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When people ask me where I got the idea for LIES BENEATH, a YA novel about murderous mermaids on Lake Superior, I tell them that the initial image came to me in a dream, which is the truth. But the inspiration–the thing that fueled the novel–was Victorian poetry.
I’ve always had a love for the Victorian-era poets: Shelley, Tennyson, Dickinson, Rossetti, and the Brontës, just to name a few. In particular, I’m drawn to the way they mix their images of death and romance: the beautiful corpse, so to speak. For example, Dickinson speaks of death being a suitor come courting in a fine carriage:
Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me.
The Carriage held but just Ourselves
But the Victorians don’t have a monopoly on this juxtaposition of romance and death. It is also a familiar image in modern-day paranormal romance.
The paranormal genre is filled with vampires, faeries, angels, and mermaids–all beautiful creatures who bring romance to unsuspecting mortals, just as easily as they bring death. So why are we drawn to them? They should repel us, but we are transfixed. Perhaps it is because we long to be consumed by love, just as surely as death will consume us all. Perhaps it’s the notion of “‘til death do us part” taken to its most extreme conclusion.
LIES BENEATH (the first book in the trilogy) is the story of Calder White, a merman, who falls in love with Lily Hancock, a human girl whose family has a history with monsters in the lake. The novel was inspired by three Victorian poems about beauty, love, and death, all written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: “The Merman,” “The Mermaid,” and “The Lady of Shalott.”
Tennyson describes the merman as a beautiful creature, living a king’s life. He’s flirtatious and bold, but without real love, his life is lonely, empty, and shallow:
Who would be
A merman bold,
Under the sea,
With a crown of gold,
On a throne?
But the mermaids are more straightforward in their warning that death lurks behind the beautiful façade of their lives:
Till that great sea-snake under the sea
From his coiled sleeps in the central deeps
Would slowly trail himself sevenfold
Round the hall where I sate, and look in at the gate
With his large calm eyes for the love of me.
In LIES BENEATH, Calder recognizes the emptiness of his life, wants more, but fears he cannot escape his own nature. That is, until he meets Lily Hancock, a modern-day Lady of Shalott.
Like the Lady of Shalott, Lily Hancock lives under a curse. While the Lady is teetering on the edge of a mental breakdown, Lily’s perception of the world is colored by her belief that she is destined for insanity, just like her grandfather before her. Both Lily and the Lady long for love and an end to the curse, even if seeking it out will surely lead to death.
When the Lady sees Lancelot, the object of her desire, Tennyson describes him just as dazzling and golden as he described the merman:
The gemmy bridle glittered free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
-The Lady of Shalott
Both Lily and the Lady put on white dresses, board a boat, and seek an end to their family curse. One of them is successful. The other pays the ultimate price. But can we say they did not both achieve their goal?
Some argue that YA paranormal romance sets a bad example of love for teens. I disagree. I would suggest that argument is looking at the genre through the wrong set of lenses. Rather, if considered through the lens of poetry, the reader quickly realizes that paranormal romance–like so many Victorian-era poems before it–presents a metaphor for sacrificial love. And, in the end, isn’t that the greatest love of all?
Anne Greenwood Brown is the author of Lies Beneath (Random House/Delacorte June 12, 2012), Deep Betrayal (Random House/Delacorte March 12, 2013), and Promise Bound (Random House/Delacorte spring 2014). She lives in Minnesota with her amazingly patient husband and their three above-average children. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Sonia Gensler says
Mmmm . . . sounds like just my thing!
Caroline Starr Rose says
Christina Lee says
“We long to be consumed by love”—> powerful! And oh, those covers!!!!
Kimberley Griffiths Little says
Really enjoyed these snippets of Victorian poetry. I always loved Robert and Elizabeth Browning. “How do I love thee, let me count the ways . . . ” Your books sound very intriguing.