Why Paranormals Are Awesome: Part 3: Big Button Issues

Big button issues deserve big buttons. (Photo by me.)
Big button issues deserve big buttons. (Photo by me.)

I love paranormal fiction because it dares to do more than just write a terrific story, with rich, unusual characters, and unusual hooks. They also usually have a message for the reader, delivered in such a fashion that while the author could be standing on a soapbox, it’s an invisible one.

That’s why I call this Awesome Element #3 “Big Button Issues” rather then just deeper issues. Because the things paranormal authors dare to address (intentionally or not), can be the kind of issues that cause heated debate (like segregation and issues of race), or could be a little easier to approach (and potentially printed on a big button), like saving the environment and protecting the children.

Issues of xenophobia, racism, segregation, so-called “racial purity” – these are all issues we’ve probably had to at least consider in our lives, and they’re common themes that show up in paranormal fiction. In fact, they’re often one of the more obvious issues. While we all seek to belong, it is – good or ill – that as humans, we’re more comfortable with “what’s like us” and “what’s familiar.” This can quickly lead to grouping of people as “us” or “them.” Which can become examples of, at worst, xenophobia, racism, prejudice, and the results that come of it.

Paranormal characters frequently deal with these issues, whether they’re magical creatures trying to conceal their true natures amidst a human world, or dealing with other species different than their own. You see some pretty clear examples of this in:

  • Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan. Here, while the world is the author’s fantasy, when the heroine faces capture and becomes the Warprize, she encounters another culture she’s unfamiliar with and has been taught to fear.
  • Awaken Me Darkly by Gena Showalter. An alien huntress in a world perhaps Earth’s future interacts with other alien and mythical species, and many of the misunderstandings and complications relate back to cultural misunderstandings, and fear of new and different species who all have to share the same world.
  • Kelley Armstrong’s magical species who live in our human world encounter fear, envy, attack, and even scientific dissection by humans and other magical creatures because they’re “different.”
  • The same is true for many other werewolf, vampire, and magical creature protagonists.

The “unnatural” nature of the paranormal world allows the writer to explore some of the issues we may have to deal with on a daily basis. What’s so awesome about paranormal fiction is how much the extreme fantasy / disconnect with reality says about the world around us when we finally close the book and “go home”  (ie: finally close the book and go to bed like we should have hours ago.)

My experience with paranormal fiction is that while it may be populated by beasties, magic, all the creatures time, space, and the beyond can offer, it’s how very human these creatures can be – particularly the journey / character arch of protagonists – which help to remind and teach “us humans” what it is to be human. By creating a so-called magical and unreal universe, the author can help us deal with some of the horrible, darker things we hear about on the news, or perhaps experience in our lives. As characters – human or otherwise – explore their world’s and issues, they help us explore and understand our own.

Of course, xenophobia and issues of race aren’t the only “big” issues and questions paranormal fiction deals with. Now I’d love to hear from you.

What “Big Button Issues” have you seen / interpreted at the heart of paranormal fiction? Why do you think paranormal fiction can and will do this? Is it intentional, or an accidental bi-product?

Thanks for reading, I love to hear from you.

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