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The Fetishization of Scottish Highlanders

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I kind of made up this poll so I could talk about a recent blog post that I saw wherein the author appeared to describe the Scottish hero in absolute terms:

But there is far more to a hero who wears a kilt than just his clothing. If the story takes place hundreds of years ago in Scotland, he’s a tall, strong warrior who fights for what he believes in and what he loves. His duty is to defend his clan, his lands, his country, and protect the woman he loves. Honor and loyalty are of primary importance to him. He is noble but at times playful. That delicious Scottish accent rolls off his tongue, seducing both the heroine and the reader. He can handle a sword or a woman’s pleasure with equal proficiency. He has passion in spades. Sometimes that famous Scots temper might escape his control and have him spouting Gaelic curses or chasing after the enemy with a sword. The land of myth and legend is his home. He has experienced the harsh realities of life–the feuds, battles and oppression–but chances are he also believes in fairies and magic. Perhaps his soul and body are battered and damaged from the battles he’s chosen to fight, and maybe he has lost all faith in love. But when he finds it, we enjoy watching him touch and accept love like something fragile and precious. Love can heal wounds of the soul and break curses.

I’m completely uncertain where we get the image of this type of Scotsman other than from a Braveheart movie. There’s little that ticks off Jayne more than the faux Scottish Highlander speak with the dinnaes, cannaes, and wee lassie references. Maili is sent into a tizzy over the “famed Scots temper” and other infamous generalities.

Aassumptive writing leads to complaints of stock heroes. Not all heroes, even in Scotland, should have a temper, be a warrior, handle a Sword, have passion in spades, spout Gaelic curses. It’s one thing if you want to say that your creation is one of “myth and legend” but it’s important not to portray one characterization as emblematic of an entire race.   (We’ll assume for the sake of argument that the author was identifying the hero in her most recent story and not the entirety of historical Scottish men).

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

49 Comments

  1. Stevie
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 08:47:12

    Quite so; at the moment a genuine contemporary Scottish hero is playing a Wimbledon semi-final, and there’s nary a sword in sight.

    Perhaps if we substituted tennis rackets?

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  2. Julia Barrett
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 08:56:45

    Having spent a month hiking and climbing in the Highlands and the Outer Hebrides and Skye last fall, I can say that without a doubt, that while the accent is to die for (or melt for), the Highlanders in their current incarnation are not tall, quick tempered, long-haired wicked warriors. They are, instead, of average or below average height, competent, no-nonsense, energetic, hard-working, unflappable men who get the job done – whatever the job is. They are delightful and I could listen to a Scotsman speak Gaelic or old Scots all day long, but apparently, the English killed off all the tall Highlanders or sent them as indentured servants to the Colonies.
    My Scottish sir-named husband – an American through and through – stood head and shoulders above everyone we met – at 5’11″, and he’s got the dark, wicked look of a romance novel Highlander.
    All that aside, I have never hiked in a place of such beauty as the Highlands of Scotland and I hope to be fortunate enough to live there one day.

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  3. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 09:35:55

    I didn’t vote, because I’m torn . . .

    I think that there is an entire subgenre of romance that is peopled entirely by the faux-Highlander described above (these are frequently also the ones wearing kilts before they existed [like Braveheart], or while they were forbidden by law). I avoid these books like the plague. But every once in a while you find a book that really captures the history of Scotland; that *gets* the fact that there are other types of Scotsmen, other stories to tell.

    As a side note: Historically Scots have been a couple of inches taller on average than their English counterparts, hence the idea that they’re tall and strapping. This holds true today in modern Britain according to the studies I’ve seen.

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  4. Victoria Dahl
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 10:48:32

    I’ve had the occasional conversation about this on Twitter, so I understand the genuine irritation with the Highlander hero. (Hi, Maili!) But I’m afraid I don’t see much difference between the Highlander hero and all other historical alpha heroes. Bad temper, fierce loyalty, pride, nobility, steely sword at the ready, and a weapon too. Har.

    Have you read a lot of, say, medieval English heroes, who didn’t have those character traits?

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  5. Victoria Dahl
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 10:53:35

    (Adding: my best friend is from Alabama and has a hell of a lot of trouble reading stories set in “the South.” She’ll say things like, “I bet this author is from Texas.” And sure enough, she’ll be right. She’s sometimes told that she’s gotten things about the setting or dialect wrong, even though she’s lived her whole damn life there. And these are stereotypes based on a world fully accessible in the space/time continuum. So I don’t think these irritations are unique to Highlander stories!)

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  6. Jane A
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 10:58:39

    Some of the characteristics of the “Scottish hero” as described in the blog are true of romance heroes from any setting (and I am generalizing here). But I never perceived all Scottish heroes as always having those specific traits. That kind of blanket statement seems a little silly, IMHO.

    He has experienced the harsh realities of life-the feuds, battles and oppression-but chances are he also believes in fairies and magic.

    Really?

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  7. Robin
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 11:46:38

    As I said on Twitter during a conversation Maili and I were having about the Scottish and Native American Romances, IMO the (Highlander) Scottish hero and the Native American hero are culturally equivalent, even though the dominant culture is different in each case (although technically you could argue that it was partly the English in both cases ;)). That in both cases you have the presentation of the “noble savage” operating within a perceived historical context in which the hero is part of a “conquered” people and he’s the underdog rebel, etc. etc. etc.

    Although profound historical inaccuracies and massive cultural stereotypes often arguable result in a *second* form of colonization on the part of the book that presents these distorted characters, even though they are intended to be read as morally superior and sympathetically appealing — i.e. heroic.

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  8. Kari Sperring
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 12:21:34

    I’m only an occasional poster here, so apologies for jumping in. But, you know, I’m British and indeed mostly Welsh, and I find the whole ‘Highland Hero’ thing faintly patronising and, I’m afraid, very irritating. Scotland is a complicated place — so is its history. But a lot of these romances turn it into a theme park. Which is why I don’t read them any more.

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  9. (Jān)
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 12:36:19

    Kari, I mostly agree with you. Many romance authors do make habits of creating theme parks. Regency Land is another popular one; most people here could easily name a half dozen attractions at that one. But since I often read to escape from reality, theme parks occasionally suit my mood and I just enjoy the ride.

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  10. joanne
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 13:02:10

    All the more reason that I love, love, love Jennifer Ashleys’ The Madness Of Lord Ian MacKenzie.
    (I’m pretty sure the spelling of the title is incorrect but I’m racing to get off this board before Maili comes to post in case she didn’t care for the portrayal of Ian— in his defense I don’t think he carried a sword– er, the steel kind— I’m going now.)

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  11. Kathleen MacIver
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 13:06:25

    I don’t think they’re all the same. Maybe because my own “Scottish” hero is half American, lives in the US half the year, and is a mix of modern and Medieval, courtesy of time-travel. He doesn’t have an accent, only wears a kilt if he goes to the Games, doesn’t have a temper in the slightest (in fact, he’s rather expert at hiding his feelings.) He doesn’t believe in fairies, and the only magic he believes in is the time-traveling that he sort-of has to believe in, since he does it.

    But I’ll admit it…he does carry a sword. It’s sort of necessary in Medieval times, after all. Besides…I like men with swords. (Hubby doesn’t mind…he’s got a collection, and he keeps talking about taking lessons.)

    As for why I chose Scotland? Well… I’m part Scottish, and I love the mountains…so Scotland, where the men who lived in the mountains fought with swords once upon a time, seemed a fitting place to ground the back-in-time portion of my time-travel. Oh…and they’ve got castles. :-)

    As for the type of Scottish hero you mention…I guess I must not care for that too much either, because quite a few stories with that type have lost my interest before the book was over. Of course, like someone else said, most of those traits are very typical of the “alpha hero” in MANY times and locations.

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  12. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 13:32:08

    I’m British too and I avoid Scottish/Highlander books like the plague. They have no resemblance to the political situation, historical accuracy or any other resemblance to the real Scotland, which is a pretty wonderful place, really.
    The stereotypes are irritating unless they are total fantasy, like Highlander or the Moning books, which are so wrong you can set them in a “Scotworld” universe and enjoy them for what they are.
    Dinnacanna books are irritating because the writer tends to think all Scottish accents are the same (haven’t they seen “Taysiders in Space”? – go and find it on youtube!) and that they all wore kilts/plaids and drank whisky (usually spelled whiskey – I can’t tell you how wrong that is).
    I think it’s insulting to the Scots. One of my two best friends is Scottish, an honest-to-goodness Highlander married to a member of one of the royal houses of Scotland, whose clan owns “that” castle, Eileen Donan, thinks they are very funny. I get them for her sometimes, but she has grown bored with them because the assumptions are all the same. But they do make her laugh.

    Oh yes and for a really good series about a realistic and wonderful Scottish hero, you can’t beat Dorothy Dunnett’s “Lymond Chronicles.” Start with “The Game of Kings” (a bit tricky because it was her first book, but so very worth it because there are five wonderful books after that).

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  13. ardeatine
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 13:55:24

    If only cover artists (and authors) would bother to find out which period they actually wore the kilt in. I’m all for suspension of belief, but the kilt thing drives me nuts.

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  14. Theresa Stevens
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 14:32:44

    I hated that Dunnett book. Never could figure out why people were so enchanted by her.

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  15. Mireya
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 14:38:49

    I completely suspend disbelief. I read those as if I were reading fairy tales. The majority I read are time-travel Highland romances to begin with, so they are pretty much pure fantasy. Of course, I realize that this isn’t something everyone can do. Happens to me with contemporaries, which I RARELY read unless they are an over the top comedy type like Sandra Hill’s or Sheridon Smythe’s.

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  16. Victoria Dahl
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 14:46:59

    I just don’t see it as much more (or any more) of a fetishization than English Dukes. Or cowboys. Or native Americans. Or FBI agents. Or, for God’s sake, members of elite special forces! I think anyone close to these subjects would have a really hard time not rolling eyes and frothing at the mouth while reading these characters.

    I totally laughed when reading a Barry Eisler novel… one assassin/spy type is talking to another assassin/spy type and they’re mocking a gov’t person for using the term “with extreme prejudice.” “Uh, he really said that?” “Yeah.” *snicker*

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  17. Estara
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 14:54:45

    @Lynne Connolly:

    the writer tends to think all Scottish accents are the same (haven't they seen “Taysiders in Space”? – go and find it on youtube!)

    Oh GOD thank you for that tip. I didn’t understand 20% of what was said but it was soooooooo hilarious.
    Taysiders in space . In amungst ye.

    I’ve watched it three times now and I’m getting better.

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  18. Robin
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 15:03:07

    @Victoria Dahl: I do think there’s a substantive difference between, for example, the fetishization of English dukes and Native American or Highlander heroes, and I’ll use a different example to illustrate: the sheik hero.

    In how many Romances does the sheik turn out to be English? A lot, right? Why? Well, I would argue it’s because there’s a sense of “otherness” that the genre both revels in and distrusts, and that it culturally codes that otherness in ways that mimic patterns of political colonialism and cultural imperialism.

    That doesn’t mean the fetishization of SEALS, for example, isn’t an issue for some, but I think the Scottish example of this post is closer to, say, the fetishization of female virginity in the genre, where we associate somewhat problematic moral judgments with the persistent pairing of virginity with virtue.

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  19. Jill Myles
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 15:29:46

    (Adding: my best friend is from Alabama and has a hell of a lot of trouble reading stories set in “the South.” She'll say things like, “I bet this author is from Texas.” And sure enough, she'll be right. She's sometimes told that she's gotten things about the setting or dialect wrong, even though she's lived her whole damn life there. And these are stereotypes based on a world fully accessible in the space/time continuum. So I don't think these irritations are unique to Highlander stories!)

    I would like to say that, as a Texan, I usually hate books set in Texas because they’re ridiculous in the extreme.

    I sincerely dislike it when all Texans are portrayed as yokels in cowboy boots and ten gallon hats that do nothing but eat barbecue and say clever things such as “Sheeeeit, yall!” and say “suh” instead of “sir”. Most of the state lives in Dallas/Houston/Austin/San Antonio, and those cities are just as urban as anything up north, but maybe a little hotter.

    Colonel Sanders called, and he wants his stereotype back, thankyouverymuch.

    :)

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  20. Kate Pearce
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 15:43:38

    Having grown up in the UK, I just don’t get the whole ‘Highlander’ thing at all. Scotsmen are just the same as evry other man except they have dodgy accents. I prefer my heroes English, Irish or Welsh or cowboys :)

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  21. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 17:46:16

    I hated that Dunnett book. Never could figure out why people were so enchanted by her.

    Replace “Dunnett” with “Gabaldon” for me . . .

    I have one girlfriend who refuses to read romance, but won’t stop talking about how much she loves the Outlander and Twilight books. It’s all I can do not to vomit and burn her bookshelves.

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  22. Jane O
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 19:29:29

    I grew up on Sir Walter Scott and Stevenson and Child’s “English and Scottish Popular Ballads” (amazing what a lass can do with her wee penknife), so I tend to view Scottish heroes of romance as pretty much the same as the medieval ones or the Regency dukes -’ i.e., bearing no resemblance whatever to reality. That is not to say that Scott and Stevenson did not romanticize history, but at least they provided a bit more depth and variety.

    @Theresa: Me too. I tried to read Dunnett several times, but I thought it was hopelessly overwritten.

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  23. Georgina
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 20:49:55

    Victoria Dahl: I just don't see it as much more (or any more) of a fetishization than English Dukes. Or cowboys. Or native Americans. Or FBI agents. Or, for God's sake, members of elite special forces!

    With the exception of Native Americans, I’d say the difference is that the rest of those characterisations are based on jobs or titles. When we allow racial stereotyping in romances, we say that a person is little more than their genes. They’re Scottish, so they act like this. They’re Native American, so they act like that. It’s insulting and demeaning, and of course inaccurate as well. It often seems in romancelandia that the only people who are allowed to be rich, varied characters are white.

    We see this stereotyping in contemporaries, too. Look at all the Harlequins with Italian-Greek-Sicilian in the title. We already know what the hero will be like, because in romances, Italian/Greek/Sicilian men are stereotyped in a particular way. The billionaire whose mistress’ baby it is will never be Norwegian or Korean or Mexican.

    I have no doubt that cowboys and FBI agents get sick of seeing the clichés, but jobs are just a part of you, and jobs can change. Somebody who’s an FBI agent today might be a writer or a househusband (or a cowboy!) in five years. I’m a lot less bothered by job stereotyping than I am by racial stereotyping, and with good reason, I think.

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  24. Edie
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 23:34:33

    Just wanted to second the thanks to Lynne Connolly for the heads up on Taysiders!

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  25. Georgina
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 23:41:22

    It often seems in romancelandia that the only people who are allowed to be rich, varied characters are white.

    It occurs to me that my usage of “white” was confusing. When I wrote that, I was thinking about contemporaries, as that’s what I mostly read. I think the principle can also be applied to historicals, but would be worded differently: instead of white, I would say “the genre’s default race.”

    In English-set historicals, the default race are the English. Although Scottish characters are white, they’re not English, so they’re fetishised as exotic and foreign. It often seems that characters from the genre’s default race can have all kinds of personalities and backgrounds, but characters from fetishised races conform to a narrow racial stereotype: the Scottish highlander, the Native American noble savage, etc.

    Hopefully that makes that sentence clearer.

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  26. Victoria Dahl
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 01:38:47

    Of course, I’d argue that Highlanders aren’t a race, so it’s more like regional stereotyping? Which brings us back to Jill Myles’s comments about Texans in romance novels. You may hate a Highlander saying “lassie,” but for me it’s no more offensive than a Texan saying “darlin’.”

    It’s possible I just haven’t read enough Highland romances to understand how the stereotype differs from other heroes. The last one I read had nothing to do with the English as villain at all. I don’t think there was one English person in the book. (I’ve written a Highlander, but it was a novella about a vampire, so not sure which suffers more stereotypes.) Of course it’s ridiculous for someone to write a blog post describing Highlanders as if they’re all the same. But the books? Are the heroes so much more the same than other heroes are?

    Jane said, “Not all heroes, even in Scotland, should have a temper, be a warrior, handle a Sword, have passion in spades, spout Gaelic curses.” Aside from Gaelic curses, that sounds like virtually all medieval knight heroes I’ve read. Or vampire heroes. Or Vikings.

    I guess my problem here is I’m not understanding what makes them a special case, aside from kilt and gaelic, of course. Yes, they’re noble and strong and willing to fight to the death for their heroine, but so are knights and Vikings and cowboys and vampires. And Texans. *g* Can anyone explain what behaviors set the Highalnder hero apart enough to drive people crazy?

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  27. Victoria Dahl
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 04:42:59

    Woke up in the middle of the night, thinking it was silly to compare the Highlands and Texas, as one is a native land and one is not. So kindly disregard that.

    Am still curious (as I meant what I said about not having read enough Highlander romances) about characteristics inherent in Highlander (or native American) heroes, that aren’t inherent in other stereotypical heroes.

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  28. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 08:10:17

    It occurs to me that my usage of “white” was confusing. When I wrote that, I was thinking about contemporaries, as that's what I mostly read. I think the principle can also be applied to historicals, but would be worded differently: instead of white, I would say “the genre's default race.”

    In English-set historicals, the default race are the English. Although Scottish characters are white, they're not English, so they're fetishised as exotic and foreign.

    Except that books about Highlanders are not “English-set Historicals”.

    Woke up in the middle of the night, thinking it was silly to compare the Highlands and Texas, as one is a native land and one is not. So kindly disregard that.

    Tar and feather me if you like, but most of the Texans I know (including my wonderful sister-in-law) most certainly DO consider Texas their “homeland”. I mean, it’s not fondly (and historically) referred to as The Republic of Texas for nothing, LOL! I’d say the comparison is at least somewhat apt.

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  29. Susan/DC
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 08:55:29

    The question I’ve often asked is not “why the fetishization of Scotland?” but “why not the fetishization of Ireland?” in romance novels. There are some, but far fewer, romances set in Ireland or with Irish heroes than there are Scots ones, and I don’t know why.

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  30. JR Tomlin
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 09:22:30

    I must admit that it infuriates me that so many people who supposedly set novels labeled as “historical” bother to find out even the slightest facts about Scotland. There are some good historical novels set in Scotland, by the way. I recommend Nigel Tranter. But romances? I have yet to see one that actually had something to do with Scotland.

    I can’t read the things. Why some people object? It is beyond offensive to me to treat an existent people as though they are mythical. If you want a mythical people, make one up. Don’t distort and lie about a real people’s history. That the people, whether Scots, Irish or Native American, have suffered both historical defeat and oppression makes that even more offensive.

    It is extremely different to write silly stuff about Texans and Scots or Native Americans. Anyone who doesn’t understand the difference needs to do some serious studying before they even consider writing something in a historical context.

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  31. Robin
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 10:08:51

    @Susan/DC: One of the interesting things about Ireland is how it was, at one time (when England was actively slaving and expanding their economic and political domination far and wide), viewed as racially equivalent to Africa. So I wonder if that’s the roundabout answer to your question, seeing that African American characters have largely been absented from hero/heroine status in mainstream historical Romance (especially as authored by Americans).

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  32. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 10:09:09

    The question I've often asked is not “why the fetishization of Scotland?” but “why not the fetishization of Ireland?” in romance novels. There are some, but far fewer, romances set in Ireland or with Irish heroes than there are Scots ones, and I don't know why.

    Would it have something to do with terrorists?
    Not to get into the political side of things, but for whatever reason, the image of Ireland isn’t as “clean” as the Scottish one.

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  33. Kat
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 10:46:01

    Don’t blame Braveheart — it started way before that film. It might even pre-date Brigadoon.

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  34. Victoria Dahl
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 10:47:19

    It is extremely different to write silly stuff about Texans and Scots or Native Americans. Anyone who doesn't understand the difference needs to do some serious studying before they even consider writing something in a historical context.

    Oh, snap! Go on witcher bad self.

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  35. Victoria Dahl
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 10:48:52

    Don't blame Braveheart -’ it started way before that film. It might even pre-date Brigadoon.

    Yeah, I don’t think you can blame romance novelists. Maybe we should turn a hard eye on Scottish-American festivals.

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  36. JR Tomlin
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 11:18:15

    Heh. Yes, I do get emphatic on the subject.

    By the way, Highland Festivals originated in the Highlands. The first (that I know of–I think the oldest) was licensed by King Robert I shortly after the Battle of Bannockburn.

    Sorry, but I do think we have to blame romance writers for writing nonsense. Do most have any clue what a belted plaid is? That there is more to Scotland than the Highlands? What the Highland Clearances were? What the Act of Proscription was and what its penalties were? For that matter, that most lords in Scotland were (and are) at least partially Norman-French?

    Sorry to go on, but you hit on one of my pet peeves.

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  37. Victoria Dahl
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 11:21:42

    Of course I know what a belted plaid is. Highlanders didn’t wear cute little skirts. And the Scotsman in my first book is a Victorian Lowlander, so I’ve heard rumors of other parts of Scotland where they wore shoes and everything. And the villain of my paranormal Scottish novella is a French vampire specifically because he had good political reason to be at the Scottish court.

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  38. Victoria Dahl
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 11:25:31

    Dang it, I lost my post. Try again…

    Yes, I know about belted plaids. Highlanders didn’t wear cute little skirts. And the Scottish hero of my first book was a Lowlander, so I have heard rumors of places in Scotland where they wore shoes and everything! (/sarcasm) And the villian of my Highland paranormal novella is a French vampire specifically because he had sound political reason to be at the Scottish court.

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  39. JR Tomlin
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 11:55:10

    Victoria, that wasn’t aimed at you. I’m sure that there are exceptions to the rule that romance writers do horrible cliches about Scots. I believe that you’re one.

    I was referring to the generalizations that the blog post was talking about. I think people who do those really don’t have a clue. However, maybe they can be induced to learn at least a little.

    However, the Norman-French (you probably know this, it’s intended as informative for people who don’t) weren’t travelers from France but people who had become Scots. King Robert the Bruce (greatest of the Scottish heroes) was half Norman-French and half Gael.

    I won’t lecture on Scotland further. But hopefully this discussion will give some writers a hint that they need to read up a bit on Scotland before they set stories there. :-)

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  40. Victoria Dahl
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 12:00:02

    Got ya. I posted this on Twitter, so I’ll post it here. For those of you who’ve read a lot of Highland romance, I’m wondering about these perceptions of what romance writers think about Scotland… (narrow-minded blog posts aside) Are these really how most of the stories are written, or is this perpetuated by covers and back cover blurbs? Because I DO see a lot of cute school-girl kilts on covers. But I also see a lot of Levi’s on knights. LOL And my 1st book was titled “To Tempt a Scotsman” even though story had relatively little to do with Scotland, bcuz publisher wanted to play up the Scottish thing.

    Also wondering if this skewed view of Highlands is more old-skool romance than new-skool.

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  41. Victoria Dahl
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 12:03:33

    My irritation at non-existent jabs aside ;-)

    I do understand the gut-level eye-roll at the idea of this type of romance. Am just trying to get my mind around the specifics and Robin and Maili have tried to help me through it in the past.

    (Also, as to perpetuating stereotypes, I always tell my kids I’m descended from Vikings. Truth is it was probably fishermen. And, you know… slaves.)

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  42. Gwen Hayes
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 12:11:21

    Edited: meh. My comment didn’t really add anything to the conversation, so I pulled it.

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  43. Robin
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 13:08:23

    @Victoria Dahl: I still think that in the main of the genre, much “history” is passed from Romance novel to Romance novel, rather than from primary source to author to novel.

    But to go back to your earlier question:

    Am still curious (as I meant what I said about not having read enough Highlander romances) about characteristics inherent in Highlander (or native American) heroes, that aren't inherent in other stereotypical heroes.

    I’m going to answer the Native American portion of this question, since it’s what I’m most familiar with.

    I don’t know if — for me, at least — it’s an issue of what’s inherent about these characters as much as what’s inherent about *what they seem to symbolize for people*, which may, in the end, be the same thing, since it’s all about imagination, but I’m not sure.

    Anyway, if you look back over the history of American literature, art, and popular culture, for example, you can see the representation of Native Americans within a context of savagery. Whether it’s standing over a helpless maiden in preparation to scalp her or with a single tear running down a cheek at the idea of littering, the Native American male, especially, has been alternately portrayed as either the “bloody savage” or the “noble savage.” With those portrayals are certain stereotypical things: Native Americans are closer to the land, they are prophets, they are are magical and/or naturally spiritual, they are natural warriors, they are less civilized (which can be a virtue or a problem depending on the context), they are less sophisticated, etc.etc.etc. And the American cultural consciousness has taken great advantage of these stereotypes, crafting the image of Native America either as a) a lost paradise, felled at the hands of civilization, 2) humans in their “natural” uncivilized state, tamed by the hand of civilization, 3) a heathen influence on God fearing Christians, 4) humanity’s last link to nature, 5) nobility embodied, 6) defeated and degraded, a reflection of the evils of Westward expansion and Manifest Destiny, 7) defeated and degraded and a reflection of America’s lost innocence (this was particularly popular after the Vietnam War), 8) defeated, degraded alcoholics — well, you get the idea.

    So regardless of what is true of indigenous peoples as individuals, as nations, as communities, etc., they have been demonized and romanticized throughout history as a way of *representing* things that have become seen as synonymous with them and that disregard the complex realities that characterize any individual or group. And these representations have been used to serve the dominant Anglo-American culture. For example, the number of films featuring Native Americans produced during and after Vietnam reflect not so much a desire to understand Native American cultures as to draw a parallel between what the US did in Vietnam and what they did to Native Americans. In other words, the point is to indict the US govt, not to portray NA cultures for the sake of portraying those cultures. Does that make sense?

    And Romance has thrived on those representations, most often constructing the so-called “noble savage” as the Romance hero and the “bloody savage” as its villain. And in the case of the noble savage, you often have the hero who is seen as an indictment of white culture, but who is white himself, and who is presented as embodying a) a natural sensuality (those sexy half-naked braves!!), b) a natural instinct about the land and an affinity with nature, c) someone who has been wronged by the dominant culture and who is an underdog, d) a rebel against dominant culture values (a hallmark of Romance regardless of the cultural or racial background of the character, but in this case, enabled by the appropriation of cultural stereotypes), etc. There is often a fetishization of his “bronze” or “swarthy” skin, an eroticizing of his body as culturally other (even if he is racially white) and perhaps an innocence that is intended to portray his status as outside “civilization” somehow.

    So for me it’s not so much what the characters inherently possess as it is how they are part of an overall appropriation of indigenous cultures and a distortion of those cultures that serves the dominant culture — either as an embodiment of its worst tendencies, or of its potential or of its wisdom in dominating, etc. And even if some of these characteristics might be true in some general way (i.e. peoples who live off the land will have a different relationship to it than peoples who do not), even those characteristics are generally distorted — sentimentalized, demonized — in order to serve a different agenda (in this case, the romantic appeal of the Romance hero, whose nobility is seen as instinctive, natural, because he’s part of this noble, natural culture, etc.).

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  44. Robin
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 13:31:22

    And can I just say that the one author I think first managed to sell me on the possibility of a non-wince-worthy NA Romance hero is Susan Johnson. She totally won me over with Pure Sin and the lovely, tongue-in-cheek play on Adam’s sexual appetites (i.e. his strong libido was owing to his French ancestry, lol, not his Absarokee/Crow).

    And Jo Goodman’s last Dennehy sisters book (the one with the nun) worked for me, too.

    I know there are others, but those two come to mind right off.

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  45. Janine
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 14:31:30

    @Robin: If I recall correctly, you also enjoyed “Alpha and Omega” and Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs. Those have a half NA hero also.

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  46. Robin
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 14:45:09

    @Janine: Yes, I did.

    And I l also want to add that every representation is an appropriation to some degree, and that appropriation in and of itself is not a good or bad thing. Some of the most powerful political and social commentary is written as fable or allegory. For me the questions of import are: a) is this a thoughtful portrayal, b) what’s the point of generating this comparison, c) what are the stereotypes being produced and how are they being used (i.e. subverted or affirmed), and d) what is the overall effect of the appropriation?

    What frustrates me is what I see as a sort of unself-conscious repetition in the genre (and it’s not limited to the genre, by any means) of certain stereotypes without apparent attempt to examine them in any depth. And I think that’s what we’re talking about here when we talk about “fetishization” — of course all Romance fetishizes certain things, but maybe we need to pay a little more attention to what and why and for what purpose we sentimentalize, romanticize, and otherwise mythologize certain things, whether it be virginity in a heroine or whiteness in a hero.

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  47. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 04, 2009 @ 18:13:33

    Sorry, but I do think we have to blame romance writers for writing nonsense. Do most have any clue what a belted plaid is?

    Some do. I taught a class at RWA’s conference in Atlanta a few years back on the history of Scottish men’s dress with specific emphasis on the development of the plaid/kilt. The full handout with all the historical notes and descriptions was in everyone’s pack of handouts too.

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  48. Maria
    Jul 05, 2009 @ 13:51:40

    Edit: did not seem a useful comment after all, so I deleted it…

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  49. Evangeline
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 06:58:55

    @Robin:

    In how many Romances does the sheik turn out to be English?

    Urk…this makes me so angry. After being burned twice back in the 90s, I have sinced avoided anything with “sheikh” in it because they are always half-English and run back to Merry Olde England with their English bride at the end of the story–and the Muslim religion and Middle Eastern culture (separate entities, yet simultaneous), are misrepresented and fetishized for the “danger” factor. In fact, it’s all rather disturbing that “dark” heroes are dangerous and rapacious and crave the white flesh of the heroine, who in turn “tames” and “civilizes” him enough to take him back into high society.

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