Ode to Beta Heroes by Wendy Lynn Clark
Dearest Readers–Please welcome guest blogger Wendy Lynn Clark!!
I love betas.
Nope, I’m not talking about the tropical fish.
I grew up on my great grandma’s 80s category romances. (Romance runs in the family.) Those aggressive-bordering-on-abusive alpha heroes made me hot as cayenne-spiked chocolate, usually on the innocent heroine’s behalf. Discovering the sweet steadiness of beta heroes, like Jennifer Crusie’s Nick in Crazy For You, was like biting into one of those chocolates and discovering salted caramel underneath. It was a completely different reading experience and a very welcome change.
Although I discovered them later, the beta hero has as old a pedigree as the alpha. While Mr. Darcy was arranging the rescue of Elizabeth Bennet’s family from scandal, Mr. Knightly was offering insightful counsel to his incorrigible busy-body, Emma. In Clueless, the modern retelling of Emma, college-aged Josh often bails out party girl Cher when her schemes go awry, but never attempts anything behind her back. Why would he? Presuming to control her, even for her own benefit, is not his way.
Beta heroes are not threatened by a woman who holds more power. They offer a different vision of masculinity than the alpha 1950s stereotype of a man who takes care of everything. Their masculinity knows how to love, support, and show tenderness without losing the rough-and-tumble ruggedness that makes them a man.
Some screen writers, such as Joss Whedon, consistently show heroes who yield gracefully to their feisty heroines. Oz and Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series (and Pike from the movie) know when to stand strong and when to get out of their heroine’s way. Likewise, certain actresses seem particularly suited to play sexy super-women who never dumb down for love. Milla Jovovich is super-human and still super-desirable in her action films (Resident Evil, Ultraviolet). No hero would dare arrange anything for Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft (or Kate from early ‘90s Hackers). The recent Disney movie Frozen further illustrates the sea change. Unlike The Little Mermaid’s Prince Eric, who single-handedly defeated the sea witch while Ariel lay helplessly awaiting his rescue, good guy Kristoff stands back and allows his heroine to deliver the final, well-deserved punch.
Betas have been around a long time and there’s no end in sight. Here’s one great curated list of romance novels featuring beta heroes, and here’s the wild west list of Goodreads. Whether you’re in the mood for cayenne-spiked truffles or sweet salted caramel, there’s a tasty flavor in the chocolate box of romance for everyone!
Wendy Lynn Clark has just released the San Juan Island Stories, a sweet collection featuring mostly melt-in-your-mouth beta heroes and a few piquant alpha/gammas. The most unique flavor of chocolate she ever tried was the Douglas Fir truffle from boutique chocolatier Kathryn Taylor on Orcas Island. It was delicious.