Love conquers all. Or, anyway, some.

Who can resist a love story? Not me, but I like the odds to be high. My favorite situation (in fiction, not real life) is one in which the lovers are separated by enemy forces so huge you can’t imagine how they can be overcome. And sometimes they’re not.

The enemies I love are none of your piddling little Lord Voldemorts or Saurons. I’m talking  elemental forces: Time. Space. Death. Think Lyra and Will at the end of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy — they come from alternate worlds, and can’t lead full lives together in the same universe. So they separate to live their lives on opposite sides of a metaphysical barrier, and Lyra makes this great speech about how they’re going to reunite as molecules in the Great Beyond after death.

It does not get more satisfying than that, does it?

Unless it’s television’s Doctor Who (David Tennant variety) and Rose Tyler, also cut off from each other in alternate universes. Many episodes later, somehow or other a duplicate Doctor gets created and gets to spend eternity with Rose. Sad for the real Doctor, but Rose at least gets some satisfaction.

Or, going way, way back, how about the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice? She dies, he goes to get her in the Underworld and plays his lyre so beautifully no one can deny him anything.  When he’s leading her home in triumph, though, he breaks the rules and looks back at her. And Death conquers.

I’m sobbing here.

My love for this plot line has emerged in my own TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD—I can’t say how because the book’s not out yet and that would be telling.  But it’s led me to wonder why it’s so attractive to so many of us. A friend has suggested that we simply love misery. But most of us don’t insist on an unhappy ending—in fact, we’re delighted when things work out.

In my case, I blame a New England Puritan/lapsed Irish Catholic upbringing, which teaches one at an early age to react to any emergency by yelling “It’s not my fault!”  This, I contend, is why I’m happiest when Love’s path is roughed up not by the lovers’ own unfaithfulness or doubt, but by forces beyond their control.

On a more positive note, perhaps we just like knowing that Love will survive even the most powerful challenges. You may be parted in this life, Lyra and Will, but someday your molecules will dance.

So, are you with me in my lust for the massive and implacable foe? If not, what’s your favorite barrier to love?

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About Ellen Booraem

Ellen Booraem’s TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD, a middle-grade fantasy about a scaredy-cat boy and a determined young banshee, comes out August 15, 2013 (Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers). Her earlier middle-grade fantasies are SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS (Penguin/Dial BYR, 2011) and THE UNNAMEABLES (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008). She lives in coastal Maine with an artist, a dog, and a cat, one of whom is a practicing curmudgeon. She's online at www.ellenbooraem.com.

11 thoughts on “Love conquers all. Or, anyway, some.

  1. I agree on the elemental opposition to love as opposed to the more tangible, stereotypical two-legged foes; I’ve liked the latter for what they were but once I was introduced to the more menacing factors as you mention as “Time, Space, and Death”, there was no going back. The book I’ve just finished writing deals with an element of Love similar in that the opposition to the main characters’ love for one another is much more than just some Shakespearean linguist saying “No, you can’t be in love.”

    But I do have to say this for myself at least: I do actually prefer an unhappy ending; for me, sadness provokes more thought than happiness for whatever reason and forces one to truly appreciate the happiness that has passed. If I were to choose between having to read a happy or a sad ending, I’d choose the middle: bittersweet, as bittersweetness has always left a perfect feeling of satisfaction in my literary bowels.

  2. I’m kind of on the other end of this spectrum. I prefer flawed love and people who kind of muck it up because we’re pretty good at that without having “outside forces” to contend with. Nevertheless, I think we’re all suckers for a good love story … and a great kiss! (It’s really all about that kiss, isn’t it??)

  3. I cried with Dr. Who and Rose split and celebrated when they were reunited…sort of. Like Heidi, I love when people let their flaws or preconception of what they want and what’s staring at them screw up their chances of finding and accepting love, It’s real, it’s tangible, it drives me nuts, but when when their issues are resolved, I feel there’s hope for all the hapless couples out there. Perhaps that’s why I write contemporary romance

  4. My favorite type of love story is seeing the two lovers share a life together. Love changes over time; what you feel for a person when you first meet them and when you get matters is different from what you feel after you’ve shared the ups and downs of life. That was one of the things I liked about The Time Traveler’s Wife. Time both separates and reunites the characters there.

    Oh, and characters coming from different universes? Count me in!

  5. Oh no! Now I’m so scared to read it, but I also want to even more! LOL. I’m a sucker for a happy ending, but don’t get me wrong, if the characters don’t suffer, it’s just not fulfilling.

  6. Ooo, I forgot all about the Time Traveler’s Wife! Great example. I loved that book–as you say, they did manage to make it work to some extent, but not without the eventual and really, really resonant tragedy. And such a throat-catcher ending. (Trying to get my point across without spoilers. *rolls eyes*)

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