The Romance Hero, or, The Man With The Biggest Hands In The World

Like every good author, I try to read in my genre. For me that means romance, and there seems to be a unifying theme in the last few books I’ve picked up.

The Big Corn And Pea Man

The heroes are HUGE.

Just yesterday I finished Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennet. Lovely book. Loads of fun. Would read more by the author in a second. But damn, is the hero Winter Magnussen ever a big man. He’s described as a bear, as a wall, as a bull.

And yeah, in case you were wondering, ALL of his anatomy is proportional.

In contrast, the heroine Aida is petite, delicate, fragile. She’s spunky, and saves his butt more than once, but there’s always the feeling he might break her if he moves wrong.

Along the same lines, a couple weeks ago I read Silk Is For Seduction by Loretta Chase. A 2012 RITA finalist, it’s a grand book that did a tremendous job of carrying me back to 1830s England. And our hero, the Duke of Clevedon? He’s tall, and broad, and his hands are large. In fact, there were so many descriptions of his exceptional size, with particular attention to his big hands, that by the end the visual I had was of a pale, curly-haired Shaquille O’Neal dressed in Regency garb.

Perhaps not the image the author was after…

And like Bitter Spirits, the heroine in Silk is petite and feisty. I liked her and I liked the story, but as a writer, I had to wonder about the subtext. I think it’s pretty clear that by creating characters who are at the extremes when it comes to size, authors are throwing cultural expectations into hyperdrive. For some perspective, here’s a quick quote from a highly authoritative source (

“For example, taller men may be seen as more powerful and attractive, so women who are with taller men benefit by attaining a higher social status.  In addition, if height signals physical dominance, it is likely that taller men make women feel smaller, protected, and perhaps more “feminine” as well.”

Readers identify with the POV character, and these books seem determined that for the time it takes you to finish the book, you’ll see yourself as 5’1” and 105 pounds with a big ol’ stud of a man trying to get you into his bed.

It kind of creeps me out a little. Because of the extreme emphasis on size, there’s an underlying dominance/submission thing that makes me uncomfortable. It’s one thing to feel feminine and protected, quite another to worry about getting broken.

Night Circus

Not all books roll that way. Delphine Drydens BDSM/Erotic romance The Theory Of Attraction has an overt D/s storyline, and while yeah, Ivan is taller than Camille, his dominance comes from an intellectual/emotional place rather than being a result of his physical size. (And if you haven’t read Theory, you really should. It’s one of the best examples of integrating the D/s lifestyle into a character that I’ve ever come across. You end up with the feeling that Ivan pretty much had to be a Dom, that nothing else would have worked for him.)

I also don’t generally find the same subtext in m/m romance. In Hainted, Jordan L. Hawk’s fabulous book about magic workers in Appalachia, Lief is taller than Dan. There are a few references to the height difference, mostly in terms of how comfortable it was for Dan to rest his head against Leif’s shoulder. Both characters are powerful men. They have different abilities, but if somehow things changed dramatically and they started scrapping, I’m not sure which one would come out the winner.

In fact, I tried hard to think of a romance hero who WASN’T a really big guy, and the closest character I could come up with is Micah, one of Anita Blake’s boyfriends. Though he’s not technically a romance hero, he’s handsome, hung, and just about the same height she is (~ 5’3″). Their partner Nathaniel’s only about 5’7″, which makes him the giant in the threesome. And you know what? While I get that Anita’s very attracted to both of them, they do NOTHING for me. I love Micah’s emotional maturity and I love Nathaniel’s ability to ground Anita, and I’ve sure read my share of sex scenes involving them, but meh. Can’t see myself in Anita’s shoes, and not just because she’s not wearing any and in the middle of several men at once…

So as usual in my blog posts, I make some observations but don’t really have any conclusions. What do you think? Have you read books where the hero is a giant and the heroine is tiny? Do you enjoy that kind of energy, or does your inner feminist rise up screaming? Conversely, can you think of a romantic hero who’s NOT a bug guy?

It’s food for thought, if nothing else…



11 thoughts on “The Romance Hero, or, The Man With The Biggest Hands In The World

  1. “…a pale, curly-haired Shaquille O’Neal dressed in Regency garb.”

    I just did a coffee spit-take all over my keyboard. Thanks for that. 🙂

    Even though I don’t read a ton of romance, this is something I’ve also noticed in YA and even my own writing (!). In my own writing, I think it emerges from a space of personal attraction–I’m a petite woman who has always been attracted to tall men, so when approaching my characters’ physical attractions it’s easy to draw on that personal experience. I do see how this could be potentially problematic in reinforcing unrealistic cultural assumptions about size and appearance, though!

    I recently read “Anna and the French Kiss” and the male romantic interest was described as being short–more than once. And it did bother me a bit, especially since the author never offered her readers a precise height. My imagination went into overdrive and I kept imagining Mickey Rooney!

  2. livrancourt says:

    I totally get your point, Lyra – you write what you like! And I don’t have a problem with tall men, RL or literary. My husband’s 6’2″ to my 5’8″, after all. I just get tweaky when the size differential gets so much emphasis that the heroine’s safety is in question. The hero in my book “Forever & Ever, Amen” is about 5’10”, but the heroine’s short and her ex- is over 6′, so she likes being with someone who feels more like an equal.I might have to check out “Anna & the French Kiss”, just to see how I respond as a reader to a short romantic hero. (The Anita Blake books don’t really count as romances.)
    Thanks for checking in, and I’m glad you liked my Shaq joke 🙂

    1. livrancourt says:

      Thanks Crysta – glad you liked it. I think height is like any other physical characteristic authors can manipulate to get a response from the reader. My other pet peeve is heroines with child-sized hands, but that’s another whole blog post 🙂
      Oh, and thanks for the reblog, too…

  3. Perfect timing as always, Liv. I just had this discussion with my group. We were sitting outside, perfecting our human observation skills, when it hit me–all my characters are tall, like, way tall. Now, I’m vertically challenged, so perhaps I’m overcompensating, but man, I have to make sure to mix it up on my cast. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent my life surrounded by men six feet plus, but still, the average size of those meandering by that day, yeah, not a one slipped past the six foot mark. I now have a sticky on my computer: Not everyone is the Jolly Green Giant.

    Awesome post!

    1. livrancourt says:

      Somehow I think you’ve probably got a number of wise and pithy sticky-notes lining your computer, Jami.
      And just to be clear, tall men are okay. Gavin is tall, and he works for me just fine – but then I know Raine would kick his ass six ways to Sunday if he ever messed with her. It’s not just the height thing, it’s the unacknowledged power differential that bugs me…and the more I mess around with this post, the fancier my language is getting. Perhaps I’ll quit now. Thanks for checking in…

  4. So glad you brought this up! It drives me insane! As a small girl (5’1) who has dated tall men (one was 6’2, another 6’4), I know how difficult that situation can be, and of course the awkwardness is never part of the story. It also bothers me to no end how alpha these men are portrayed to be. But then again, I don’t go for that. Give me a skinny poet (I don’t care if he’s short; so am I) over a brawny giant any day!

    But more than personal taste, it bothers me that in this cultural stereotype all men are expected to be tall and muscular while all women are petite and dainty (oh, the hands, as you said!). This just screams male dominance to me. Plus, where’s the real world diversity? It doesn’t matter what time period the romance is in, there will be people of every size and height.

    1. livrancourt says:

      Nicole – I posted this on my own blog, and one commenter brought up the TV show Bones, because Bones & Booth are about the same height, and another romantic pair has a woman who’s taller than the man. For all that television is justifiably criticized for creating artificial expectations regarding physical appearance it’s still forced to work with actual living human beings, who do come in all different sizes. This perspective actually makes the supersizing of the romantic hero even more disturbing to me, because I think the motivation does have to do with unspoken male dominance fantasies that pull from dated, unrealistic ideas about women.

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