’t appear until a woman started writing Gothics. Her name was Ann Radcliff, and her first book was called THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO (1789). She set the stage for the Bronte sisters and their books years later.
The Gothic began to lose its respectability during the time of the Brontes because the authors were predominately women. The flowering of the pulp Gothics in the early to mid-Twentieth century finished what little respectability the form still had. These pulps are the ones you remember with covers with the heroine in a wispy nightgown fleeing from a distant castle.
Ghosts and other supernatural creatures were in these books as dangers or as spooky atmosphere.
The supernatural creature as a romantic partner first appeared in a category (Harlequin/Silhouete) romance — THE IVORY KEY by Rita Clay Estrada, (1987). The hero was a ghost. The book was wildly popular and a few paranormals with a supernatural hero/heroine crept into the Harlequin lines after that as well as the single titles of other publishers, but they quickly disappeared because the numbers weren’t high enough to please the publishers, and the more traditional readers complained loudly about these books.
The paranormal in romance had a small but loyal following, and about every seven years, the NY market would produce PNR in a large way, but these surges were very short-lived, and the market would vanish again.
SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY ROOTS
If you consider fantasy as part of science fiction or vice versa, I’d say that Andre Norton was the first sf/fantasy author to include romance. She never used the word “love,” and there was almost no mush, but it was about a man and woman who face danger together and work as a team, physically and emotionally, and there was always a sense of a permanent relationship at the end of the book. Anne McCaffrey followed her with even more emphasis on romantic relationships and the partnership between men and women.
The first futuristic from a NY romance publisher was Janelle Taylor’s MOONDUST AND MADNESS (1992). It had a “Mars Needs Women” plot, and the sf elements were total dreck. Taylor and most futuristic authors of the period derive more from media sf than literary sf.
An exception to this was Jayne Castle (Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick) and a few other writers who actually understood literary sf.
Unfortunately, the futuristic/sf romance failed to survive. Until recently, the sf romance has made an appearance every seven years or so, lasted about a year in popularity then faded out of sight.
In recent years, the sf romance with sf literary roots has begun to find some respectability because of authors like Catherine Asaro who writes for the sf market.
From the romance side, Susan Grant’s shift from having the sf romance about space to having the sf elements on contemporary Earth has gained fans for the genre as well as giving it new life.
The fantasy romance followed a similar path. One of its early and most popular practitioners in the eighties was Rebecca Brandewyne who used the traditional elements of fantasy and fairy tale. Fantasy romance had as little luck as the sf romance in gaining fans.
Then Anne Rice started writing vampire novels, and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER hit TV. The contemporary fantasy romance was born soon after and has become so popular that we are now in the Golden Age of paranormal romance.
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