It’s the month when the Cupid comes calling… but with the end of February, we are looking at the enigma of not-so-happy endings.
It was that ultimate word-weaver, William Shakespeare, who made the grand, dramatic notion of star-crossed lovers so famous. Specifically, in the prologue of his play Romeo and Juliet (published in 1597), when he wrote, “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes, A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life”, Shakespeare captured the imaginations of romantic legions through the ages.
It appeals because of its huge, sweeping inferences- that the love of two people is so magnificent, so life-changing, that the heavenly bodies want to get involved. In fact, the expression comes from the belief in astrology, that our lives are governed by the stars. So, if the stars are crossed or malevolent, then the path of that love won’t be a smooth one, always troubled by outside forces.
Shakespeare’s most famous example embodies this; born to the feuding Montague and Capulet families, Romeo and Juliet fall madly in love after a chance encounter at a ball. After a series of misadventures, their plan to elope is thwarted by Romeo mistakenly believing Juliet to be dead. Grief-stricken, he kills himself with poison, and when Juliet finds him, stabs herself.
So the notion of being star-crossed is not so much romantic as it is fatal…as classic literature and mythology are always happy to point out. Star-crossed love has inspired many an epic.
There’s the story of Tristan and Isolde, popular in French medieval poetry, which centers on a Cornish knight and an Irish princess, who drank a love potion and couldn’t stay away from each other after. There are many versions but none end happily.
Then there are the many retellings of the legend of King Arthur. An important part of the story is the forbidden love between Arthur’s queen, Guinevere, and the dashing Knight of the Round Table, Lancelot. It is a relationship that is often inferred to lead the ultimate fall of the utopian Camelot, just as the affair between Helen of Troy and Paris led to the decade-long Trojan War in the Homer’s epic The Iliad.
Healthcliff and Cathy’s passionate love affair in Emily Bronte’s 1850 novel Wuthering Heights is a juggernaut. It ends in death and despair for the socially mismatched couple and manages to destroy quite a few other unfortunates in their respective orbits.
And these classic works echo on through the ages, influencing newer works and proving time and again that love, intertwined with pain, has an irresistible draw.
Set against the sweeping mountains of Wyoming, cowboys Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist broke hearts (their own and the audiences’) and boundaries in Ang Lee’s2005 movie Brokeback Mountain. This ground-breaking film actually originated from a short story by American author Annie Proulx and used its theme of complex, transcendent love to shatter stereotypes.
But why the appeal? One reason could be that star-crossed lovers are preserved in amber, caught in the moment of passion forever. Romeo and Juliet never grew old, or fat, or bald. They never had to deal with the everyday flurry of dirty diapers, unpaid bills and household chores, which can sap the romance from life; and so they remain, the perfect romantic ideal. And often, all you need from a book is that it wrenches at your heart and moves you.
Then, there are also authors who draw on the trope to engage readers but inject a twist on the novel’s close- a happy ending. This is ‘star-crossed-lite’ territory, where a couple has to go through hell and high water (and sometimes back and again through hell) to be together when every outside force is against them, but true love still prevails.
This is especially prevalent in the Young Adult genre, where in addition to those outside forces, a third party is introduced so that a protagonist must make a choice between two suitors.
Team Edward or Team Jacob? Readers of Stephanie Meyer’s The Twilight Saga books tend to fall into either camp. This otherworldly love story has teenager Bella torn between the palely handsome vampire, Edward (who sparkled in sunlight), and her best friend, Jacob, a werewolf. Team Edward won.
To Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games trilogy (published between 2008 and 2010), Katniss and Peeta are popularly (and mistakenly, as it turns out) known as ‘The Star-Crossed lovers from District 12’ because they have to compete in a contest that can have only one winner. Brains and hearts triumph over an evil regime though, and Katniss ultimately ends up with Peeta, rather than her childhood friend, Gale.
If you are obsessed with the impact of ‘unaligned celestial bodies’ on romantic love, here are a few other titles for you to check out:
- Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini (the title makes it a little obvious!), a story of demigods and the Fates.
- A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, which draws on both fairy mythology and the story of Beauty and The Beast.
- Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, set in the world of the elite Silver bloods and Red-blooded commoners.
Truth is sometimes as romantic as fiction. Check out these books based on real-life love affairs.
By Nancy Horan
Famous American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mamah Borthwick both left their own families to embark on an illicit love affair, which in early twentieth century America, meant relentless scrutiny and criticism. Theirs was a passionate love affair and ended tragically, and this novel tells their story from a new perspective- Mamah’s.
By Becky Wicks
Isla and Ben are torn apart by the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004- can they reunite and get to know each other once again? A charming love story of love lost and found, and a testament to love’s power to conquer all demons.
Reads of the Month
By Chris Colfer (Illustrated by Brandon Dorman)
The latest in the Colfer’s The Land of Stories series is all about the uniqueness in you. It’s a sweet, magical story of a little girl who runs away because she’s different, but finally learns that being different makes her special and that she is not alone-all with the help of a friendly, curvy tree!
By Cathy Glass
Emotionally-charged but ultimately uplifting, this is the true story of 13-year-old Joss who comes to live with foster carer Cathy Glass. Traumatized by finding her father after he commits suicide and abused by her stepfather, Joss is an angry girl, and it will take all of her strength and her foster mother’s love to save her.
By Claudia Grey
In this multi-dimensional adventure-romance (sequel to A Thousand Pieces of You), Marguerite travels to alternate dimensions to save Paul, the guy she loves. His consciousness is shattered across dimensions by her enemies, and Marguerite’s hunt for his soul will take her across the universe, and beyond.
Having segued from the realm of science fiction to our everyday reality, artificial intelligence is making its presence felt, whether we like it or not. This book is a well-balanced, thoughtful exploration of the subject, with thoughts from scientists, philosophers, and artists.
Wilbur Smith (With Giles Kristian)
This adventure novel sees a return to Wilbur Smith’s famous Courtney series, which centers on the family of the same name. Captain Henry ‘Hal’ Courtney of The Golden Bough pursues his greatest enemy across land and sea with his own life always in mortal peril.