Romance and marriage are atypical subjects of speculative fiction, usually either consigned to the B-plot or give short-shrift if included at all. That’s fine: not every book must contain every possible element. Absence of a wooing, dalliance, or long-term relationship should not be grounds for legitimate criticism of a work.
Tolkien wrote a romance without a great deal of romance. What romance did reach the page was chaste, the courtly romance of the troubadours. This is perhaps better exemplified by Gimli’s love for Galadriel than the decades long trials and courtship of Aragorn and Arwen. That is the story the Good Professor was writing and it worked.
The last two novels in Glen Cook’s “Garrett” series have shifted to a more mature, realistic portrayal of dating, love, shacking up, etc. But the earlier books owe their romance tropes more to the detective novels of Stout, MacDonald, Chandler, and Hammett than to speculative fiction. Perhaps Cook’s “Black Company” novels provide a better example of romance and marriage. Lady can be seen as a symbol of woman as object of fear, of worship, to be longed for from a distance. This gives way to love, respect, and – through familiarity – a more mature relationship. Of course, given who Lady is, Croaker was never likely to find himself in anything like a conventional marriage with her.
I submit that James Branch Cabell’s “Jurgen” provides speculative fiction’s most profound exploration of romance, marriage, and aging. I doubt my opinion is widely held, given the current climate of criticism in the fantasy and science fiction field (vide every review at Tor.com.) But I continue to find “Jurgen” timeless and insightful each time I read it.
William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride” is the gold standard for pure romance. I can only hope that, twenty years from now, I will still say to my wife, Isa, “As you wish” and see her smile.
My novel “Reunion” (coming from Twilight Times Books next month) features a married couple, so the romance is late stage, settled. I’ll leave it to others to determine if I’ve captured that aspect. My work in progress features a budding, early stage flirtation. But here I’ve followed a rather traditional story path: the romantic element does not drive the narrative, and is distinctly secondary. We’ll have to see how it goes.
Then there are peripheral sub-genres of speculative fiction directed more explicitly at romance, certain types of urban fantasy and novels concerning superhuman/human pairings. But I must admit a general ignorance concerning these and can’t comment.
What novels would you point to as examples of romance in fantasy or science fiction?