Romance in Fantasy and Science Fiction


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Face it:  As genres go, fantasy and science fiction do not lend themselves well to romance.

Now before you protest by citing examples of book covers, let me say that romance is more than a buxom vixen next to a muscle man riding a dragon.  That’s not romance; that’s just sex.

Sex is not romance.  Sex can be a part of romance, but sex without romance is erotica – a useless but sadly profitable genre.  Romance thrives in sexual tension but withers when subjected to perversion.  A good wedding has sexual tension:  a bride, a groom, waiting for each other –

Yes, waiting –

Where the honeymoon will not be business as usual.

Enough with the sermon.

Romance is best portrayed in Shakespeare, though Romeo and Juliet die due to a blood feud.

In Jane Austen novels, through misunderstandings and hurt feelings to end with wedding vows.


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In the screwball comedies of the 1930’s and 40’s, like It Happened One Night and More the Merrier.  Walls topple in those two movies, but not until after the wedding, thank you very much.

Anyway, back to fantasy and science fiction.  I’ll give a few examples from movies and television series:

4 Poor Romance Examples

1.  The Lord of the Rings


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The Lord of the Rings is classic fantasy.  It melds great story to excellent character development and plunks the whole into a richly imaginative world.

But the trilogy stinks at romance.

Too many men.  It’s like a mining camp in the Klondike.

What romance there is, mainly between Aragorn and Arwen or between Faramir and Eowyn, is relegated to side story.

Now don’t get up in arms.  This is the way it should be, because Tolkien’s story is one of high adventure, not boy meets girl.  So we don’t expect much in the way of romance here.

2.  Star Wars

Star Wars makes a stab at romance with Princess Leia and Han Solo.  Romance between a disposed princess and a rogue smuggler is a rich field.  But in Episodes 4-6 it’s a side note.

Leia even kissed her brother… but we didn’t know that then, that is, if you watched them in release order.


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Don’t toss up Padme and Anakin as example.  Anakin goes through the angst of saving Padme from his nebulous nightmares to end up nearly killing her in his waking reality.

And he brings down the Republic in tow.

No romance here.  A romantic hero doesn’t lose his moral center.  He uses it to fight for his lady.

Otherwise, why would she want him?

3.  Doctor Who

Doctor Who has so many companions that you’d think there might be some romance just by probability.  But no.

In the new, rebooted series, there’s almost a romance between the tenth doctor and Rose, but they become dimensionally separated.  Talk about “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou.”  Anyway, I always thought Rose a bit trashy.

Amy and Rory could be a good romance.  When Rory watches over Amy as the Roman centurion for 2,000 years, that was good science fiction romance.

But the Doctor keeps getting in the way.  Well, it is his show.

I always wondered – and so did Rory – if Amy was as taken with Rory as she was with the Doctor.  It’s hard to compete with a time lord in the interest department.  But whichever Amy’s heart beat for, someone becomes a third thumb.


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An aside:  I like River Song.  She is one cool gal.  There might be a romance between her and the Doctor, if they ever got in mutual time streams.

Ah, the perils of true love.

4.  Star Trek

Please.  Captain Kirk putting on his boots is not romance.  ‘Nuff said on the original series.


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In the Next Generation, who could ever figure out Will Riker and Deanna Troi’s relationship?  Hints, but not enough development for a really good romance.

Romances with Worf were physically dangerous unless the lady was Klingon.  Even in the one good romance he had, his lady ends up getting killed.


4 Good Romance Examples

1.  The Hunger Games


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Katniss is not a good romantic female lead.  She’s too busy trying to survive.

Contrariwise, Peeta and Gale make great romantic male leads.

All through the trilogy, a major plot point is which boy the girl will choose.  The series is about more than survival.  One of those things it is about is romance during trials, about steadfast love, about what makes a good pair.

I won’t tell you who I was rooting for in case you haven’t read through Mockingjay.  No spoilers.

But I will say I was not disappointed.

2.  Once Upon a Time

Fairy tales are fantasy’s romantic jewels.  They end like Austen’s novels:  with a wedding, with a happily ever after.

Once Upon a Time offers us a treatise on the cost of true love both before the wedding and after.  I’m thinking of Snow and Charming, or as they’re known in Storybrooke, Mary Margaret and David.


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There’s a bevy of other romances, such as Rumple and Belle, Red and Peter (poor Peter), and Dreamy and Nova (a bittersweet tale).

Then there’s the whole triangle of Emma, Neal, and Hook.  Another Katniss, Peeta, and Gale?

But Snow White and Prince Charming unite the series.  Their relationship – its ups and downs, its trials and victories – portrays the themes of good, those themes of justice, mercy, and faithfulness, against the evils of revenge, power-mongering, and self-centeredness.

Anyway, Walt Disney’s first feature was Snow White.  It’s natural Disney Company writers would start here, too.

3.  Prince of Persia


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I know this movie didn’t get great reviews.  Can I help it if the reviewers were wrong?

I liked it.

It has swashbuckling adventure, ingenious battles, thrilling parkour, exotic sets, a load of villains, and a brilliant comic relief in Alfred Molina’s character Sheik Amar.

Bringing it all together is the tension between Dastan and Tamina.  They spar, they connive, they at last collaborate.  Tamina’s a strong female lead, able to hold her own in a world of men.  Dastan’s an honest, common man searching for justice and the salvation of his family and nation.

Through time, the two come to terms with each other and into a real romance.  And when I say time, I mean time travel.  This is what makes the story a fantasy.

Did I say that I liked this movie?

4.  The Lake House

You might not even consider this movie within our genre, but it is.


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The Lake House stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in a romance centered around a house and its strange mailbox.  The characters fall in love using something as low tech as the post.

Alas, they soon discover they’re not in the same time.

The time-jumping letters give an element of science fiction.  But since the time sink is never quite explained, we have the element of fantasy.

Never mind that.  This movie is not a science fantasy with romance; it’s a romance with science fantasy.  Time travel is only a device to watch a romance unfold.  This movie is on the line of Somewhere in Time and that one will make you cry.  (Plus Somewhere in Time uses the music of Rachmaninoff!)


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The Lake House turns out to be a good Valentine’s movie for the fantasy and science fiction fan no matter your gender.  Not every movie has to have swords or explosions.  A little romance isn’t going to kill you.

See, romance is not the death of fantasy or science fiction, and neither is fantasy or science fiction the death of romance.

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  1. Lucy February 14, 2014 #

    Super neat! I think there’s a really good and interesting love story in the TV series Farscape.

    • Drew Ellenwood February 15, 2014 #

      Thanks Lucy. Farscape is on my Netflix list. Looking forward to it.


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