Why would the courtesan choose the penniless sitar player over the maharaja, who is offering her a lifetime of security?
Sometimes human emotion overcomes our logic. This is true in real life – where people are romantically encouraged to follow their hearts instead of their minds – as well as in writing. As writers, our wants often overwhelm the reality of a good story. There is no fault in giving the readers a romantic ending – after all, the “happily ever after” is my favorite part of a story, but we need to remember to keep things sensible. I am a Disney child – I scoff at the rumors that Aladdin was a liar, using Jasmine to gain masculine control over a kingdom; that the Beast was a rapist and Belle a victim; and that Ariel was forced against her will to change her lifestyle to suit her new husband. In my eyes, it is very simple. Two people fall in love. And love knows no boundaries.
Even in writing, there must be a pattern. Maybe there is friendship, maybe there is desire. While love chooses its own path, there must be some sensible pattern to it. Aragorn may have loved Arwen, but they understood that they could never be, and the marriage to Eowyn was a sensible political decision… one that could lead to love, already built on a foundation of respect. In the best literary relationships, there are questions… will it be a path of love? Compatibility? Sensibility? And, of course, there is the ever-popular love triangle.
I will start with love – a relationship built on love and nothing else. The first love-driven relationship that comes to my mind is Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind presents many things, but Scarlet is a slave to her emotions. She only has eyes for one person, and that senseless desire consumes her, leaving her soulless in many ways. When she finally marries Rhett – a relationship that could have been fruitful and happy, she chooses instead fo follow her desire and she does not learn to love Rhett until it is too late. Similarly, the love-inspired relationship of Arthur Dent and Fenchurch in The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy by Douglas Adams simply… ends. True love exists as rarely in books as it does in real life, and even if your protagonist believes in love at first sight, it is unlikely that bother characters will fall together in such a way that they will live happily ever after without a greater foundation.
What of compatibility… friendship? Many of the best literary relationships are built first upon a foundation of friendship? Ron and Hermione is about the most modern, famous thing that I can think of. Every follower of the Harry Potter fandom was frantically trying to guess where Hermione’s affections would ultimately fall, and when the epilogue of Deathly Hallows revealed Ronald Weasley as Hermione’s one-and-only, nobody was surprised (although I will not go so far as to say that nobody was disappointed).
Sensible relationships are, essentially, political relationships, and it is uncommon that these things start off warm and fuzzy. The most famous couple in a sensible relationship is the fictional character of King Arthur, and his wife Gweniviere. Of course, the legend goes that Arthur and Gwen fell in love, but everyone knows how that story ended. Much like the wives of King Henry VIII, political relationships rarely live happily ever after… if they live at all.
And, ah, the love triangle. Obviously Bella-Edward-Jacob comes first to mind. Ultimately, someone ends up happy, and someone ends up broken-hearted. This is a popular method because of the vigor passionate readers will put into the story – Team Edward and Team Jacob sure caused a ruckus… and still do, even after all is said and done!
See, but there is always love, eventually. A relationship is a complicated thing. Even when in real life, “love” often ends in tears, too many of us want to believe in it. We want the simple happinesses and we want to feel the joy of the protagonist. Each of us has our reasons for falling in and out of love, and our characters should have similar reasons. But in a novel, if there is a romantic relationship, there should be love.
The courtesan does not choose the maharaja because she does not love him. She loves the penniless sitar player.
Do you agree? What kind or relationships do you like to read? Do you think that love is captured “accurately” or “romantically” in your favorite novels?