How the Irish Saved the Romance Genre, Guest Blog by K.F. Zuzulo
…specifically, the Paranormal Romance Genre
not including vampires…the Irish like beer, not blood
The Irish…romantic? Before you roll your eyes and cluck at the idea of the romantic Irish, consider the fact that the basis for any great romance is the language by which that most enduring of all emotions – love – is conveyed. And if there’s one thing the Irish have always excelled at, it’s language. More specifically, the Irish are great storytellers.
Yes, many of those with Irish blood running through their veins have penned a romance novel (ahem). And according to a 2009 InfoTrends Survey, 74.8 million Americans read at least one romance novel in 2008. According to Nielsen Bookscan figures, recent retail sales of romance were up seven percent, while overall adult book sales were down and adult fiction sales were flat. But the diversity of the authors and their stories that make up this genre are as numerous as the blades of grass on a dewy hillock. So what does that have to do with Ireland, you ask?
While the romance genre in the United States burgeoned in the late 19th century as ripe as the pink, moist lips of a … rose … unfurling, the Irish came to America steeped in tales of the mythical exploits of fairies, warrior giants, and shape-shifting lovers torn from one another. Sound familiar?
There’s Cú Chulainn, perhaps the most legendary of Irish heroes. Brave and ferocious, gorgeous of visage, and fierce of heart. He shifts to a monstrous form when in the frenzy of battle, loves many women, but gives his heart to the fairy Fand. Every Irishman knows his name.
There’s the glorious St. Brighid, who actually started life as an ancient Celtic goddess, sentinel of home and hearth, healing, and wisdom. A comely maid who was also wise and skilled in warfare. And, of course, there’s Fionn mac Cumhaill – Finn MacCool – the prototype for every Alpha-male protagonist, whether you’re a writer who has heard of him directly or not. Finn is a giant in Irish literature, figuratively and literally. Because he once threw a clod of earth at an enemy, it landed in the sea and became the Isle of Man. The Giant’s Causeway was Finn’s construction to keep his feet dry as he crossed from Ireland to Scotland. Finn’s most famous wife, Sabdh, was turned into a deer by a druid…but Finn was game anyway.
And let’s not forget the angelic form of that most lauded race of Irish supernatural beings, the Tuatha dé Dannan, precursors of the fairy folk who once commanded Ireland with wisdom and beauty. They descended to the nether world when Christianity arrived to the pagan land that had embraced them, preserved forever in stories.
Flash forward to the 21st century paranormal romance genre and you’ll many of these same characters and emotions. When ripped bodices were tossed in the late-20th century ragheap, romance readers turned to tales of the fantastic. And why not? Millions of Irish had come to these shores armed with nothing more than their hunger and their beliefs in the fae, the sidhe (shee), and leprechauns.
That’s not to say the Irish invented the paranormal romance genre. Oh my, no. For millennia, romance has been gorgeously embellished by the dulcet narrative of …. Sanskrit, Arabian, Norse, Inuit, and Slav. But because the Irish had already insinuated the rhythm and terms of paranormal elements into their new society, it was an easier pint to swallow.
Every self-respecting Irishwoman has a story about her great-uncle Paddy (that would be my maternal grandmother’s brother) crossing a misty field on an early-morning hunt and encountering the whirl and frenzy of a tribe of flocking fairies. (He swore he hadn’t been drinking…) These “tales” were so comfortably shared in shanty towns and along thousands of miles of rail laid across the adolescent United States that terms like leprechaun, fairy, and banshee came into common usage.
Besides, these new, fair and freckled Americans had a credibility weapon tucked under their homespun by the name of W. B. Yeats, their countryman and purveyor of the paranormal. Yeats’s poetry abounds with references to the mystical fairy realm of the Emerald Isle and the lyrical love of the spirit world.
Take a look at some of your favorite paranormal romance stories. Can you see a green thread woven into the knot of the story? One of my favorite genre authors is Karen Marie Moning with her captivating Fever series: Darkfever, Dreamfever, Faefever, Blood Fever….a saga of elemental angst, thrills, conflict and passion that’s actually set in Ireland. Where would these stories be without the Irish? Simply, they would not. But that’s just one example. I’ll leave it to you to come up with more….
Sure, every culture has their tales of the supernatural, but when the Irish came to these shores in droves with their tales, they helped make the paranormal normal, and solidify a popular romance subgenre that I predict will be as enduring as the primeval keening of a fearsome banshee riding the…well, you get the picture.
Author K. F. Zuzulo writes paranormal romance tales of the djinn, which are purely Arabian. But she’s convinced genies are not-so-distant cousins of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Her most recent book, The Genie’s Curse, was released by Sapphire Blue Publishing in February. You can find out more about the author, her writing, and genies at www.kfzuzulo.com. Erin go bragh.