For many of we romance fiction fans, the hearty strains
of "Be our guest!" and "Put our service
to the test!" would have been more meaningful - and ever so slightly raucous
and ribald - had the damn beast never turned back into pretty, prissy, princely
form, and instead remained big, bad, overbearing and, mmmm, beastly.
Yes, lots of romance fans unabashedly, one might say, dig a disgruntled-with-the-world hero with what most around him consider an "ugly" or frightening countenance. Socially, he's gotta be ill at ease or, preferably, unacceptable. And rounding out his bearing, the best beastly hero boasts mutilated, messed-up, or, again, preferably, one or more altogether-missing body parts due to military service.
Oh, but not that body
part, which the Gods of Romance Novelists and Readers, as the ditty says, hath
blessed beast "with most ample a share" and the will to use it amply. Because at the heart of every beastly
hero beats the, well, heart of a human needing love and intimate connection.
This beastly hero construct works remarkable well within the historical romance and Sir Alistair Munroe of Elizabeth Hoyt's "To Beguile a Beast " is the kind of grumpy, yet sweet and very sexy beast we love. A naturalist, Monroe was taken captive and tortured during the French and Indian War, then returned to Scotland to hide away where his burned, mutilated face - missing an eye! - won't frighten children and missish chits. It takes the earnest, yet lusty love of a courtesan hiding her beloved children from her keeper, their father, to get Munroe to believe, not that he has a future, but that he may be able to give her a future and love.
The future doesn't always look bleak to the human beast, yet those around him often remind him it is because his behavior is wildly different from "the norm." Take the case of a gorgeous guy with loads of dough and what we'd diagnose as Asperger's Syndrome, most assuredly "The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie ." In this very erotic and compelling read, Jennifer Ashley brings us a hero who's been institutionalized because of his "unnatural" intelligence and intense focus. Even those who love him fear the ‘beastly' side of him, and protect him from himself at all cost.
Who saves this beast? A woman of great intelligence and practicality, who realizes that this ‘beast' is a genius who can be taught just about anything -- and who always believes that - despite what he repeats verbatim - he's as capable of intense feeling as he is of brilliant intellectual skill.
But we know great heroines tend to behave practically. So when the chick's the beast, how's that wash? Take the case of "One with the Shadows'" Kate Malone. Susan Squires' heroine was scarred when her pimp knifed her face to keep her from leaving his ‘protection.' Instead of hiding away, she creates an alluring persona to beguile European aristocracy, earning their trust as a great oracle then fleecing them. Strong and enterprising, sure. Yet, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'll tell you it takes the world-weary vampire who posed for Buonarroti's David to be the guy man enough to overcome Kate's cynicism -- her "beast on the inside" -- and to open her heart to loving herself.
In her funny and fascinating Barnes & Noble Review
column, "The Wild Kingdom,"
Eloisa James this week writes, "the key to the classic Beauty and Beast story
is that the Beast needs Beauty more than she needs him."
Yet our hero or heroine doesn't just save the beast, I think - or get "saved right back" a la "Pretty Woman," a type of psycho-social beauty/beast story. No, the beast's forever lover enters the HEA with the gift of intelligent empathy that humans use when they look inside an individual and give them a chance to reach back in humanity; we turn away after the "other" decides "beastly" on the inside is really where they're happiest.
What do you dig about a truly beastly hero? What makes the beastly hero so sexy? Who are your faves and what are your fave beastly hero books? Why do you think the beastly hero works - or doesn't work - in the contemporary romance?
Check out Eloisa James' take on paranormal beastly heroes who aren't obviously sexy like vamps and
stuff and whom one might call, um, biologically challenged...