Romance:  Wish-Fulfillment Dream


[Most of this is abstracted from Northrop Frye's chapter titled, "Archetypal Criticism:  Theory of Myths" in his Anatomy of Criticism.  New York:  Princeton UP, 1967.  The relevant section is titled "Mythos of Summer:  Romance" and appears on 186-206.]


The following summary might provoke interesting conversation about the relationship of science fiction to traditional popular narrative forms, especially when we identify romance mode elements in stories like "A Martian Odyssey" and "Arena."  After reading the admittedly reductive summary below, consider the extent to which these two stories participate in the traditional form.


One formal definition of Romance Mode defines it as a "search of the libido for a fulfillment that will deliver it from the anxieties of reality while still containing that reality."


Typically, the adventure fiction variation of the romance plot involves a series of minor adventures leading up to a previously announced major adventure.  These are also often referred to as quest narratives.


In classical terms, the quest, or adventure narrative has three stages, but often a fourth stage appears between the "death struggle" and the "recognition":


I.                    Agon or conflict:  the perilous journey.

II.                 Pathos or death struggle.

III.               Sparagmos, or disappearance of the hero.

IV.              Anagnorisis:  the re-appearance, discovery, or recognition.


The hero, as validation of courage or manhood--in the traditional form--would typically return bearing a scar, or wound.  As evidence of his success, the hero often returns with a boon, an object or piece of knowledge beneficial to society.


In true romance form, the virtuous hero and beautiful heroine represent ideals and the villain represents the threat to the ascendancy of those ideals.  However, in SF as a contemporary romance form, the marriage plot and the relationship between a hero and heroine are often displaced onto other kinds of conflicts and barriers to the success of the hero or science or even, in some cases, spiritual growth.  Of course, contemporary plots also often disrupt the gender expectations typical of the traditional form.


In these narratives, the landscape and action tend to be privileged as focal points for meaning content and the characters tend to be one-dimensional, stock figures representing types.