Unlikely Hero

In today’s Dear Abby there is a letter (bottom of the page) from an attractive woman who is tired of getting stared at because she is married to a dwarf. She adores her husband and was looking for suggestions from Abby as to how to address rude comments, questions, and stares.

Manner-issues aside, this got me thinking: would there ever be a romance novel with a dwarf hero? Heroine? What other unlikely scenarios could there be – and if you think about them, how unlikely are they really?

Obvious case in point: there’s a romance that makes Candy do the pee-pee dance about a stroke-victim mathematician and a Quaker heroine.  If you’d explained the scenario to me before I read it, I’d have thought you were nuts. After I read it? Heck, I STILL think about it. The more unlikely the hero, or heroine, the more fascinating the romance can be.

Consider the number of military heroes and heroines with post-traumatic stress syndrome symptoms, who aren’t sure they can trust what they experience. Or the number of lead characters who have survived personal trauma that shapes their personality, and provides them an internal conflict to overcome.

So why, when I think, “Hm. Dwarf romance…” do I immediately follow with, “Nah, no way.” Is physical difference a blow to the fantasy? It shouldn’t be.

What unlikely hero or heroines can you think of, and more importantly, is there a condition or scenario that is just completely impossible? I mean, we have people humping the undead left and right at this point in the published romance world. Is there anything that’s truly “untouchable?”

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Eddie Adair says:

    Hmmm…from where I sit eight or so hours a day, I’d say that there’s one kind of pairing that most readers would deem unfathomable in the blink of an eye.

    That would be a hero without a penis.

    I’m not snarking. Just saying, take a look at the hero’s role in most romances, and our society’s definitions of masculinity/virlity, and see if you can imagine it.

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    A hero without a penis.

    A heroine without a vagina. Or a clitoris.

    Have mercy.

  3. 3
    Kate R says:

    ha, I did the same sort of subject about shape shifters at my blog. . .what animals simply cannot fly as a romantic hero shapeshifter. Didn’t even try for what a female could or couldn’t be.

    There was a book a couple of years back set in modern times based on Beauty and the Beast and the beast was a guy with a horrible deforming disease. Horrifically ugly and he’d never be anything but H.U.. No turning into a handsome prince.

    My favorite version of Beauty and the Beast is Sleeping Beastly. He turns into a handsome prince and Beauty says “Oh igh! oh igh! what have you done with my beast?” It was an audio tape my kids listened to all the time. Maynard Moose tells it and I even got over being annoyed by his style, I liked that version so much. It featured dancing broccolis.

  4. 4
    Kate R says:

    Nope, Eddie, can’t imagine it. Now I wish someone would write it though. Cool idea…

  5. 5

    “…a hero without a penis…”

    Au contraire! I’ve definitely read a couple of short-story romanticas where the hero was lacking a certain something in the trouser department. I think they were by Robin Schone in her Kensington anthologies.

    I’ve also read a category with a parapalegic hero who doesn’t recover and another where the heroine had a mastectomy. Blind heroines (and a few heroes) probably have their own sub-genre by now. Most disabilities in romances aren’t very physical, though. Mental illnesses of the PTSD-kind seem more common, possibly because they’re both “invisible” and the consequence of heroic behaviour.

    But I’d say that some of this might be partly to do with the fact that it’s a lot harder to write about sex in such cases without becoming overly prurient, or sounding like some of those colourful magazines for gentlemen with (ahem) “special” interests.

  6. 6
    Candy says:

    I wrote this on Meljean’s blog the other day, wherein she talked a bit about how romantic suspense and romantic horror is rarely suspenseful OR scary:

    Part of the suspense is also diluted by the fact that as romance readers, we KNOW that the hero and heroine are going to make it through. Shit, they’ll make it through unscathed. You won’t catch either one of them having half their face torn off by a werewolf, or having their arm torn off by a demon, or whatever. At worst, they’ll have minor and non-cosmetically-damaging boo-boos, like a dashing scar on the cheek or a broken arm.

    Besides a lack of significant maiming (c’mon, Lisa Kleypas wrote a book about a woman with severe burn scars but they were on her legs—of COURSE they weren’t on her face or torso, that would be too squicky), I can’t imagine a romance novel hero/heroine with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a severe cleft palate, or anything else that could severely deform the face.

    I also can’t imagine a romance novel hero/heroine with Down’s Syndrome, Lou Gehrig’s disease, or anything else that involved significant physical or mental impairment. If someone’s in a wheelchair, it’s because of a car accident, or somebody put a bullet in their back as they dove across the motorcade to save the President, or something.

    No-nos also include Crohn’s (or any other diseases from the IBS family) and anything that could cause chronic urinary incontinence.

  7. 7

    Forgot to say that what annoys me most of all in romances with a disabled h/h is when they recover by the end.

    Yes, in Romancelandia the lame walk and the blind see because of the power of lurrrvvve. Aaarrggghh! Mouth frothing aaarrgghh!

  8. 8
    Wendy says:

    I recently read a Harelquin Next novel that featuers a paraplegic hero whose *um* equipment didn’t function properly anymore.  I have to say, the love scenes were some of the hottest I’d read in a long time.  Emotional, sexy and touching.

    And in case anyone cares – the book is Old Boyfriends by Rexanne Becnel.

  9. 9
    SB Sarah says:

    Wendy, say more! How did the sex scenes work if his equipment was nonfunctioning?

  10. 10
    Eddie Adair says:

    I’m not saying that a hero sans penis can’t be done, or that it can’t be done well—as you point out, AuntieP, it has been done.

    But the phallocentrism that drives lots of romantica, or even, I’d argue, some straight romances that focus so much on a hero who is “all man”, is not something to be ignored. I’d make the same argument for a hero with erectile dysfunction. A situation in which a hero doesn’t have the classic equipment for lovin’ is often perceived as an inability to perform, rather than simply an opportunity to be creative—as in, nothing’s as good as “the real thing”. I happen to think that this line of thought is crap, but thus my point for posting.

    The problem isn’t that a hero without a traditional model of male plumbing is impossible, but rather that lots of readers would just flat-out not give it a chance. The challenge would come for the author to make the reader put the phallocentrism aside for awhile.

  11. 11
    runswithscissors says:

    I was mulling over this topic when I saw your post, Eddie, and it confirmed what I’ve been thinking about … which is that as long as the writer can convince me that despite the hero’s appearance he is still irresistibly attractive to the heroine (or vice versa), I can accept pretty much anything.  Cal, the hero of Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex does have a penis but it’s only about 2cm long … and I still loved this hero and completely bought the love story in the book.  Okay,  Middlesex is not a romance novel per se, and maybe the issue goes back to our definitions of the genre of romance – are romance novels only novels we read to escape, and in which case do the heroes/heroines have to be the epitome of attractiveness?  A definition that would rule out Flowers from the Storm and countless other classics.  Some days I want to read about the kind of hero that Judith McNaught specialises in: successful, gorgeous men, fantastic in bed and irrevocably in love with the heroine … but I’ll read about any hero just as long as he’s irrevocably in love with the heroine.  I think it’s all down to the writer’s skill in convincing us of the latter.  And sure, I’ll admit that it might take a genius to convince me that any woman finds chronic urinary incontinence hot, but as Bobby Kennedy might have said if he’d read more romances ‘Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream about romance novels featuring men with penises that don’t work and women with urinary tract infections and say why not.’

  12. 12
    Jorie says:

    My impression, though this could be changing, is that there are rather strict physical requirements for the hero with regard to size, hair, and physique.

    Btw, in sff, Vonda McIntyre’s The Moon and the Sun has a dwarf or almost dwarf hero who was charismatic and attractive.

  13. 13
    Candy says:

    Oooh, I have The Moon and the Sun in my TBR stacks.

    Time to dig it out.

    Given that it’s difficult to find heroes who don’t tower over everyone else in Romancelandia (or even Detectivelandia and SF/Flandia), short heroes fascinate me.

    I’m guessing we won’t find pudgy heroes with back hair any time soon, though.

  14. 14
    Eddie Adair says:

    Great example regarding Middlesex, runswithscissors. But you bring up the important point that asks whether romance novels are a form of escape, of fantasy, and then Jorie, you mention the strict physical requirements for heroes and heroines. Here’s what I’ve come across…

    My line of work involves bein a part of the generation of endless tales featuring heroines ranging from blindingly beautiful to plain and unnoticed and from terrified and virginal to seasoned, cool and independent. Though our readers tend to love the variety of heroines with whom they can identify, though, the fantasy aspect comes packaged—forgive the pun—in the hero. The best sellers are always the ones in which the hero is the quintessential alpha, and that alphadom is embodied in great height—sometimes 7+ feet in paranormal or fantasy stories—huge muscles, and the inevitable enormous dong. So I think it’s verrrry interesting and deliciously transgressive for authors to prove that there can be “perfect”, utterly sexy heroes with some quite apparent imperfections, especially in some of these jaded departments.

    Also, I love the Bobby Kennedy quote. Totally made my day.

  15. 15
    Kerry says:

    Another example of a fantastic “dwarf” hero, again in SF rather than romance, is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan.

  16. 16
    Maggie says:

    Are there any romance novels that omit sex entirely?

    I’m quite new to this genre, but find it mostly enjoyable so far.  I do like reading about the hero and heroine falling in love, and getting to know each other, and finding their way to the HEA, but I tend to skip over the sex scenes. 

    I’m just not interested in that aspect of relationshhips.  (My own libido is nonexistent.)  I’d like to read a romance without sex – preferably without even the “we want to jump in bed and do it RIGHT NOW but we’re waiting until the divorce is final/the war is over/we get married/etc” variety.

    This probably wouldn’t be classified as an “untouchable” – no pun intended – but it’s something I haven’t seen yet.

  17. 17

    “The challenge would come for the author to make the reader put the phallocentrism aside for awhile.”

    ‘tis true, Eddie. These were very much the exception rather than the rule, but I do like that it’s not totally inconceivable these days.

    Your point reminds me of how even after romance discovered oral sex, it still remains very much the “warm-up” act. Heroines still don’t usually come without the requisite eight-or-whatever inches of hot love rod doin’ its studly stuff. Of course, this could be solely due to the misplaced clitoris that’s been mentioned elsewhere on this site, but I suspect otherwise.

    Of course, the other side of the coin is that the heroine also must be ultimately capable of feeling sexual satisfaction with the hero. So I haven’t encountered any FGM in romance (I’m not exactly looking, I must admit) and we all know what happens to those frigid heroines… it’s the paaah-waaah of luuurrvvee to the rescue.

  18. 18
    Eddie Adair says:

    Oh, absolutely, Auntie P. And that, of course, assumes that the heroine has to WANT the hot love rod in her weeping channel, and that she HAS a working weeping channel, and that she isn’t really okay unless she wants said love rod in said weeping channel. So someone with no interest in penetration wouldn’t be a well-balanced, likeable heroine—she’d be, as you said, frigid.

  19. 19
    Tonda says:

    Forgot to say that what annoys me most of all in romances with a disabled h/h is when they recover by the end.

    I’m 100% with EvilAunitePeril on this one. I loved Medeiros book YOURS UNTIL DAWN with the blind hero . . . right up until she cured him.

    -Tonda

  20. 20
    Kiera says:

    I’d definitely read a romance with a dwarf hero. Would anyone publish one? Maybe. Peter Dinklage of The Station Agent and Threshold has his fans, after all.

    I’m a fan of Beauty and the Beast stories, so I’ve read a ton of deformed/broken hero/heroine stories over the years. One of my favorites involved a female painter hired by a deformed guy to paint his portrait. He had (I *think*) a disease/deformity rather than a scarring incident. Another favorite is Beast by Judith Ivory. The hero had a bum eye, a scar on his face, and a limp. Oh, and he was a perfumer who obsessed with the collection of ambergris (whale vomit) to add to his perfumes. Yum!

  21. 21
    Jenica says:

    I was going to mention Miles Vorkosigan, but I got beat to the punch.  Miles is nearly a dwarf, his bones are extremely breakable, he’s in near-constant physical discomfort, and he’s one of the most compelling heroes I’ve ever read.  And Bujold has great fun thrusting him into love-story scenarios, and seeing how he fares. 

    Which is all by way of saying that it’s totally possible to write a convincing lead character, romance or not, as long as the writing’s good.

  22. 22
    Kate R says:

    Kiera,

    That deformed hero book was the one I was talking about. Of course the HEA had to be trashed. Sigh.

  23. 23
    Wendy says:

    Sarah:
    Well the sex scenes worked in Old Boyfriends quite well – even without a functioning member (he he – I said “member”).

    Instead Becnel focuses on other aspects of love making, mainly benefitting the heroine.  Lots of strategic touching and tongue action….if you get my drift.  Also, the hero gets off thankyouverymuch, although obviously not the traditional way since the equipment doesn’t function normally. 

    Conflict arises later in the story because the hero feels he can’t be the man he thinks the heroine wants/needs.  Hogwash of course.

    I rather liked the book as a whole, although I suspect many would consider it standard women’s fiction stuff. AAR gave it a C rating I believe.  I gave it 4 Hearts over at TRR.  In case that makes any bit of difference :)

  24. 24
    Robini says:

    I think it’s been obliquely touched on already, but how about heroes who are morbidly obese? “Slightly overweight” heroines are practically a chick-lit institution, but even heroes in wheelchairs tend to have chiseled jaws and muscular arms. Seems like there’s a void in the market for men so large they can *literally* roll out of bed.

    I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon, either. In part, I suspect this is because it doesn’t fit the traditional hurt/comfort mold (usually the hero is a “victim” of whatever his circumstance, and obesity is largely viewed as something you do to yourself), and in part because anyone carrying around a few extra pounds would probably be less-than-thrilled to read a book that implied that their extra pounds were actually indicative of a lack of true love rather than the lack of a dietician and time for the treadmill.

    And while we’re on the subject, is anyone aware of a romance with a disabled heroine?

  25. 25
    Jorie says:

    And while we’re on the subject, is anyone aware of a romance with a disabled heroine?

    Susan Mallory’s A Little Bit Pregnant, an SSE.  I liked it.  The heroine is wheel-chair bound after an accident.

  26. 26
    sherryfair says:

    For a disabled heroine, Mary Balogh’s “Dancing With Clara,” one of my favorites.

    Balogh also has a deaf heroine in “Silent Melody”

  27. 27
    Kiera says:

    If I Had You by L. Kurland has a disabled heroine. Kinda. She has a messed up leg, but it’s a medieval, so it’s not like she’s in a wheelchair or anything.

  28. 28
    Angela H says:

    A couple of books that come to mind where the hero is not perfect…

    Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi (I haven’t read this one, but the hero is considered “simple”).

    England’s Perfect Hero by Suzanne Enoch (hero has severe PTSD making him almost a recluse).

    The Charmer by Celeste Bradley (hero’s arm suffered nerve damage in the war leaving it useless).

    Castles by Julie Garwood (hero has a bad leg where a shark took a bite out of his calf).

    I think it was Lorraine Heath who did a Western historical where the hero was injured in the Civil War and one-half of his face was severly scarred and he lost an eye. 

    Mia Ryan did a novella in “The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown” where the hero suffered a mild brain injury in the war.

    As for heroines, I know I read an Amanda Quick where the heroine had a riding accident as a girl which left her with a twisted foot or something.

    I was also disappointed by the Mederios book where the blind hero recovers his sight.  It would have been much more interesting if he had remained blind.

  29. 29
    Kristie says:

    Catherine Anderson did a romance with the heroine who is a parapalegic.  While she can feel things during sex, her nerve endings are all wonky.  It takes her and the heroine a while to work things out.  While I didn’t care for the book overall – she decides she must leave him for his own sake – hate that kind of storyline – the sexual aspect of the book was actually very well written.

  30. 30
    Katy says:

    I am soo glad that people have mentioned Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, probably my all-time favorite male protaganist.  He is so awesomely wonderful.. Charismatic, fascinating, 4’9”, hunch-backed(only a little), with a head too big for his body and tons of scars.  Also prematurely aged from years of pain.  And yes, through the series, you see him have big crushes, and go through two mega romances.

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