MAD, BAD & DANGEROUS: THE DEMON LOVER (Part I)

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted

Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!

A savage place! as holy and enchanted

As e’er beneath a waning moon has haunted

By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

— Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan

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“I don’t get this Twilight thing” my friend complained. “That’s not vampires!” She went on to lament the lack of true bloodsucker lore in Stephanie Meyer’s Cullen clan cash cow. “Why,” she groused, “are they so popular?”

Why, indeed? As of this writing, the sanguinary Mormon’s sparklepire chronicles remain staggeringly lucrative. According to Locus Magazine, Meyer’s Twilight tales accounted for almost 16% of all books sold in the USA during the first quarter of 2009[1]. That’s approximately one in every seven books dispensed in first-run bookstores, numbers not seen since the Boy Wizard left Hogwarts. Like Harry Potter, Edward Cullen inspires dismay among traditionalists. What, literally, is the deal here?  Why do Borders and Hot Topic host shrines to such… defanged confections?

My take on that popularity involves the primal appeal of the Demon Lover, a potent archetype whose passage ranges from the Bible to the best-seller list. Edward Cullen is really no less “authentic” than Spike or Lestat in the dim light of traditional vampire lore [2] As an embodiment of the Demon Lover, though – that gorgeous bit of business who breaks the rules and looks great doing so – Edward sparkles in good company. He may seem a bit insipid next to Heathcliff or Hades, but his appeal remains obvious: He’s the lover you should avoid, yet can’t resist.

Such lovers come to us in male or female form. Occasionally, they manifest traits of one sex in the body of another, or blur gender lines into androgyny. In any form, these entities are “mad, bad and dangerous to know”; as Lady Charlotte Lamb wrote of Lord George Byron, their innate charm and raw sex appeal house engines of our self-destruction. They seduce us simply by existing, and then – male, female or both – they lead us to ruin. Some lucky paramours can meet and beat them on their own terms. Often, though, such tempters’ tales end in annihilation.

“Inside everybody there is another creature, a demon which doesn’t care at all… and this demon is a man’s real self, and a woman’s real self.”

— Colin Urquhart, from D.H. Lawrence’s “The Princess”

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What draws us to these creatures – these vampires, succubi, Elf-Knights, Elk-Charmers, Scarlet Women and Big Bad Wolves? Why is it, in life and in fiction, that we’re so drawn so readily toward the Bad Boy or Bad Girl? Some psychologists call this fascinating quality of attraction the dark triad. According to this observation, people who exhibit a seductive blend of narcissism, Machiavellism and psychopathy tend to be unusually successful in business and in bed. This dark triad of personality disorders reads like a menu for demonic lovers; two even draw their names from Greek mythology[3]. A Narcissist turns inward, fantasizes about power, and demands constant admiration from his companions. The Machiavellian manipulates people without regard for the consequences, while the remorseless psychopath feels little empathy for anyone but himself. If this chilling cocktail of disassociations sounds like a tailor-made lure for Catherine Earnshaw or Mrs. Jean Reynolds, then those ladies are in good company. Dark triad people, real and fictional, exert a sometimes literally fatal attraction upon us. M. Scott Peck calls such men and women “people of the lie”: folks who break rules and excite us because they seem to get away with it. In their disregard for consequence, they reflect what we may feel but dare not perform.

In fiction and folklore, these qualities come dressed up astempter archetypes: figures that expose our desires, challenge us to seize them, and often punish us for doing so. Agents of what Northrup Frye calls “the world of the nightmare and the scapegoat, of bondage and pain and confusion,” tempters are literally the Satans in our collective unconscious funhouse. Decked out in garish costumes, they accuse us, pursue us, confront and entertain us, some might even say damn us. Like their mythic namesakes (satan – “to persecute, to pursue”; diabolos – from dia + ballein, “to hurl across”), these figures bedevil us. And few things in the human experience are more bedeviling than sex.

Sex and death – the brilliant contradiction! Here’s where these seducers play. From the time we hit puberty, we’re aware of urges we hardly control. The rush of hormones, growth and adulthood ushers in a world of confusion, a realm of sluts and studs, good feelings and bad reputations. Mixed messages surge from all sides: DO IT! DON’T DO IT! DO IT, BUT DON’T GET CAUGHT! And in that confusion, tempter archetypes take form.

On many levels, the Demon Lover reveals the face of the innershadow, that beautiful trickster toying with all of us from within. According to Jung, this repressed spectre of hate and selfishness embodies all the aspects we hide away from ourselves. By connecting with the shadow, he claimed, a person could gain individuation – she might become whole by reconciling her psyche with her shadow. A shadow archetype, then, is a reflection of all we fear within ourselves. His lust is our lust, and power comes through claiming – if not acting on – it as our own.

Most folks fear the shadow and all it represents. Wrapping it in Satan’s cloak, they project their most undesired traits onto someone else. That character or person then becomes a scapegoat for all they don’t wish to recognize within themselves. Fiction and faerie tales carve out wonderful homes for such scapegoats, and the Demon Lover is one of the most popular ones around. As Dorothy Van Ghent says in her book The English Novel: Form and Function, the Demon Lover Heathcliff is “an anthropomorphized primitive energy, concentrated in activity, terrible in effect.” He’s also, as the girls say, hawt. He may be bad, but he makes it look good!

“For the moment, you admire my beauty, which has turned more than one head; but sooner or later, you would regret having given your love to me, for you do not know my soul… get this into your head and never forget it: wolves and lambs do not look upon each other with kindly eyes.”

— Maldoror, from The Comte de Lautréamonet’s “The Songs of Maldoror”

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Traditionally, the Demon Lover is male, ruthless, seductive and often bestial. Even in cities or royal courts, his features and mannerisms link him to wild places. He is, as they say, a “beast” – a fox, a wolf, a goat, a stag. He’s horny with or without antlers; like Heathcliff, he’s got “eyes full of black fire.” As shadows are, he is dark – perhaps not in skin, but in temperament. Often, he bears animal features: cloven hooves, shaggy hair, long claws, sharp teeth. He may, like Dracula or Pan, exude a rank yet fascinating odor. “Never trust a man,” says Granny in Angela Carter’s screenplay for In the Company of Wolves, “whose eyebrows meet… The worst kind of wolf is hairy on the inside.”

That male Demon Lover has many faces. He’s crude Coyote or magnificent Lucifer, stormy d’Urberville or smoldering Lestat. He might be tormented like Angel or proud like Spike, intoxicating as Dionysus or cold as Hades. He could be the spurned ghost of James Harris or the bygone revenant Count Dracula. At times, he walks the earth in mortal form – a Lord George Byron, an Aleister Crowley, a Pablo Picasso or Charles Manson who’ll seduce and then abuse you. His prowess is physical (James Bond), social (Valmont), material (Bluebeard) and often supernatural (the Elf-Knight). He might be wealthy as Baronne d’Aulnoy’s Beast, or as poor as that “raggle taggle gypsy” sometimes called Black Jack Davy. As Alec d’Urberville says, “I am the old Other One come to tempt you in the guise of an inferior animal.” In all forms, he upsets the applecart of propriety and then offers you forbidden fruit.

His counterpart, the Temptress, is more subtle yet wild in her way. Beautiful, primal, passionate and often insane, she blazes where her male counterpoint smolders. From literally the beginning, she has refused to follow rules or behave “as ladies should.” Her defiance began with Lilith and hasn’t changed much since. Like Faith from the Buffyverse, she feels betrayed by authority and so swears to bring it all down, using every weapon at her disposal, most especially her sex.

A truly transgressive Demon Lover archetype, the Androgyne, melds male and female elements together, working sexual mojo and confusion among paramours – and audiences – of all genders. Although this archetype is less overtly malicious than the others, s/he’s often more challenging because of the outrage s/he presents to conventional gender roles. Bisexual (like Anne Rice’s vampires), hermaphroditic (like Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu) gender-switching (like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando) or genderqueer (like David Bowie’s various personas), this archetype appears to be a recent innovation. A look back, however, to the origins of incubi and succubi reveals a different tale. According to Thomas Aquinas, such spirits are both male and female; in female form, they gather semen from sleeping men and then assume male forms with which to implant that stolen seed into sleeping women. The infamous Malleus Malficarum (“Witch’s Hammer”) blames deformed children on such demons, and credits every imaginable erotic abomination on horny devils and the witches who adore them. Transgression, it seems, is an equal-opportunity seducer – a “sweet transvestite” one moment, a raging bull or vamping siren the next!

(To be continued…)

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This entry, along with its related parts, was the first of a three-article series originally published in Realms of Fantasy Magazine between 2009 and 2010. All rights are reserved by the author. Permission granted for linking or re-posting with attribution, but explicitly denied for publication without prior arrangements with the author. 


NOTES

[1] Citing USA Today.

[2] While many “vampire traditionalists” howl because Edward doesn’t burst into flames around daylight, that vampiric allergy to sunshine is not itself “traditional.” The trope appeared in 1922, when F.W. Murnau employed it as visual drama at the climax of his film Nosferatu. Before that, vampires might be weaker by day but could still, like Stoker’s Dracula, walk around in it without combusting.

[3] Vain Narcissis, who lost himself in his own reflection; and Psyche, who endured a rather dysfunctional relationship with Eros. 

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About Satyr

Award-winning fantasy author, game-designer, and all 'round creative malcontent. Creator of a whole bunch of stuff, most notably the series Mage: The Ascension, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, and Powerchords: Music, Magic & Urban Fantasy. Lives in Seattle. Hates shoes. Loves cats. Dances a lot.
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2 Responses to MAD, BAD & DANGEROUS: THE DEMON LOVER (Part I)

  1. Pingback: MAD, BAD & DANGEROUS: THE TEMPTRESS (Part I) | Satyros Phil Brucato

  2. Pingback: MAD, BAD & DANGEROUS: THE ANDROGYNE (Part I) | Satyros Phil Brucato

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