Immortal Perfection – The Amaranth and the Plot Hammer

Strong Heroines and Vulnerability

FanFiction Fridays recently posted And Another Thing… which has a list of observations on writing gleaned from The Write Stuff. Two points in particular caught my eye:

  • It’s ok to have two characters date each other. Just make sure to build up the relationship gradually and not have it come out of left field suddenly.
  • It’s ok to have a female character that is not “strong”; the strong female character will suddenly crack if she has to deal with… “that thing” (which is called love!)

I’ll be ranting a little on the first of these later in this post, but the second is a more interesting point and I want to share a couple of links.

Maria Tatar wrote an article in The New Yorker, Sleeping Beauties vs. Gonzo Girls, about the enduring trope of the passive, vulnerable woman awaiting her Prince Charming. Discussing the opposite – women warriors – she says:

At work, they become Cassandras, confident and shrewdly prescient women whose intuition and brashness cut through thickets of bureaucratic procedure. Yet, once work stops, they seem utterly lost. There is clearly something compensatory in the psychological fragility of these women warriors: their gains in intellect and muscle are diminished by moments of complete emotional collapse.

She concludes:

Sleeping Beauty and Briar Rose, magnetically beautiful and mute, invite riskless voyeurism in both their cinematic and their fictional incarnations. Perhaps this is why the trope of the sleeping woman persists, despite efforts to shut it out … The upright, brainy female, physically commanding and a bit unhinged, is less of a crowd-pleaser.

In The Female Trickster and “Strong” Heroines, Diastrofos Fashion Tips comments on this:

Certainly, there are some cases when this instance occurs, but there is a difference between voyeuristically delighting in a strong woman’s vulnerability and creating compelling flawed characters. If a female trickster was a badass all the time, and never lost, and never wavered, she would be highly uninteresting.

The point, though, is that there’s nothing wrong with some vulnerability – no one wants an invulnerable character – but taking it to the extremes (whether of physical or emotional fragility) is lazy, fairy-tale plotting.

The Amaranth

Since my recent post – The Amaranthine Vampire – I’ve been looking into the meaning and significance of amaranth, which is a word often associated with vampires. For instance, in the White Wolf universe (see here), ‘Amaranth’ is the old word for diablerie, which is ‘the heinous act of consuming a fellow vampire completely, down to the victim’s very soul’; traditionally, an amaranth would be given to the intended victim.

So, what is an amaranth? Well, from the OED:

amarant(h) 1. An imaginary flower reputed never to fade; a fadeless flower (as a poetic conception). 2. A genus of ornamental plants (Amarantus, family Amarantaceæ) with coloured foliage, of which the Prince’s Feather and Love-lies-bleeding are species.

There’s a beautiful idea: An imaginary flower reputed never to fade…

No wonder there’s such a strong link with vampires. So, what is the origin of this imaginary beauty? Let’s take a look at Word of the Day:

Pliny, a Roman naturalist of the first century A.D., wrote of an imaginary flower called the amaranth that never faded. A century later, Clement of Alexandria said that the amaranth is the symbol of immortality.

Pliny the Elder’s Natural History: (using the translation by Bostock and Riley, Vol. IV published in 1856, which can be viewed through Google Books)

Book XXI An account of flowers, and those used for chaplets more particularly

Chapter 23 The Amaranth

There is no doubt that all the efforts of art are surpassed by the amaranth [75], which is, to speak correctly, rather a purple ear [76] than a flower, and, at the same tie, quite inodorous. It is a marvellous feature in this plant, that it takes a delight in being gathered; indeed, the more it is plucked, the better it grows. It comes into flower in the month of August, and lasts throughout the autumn. The finest of all is the amaranth of Alexandria, which is generally gathered for keeping; for it is a really marvellous [77] fact, that when all the other flowers have gone out, the amaranth, upon being dipped in water, comes to life again: it is used also for making winter chaplets. The peculiar quality of the amaranth is sufficiently indicated by its name, it having been so called from the circumstance that it never fades [78].

[75] The Celosia cristata of Linnæus.
[76] “Spica.” The moderns have been enabled to equal the velvety appearance of the amaranth in the tints imparted by them to their velvets. The Italians call it the “velvet-flower.”
[77] The real fact is, that the amaranth, being naturally a dry flower, and having little humidity to lose, keeps better than most others.
[78] From the Greek ἀ, “not,” μαράινεσθαι, “to fade.”

Additional notes:

  • From the OED: chaplet A wreath for the head, usually a garland of flowers or leaves, also of gold, precious stones, etc.; a circlet, coronal.
  • From the OED: spica ear of grain, etc. – a flower-spike.
  • Here is the Wikipedia page for Celosia cristata, and here is a photo of Celosia spicata. Also, the page for the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus.

The amaranth is connected with immortality also in Milton’s Paradise Lost:

Immortal Amarant, a Flour which once
In Paradise, fast by the Tree of Life
Began to bloom, but soon for Mans offence
To Heav’n remov’d where first it grew, there grows,
And flours aloft shading the Fount of Life,

and this is discussed in detail in Russell M. Hillier’s To say it with flowers: Milton’s ‘Immortal Amarant’ reconsidered (Paradise Lost, III.349-61). See also Michael Gillum’s Milton’s Roses and Amaranth for further discussion of this, including:

D. C. Allen has suggested that Milton took the idea of the amaranth belonging particularly to Heaven from Clement of Alexandria’s Paedogogus, which Christianizes the symbol in the context of floral crowns and garlands: “For the fair crown of amaranth is laid up for those who have lived well. This flower the earth is not able to bear; heaven alone is competent to produce it” (qtd. in Allen 257).

  • Allen, D. C. “Milton’s ‘Amarant.'” Modern Language Notes 72 (1957): 256-58.

Vendetta (Amaranthine Blood #1)

Elise Valente’s Vendetta, published 2012, is the first in the Amaranthine Blood series. I was seduced into reading this book by the author’s blog post, Not Your Everyday Vampire Story, which I quoted recently here. Here’s what she says about Vendetta’s main character, Sanaan:

Very rarely do you see a strong female vampire (or any female main character, for that matter) whose story does not revolve around getting hooked up with some guy, whether romantically or promiscuously.

Sanaan is exactly the opposite of this. … Even when Sanaan does fall in love, she is still the one wearing the pants in the relationship, so to speak. Not that Damon, her mate, is in any way weak – he’s not. He simply respects Sanaan for who she is and has no desire to change that.

Now, I like female vampires that don’t orbit around a super-awesome alpha male. I’ve bitched about Mr Perfect before (see, e.g., Tired of all the sex?), and it’s not just because I’m no Mr Perfect myself, and it’s certainly not because I’m anti-romance – no, I’m a deeply romantic soul, and my all-time favourite films include French Kiss, Addicted to Love and Imagine Me And You.

But Mr Perfect just irritates me. I mean, swap the genders, and consider the following synopsis:

Suave, sophisticated James Bond, breaker of a thousand hearts and a god in the sack (we assume), but with a heart fully shielded against the spectre of love. A third of the way through his latest adventure, having already rescued (and, naturally, fully debriefed) one damsel in distress – and, in the process, casually and ruthlessly slaughtering a small army of namelessly irrelevant bad guys – mmm… not complaining… where were we? Oh, right, yes: Suddenly he meets this woman who is the most gorgeous and perfectly proportioned sex bomb ever – and let me stress that with teenage enthusiasm: EVER!!! – oh, and by the way she cooks a mean meat loaf and her soufflés never (NEVER!!!) collapse…

She is, in every conceivable way, Miss Perfect (Miss, of course! and probably a virgin with a lusty appetite, but let’s not go there), and our hero, 007, is smitten, and for at least the next 10% of the story he can’t stop thinking about her one way or another, and of course the plot requires that she’s in his face as much as possible. (Still having fun?)

Sigh. Mr Perfect.

Now, I’m not saying vampires shouldn’t be beautiful. I think I prefer them beautiful. I also prefer them to be vampires. In Vendetta, the vampires – at least the ‘good’ vampires – seem more like the X-Men, with their various superpowers. The vampiric elements are token at best: a dietary supplement of animal blood and a dislike of sunlight. (More ranting on these subjects: Toothless Vampires; Cosmic Vampires; but writing makes it so.)

Anyway, Sanaan may be a talented warrior, able to best even Mr Perfect himself, but emotionally she’s a damaged creature in need of saving by a white knight… If Vendetta does not revolve around Sanaan getting hooked up with some guy, why does it feel like the story suddenly got hijacked by Mr Perfect?

Reading this book, I keep wanting to compare it with Kristen Cashore’s excellent Graceling. The gracelings each have individual gifts, and the main character is a superbly skilled fighter – and right at the start of the novel she meets the man who will conquer her heart. But the relationship develops gradually, giving us a chance to get to know him; I don’t remember chapters full of emotional neurosis or any reliance on god-like beauty or the plot-hammer of destiny. The second book in the series, Fire, also develops a romance with delightful subtlety and balance.

I find Vendetta painful to read, with tedious clichés springing out at every opportunity. And there’s so much telling going on as well…

In conclusion…

It’s good to see a female vampire who isn’t evil and/or subservient to an alpha male, and the writing is generally good. However, the vampires are only vaguely vampiric and the romantic subplot lacks any subtlety.

If you like the idea of having a soul mate who is a super-awesome alpha-male vampire with a British accent… well, feel free to add a couple of stars.

★★☆☆☆

Links

Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, goodreads, Elise Valente’s blog

About Frank

A Sci-Fi & Fantasy author and lyrical poet with a mild obsession for vampires, succubi, goddesses and Supergirl.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Vampires, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Immortal Perfection – The Amaranth and the Plot Hammer

  1. I’m not usually into self-promotion at all, but your blog entry has prompted me to send you a link to my most recent feature film “Penelope”, based on the character from Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ and told from her perspective. The film deliberately stirs up a lot of the issues that you have raised above. http://penelopa.com.au/en/

    • Frank says:

      Looks intriguing… I was reading the description, thinking how it reminded me of Russian Ark – so it was interesting to see that The Kitchen had been screened alongside Russian Ark in Zagreb.

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