Do you want some taboo romance… or something more sinister? Perhaps halfway between both? The Stockholm syndrome trope might be up your alley. It’s a slippery slope that isn’t actually morally right as it stems from the captivity by an overpowering person. Stockholm syndrome isn’t a disease but rather an emotional response of a person who’s been held captive for an extended period. It doesn’t necessarily matter how they are treated, but the sense of familiarity being around this particular individual, the two may form a bond. This can range from a friendship to romantic feelings misplaced.
Either way, Stockholm syndrome is a saddening mental block. Resorting to love and yearning for someone who has potentially harmed, abused, and has held you captive for X amount of days, months, or years should be condemned… But we are talking about fiction. So, those rules don’t always apply in the fictional world. Read on to see what Stockholm Syndrome looks like in literature. Hint, hint: it’s not what you expected.
Stockholm Syndrome in the Real World
Before we jump right into the meat of the trope, let’s discuss real-life occurrences that may have swayed the rise of these stories. The first recorded instance of Stockholm Syndrome occurred during a bank robbery in 1973 in Sweden. Jan-Erik Olsson and, eventually, his past cellmate Clark Olofsson held up a bank and took four hostages in the process. The hostages allegedly grew fond of their captors as they refused to assist the police in any way. However, it could also be argued that they didn’t trust the police, considering their willingness to risk the hostage’s safety. Both probably played a part in one way or another.
This would not be the last time someone had acquired Stockholm Syndrome-like symptoms. From kidnappings to simple ransom letters for cash, men and women have become accustomed to falling victim and becoming enamored by their captors.
Stockholm Syndrome Beginnings in Literature
The oldest story that shows the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome would be the old-time tale of Hades and Persephone. Yes, mythology was the prime culprit in this case, whether intended or not. Hades had dragged Persephone down to hell because he fell in love with her and forced her into marriage. With time, she grew to love Hades back. If that isn’t straight-up Stockholm Syndrome, I don’t know what is!
For a precise book that started this trip, you can blame your favorite princess, Belle, from Beauty and the Beast. (This won’t stop me from shipping Belle and Beast… sorry, NOT sorry.) As the classic tale goes, a merchant seeks refuge at a castle. After losing all his money, he still wanted to fulfill a promise of a gift to his youngest as it was the easiest to attain — the most beautiful red rose. The Beast catches him trying to take the rose and resorts to violence.
After begging for his life, the Beast relents, but only if one of the merchant’s daughters comes to live with him. Begrudgingly, the father went back home to give the rose to Beauty. Her other siblings blaming her for the misdoings, force her to go up to live in the castle. And like old tales of time, she began to fall in love with the Beast the longer she lived there. But she wasn’t easy, as the Beast had to ask more than a few times for her hand in marriage.
Common Plot Structure Formula
There are two ways to go about this trope. The more common and easily able to digest is leaning into the romantic elements such as Beauty and the Beast. But usually, in these stories, you must have a dominating captor ready to claim what is “theirs.” In these books, there will most likely be sexual content because spicy scenes always make it better. And the two usually end up together and stay together. A good example of this would be 365 Days novel, as the main lead ultimately falls in love with her captor and eventually marries him.
The story can also take a darker and more realistic approach. Whereas the protagonist does kindle some feelings, she’s somewhat aware of how wrong it is to feel that way. There might be steamy scenes, but it’s much less sexier when given the darker treatment. Stolen by Lucy Christopher is a prime example of what happens if someone is captive and the ultimate aftermath of it. In real life, there are no happy endings when someone is captured, so these typical stories are tearjerkers.
Series to Check Out
Along with the books I mentioned above, I would check out Twist Me by Anna Zaires, The Darkest Temptation by Danielle Lori, and Den of Vipers by K.A Knight. From extremely steamy, sexy hanky panky, to a loosely based Beauty and the Beast retelling or something new entirely, these stories will surely get you in the mood.
For something that leans into the darker aspects of the trope, check out The Good Girl by Mary Kubica, Planning Penelope by Erin Lockwood, and The Cellar by Natasha Preston to get your psychological fixings.