As an avowed and open fan of romance literature, I find it sometimes necessary to define what exactly I mean by this. When many people think of romance literature, they think of bodice-ripping Harlequin romances sold by the dozens, and I am not a fan of those myself at all. Romance literature, at least as it means to those of us who are literary sort of people, refers to a large group of related stories with elements of adventure, characters who are somewhat stereotypical, dealing with universal themes and concerns that are often seen as somewhat trite by many critics. Included in this genre of romance stories are westerns, fantasy and science fiction, as well as the novels that we would tend to call romance novels. By and large, though, I do tend to be a champion of romance literature in that it tends to be a genre of low reputation but is a genre of considerable more worth than it is often given credit for in all of its various forms .
Romance writing is often viewed with a bit of disdain by critics because of its association with juvenile literature as well as certain strong parallels that appear to be deeply symbolic or even allegorical. To be sure, young people do tend to gravitate towards romance literature for a variety of reasons, but popular appeal (or even broad and deep appeal to the young) ought not to make a work or a genre without worth. In examining some of the reasons why romance is of such popularity and importance to the youth, we may redeem these genres for ourselves as useful, and may hopefully come to understand our lives as something of far deeper importance than the surface elements we tend to live in. In doing so as well, we might see some elements in which we are to remain as childlike for the purposes of entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Is there a connection between the romantic conventions that draw the attention of many youths with the spiritual development of Christians?
For young people in general (and some older people as well), the world is a mysterious and dark place full of wonder and mystery, danger and opportunity, and “romance” stories manage to serve several useful functions. For one, adventure stories provide a way of helping those coming into their own capacity for reason and judgment connect with history and with universal themes that human beings have wrestled with from time immemorial. Some young people need the courage and the knowledge to wrestle with life and “romance” stories can help provide the raw material for mental experiments in the absence or scarcity of suitable raw material for success in one’s life and family background. Likewise, romance stories often provide a sense of danger and caution for those young people who might be predisposed not to recognize the risks and threats of the adult world that are never far away from anyone. These are functions that we ought not to sniff at in our times, seeing the perils that the young face from even before they enter the world to take their first breaths. We ought not to begrudge anyone seeking out resources and help where it may be found.
There is a delicate balance that the young must face in order to successfully deal with the world around them. For one, they must find a way to live with integrity and honor and character in a world that does not tend to value these qualities very highly, while also finding a way to cope with the outside world and with its demands. The young must explore their own talents and strengths and recognize what they have to offer the world, and also develop the understanding and respect towards others that will allow them to live in peace and develop strong and lasting relationships. The tasks that the young must face in this world are immense, including defending their honor and dignity, developing self-control, avoiding the pitfalls of addiction to all sorts of substances and behaviors, and developing their own talents while trying to find their place in a world that is not particularly forgiving or generous to most. In order to complete these tasks, young people need all the resources they can get, especially given that so many people come from families that can provide little help to young people growing up in acquiring those resources.
Romances are the genres where we wrestle with our hopes and fears, struggle with identity and with a hostile world, find companions and fellowship, and strive to figure out their quests on this earth. Our quests are more complicated in life than in the games we play or in most of the books that we read, for we are all the heroes of our own quests, as well as various supporting characters in the quests of others. Sometimes we are companions or friends of others helping them in their quests. Sometimes we are rivals or enemies or blocking forces, hindering the achievements of others and serving as obstacles to be overcome and dealt with for other people. At other times we may be minor bit characters in the quests of others that flit in and out of a story or pop up briefly but (hopefully) memorably in the stories of the lives of others. At times we may be part of the faceless masses that others come across without making any impression at all. Whatever our roles, let us make the best of it.
All too often adults forget that this world is far beyond our control or even often our understanding. Most adults tend to find comfort in little ideas and oversimplifications of the world that help them cope with the difficulty of life by reducing it from its full expanse to something that is comprehensible and manageable. Whether it is through simplistic political or religious ideologies of the right and left, or through a belief in conspiracies that reduce our agency while exaggerating the rationality and agency of others, this world is full of ways that adults deprive themselves of the humility as well as the sincerity and justice that allow us to develop strength by wrestling with life’s tensions without attempting to resolve them with our own meager understanding and insight. So long as we can live the best we can while honestly admitting that much of life is beyond our grasp, and finding people of like mind and spirit to fellowship with and love, we can keep the best aspects of youth alive long after we have entered the adult world ourselves. The sort of spirit that comes from the best of romance helps keep us child-like in the best and most useful way, a gift of incalculable value in a world that seeks to make us old before we become wise.
 See, for example, the following posts: