I’m Just So Over It: THE HIGHLAND MYSTIQUE

I don’t know when the first piece of Romantic Fiction or Paranormal Romantic fiction came out that featured Highlanders came out, or which novel first got people all excited, but I have seen that Scots have been characters in fiction since the mid-nineteenth century, and that historical fiction featuring Scots by Dorothy Dunnet emerged in the mid-1970s. And, I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy a good novel featuring hot Highlanders. I am just a little weary of the two tropes I see the most these days in romantic historic fiction: Time travel and Highlanders, and the doomed warrior and Highlanders.

I appreciate inspiration as much as the next reader, and it is possible I appreciate OUTLANDER more than absolutely healthy, but, Highlander after Highlander engaging in “The Rising,” stealing brides, with appalling accents ,and more have brought me to a point where unless there is something really spectacular in a story featuring brawny guys in kilts with accents, and standing stones, and/or Bonnie Prince Charlie, I am beginning to sigh and DNF. Heaven forbid there is  token domination in the bedroom; unless it is jest.

I imagine it is hard to resist the lure of men in kilts when they enjoy such popularity and success.

It’s often not even that the book is bad or unrealistic; we all know there were probably more men like Angus, Murtagh and Rupert than there were guys like  Jamie and Dougal.

Question MarkHow do you feel about the plethora of romance novels featuring  Highlanders?

What do you think is the mystique of the Highland Scots hero? 

One of my friends thinks it is because they are big and brawny, another because of their rugged individualism a third friend said: “Adventure, danger, a wilder life, and strong alpha men… All of these things appeal to me (and probably not just me) on a primal level. Makes for a great escape into a book!

We’ve appropriated and adapted the cultural identity in a way that is nothing new because throughout history ethnic groups have been assigned qualities based in some reality but exaggerated, and invented other attributes entirely: Italians love pasta and eat it constantly, often gesticulating wildly while doing so, Greeks break dishes in celebration, Scots wear kilts all the time and always have, even before kilts came into existence  (see Everything We Know About Scotland, We Learned from Romance Books at DEAR AUTHOR, http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/everything-we-know-about-scotland-we-learned-from-romance-books/).

But, Kilts have not always been part of Scottish dress:

“The kilt is a knee-length garment with pleats at the rear, originating in the traditional dress of men and boys in the Scottish Highlands of the 16th century.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kilt

In Karen McVeighs article, “Kilted heroes’ novel role as US women’s heart-throbs” (The Scotsman 29 March 2005) 

Sue Ellen Welfonder,   author of the bestselling Devil in a Kilt, said: “It’s the kilts. That or the men that fit in them. Scottish men are unbelievably sexy.”
Readers of Welfonder’s books agree that it is the Scottish men – and their “untamed” nature that make her romances unputdownable.

[In the same article]

Karen Kosztolnyik, senior editor at Warner Books in New York, said Scottish romance novels were very popular.

She said: “The image – whether true or not – of the be-kilted Scot as wild beast, just waiting to be tamed, was the key attraction.

“The Scottish hero is a sexy one, and it takes a special kind of woman to tame him.

“But he has a loyal side, too, which you can see in the Scottish clans. That kind of extreme loyalty is very appealing to women readers.  http://www.scotsman.com/news/world/kilted-heroes-novel-role-as-us-women-s-heart-throbs-1-705233#axzz3oAh7ytxk

And, Laura Vivanco, in her post, Braving the Scottish Romance  (http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/2010/12/braving-scottish-romance.html) on the blog Teachmetonight.blogspot.com  quotes a 2005 article by Shirley English  in THE TIMES (which I cannot access without purchasing a subscription http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article376318.ece)

Cindy Hwang, an editor at Jove Books, which publishes Heaven and Heather, said that women are attracted to an improbable ideal. “The image of the Highlander is very romanticised,” she said. “They are seen as very rugged and independent — in terms of how Americans see the Scots, anyway. That rebellious side has its appeal.”

In Scotland, women greet such descriptions of the local talent with incredulity. “If you find him, let me know,” is a common response. http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/2010/12/braving-scottish-romance.html

On Heroes and Heartbreakers, Carly Silver’s article “Hot for a Scot: Why Scottish Men are So Appealing as Romance Heroes”  asks,

What makes such lads so popular with wistful heroines and readers alike?

Ten years ago, a Cincinnati Enquirer article analyzed the appeal of Scottish heroes in romance novels. Charis Calhoon of the Romance Writers of America opined that Scottish lords, hailing from a turbulent political environment, are the ideal stoic male figures that courageous heroines can redeem with their love.
http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2012/11/hot-for-a-scot-why-scottish-men-are-so-appealing-as-romance-heroes

and goes on:

Of course, these images of kilted, sexy men are largely fictional reconstructions. As Euan Hague and David Stenhouse note in their critical essay “A Very Interesting Place: Representing Scotland in American Romance Novels,” the male Scottish hero represents a fetishized sexual being, not a historical reality.
http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2012/11/hot-for-a-scot-why-scottish-men-are-so-appealing-as-romance-heroes

A librarian at the Library of Congress answered my query, which was so  very nice, about how to research this topic with some great references.  She told me the romanticized Highlander goes back at least to the Waverly novels written my Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). He, “is often considered both the inventor and the greatest practitioner of the historical novel.” (http://www.britannica.com/biography/Sir-Walter-Scott-1st-Baronet)

In 1813 Scott rediscovered the unfinished manuscript of a novel he had started in 1805, and in the early summer of 1814 he wrote with extraordinary speed almost the whole of his novel, which he titled Waverley. It was one of the rare and happy cases in literary history when something original and powerful was immediately recognized and enjoyed by a large public. A story of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, it reinterpreted and presented with living force the manners and loyalties of a vanished Scottish Highland society.   http://www.britannica.com/biography/Sir-Walter-Scott-1st-Baronet

Romanticize here means the larger than life, emotively appealing story telling, rather than “romantic love.” But, there is a fine line between the two.

TIME TRAVEL (Or what the Scottish Tourism People Would Probably Prefer You Did Not Do):

I think the time travel issue is a little easier to figure out relating to the particular mysteries of the Bristish Isles: standing stones, Druids, and Celtic and Gaelic witch-lore.  Add in mist and fog and you have a landscape begging for supernatural activity.

My theory about the stone circles seems to be borne out n the earliest fictional reference I found, from 1979)  IN THE CIRCLE OF TIME by Margaret J Anderson (Publisher: New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, ©1979, Juvenile Fiction. Database: WorldCat), apparently: “Two children are hurled into the future as a result of their hunt for three 12-foot stones missing from an ancient Scottish stone circle.” (https://www.worldcat.org/title/in-the-circle-of-time/oclc/4496605&referer=brief_results).  Later books by Anderson also feature Scotland and time travel.

In Laura Vivanco’s article “Braving the Scottish Romance,” academics Euan Hague and David Stenhouse are quoted:

“Scottish-themed American romances often draw on unexpected aspects of Scottish history, not just comprising a parade of kilts, castles and lochs, but also bending the laws of history by allowing the hero or heroine to travel through time” http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/2010/12/braving-scottish-romance.html

In other words, it gives modern women a way, in their imaginations, to access this historical archetype – a sharp contrast to today’s more metrosexual man. In that same article: 

Hague and Stenhouse add that the use of “The time-travel device allows for an explicit comparison of contemporary American masculinity, implicitly depicted as emasculated, with the raw, primordial manliness of pre-modern Scots”
http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/2010/12/braving-scottish-romance.html

BLOOD OF MY BLOOD:

So, Highlanders, Hand Fasting, The Rising, Culloden and so on, appearing over and over:

This is a rich period in history and, Scotland in general is an amazing place to write about.  But I would ask, if a writer wants to write about it to refrain from adopting , wholesale, storylines, characters, and events directly out of other books. 

I have been sent books that feel way too much like OUTLANDER wearing a disguise or embellishment.  And, neither makes it an original.

A writer might feel this is a way of paying homage to book s/he finds inspiring,  like OUTLANDER. BUT, if  you were me you would feel the weight of the same things appearing over and over. 

1. Any hero’s name similar to Jamie Fraser. Also, if you could stop him from being the dispossesed, or younger son, wise beyond his years, having received training or served in France as a mercenary.

2. The handfasting ceremony word for word, especially to protect her, or him!

3. An English wife from any time.

4. Any thing else from OUTLANDER!

 

Question MarkI still love OUTLANDER and I don’t object to the mystique being employed in exciting new ways that aren’t just riffs on that series, or some of the other big series, like Karen Marie Moning’s, but I think I’m a little over this phenomenon.

I want to see something new in these romances and stop having women, or men, fall through time.What do you think about Highlanders in romance novels; and the relationship between Scotland and time travel?

 

Links Blue Horizontal

 

Further reading:

My Post: It’s a History Thing – Do You Ken the Kilt? http://fangswandsandfairydust.com/2014/12/the-kilt.html

Everything We Know About Scotland, We Learned from Romance Books at DEAR AUTHOR, http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/everything-we-know-about-scotland-we-learned-from-romance-books/

Teach Me Tonight – Musings on Romance Fiction from an Academic Perspective: Thursday, December 09, 2010
Braving the Scottish Romance by  Laura Vivanco
http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/2010/12/braving-scottish-romance.html

Word Wenches: A Professor Studies Scottish Romance: http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2013/03/susan-here-the-word-wenches-are-pleased-to-welcome-dr-euan-hague-associate-professor-of-geography-at-depaul-university-to.htm

Curated Suggestions for Highland/Time Travel Novels:

HEROES & HEARTBREAKERS: http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2014/03/time-travel-highlanders-history-and-more-what-to-read-after-diana-gabaldons-outlander

Annabelle MacKenzie’s Guide to Scottish Historical Fiction:  http://www.scottishromance.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/421.The_Best_Time_Travel_Romance_Novels