Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Romance, Sex and D&D: Dragon Sex

Donny over at “The Fine Art of the TPK” has discovered dragon sex. Or, to be specific, dragon sex as it occurs in fantasy literature. His wife talked him into reading The Dragon DelaSangre by Alan F. Troop:

This intense and painstakingly described DRAGON SEX was (to say the least) not what I was expecting, that's for sure. In fact, what surprised me was that my wife though it was pretty hot.

I don't know Donny or his wife, so I can't really speak to their backgrounds and reading habits. However, I think it's likely this is not the first time Mrs. TPK has encountered dragon sex.

I first ran across it when I borrowed my mother's Anne McCaffery novels. At the time, I was crazy for anything with dragons in it, and the “The Dragonriders of Pern” novels had awesome dragons on their gorgeous Michael Whelan covers. At the time, I thought they were wonderfully unusual novels, unlike anything I'd read before. What I didn't know was that they were firmly rooted in a style of literature the Blue Rose folks would call “romantic fantasy”. A young person (usually a woman) is estranged or separated from a family that is not good for her. She forms a telepathic bond with an intelligent animal (in this case, a dragon) and with its help, begins to fashion a new, healthier family for herself. For and with this new family, she risks all to make the world a better place or at least save it from an impending catastrophe.

And, sprinkled within, was dragon sex. It wasn't very detailed, and actually read more like an aerial race where the males attempted to catch the females to prove their worthiness. It mostly served as a counterpoint to the relationships of the people.

Years later, I came across dragon sex again in the books of Melanie Rawn. This was something else entirely. Sex between dragons in her books was more like sex between sharks. It was primal and violent, and served in part as a metaphor for the clash between the chaos fomented by the greed of the villains and the civilized order the heroes were trying to establish.

Dragon sex, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. I've mentioned before the differences between fantasy novels aimed at gals and those aimed at guys. Sex, especially “deviant” sex, is common in fantasy novels written for women and even teens. It's not just authors who are known for it, like Laurell K. Hamilton. You didn't get much more mainstream back in the “ultra conservative” (though they weren't, actually) '80s than Mercedes Lackey, and yet her books included homosexual characters, bisexual characters, and the polyamorous Hawkbrothers. Arrow's Fall includes a rape. Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon tangled with incest (as did the non-fantasy but widely read Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews). The trend was continued through the '90s by authors like Anne Rice, and today S&M appears to be popular with Anne Bishop's “Black Jewels” books and Jacqueline Carey's "Kushiel" novels.

Now the ladies in the audience are probably shrugging their shoulders at all this. I might as well be talking about how grass is green and rain is wet. The thing is, even among authors writing for guys who are notorious for sexual themes, fade-to-black was the general rule. John Norman's “Gor” novels, in spite of the rampant nudity and eroticism, always drew the curtain before sex. The erotic exploits of brazenly hedonistic pulp heroes like the Gray Mouser, Conan, and Elric were only alluded to and never detailed. Even Jack Chalker, whose prose could run hot and heavy right up to the act, would suddenly seem bashful as the event was efficiently mentioned and then passed through and beyond, where consequences would arise as the story resumed it's normal descriptive depth and pacing. And while they would seem to be close kin to the relationships of the “romantic fantasy” novels, the raw, painfully honest relationships in Joel Rosenberg's “Guardians of the Flame” series are a breed apart.

Again, my suggestion for guys who won't burst a blood vessel doing so, is to pick up one of these books and give it a try. You might hate it, but you'll likely be exposed to a style of storytelling you've never experienced before. Even if you don't have dragons carving notches into their bedposts, you'll find new ways to work relationships and similar themes into your games.

UPDATE: This was worth dragging up above the fold. Thanks, Chris.

Chris said...

Ursula Vernon did a great post on the antecedents of this subject, seen through the filter of fanfic.

From the article:
I did not, at nine, actually comprehend on any kind of level that homosexuality was something real people did. Like every other girl of my generation, I figured that out from Mercedes Lackey books, and at one point put down the book and went, "Um. Whoa." while the universe carefully re-aligned itself around my newly expanded brain.

Perhaps inevitably, she also drew the odd creature of the subconscious that thrives on such psycho-sexually charged weirdness as dragon sex. She calls it Susan.

12 comments:

Chris said...

Ursula Vernon did a great post on the antecedents of this subject, seen through the filter of fanfic.

From the article:
I did not, at nine, actually comprehend on any kind of level that homosexuality was something real people did. Like every other girl of my generation, I figured that out from Mercedes Lackey books, and at one point put down the book and went, "Um. Whoa." while the universe carefully re-aligned itself around my newly expanded brain.Perhaps inevitably, she also drew the odd creature of the subconscious that thrives on such psycho-sexually charged weirdness as dragon sex. She calls it Susan.

Chgowiz said...

I think the Guardians of the Flame series is very unappreciated. It gave (and still gives) me insight into how magic (and healing potions) would affect a world and gave me a metric for a level of grittiness that didn't take us into Sin City territory.

trollsmyth said...

Chgowiz: Agreed. I can't say enough good about that series, especially the first novel. I still need to track down a copy of "Not Really the Prisoner of Zenda". I've been holding off, I admit, because I'm more than a bit afraid for one of my favorite characters. :/

Donny said...

Thank you for the further commentary :) Though as far as sex and fantasy go, toplessrobot did us all one up :)

http://www.toplessrobot.com/2009/04/worst_fantasy_novel_and_the_winner_is.php

wow...words escape any attempt to describe it :)

As to the wifey, she's into all that kinky erotic fantasy stuff. She can't understand why I would waste my time reading a book WITHOUT it!

It's funny. Old school history, from 500BC till the present has revolved around the burn, rape, and pillage concept...but the R part is all but missing from any mainstream game out there, and any game I have ever played in that DID have it scabbed in (fuck you forever book of erotic fantasy!) was a total disaster.

Personally, I am glad it has evolved that way. Just thinking about flipping through an anne rampling story to describe a sex scene between one of my bro's and, well, another one of my bro's with a female character, makes me want to hang up my dice.

Don't get me wrong, I'm "into" sex (lol!) but mixing it with my brand of gaming and/or reading makes me a little queasy...maybe like asking advice on anal sex from a priest. On second thought, that may be a poor example...

Donny said...

The link apparently was snipped

http://www.toplessrobot.com/2009/04/worst_fantasy_novel_and_the_winner_is.php

Donny said...

Dammit. I am such a noob :(

mxyzplk said...

I liked the Guardians of the Flame series too!

This is one of the reasons I've found that women who overcome the "hump" to get into role-playing often really get into it; "female" fantasy (like the ubiquitous romance novel) has a lot fewer bounds on it. I personally am bothered how much in RPGing, as with fiction, sex or even romance is "fade to black" time. Lame.

Matthew James Stanham said...

MA friend of mother would often lend me fantasy books in my teenage years, and I recall a lot of them had these sorts of scenes, for which I was not quite prepared. The first book I encountered with some graphic sex in it was Mercenaries; I was about eleven and dutifully handed it over to my father, deeming it inappropriate for myself. So, in the main, I usually found myself wanting to get "on with the story" whenever such moments occurred.

Anne McCaffery I tried reading at about age twenty, but thought it was so awful that I couldn't even finish the first book,.

trollsmyth said...

mxyzlpk: Yeah, well, different strokes for different folks. I'm mostly in agreement with you, but it's one of those things that has to be handled carefully. When you sit down to play D&D, there's an unspoken assumption that everyone at the table is cool with the wholesale slaughter of orcs. (This is on of the reasons my father doesn't play.) Romance, sex, rape, even love can't be assumed as "safe" topics to broach. It's perhaps a bit bizarre when observed from a distance, but that's the way it is. The fact that many RPGers consider in-game family to be a source of weakness is very telling.

Like you, I prefer a shift in the focus of my games to take these sorts of things into account, but I don't assume my players are interested in that sort of thing, and I'm willing to grant certain players "immunity" from such situations, so long as they're willing to endure the rest of us playing with them.

Matthew James Stanham: As I said, different strokes for different folks. I was both a voracious reader in my youth and also harbored a respect for the written word that bordered on worship. The idea of considering something as "inappropriate" was utterly alien to me back then, but then I was also so ignorant of the world I had no inkling of the abyss I was skirting with that attitude. It was probably more luck than level-headedness that got me through those days.

mxyzplk said...

Oh, I know you can't assume people are OK with it - I just consider that kinda fucked up.

For some reason, people who otherwise go to R-rated movies, read books with complex relationships and/or graphic sex in them, etc. get a quickie lobotomy when playing in an RPG. I don't just mean no "graphic sex," I mean uncomfortable with the existence of romantic relationships - or as you point out, even other meaningful relationships like having a family.

I've thought long and hard about "why this is" but haven't come up with a good answer. Is it that we're emulating a genre that focuses on the orc-slaying and not the other stuff? No, as the examples in this post clearly state - even the "average" fantasy novel, or the "old school" Leiber/Howard/whatnot novel, has way more than 90% of D&D games and those are allegedly the source material.

Is it just that people are really shy or conservative? No, in most games I see the "table talk" can be quite foul at times.

I mean, the only real answer I'm left with is "gamers are mostly so socially dysfunctional that simulating relationships is uncomfortable for them." I don't really want to think that, but...

Generic Viagra said...

in fact is to difficult to found a girl that like to play D&D, there's no most girls that like to look as a geek for the rest of the world, however there occasion in which you found a little female touch in this game, in my case my actual girlfriend Marcela.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

@Last Poster:

Error. Language circuits overloade.....

What are trying to say?