You’re familiar with the odd worlds of fantasy and sci-fi: doors that lead to hidden worlds, labyrinths that stretch out endlessly, charms and spells and everything else that tickles your imagination. But what about the universe of a romantic comedy? Although pinned to a ‘real’ planet with ‘real’ people (no super powers here) the realm of rom-coms seems to operate according to some cosmic universe outside our own. It’s just as familiar as fantasy, and just as veiled in obscurities and magic.
You’re probably thinking, “wait a second, rom-coms are movies, this is a book site!” You’re very right. Good job! BUT, many of our beloved rom-coms (let’s face it they’re very lovable) are really film adaptions of books. There’s the ones you may already be familiar with: Bridget Jones Diary, originally written by Helen Fielding, and The Princess Bride, the film adaption of William Goldman’s book of the same title, just to name a few. But did you know that A Walk to Remember, Clueless, The Little Mermaid, Legally Blonde and Roxanne are all renditions of original novels? Of course, there’s also every Shakespeare adaption ever made – Ten Things I Hate About You, Shakespeare in Love, She’s the Man, and who can forget Gnomeo and Juliet? My point is that much of what we consider rom-com films originate from a literary source and the places between the pages forge each film’s set of absurd rules.
Rom-coms are equally endearing and disgusting: the rules produce predictable endings, but they don’t make sense. Stalker behavior is not only tolerated but warranted (Legally Blonde, or more notably Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle), magical meditations often pave the way for true love (in The Little Mermaid for example), and both men and women alike fall into distinct categories of good and bad, hero or villain (take the men of Bridget Jones Diary, for instance). The rules defy the cosmic order of traditional dating, presenting readers (and viewers) with a world that exists in limbo between reality and fiction – a fantasyland.
I see you, Tom! (Image courtesy of screen prism)
The genre resemblance between fantasy and rom-com makes sense when you consider some staple sci-fi/fantasy attributes: alternative worlds, non-human characters, allegory, quests, dystopia – the list goes on. Not all are necessary of course, but the literature should retain a few of these features to qualify as either fantasy or sci-fi. Now, take any rom-com and see if you can wedge it into the sci-fi/fantasy parameters.
First and foremost you have the alternative world. Elle, played by Reese Witherspoon lives in a world marked by sparkles, pink, and perfect figures. Then there’s her world’s diametric opposite – Harvard, where the scene is drained of color and the halls are teeming with sullen brainy boys and girls. You have you non-human character, Bruiser, Elle’s dog and a pivotal ‘character’ in the film/book. There’s plenty of allegories to choose from, be it the deconstruction of female stereotypes, a disruption of the notion ‘beauty versus brains’, or a toying with the banal saying that blondes have more fun – take your allegorical pick!
Furthermore, there’s the central quest Elle takes in removing herself from sorority life, uprooting herself from ease, and speeding off in her pink convertible to the gates of Harvard. And of course, there’s dystopia aplenty. It is unlikely that Elle would ever get into such a prestigious school (statistically speaking the rate of acceptance is low). Also, the likelihood that the case she’s assigned to would prove her hair knowledge so handy, or even that her dorm would allow pets. From beginning to end, the plot is simply insane and fantastical.
Image courtesy of US magazine
There are nodes of truth we can pick out from rom-coms, but for the most part the take away from the book or film is a laugh and an acknowledgement that this is very unlikely to happen – we’re better of taking the allegory home and leaving the details behind. Much like sci-fi or fantasy, there’s a meaning to be made, but very few details that can be absorbed into our frame of reality.
Beyond the simple rules of fantasy that rom-coms seem to mimic, there’s also the simply ridiculous that makes them more akin to fantasy than either romance or comedy. Take for instance The Little Mermaid. Plenty of singing, plenty dancing, plenty of romance – and voila! The romantic-comedy is born courtesy of Disney, adapted from the Brothers Grimm very grim original tale.
Beyond fitting most of the fantasy criteria – non-human characters, allegory, quest, etc. – the Little Mermaid, Ariel, is characterized in a way far removed from the norms of dating. First of all, she’s essentially a stalker, watching her soon to be lover boat-side and starry eyed. In order to be with him, she revokes her half-human form, and sheds her tale to the sea witch, Ursula in a sort of Faustian bargain. Which brings me to the next discrepancy in romantic norms – she’s more or less mute for the duration of the plot. Generally speaking ‘love’ entails some emotional connection. Lust, not so much, but for ‘true love’ you need more than just a new pair of legs or ruggedly good sailor looks.
Typical first date right? (Image courtesy of FanPop)
Even stranger than this mute romance that unfolds is the characterization of the individuals involved. As where Ariel and her beau are purely good, the sea witch is purely bad. There’s no nuance and no in-between. This polar opposition is wholly fantastical. Like so many rom-coms, The Little Mermaid’s characters fall into opposition of good and bad. The sea witch is Ariel’s demise and her man her savior. The archetypal characters of good and bad are always at play in fantasy and sci-fi; it’s a part of the quest: it involves the obstacle of the bad and the goal of the good.
When you peel the two genres open, there’s a lot of similitude between structure and themes. Really, when you pull apart any two genres, there’s similarity. The more you pull and the deeper you dive, the easier it is to see the common core that connects every genre. Even thinking as genre-broad as fiction and non-fiction, our everyday life naturally slips into fiction, and our imagination naturally slips into autobiographical works. Aren’t they essentially the same? Aren’t imagination and experience an intermingled duo? Thinking about literature from this perspective, the connection between romantic-comedies and science-fiction/fantasies seems almost self-evident. Look for differences and you see genres, but look for similarities and you see literary unity.
Featured image courtesy of DenfoGeek.