What is the intrigue behind being taken captive and then slowly starting to sympathize and eventually fall in love with the captor? Is it a dangerous idea? Is it okay if it happens in the safe confines of a book?
This is a literary trope that is as old as the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, as old as the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades. The trope has always held a particular fascination for me. A young woman is sacrificed for the sake of her village, but then finds the figure who holds her captive is simply hiding his own demons and is worthy of trust and love. A girl is kidnapped and terrified, only to find out her captor has taken her only because she showed him a moment's kindness. I often wonder how these narratives wheedled their way into my mind, enchanting me with a love that's not so much forbidden as it is dangerous.
Another way to phrase it that I've heard often on YouTube and Instagram in enemies-to-lovers. We humans are so contrary that some of us need the greatest love stories to start as a battle between the lovers. To reach the highest of highs, you have to start in the lowest of depths.
Real kidnapping stories don't begin or end like these tales. There's no magic, no curse, no castle hidden in the depths of the woods. Books keep us safe - they let us live the best parts of the stories without experiencing the worst of the implications. Am I morally terrified to pick up another Beauty and the Beast knock-off? No, but there's nothing wrong with questioning why we enjoy certain cliches. Asking these questions about the books we like can lead us to asking questions about our innermost selves. This isn't to say that I can't wait to be whisked away from my family and home to fall in love with some misunderstood loner.
Does it have to be insidious? Not always. I think in the best of ways, it represents our ability to empathize, to see the human in something that seems inhuman. I will probably never stop enjoying this trope and I don't think that questioning whether or not it could be toxic diminishes that enjoyment. In fact, asking difficult questions about the content we absorb can be enlightening.
Here are just a selection of books featuring this trope for your perusal.
Beauty by Robin McKinley
Stolen by Lucy Christopher
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Abandon by Meg Cabot
Of Beast and Beauty - Stacey Jay