Krentz on archetypes

Bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz writes under three names, one for each of the three worlds she’s created. She’s Amanda Quick for historical romantic suspense, Jayne Ann Krentz (her married name) for contemporary romantic suspense, and Jayne Castle (her birth name) for futuristic/paranormal romantic suspense. She believes that romance novels celebrate women’s heroic virtues and values, and that all genre fiction gets its power from ancient heroic archetypes.


What explains the power of genre fiction?

Genre fiction draws its power from the ancient heroic archetypes, not modern angst. A lot of modern literature is informed by the social theories of the 20th century—theories of psychology, our understanding of social problems—a lot of modern literature’s built on that, and romance can have those themes going on and those problems going on, because they are a part of our real world, but the difference with a genre novel is that in any genre novel, including romance, the hero and the heroine overcome their problems not with social engineering and not with psychology, but with core heroic virtues and they’re always the same. It’s courage, determination, a sense of honor, integrity, and the ability to love, and that’s at the core of all our heroic archetypes.

If the genres are so similar, why is romance treated differently?

Well, I think romance has always suffered from the fact that it’s basically, usually written by women for women. Few exceptions. It’s been known as a women’s genre, and like anything that’s devoted to women, it tends to get kind of short shrift. But having said that, I will tell you that all of my friends who write in the other genres of popular fiction do just as much whining about not getting any respect. My science fiction friends whine about it; my mystery writer friends whine about it, so I really learn not to take it too seriously, because I think in general our society doesn’t treat popular fiction with much respect, and I think it’s because there’s been no need to acknowledge it. It’s just always been there. It is always going to be there. We live with it, so we take it for granted.

I think the biggest problem in the study of popular fiction is that nobody asks the core question of, “Why does it continue to exist? Why do we still write it, and why are we still dealing with archetypes that go back 1,000 years?” And I think those are the questions that don’t get asked in lit classes, but those are the fascinating question; and I’ve, over the years, sort of evolved a Jayne’s theory of popular fiction evolution, which is that it wouldn’t survive unless it served a real purpose for the survivability of our culture; and I believe that it’s in popular fiction that we preserve our society’s—our culture’s—core values.

You know, people complain they’re not taught in school. People complain nobody goes to church anymore. People complain that nobody knows what core values are anymore, but that’s baloney. We read them. We know exactly what a hero is supposed to do. We may not do it ourselves, but we sure know what—what the truth is; and we learn that not so much from the institutions, but from our popular fiction. And that’s why it survives. We need it.

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