Chivalrous vampires are the "latest craze," says NPR.
If you asked if me if I'd ever read a romance before, I'd say "no, of course not."
Then I'd pause and realize, that's not right –– I'm a voracious consumer of young adult vampire novels!
Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer, and Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, by Beth Fantaskey, are two of my favorite vampire romances (both young adult novels). Though they're not packaged as "romances," exactly, I surprised myself enamoured with –– swooning, even! –– over the hunky male protagonists.
Even though they're, um, undead.
At first, neither Edward in Twilight or Lucius in Dark Side are particularly likeable young men as dating prospects. Both treat their young female paramours as desperately in need of protective male guidance –– naive, helpless and a bit silly, even. In the beginning, both be-fanged relationships read as obnoxiously paternalistic.
In Twilight, the tone Edward takes with Bella is arrogant, authorative, and often stern. He insists Bella trust him to make nearly all of the decisions in their relationship. He even becomes angry when she questions his decision-making and makes her promise all kinds of things to him.
In Dark Side, Lucius is a vampire prince from Romania and he is even more arrogant and annoyingly bossy. He hopes to make Jessica his vampire princess and throughout the first half of the book, Lucius noodges her to take more care in her appearance and not consort with men who are not worthy of her friendship or attention. Lucius buys Bella dresses and jewelry, often complimenting her on how lovely she looks in a way that made me, the reader, audibly "awww."
To be honest? I found this power-play, this dominance, extremely hot.
But what surprised me, a feminist, even more? It was even more hot how both young men were so chivalrous to their ladies. I don't just mean the "life or death" protection. Without seeming sexist at all, the vampire boys opened car doors, pulled out chairs and even defended their ladies' honor in front of schoolyard bullies. Both of these vampires were teenagers in different centuries and thus practice centuries-old gender roles.
Real teenage boys? Chivalry is dead, my friends, and it can't decide who should pay for dinner. Suffice it to say, no one has ever pulled out a chair for me (other than a waiter, once). Maybe 10% of car doors have been opened for me. And no one has ever defended "my honor" –– in fact, quite the opposite.
Some of this hotness derives from the fact there is so much sexual tension in these novels, no doubt due to the chivalry. But some of this hotness derives from the fact that the chivalry in the book seems so sweet because it is fairly uncommon.
NPR examined this phenomenon, too, in a recent Halloween piece that called the "modern vampire...bloodthirsty but chivalrous." It even goes so far to call chivalrous vampires "the latest craze!"
In the NPR piece, there's an intersting quote from Eric Nuzum, NPR employee and the author of a vampire book, The Dead Travel Fast, which might shed some light on why these books are popular:
"You look at vampires from any given era and you see what they thought was frightening," Nuzum says. "You see what they thought was sexy, and what they thought was forbidden."
Perhaps part of what's "sexy" about chivalry now is that because of Third Wave Feminism, it is sort of "forbidden." Or, at least, discouraged by independent, pay-my-own-bills women like me.
Personally, I don't know how I feel about chivalry at all. I like it in practice, but not as a concept. Suffice it to say, I always bring my own money to pay for myself on dates but I'm confused about how hard I should insist on spending it. And I suspect lots of young women feel the same way as I do and we're reading these YA books because the confusion resonates with us.
These vampire romance novels tap into these gender role growing pains –– yet though they are sexy reads, they don't provide any real-world answers to our confusion.
Hmm, maybe I should start watching True Blood.