Shelf Love

Hairy on the Inside: Teen Werewolves & Red Riding Hood

Short Description

What is beastliness? Little Red Riding Hood stories used to be tales of warning for young women to manage their sexuality in the face of the dangerous beasts of court, who were smooth on the outside, but hairy on the inside. In the 21st century, paranormal teen romances use enchantment to transform the beasts into objects of desire. Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke, a scholar of fairy tales and romance, is here to discuss hot wolf boys, brooding Byronic figures, pseudomarriage and pseudovirginity, hot villain discourse, and why young women need beastly men to unlock their sexuality.


fairy tales, romance scholarship, young adult, scholarly, paranormal romance

Show Notes

What is beastliness? Little Red Riding Hood stories used to be tales of warning for young women to manage their sexuality in the face of the dangerous beasts of court, who were smooth on the outside, but hairy on the inside. In the 21st century, paranormal teen romances use enchantment to transform the beasts into objects of desire. Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke, a scholar of fairy tales and romance, is here to discuss hot wolf boys, brooding Byronic figures, pseudomarriage and pseudovirginity, hot villain discourse, and why young women need beastly men to unlock their sexuality.

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Guest: Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke

Dr. Welsh-Burke is an academic and lecturer at Western Sydney University in Sydney, Australia. She’s an early-stage researcher in folklore and fairy tales and the romance genre, and her PhD was on contemporary YA supernatural romance, retellings of little red riding hood from the 21st century.f


Nicola’s Texts:

The Toast: A Day In The Life Of A Brooding Romantic Hero

Aarne-Thompson-Uther index

Little Red Riding Hood is: ATU 425

Famous Folklorists & scholars:

Dr. Jodi McAllister: The Consummate Virgin

Dr. Christina Seifert: pseudovirginity

The complex fantasy (Diamond, 2011): to have the bad boy, to never come to harm, to have his wildness for one’s self.


Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: [00:00:00] I'm full of bad things, but somehow I'll be good for you. And the heroine goes, you murdered other people, but not me. That's what love is. (we laugh)

Andrea Martucci: Hello, and welcome to Shelf Love a podcast about romance novels, and how they reflect, explore challenge and shape desire. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, I'm joined by Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke. Dr. Welsh-Burke is an early stage researcher in folklore and fairy tales and the romance genre, and her PhD was on contemporary YA supernatural romance, retellings of little red riding hood from the 21st century.

Nicola. Thanks so much for being here today.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Thank you so much for having me.

Andrea Martucci: Can you introduce yourself and your disciplinary background and what you study?

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah. I'm an academic and lecturer at Western Sydney University in Sydney, Australia, if you could not tell from the voice. And I often say that my discipline is bang in the middle of literary and cultural studies.

That's what I studied all the way through university, and then that's what I ended up doing for my masters and both my PhD as well, which I really like, I'm obviously incredibly biased about it, but I think it's a really good mix of the two disciplines because I guess, like all interdisciplinary work you're able to bring in the benefits of each one.

And I'm also a big fan of, for literary analysis, the importance of context and the importance of authorial context and then analytical context. And so I'm always trying to figure out how we can place things into history and then place things into our own analysis.

Andrea Martucci: I like interdisciplinary approaches too. I feel like everything should be interdisciplinary.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: I feel like it's the most well-rounded way to look at things. If anything else, otherwise you get stuck. I started as a folklorist and then I fell into romance studies accidentally. My master's was entirely in folklore fairy tales.

I started my PhD really grounded in that, and then I got far too far into the program and then realized, oh, I'm actually doing a romance study and then had to entirely re-situate myself. So I was a little late to the study of the genre which has been really interesting.

I'm always studying supernatural romances and folklore, cuz obviously I love that. But I also have recently been moving into more popular culture or mainstream culture and sort of media in that. And I always really like looking at representations of femininity and adolescent girlhood in particular as well as sexuality and the performance of gender.

Andrea Martucci: What is a fairytale and what is its cultural role throughout time?

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: The cultural role can depend on what part of the fairytale studies you're in. Cuz there's a couple of different strands or categories. Basic idea of the fairytale is a short story that features magic or enchantment. I love the word enchantment as well. Cause I think it's very all encompassing.

And so it can be supernatural element. You know, every so often there'll be religious figures. There's a few fairytales where like Mary will turn up, as in the mother of Jesus, [00:03:00] as a character. It can be literal fairies. It can be magical animals, that sort of thing.

Overall, I'm hesitant to have a definite answer, which is very humanities of me.

But overall they're generally thought of as cautionary or moralistic tales to entertain and then also to provide instruction or lessons about something. But it depends on what era of fairy tale you are looking at. Cuz they have really long history, but also they've had a lot of incarnations.

And like I said, it also depends on where you're coming from, you know, cuz there's like the psychological analysis approach where it's very much, these are all indications of like your psychological stages of the brain. I don't know. I'm not in that field.

I am funnily enough in the sociocultural side where I look at them as cultural artifacts almost. So not only are they instructional tales, but they're also a way to reveal or analyze the culture that they're from. So the best thing about the fairy tale is that you can tell them and retell them over and over again.

And so they're really good for like cultural criticism and commentary, but that means they're really good for cultural analysis as well. Cause if you read something from like the 16 hundreds, you can see what's going on at that time period for that author. And then you can see the same story, told a million different ways now, instead of what's going on there.

So cultural criticism, instruction, and storytelling. Maybe that's their main roles.

Andrea Martucci: And so then it makes sense that if you think about like how they've been used as sort of these didactic tools and, with the audience of children, not that it was only children, but also hoping to influence children and tell them how to live their lives. It makes sense that you're studying YA specifically and then supernatural, because there is that element of enchantment that carries over really directly.

So within fairy tales, you studied in particular red riding hood.

What I was thinking immediately with fairy tales is I feel like living in the 21st century, one's initial understanding of fairy tales is very much filtered through pop culture, especially like Disney movie versions of fairy tales. And because they were created in the 20th century with 20th century culture infused into them, I think a lot of those stories are immediately associated with romance because I think like a lot of the stories started to centralize around a romance where some of those stories did not really have a romance or the point wasn't the romance in the initial telling.

So there's a lot of stuff done in romance novels that are direct fairytale correlations, but my sense of it is that there's a, this whole world of fairy tales that have nothing to do with romance that kind of didn't get pulled in to the 20th and 21st century, because they don't make sense anymore but also it seems like some of the original lessons of these fairy tales didn't include romance so much and then started, in more modern takes, now it's told through a romance, right?

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah, and like you were [00:06:00] saying before, a lot of older or different fairytales that may be aren't as common anymore or the more contemporary fairytales they are seen through the lens of romance. And I found that really interesting about little red riding hood because in older versions there might be like innuendo and references, but it doesn't end in a romance or a marriage.

It has a child character. There's no real like romantic relationship in there, but pretty much all of the retellings that you see now will have, if not like an eroticized representation of it, they'll have a romantic relationship between red riding hood and the wolf. And that's what I saw in the text that I studied, obviously.

So there's this index called the Aarne-Thompson-Uther index. It's like an alpha numeric categorization of fairy tales. The animal bride groom has its own classification, which is in a larger one called the search for the lost husband.

And its number is ATU 4 25. And then we have ATU 4 25, A, B and C, and they're all relevant in that they all have an animal bride groom, or a supernatural husband, and then they have different variations of it. So some of them are cursed or some of them are like shapeshifters. And so they visit their bride secretly at night in the dark.

And so you can't see who it is. And then sometimes they're revealed and they have to go off and marry someone else, cuz there's 15 different other things going on. And there's like a false bride, you know, it's fairytale. There's always drama and scandal going on.

But within that, not all of what we would consider animal bride groom tales, they're not all of what we would consider, you know, beauty and the beasts .

Little red riding hood tales have that similar sort of thread or like you said, there are ones that are quite different and focus on entirely different things.

A lot of them do focus on like parental curses or being sold off as the result of a curse or a witch or a, you know, something happens and then the parents have to give up the baby. But in that case it's a magical bear who's a man that visits. There's a lot of bears in the animal bride groom tales

Andrea Martucci: bears were around right.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: yeah. And a lot of them do come from Northern Europe as well. Like a lot of the older variations. And so based on nothing, I was like, oh yeah, there's bears up there. I'm sure there is. I've just realized, I don't really know my European bear distribution. Sorry.

I'm From Australia. We don't have large animals

Andrea Martucci: Just kangaroos. I assume there are indigenous tales in Australia that are folk tales. And I wonder, do they have like animal bride groom kangaroos?

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: There is a massively long tradition of storytelling with indigenous Australians. It is, one of the oldest continual living cultures. So there's a huge sort of pool to draw from, but I will say I don't have enough knowledge to speak on it. There will 100% be really interesting stories, especially around the creation and their mythologies.

I would advise people to look that up. I'm also gonna look that up. That's my weekend fun research. I think.

Andrea Martucci: yeah. Yeah. Cuz it is interesting how, I mean they're grounded in not just the culture, but the geography and the local flora and fauna and stuff.

So the original version or the older [00:09:00] versions of red riding hood. As you said, it's a child and a Wolf and the Wolf is the threat.

My understanding is the original tale is very much about cautioning young women, about the dangers of male sexuality and about how to protect themselves and, or how they're going to be a victim, no matter what the hell they do.

And it's interesting that in the stories that you study, the modern retellings of red riding hood, the Wolf is the romantic partner.

Can you give some examples of the stories that you studied and maybe talk through like their connection to the original story, but then what's going on with the beast is now the object of love, it is both feared and loved instead of just feared.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah, so it's actually really hard for red riding hood to say there's an original one as well, because it's a really old tale. Your mileage may vary, but with a lot of fairy tales, we don't really have like original quote unquote ones. We just have older and older variants, especially because red riding hood, especially we have like a lot of oral folk tales and different variations of them.

And I actually really like a lot of the oral folk tales because to go back to that idea of they're cultural artifacts, a lot of them, the concern is an actual wolf in the sense of, the cautionary tale is partly, don't go into the forest because there is actually a high population of wolves and you will get attacked.

And there's also theories and analysis of older variations as being the response to a lot of like upheaval in the time. Like natural disasters

Andrea Martucci: Like really hot summers where nothing can grow or really cold winters that never end.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah. Like horrendous weather cycles leading to reduced crops, leading to people having to move or move into the forest temporarily. And in some cases there were like rumors and theories around cannibalism and kidnapping. And so in that case, the Wolf can be seen as representative of violence in general.

And then we move into newer versions and then they do become a, more of a representation of sexual violence.

There's a man called Charles Perrault. He's sometimes referred to as the father of French fairy tales. He wrote a lot of the earlier literary versions.

And he definitely had a very sexualized little red riding hood story. A lot of his tales actually to go to that, like cautionary kid stories. They had a moral at the end, like explicitly like little morality and then a two line rhyming verse. It's really interesting to see how people translate the rhymes as well to keep that.

But in his version he was talking about Versailles and the French court, and he had ostensibly a story about a girl getting eaten by a Wolf and not being saved. And then the moral at the end was talking about, depending on your translation, it's sometimes referred to as like the smooth faced Wolf.

So the good looking guys in the French court, and he warns the reader [00:12:00] against them because they can charm their way into your bedroom. And it's just as dangerous as the Wolf that you would meet on the way to your grandmother's house.

And Angela Carter did some really good translations of Perrault's work. And then she also in a lot of her fairy tale, retail, and creations, she actually used the term "hairy on the inside," which talks about that change from the physical monster to this human seeming monster, so we've had a very long history of red riding hood as representative of sexual violence and sexual danger.

It has been really interesting to see the more eroticized and more sexualized variations. That being said to bring it back to your other part of the question, I do study young adult, so it's not too eroticized in my texts.

Andrea Martucci: Subtextually erotic

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah, definitely. Or, I talk about how they use instead a common thing they have like scenes of food and of eating and like sensory pleasure being representative of sexual pleasure instead, which is, a common strain in young adult fiction.

The books that I studied though with varying connections to little red riding hood, I would say the most tenuously linked one was Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls Series.

It's sometimes called the Shiver series. I also did Jackson Pierce's Sister's Red, which is an explicit retelling of little red riding hood. And she actually did a small series of fairy tales which I didn't study, but they were all connected. So she transformed the wolf in the little red riding hood who became one of the big bads, to use that term, in the other ones. And she did like Hansel and Gretel. And I think she did the Snow Queen as well.

I did Ivy Devlin's Low Red Moon which was really interesting cuz she had set it up to have a sequel which never arrived. So when I started my PhD, I was writing in a little bit of future tense to be like, oh yeah, and in her next one, I think it was gonna be called Moonstruck, and then it just had to get removed from all of my work. I just, I don't think it went through. Oh. And I did Red Riding Hood, the novelization of the 2011 movie with Amanda Seyfried. I didn't study the film. I just did the novel.

Andrea Martucci: From reading the chapter that you wrote on this in your dissertation, it seems like there's groupings of two, like the first two that you mentioned, and then the latter two that you mentioned. The first two are a bit more progressive about female sexuality compared to the latter two, which are a little bit more about what you talk about as managing female sexuality.

Before we get into that, you were talking earlier about cultural studies and how you can use these fairytales as a way to understand culturally what is going on at the time.

If we think back to the Perrault versions or the versions that he was encountering that he's then writing down, it seems like the construction of the fairytale at that time of red riding hood, it's very dependent upon culturally prescribed heteronormativity, very strict ideas of gender roles and a very well understood power imbalance between men and women.

And [00:15:00] so what does that fairytale construction tell us modern readers and scholars what those ideas were of male and female sexuality at the time?

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: I think a lot of concern, and a lot of management, but from external rather than, managing one's own sexuality. I would say Perrault's retelling, especially does have that almost anxiety or, explicit cautioning against the smooth faced wolves or like the charming men, but still very much placing the responsibility on the women cuz it's them who are being charmed or it's them who are letting them into the, so the term that is used is it refers to a small alleyway, but you can also use to refer to like the space between your bed and the wall.

So they've charmed the way into your bedroom so close that they're there. But at the same time, because we have little red riding hood and we have things like beauty and the beast and animal bride groom tales at the same time there in France in particular, there was a lot of female authors of fairy tales. The term fairytale was created by an author Countess d'Aulnoy.

Yeah, we'll go with apologies to the French. But yeah, she was writing around the same time as Perrault and there was just this explosion of female French authors and literists as it were creating salons and creating these stories.

And there's really strong, like analytical tradition of looking at beauty and the beast in particular, as examples of women in particular, female authors, negotiating potentially loveless or dangerous marriages or marriages arranged by their parents or marriages to people they don't really know who are like maybe 20 years older than them and who are potentially abusive or are, at the very least just random people. And it's that idea of, female authors writing about bad marriages.

So to like go back a little longer than that, just to put into context a lot of people have the theory or they argue that the animal bride groom tales, it spans back to tales of Cupid and Psyche.

And so we have this sort of really long line to connect of not just the idea of being visited by a supernatural husband or an animal husband, but also this idea of having to negotiate, going off, being married to someone you don't know, but then also tension between your husband or your married life as an adult, fancy lady and your family.

And so we can see at the same time that we have Charles Perrault saying, be careful when you're in court, because Hot dickheads are gonna come and charm you. Can I

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, absolutely. Curse all you want.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: So we'll reel it in. The same time as we have Charles Perrault saying, these sexy Dick heads are gonna charm you and then you're gonna lose your virginity. And then what use will you be in the court? Like you won't be able to get married. We also have people simultaneously being like, okay, so you have [00:18:00] to marry this like old beastly man. Here's a few stories where it ends really well. Or here's a few stories where you can negotiate actual sort of autonomy in it. And, I dunno if it's optimistic or pessimistic, but you can think even if it's not something that eventuated in reality, there was like the escapism and optimism of literature to say oh, this is something that maybe romance will feature in or even see it as a resistance and we still have elements of romance that we can consume and read, again, yeah.

I'm not sure if it's positive or negative, I do see them as both very, even your beauty and the beast tales, being resistant, or even the ones with the happily ever after ending, they are still incredibly rigid in how they're presenting romantic relationships and heterosexual relationships in particular.

So I guess it's freedom within a very short or a very small confines, perhaps.

Andrea Martucci: And I guess just to be like real about what time we're talking about we're talking about the days before dependable birth control where if a woman has sex, there is a likelihood she could get pregnant, which would be very bad if you were a courtier and you got pregnant and you weren't married .That's a concern.

So that's a practical issue around why there's like this management of female sexuality. And also marriage is very much about resources or like dynasty, very practical matters. And so it sounds like there's this acknowledgement of you don't get married necessarily because you love someone, you get married for these other reasons, and don't fall for these guys who may be trying to get into your pants, but that's a dangerous thing because having sex out of wedlock is gonna potentially very much ruin your future in a very bad way.

But there is still this desire for romantic love and for having somebody who cares about you. Not just somebody who isn't going to physically harm you, but somebody who you have a true connection with and, can have that like sexual and romantic connection with, that's what it feels like at the time. That's where the tension is.

Getting into the stories that you studied, some of the texts were very much still dealing with that appropriate managed female sexuality, right? Like even in today's day and age where I'm throwing my hands up because I used to be able to say in America, we do have access to birth control and stuff like that, but sadly, we live in a hellscape. Maybe things are better, maybe they're not, but theoretically the information is available for people to have sex and not necessarily make babies in a way that could quote unquote ruin their lives.

However, in some of these texts, there's still very much this ideology running through of save yourself for marriage and sex is only something you do with your one and only true partner.

And so in your work, you brought up the idea of pseudo virginity, which was originated by Seifert, and then you created, I believe, [00:21:00] pseudo marriage. So can you explain what those two ideas are and how you posit they are present in these stories that you studied?

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah. So, in appalling timing for me when I was just finishing up my thesis rewrite the fantastic Jodi McAllister published her book, The Consummate Virgin and it's in the same sort of idea around this management and negotiation of, of "good" virginity.

But the concept of pseudo virginity, as discussed by Seifert, how she discusses it is this idea of being virgin adjacent, I guess is one way to put it. She was looking at young adult media and literature, specifically she's looking at heterosexual virginity loss and heterosexual penetrative sex and how it is managed and presented and how there's this tension between, you know, really wanting adolescent girls and teen girls to acknowledge and engage with sexual desire and activity which is you know, incredibly positive and really good.

But at the same time, you can see this idea of well, as long as it's within specific incarnations or as long as it's done, you know, big, heavy quotes "correctly" or "appropriately." And in doing that correctly or appropriately, which is, you know, in a long term heterosexual relationship, and you've talked about it and you use protection and then you talk about it after, and it just brings you closer together.

And if you do that, then it almost doesn't count. It's pseudo virginity because it's done in the very, very correct way.

And in the texts that I studied, they all essentially followed that path or that management. It's really the extension of what I think many teenagers heard where you're like, oh, it's really good to have sex. And it's a fantastic thing... if it's with someone you love and you've been dating for a very long time. Like that sort of panicky addendum to it to be like, ah, just in case.

And so in the texts that I was studying, what I found particularly interesting is that supernatural element actually provided this extra level of pseudo-ness or pseudo-virginity-ness because it, I don't wanna say kept them together because that sounds quite negative, but all of the couples have something special about them. You know, they, it was mainly like some sort of weird psychic connection, so they could either hear each other's thoughts so they could feel each other's emotions or for one of them, they murdered someone together. So that quite doesn't count, but it's, you know, it was the one set in sort of a fake historical past. So it's they did what they had to do.

Andrea Martucci: Murdering somebody with somebody else is the best team bonding activity. I mean, You have to like problem solve. You have to bury the body or hide. It's a very good bonding activity.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah. And that was in the Red Riding Hood film novelization. And they both killed red riding hood's father, and then they had sex next to him. So, or outside of the house. Sorry, my apologies. They removed themselves from the scene.

Andrea Martucci: I mean, they were like still 20 feet away, [00:24:00] right?

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah, look I, I guess the adrenaline of murder I've never murdered anyone, but I but, but for the other ones, they all have like that psychic connection and pretty much in each text, it is discussed or suggested that this is the pinnacle of romance and how are we gonna have a better relationship than this? We can't.

And they're all teenagers and none of them get married cuz every other text is set in the contemporary era. And there's kind of the implication that one of one couple ends up engaged, but that's not even official, but it doesn't actually matter because they are unofficially supernaturally married through this connection.

And if anything in like, what I argue is that pseudo virginity or that management because they're now even further allowed to be you know, sexually active and enjoy sex and have like their desire and their pleasure and all of that, because not only are they in a long term relationship, but they're married and you hear that message all the time.

It's great to do once you are married. So, you know, what better marriage than to be able to feel your partner's emotions and thoughts. And so then it's great and also it's acceptable and safe still, we've attempted to manage that boundary between yes, we do recognize that teenagers have hormones and sexual desire, but also we are very stressed about them, performing that in perhaps the wrong way or engaging that in, in the wrong way.

And Jodi McAllister's work on virginity, particularly when I was reading her book her opening sort of chapters on Britney Spears. It made me think. of in a similar way, because she was talking about how Spears was almost trying to retroactively justify her virginity loss, which she shouldn't have had to do obviously.

But a lot of the language around it, she was like, well, you know, this was with someone I was in a really long-term relationship with. I thought we were gonna be together forever. Who amongst us has not said that. And she's like, you know, this is justifiable. And I thought I was doing the right thing in that way. You know, I did all the right steps and it was, Justin Timberlake who kind of came out like a I don't know, we did not like Justin Timberlake in this house. He was the one sort of showing off about it. And then she had to pick up all the pieces and she was scrambling being like, oh, but I followed all the right steps and it was still vilification

Andrea Martucci: Right. Well, and that gets very directly to these very different ideas about male and female sexuality in our culture where male sexuality, I mean that makes him a stud. That makes him cool. Nobody's saying did you lose your virginity to Britney? And like, why aren't you justifying why this was okay?

Everyone's like slapping him in the back and congratulating him for having sex with Britney Spears. And then meanwhile, Britney Spears has to come up with this elaborate defense for how she wasn't contradicting the values that she had publicly stated, or that she wasn't a slut or any other number of terms that could be applied to a woman who has sex much less enjoys it. But like, has sex outside of [00:27:00] marriage or, you know, it's only acceptable if it's like you were talking about with pseudo marriage, like first and only. You're committed eternally, you were talking about in these supernatural texts.

And in the supernatural text, there's this, confidence that this person is your intended mate, because you have this connection that is making it really obvious that this is the person you should be with and you will be connected forever.

It's even more committed than having a ring on your finger. Right? You're psychically connected. And so it's still like swimming in that same ideology that sex for women isn't necessarily about pleasure. It has to be kind of tied to this commitment and like, you have to be tied down to somebody before you can enjoy it.

In what you were talking about in your dissertation, that iteration here is okay, well now we'll actually let the female characters enjoy sex or be sexual, but they still have to get tied down into that ideology that, it's not like they're doing that before they meet their, you know, one true love.

And you were talking about how the guy still very much has to like unlock her sexuality. After I was reading it, I was thinking about like, how so many of these texts the characters don't seem to know masturbation exists and it's like, they have never had a sexual thought or desire until they see one person. And even once they meet that person, all sexuality revolves around what they'll do with that person or thinking about that person. Right.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And it In a few instances in my books. And then also like that trope of the character, just being like well, I'm too busy. I'm too focused on this. In one of the books the main character's like I'm so annoyed at how like boy crazy my friends are and then proceeds to be, you know, incredibly, I guess, in her words, "boy crazy" quote unquote for the rest of the four novels. But it's somehow acceptable because yeah, they're psychically connected and they're meant to be together. And he saved her from a Wolf pack who was trying to eat her when she was like four or 10. Sorry.

Andrea Martucci: Not quite as creepy as Renesmee territory.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Well, I mean, They are the same age, at least. Not only are we pseudo married, but they count themselves as having dated from like, the ages of 10 and 11, even though they only knew each other in human and Wolf form. So she didn't even know that he was like a human

Andrea Martucci: Right,

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: as you do.

Andrea Martucci: right. Yeah. And that's obviously the fun of these supernatural stories is they exaggerating sort of these, internal things through physical manifestations.

So getting back to this idea where the beast or the dangerous one is now also an object of love and desire and lust, perhaps. Some of the texts that you included in your dissertation really seem to hit hard on this idea that the [00:30:00] beastly one is aware of their beastliness and fears that they may not be loved for who they are. So they're like, I either have to hide who I truly am in which case my lover doesn't truly know me and see me, or if somebody does see me, they cannot possibly love me as I am.

Which like that is like hardcore what most romance is about, what most romance novels are really circling around. So what does it mean when the beast is the one whose feelings we're focused on or at least thinking about and who isn't villainized?

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Mm. Also the mortifying ordeal of being known, isn't it that? Just circling around that? I thought they were really interesting the, the books that I was studying in part, because they were doing that sort of fear of being known as the beast or the monster. And, you know, there is that sort of link back to, in a lot of older and traditional animal bride groom tales, they get visited by the animal bride groom, like for a series of nights. And their identity is not revealed. And if it is then that's where sort of the tension emerges and they have to go somewhere else or it ends up being like a curse or things like that. And so you can see that sort of connection.

There's a scholar, Cristina Bacchilega, and she talks about like the fairy tale web which I really like just as a visual image.

And I think she says like it reaches back and across history or like next to and across or something like that. And it just talks about all the ways in which all the retellings are connected to each other. I really like that idea in relation to, you know, all of these beasts, having various concerns around identity and being revealed.

But in, in my own thesis, I was looking at it a little bit in relation to their concerns around sexuality, particularly mirrored by, or accompanied by their girlfriends' desires for beastliness, whether that be, you know, the hot Wolf man or whether that be their internal hot wolf, for lack of a better phrase. To find the hot wolf within. And I think what happens a lot in little red riding hood retellings especially more contemporary ones is that the Wolf becomes this sympathetic character and the villain becomes, you know, the woodsman or the Huntsman, you know, the male adult figure.

And we can see that in a range of ways, we can see, you know, the real villain was, logging and climate change and things like that. Or the, the real villain is like land development, which is actually the villain in one of the books. And then it goes into this idea of the misunderstood monster which is, I think also at the core of a lot of supernatural romances. I mean, aside from the ones that are maybe a bit again, I do young adults, so some of them are not concerned with that or are less concerned with that, but a lot of them are, you know, focused around misunderstood otherness and monstrosity and how we define that.

it would've been interesting if they went into that a little more than just, the sad Wolf boy, but [00:33:00] also there's lots of scope for sad wolf boys. I guess that's also a good character trope to explore.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, okay. So what about sad wolf girls? Because, one of my favorite books is Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klaus. Ugh. What I love about what that book does is. I think that in the stories where the wolf, the beast is the guy it's like male sexuality is uncontrolled. They have to struggle to control it. And it's wild and it's rapacious and dangerous potentially if it's uncontrolled

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah. A lot of inadvertent changes like or uncontrolled transformations.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, I loved you brought up the example in one of the books where the, I forget what they were called. When they're around a young girl, their claws grow, and they have to put their hands in their pocket to hide

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Ah, Yes the fenris in Sisters Red which is a very overt like,

Men hiding their erections energy, I guess. Yeah, I had to read that a few times, but that's so traditional for like a male werewolf or like, you know, the sad wolf man or the wolf monster in opposition to your sad wolf girl or your wolf girl energy, I guess

Andrea Martucci: right. Cause I mean, it's the whole like well, they can't help it. The, The sad part is they're not willingly doing this, their body is making them do it. And then they're worried that they're gonna lose control. And what I, I loved about having the beast be the female character in Blood and Chocolate is I think that then it really does start to engage with female sexuality as also being kind of this natural thing and like really, it becomes much more about her truly embracing that herself and not being afraid of it, as opposed female characters often get cast as like needing to, soothe or manage or fix, or, tame a beast, which is a big theme in here.

Right? In these red riding hood tales, and this actually gets into then the complex fantasy, which you talk about. This is an idea from a scholar named Diamond, and it's "to have the bad boy, to never come to harm, to have his wildness for one self." So can you talk about that idea?

Why is the dangerous, bad boy an appealing figure?

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah I love Fleur Diamond's work. That argument she had was so amazing and very useful for me, but it's, just, it all ties in with the brooding Byronic hero. Right. It's it's so well established, but actually just before we started recording, , I was reminded of a older article now from the late great The Toast.

And I actually found it and it was a day in the life of a brooding romantic hero. And I remember it, cuz it's something that I quote jokingly all the time. And it's a script between the hero and heroine.

But the last two lines, the hero, who's called like the bad man. And he says I'm full of [00:36:00] bad things, but somehow I'll be good for you. And the heroine goes, you murdered other people, but not me. That's what love is. (we laugh)

And I just think that's partly the, appeal of, you know, taming, the wild beast or having the supernatural husband. One half of it is being able to access and engage with your own beastliness and wildness, which is, you know, the female character that is the most sexually active in the books that I studied is actually one of the very few female werewolves in the books that I study.

And I don't think that was, an accident Because she is she's in the most well established relationship, but then she is also able to access that via her own lycanthropy and her own heightened senses that she has. And so she can't access that without tapping into that supernatural beastliness. But at the same time, she does have a boyfriend who is very much that tortured, like, oh, I'm an animal, but I'm also a poet. And I also write songs and it's that, I have the ability to kill everyone, but I won't kill you. And that's what love is, I guess, or that's that narrative, at least I don't wanna be putting out messages, but I really do think it is that, it's just hot villain discourse, isn't it?

What's the appeal of the hot villain.

They're gonna kill everyone, but they're not gonna kill you. And somehow that's a pinnacle of romance. Maybe I just read too much, Wuthering Heights when I was younger.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I mean a lot of romance novels today, especially, dark romance or like mafia romance, or you know, these various strains that we're seeing, or even, honestly, yes, a lot of supernatural characters or military characters. I mean, this comes up a lot with, in particular male characters.

The Byronic hero didn't really become an archetype until the romantic period. And before that, it feels like the male archetypes, what was desirable was much more somebody who has institutional power, wealth. Like you're a good guy because you're a prince. Like enough said and will you not beat me? Awesome. Are you sort of my age? Great. Um,

that's like the start of a good thing. And then you get the romantic period and I wonder I'm really not a scholar of these literary periods and I'm trying to understand better, like throughout time what the romantic ideals are, or at least again, like what those bare minimum qualifications are.

I wonder slash it feels like with the awareness of men as dangerous, like you were talking about getting that power for yourself. It's like men are dangerous, but I'm expected to have relationships with men. So how do I mitigate the situation where I can't just abstain from relationships with men? I am taught to desire them. Yet I acknowledge they're dangerous. So what do I do with this? Okay well, I guess the best thing I can do is get the most dangerous one for myself to become my [00:39:00] protector. And also that means I'm super special.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: And that's what you want to be super special. That just reminded me when you're saying that the dark romance and mafia romance, what I have found really interesting recently on that sort of track of animal bride groom tales, and almost like circling back to the idea of the Cupid and Psyche mythology is the explosion of Hades and Persephone retellings and renegotiations.

And it's not as if I would put it as, an animal bride groom, narrative as such, because he's not an animal in that sort of sense, but it's definitely still that same thread of some of the reinterpretations, at least that I have read, obviously there's, there will be many more that, that I haven't, that will do something else.

But some of the versions I've read recently, there's been a lot of mafia romance ones in particular and he's the absolute king shit, killing everyone. And then you become, or the Persephone equivalent becomes like the mafia queen and then becomes as dangerous or already is as, or more dangerous than the Hades retelling. and it is, you know, how am I able to access or gain a certain incarnation of power? And is that sort of the modern, romantic archetype in that particular subcategory?

You'd never claim a dominant romantic archetype for the whole field, cuz there's, so many subcategories and you wouldn't see that in, Christian romance or something. Maybe you would, I don't read them.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I don't know.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: I doubt. I can't speak to that. Probably not. No. but it is always this like yeah. Like you said, how am I gonna negotiate this genuine fear with my everyday life? Maybe it is through accessing a certain form of power or beastliness maybe it is through in the storytelling tradition, creating a narrative around it that is uplifting or even just eroticized again, depending on what variations you're reading.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I know that we are mostly focusing on red riding hood, which is manifesting itself in a lot of, sort of werewolf retellings. But it's interesting cuz there's a lot of beauty and the beast slash Hades and Persephone and beauty and the beast is really interesting to me because in modern context about like how the beast is presented. Like is the beast a literal beast, like beauty and the beast, the Disney movie, where he literally transforms from a very animal man into a human man.

Versus some of the older stories of beauty and the beast. The beast was just a very ugly man. So he's, he's just physically ugly. He's not an actual animal. And so it's interesting when you bring that idea, like, is this person an enchanted animal figure is this person just very ugly and then modern versions are conceptualizing, like, what is beastliness?

And so like, sometimes it's like, this person is scarred, physically marred in some way, but there's also playing with the idea [00:42:00] of a beast, because they're mean. I mean, they're, they're beautiful perhaps, but like mean. So like that idea of like what beastliness is, is also getting played with where well, you don't have to be a literal beast animal, beastliness can take many forms, which I think, especially when applied to male character again as this object of like fear and desire is it's super interesting what form that takes.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah, and it it's like the Angela Carter quote they become hairy on the inside. They become hot monsters. Although, you know, the Ice Planet Barbarians just had a new book out, hot literal monsters also exist for many people. But the, internalizing rather than externalizing, I guess.

Andrea Martucci: So before I wrap up, is there anything else you wanna talk about?

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: I do feel compelled to note because in folklore, cause there's so many versions, I've always feel like I have to say, I do look at a very specific range of books and fairytales and incarnations. And I know, there's gonna be like 5 million others that will say different things. So I never stand to say this is the definite incarnation of things.

Andrea Martucci: Right.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: A caveat.

Andrea Martucci: And I mean, you basically said this at the beginning, one of the issues, as I understand it of studying folklore is that folklore and fairy tales were an oral tradition. And so in our place as modern, readers scholars, et cetera, your ability to access these stories is somewhat limited by like at some point somebody wrote them down. They could have gone through a million incarnations before that.

You know, maybe it's lost, and also you have to take into account that the person who wrote it down is infusing what they heard with their own spin on it. And then also it seems like you're studying Western European, type tales, but these red riding hood or beauty and the beast, or whatever, would also be present in probably many other cultures and regions around the world and could look very different.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah. And I also think that's what I really like about fairytales and the folklore tradition is that there are so many variations and you are able to tell and retell them. The cycle allows you to just keep going with them. And I cannot believe it has been this long without me saying anything, anti Disney, but that is actually my issue with a lot of the Disney fairy tale tellings They temporarily stopped that process. So if I say like Cinderella or beauty and the beast or Snow White, most people will unconsciously go to the Disney versions cuz that's the ones that most of us grew up with including myself and you know, people have the attitude of why are we retelling it when Disney did it?

Or why would we need to cuz we have this, you can already see that when new variations or new movies come out, especially, and they're not Disney and people go, like how many Cinderella retellings do we need? Why doesn't Ariel have red hair? And I just sit there and despair. I'm like there's room. It's fine. We can

Andrea Martucci: Yeah,

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: of them.

Andrea Martucci: well, and that almost is just an issue with global [00:45:00] mass media, right. Where, you know, in the near past, and also very distant past, stories would be spread in a local region. It's not like there's like borders on these things, but like, you only have access to the stories that another person can tell you. And now, when Disney, started making these movies, especially, it was an era where you can have one cultural artifact that then is spread to a massive number of people around the world.

And so now we're in this place where we're seeing the effects of that, where this one single narrative now becomes the defining one and it starts to erase or minimize the beautiful variation that can and has existed.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yeah. Jack Zipes, who's a big fairytale scholar, who is the fairytale scholar. He calls it the Disney strangle hold, Which I really like, cuz I think it's very evocative of what happened. That's partly why the supernatural romance in particular is really good because you see the fairytale, retellings permeate through in a different genre and in a different way, which is exactly the point of the fairytale. You know, you, you reinvent them and you rechange them. So I really like that.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. thank you so much for being here Nicola. What else are you currently working on and how can people find you and your online?

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: I am on Twitter @DrNicolaWB.

Andrea Martucci: And that's for Warner Brothers, right?

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Yes, of course. (laughs) Actually recently I just had my first journal article published based on part of my thesis.

Andrea Martucci: Congratulations

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: In thank you it was very exciting. I think my mother has printed out a few copies to put on the fridge at least. But I was looking at the text that we were talking about today.

In particular, that article was focusing on the way in which representations of food and scent in particular, which we didn't talk about cause it wasn't really part of it, but that heightened werewolf sense lent itself very well to allowing scenes of sensual pleasure and sexual pleasure in a way that would be appropriate for young adult fiction or be considered appropriate for young adult fiction, which I think is very interesting and useful even in books, which are worlds where masturbation doesn't exist.

Like you had said, at the very least they can go to a chocolate store and have a moment smelling sweets, which is what happened.

Andrea Martucci: By By themselves.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: Uh, No she, she was with her boyfriend. He drove her there. So it still doesn't exist in that world, but at least pleasure does on some level, I guess.

Andrea Martucci: it's a start. I'll take it.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: But I did write about that in that article. It is linked on my Twitter.

Andrea Martucci: Great. Well, Thanks again for coming here. And I should say Nicola. It is early in the day for me, and it is very late in the day for Nicola. So I also appreciate you taking the fall on the time zone [00:48:00] issues.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: I am Australian, so I am used to it and it is technically now very early in the day for me. So we are both early in the day.

Andrea Martucci: all right. Well, I'm gonna let you get some sleep.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: thank you.


Andrea Martucci: Thank you so much for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed today's episode, please subscribe, rate, or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out ShelfLovePodcast.Com for transcripts and other resources. Or you can find me @shelflovepod on Twitter or @shelflovepodcast on Instagram. Or you can always email me at Andrea at Shelf Love Podcast dot com.

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See your name listed as a Patreon supporter on the Shelf Love website if you join at any level. That's That's all for today. Thanks so much. Bye.


Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: I have to use a different name, so my students don't find me.

Andrea Martucci: oh yeah. Makes sense.

Dr. Nicola Welsh-Burke: They can find this and instead hear me say masturbation and hot monsters. So