In Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction, Scott McCracken discusses the origins of the romance genre and describes how modern category romance – the kind popularised by Harlequin and Mills & Boon – is descended from the chivalric quest stories of the Middle Ages. Interestingly, he also says modern detective and spy novels have this same common ancestor.
In the romance, McCracken says, “the narrative charts the history of a desire from its beginning to fulfilment or satisfaction.” In the quest narrative, a hero goes seeking an object that will give him power or save his homeland – the holy grail, the golden fleece, or even an ideal bride. On his way to obtaining this object or achieving his goal, the hero demonstrates exceptional prowess and overcomes a variety of creatures, villains and challenges. Only this one hero has the combination of attributes necessary to meet these particular challenges and obtain this special goal. This does sound like James Bond to me, or Jack Ryan, Philip Marlowe, Dirk Pitt.
I think it would be interesting to deconstruct the masculine romance and look at how it has evolved over time. I wonder what interesting stories about culture and history may be found by looking at the objects of desire in these stories, the obstacles and villains, and the motivations of the hero in seeking his object. And then there’s also the question of who our modern heroes would be. What is the golden fleece of the 21st century? Who and what are our modern monsters? What special qualities would a 21st century hero need to overcome these monsters, and what would motivate them to engage in their quest?