Dark Romance

You like what?

Okay, admit it. At some point you’ve wondered to yourselfor maybe even to othersjust why you’re here. Why are you interested in, and more than likely attracted to, giants? And more likely than not, dangerous giants? (Unless you’re here just to read this essay and to see a theory about why other people are attracted to them.)

It’s a good question. We’re part of a small but measurable subculture of people who are attracted to fantastic, dangerous beasts, capable ofand frequently quite willing tokill and eat on a whim. This is not the stuff of typical adolescent pinups. It’s not something we talk about with friends who aren’t of the same persuasion, even friends who have kinks we might find kind of weird.

And who can blame us for being reticent? We’re not only attracted to giants, but giant animal-people. Ones who, if they existed, might be inclined to use us as toys or foodwhich is part of their attraction to us. (Or conversely, we’re attracted to playing those giant animal-people ourselves.) Whatever this may be, mainstream certainly ain’t it. It’s not always a comfortable topic amongst those who “understand” itbecause most of us don’t understand it. We just share it.

Avoiding Freud

It’s tempting to start analyzing thisor any fetish, and for that matter any psychological deviation from a medianwith a foray into psychoanalysis. This inevitably leads us toward well-known “talking points” from Freud: an emphasis on sexuality and its deviation from the norm, looking back toward childhood for sources. Some of you might have seen the Introduction to Macrophilia article on Lava Dome 5 by “Samuel Ramses,” a short, formally-styled piece with a great deal of description of physical sexual reactions with discussion of guilt and isolation. It comes across to me as a fairly Freudian explanation. While that’s not necessarily bad, it’s the focus on deviance and repression that led later psychiatrists to criticize Freud.

While I like that article, it presents a definition of macrophilia, not a theory of it. The same is true for the occasional “dictionary of fetishes” piece I’ve seen over the years. If you’re here, you already know what a macrophile is, right? So I’d like to take a different approach and try to explore what leads people to these attractions. In one sense, it’s a more Jungian take, by way of literary criticism. (For lit-crit students, specifically “archetypal criticism.”)

Predator versus prey

Historians and anthropologists have long made the caseor at least the assumptionthat human intelligence puts the species at the top of the food chain. In Blood Rites, an intriguing book presenting a meme-based “theory of war,” essayist Barbara Ehrenreich suggests that these assumptions may be based more in wishful revisionism than reality. Quoting an excellent review of the book by Thomas Powers from The Atlantic Monthly:

War is not the origin of war. It was not the fighting of men in groups that came first but the terror inspired in early human beings by predator beastslions and tigers and bearsand the attempts of early human beings to kill the beasts that made them prey. Anyone who stokes a campfire in grizzly-bear country will get the idea in a hurry. Tigers in India and lions and leopards in Africa have terrorized human communities well into the present century. […] The most startling single image from a recently discovered cave in France was not the walls painted 30,000 years ago but the placement of a bear’s skull on a large limestone rock in the center of one room. In the soft cave floor were the still-crisp footprints of the men who, we can hardly help believing, worshipped what they feared.

To quote Ehrenreich directly: “Here, most likely, lies the source of our human habit of sacralizing violence: in the terror inspired by the devouring beast and in the powerful emotions that were required […] for group defense.”

The archetype of the beast

Set aside the image of man as noble hunter, master of his environment from the moment he learned to make flint spears. Instead, consider that for a very, very long time, humans were not at the top of the food chain. For their size, humans are neither particularly fast nor particularly strong; their senses are less acute than both non-human prey and predator. Intelligence may have proven a winning evolutionary strategy, but only in the long termand only collectively. A human who goes hand-to-claw with a wolf pack, or a single tiger, will be food every time, and the odds only marginally improve if the human is given a stone, or even steel, knife. There’s little wonder that projectile weapons predate written language. If they hadn’t, there wouldn’t have been enough humans around to agree on an alphabet.

While some theories suggest that predators are driven by circumstance to evolve intelligence, it’s intuitively obvious that intelligence would be beneficial to prey as well. Humans may be as successful a species as they are precisely because they’ve been in both roles. And, if we suppose an intelligent being that understands the world around it through stories, the predator isn’t the one who will both fear and revere death, to build rituals around it. Even if tigers had language, they would not tell their children stories about narrowly escaping death at the jaws of rabbits. Children carried away by wolves and tigers, huge and powerful man-eating creaturesthese night terrors have their roots in reality.

These responses are perhaps as basic as those toward sex, food and family. All of them are visceral, manifestations of the relationship between life and deaththe cold truth that the first requires the second. Modern times make those fears more distant and abstract, but our language still points back to them. Think for a moment about how many common metaphors have feral, predatory connotations: families “ripped apart” by divorce, a train “swallowed up” by thick fog, suffering from “crushing” debt.

And of course, the stories survive, in spirit if not in precise form. Victorian explorations of man’s own dark half, Lovecraft’s impersonal nameless horrors for whom man is not sought-after prey but simply beneath notice, and their descendants are uniquely modern takes, but monsters that give victims personal attention certainly remain with us. Countless monster movies feature giant animals, from the successfully chilling to the jaw-droppingly ridiculous; in written works we even find the occasional thoughtful exploration of predator-against-human themes, like Whitley Streiber’s evolved wolf packs from The Wolfen.

Sensual predation?

It may be startling or even disturbing to most people to describe the act of predation as “sensual,” but think about sensuality in its most canonical sense: full involvement of the senses. We’ve come to closely associate sensuality with sexuality, but the two aren’t synonymous. Sex is sensual, but so is food. Sumptuous eating is just as associated with hedonism as sex.

If your idea of fine cuisine is stepping up to Olive Garden from Denny’s, these might seem bold statements. If you’ve eaten in a Michelin-starred restaurant, they aren’t. A good chef produces a dish that involves the sensesvisual presentation, aromas, even the textures of the various ingredients are all important.

I’m not claiming the wolf catching a rabbit thinks of its meal the way a chef thinks of their cedar-grilled glazed salmon, but we can be sure the experience is no less sensual. Arguably, it’s more so: the hunt has called, briefly, on all of the senses. And we can also suppose, without stretching the imagination, that it’s a sensual experience for the prey. Not a pleasant experience, noan absolutely terrifying one. But the most intense experience it ever has, pushing all of its senses to or beyond their limits. And if the rabbit escapes, the thrill would be unparalleled.

At least, of course, if the rabbit’s capable of thinking in these terms. There’s no reason to assume the rabbit is, just as there’s no reason to assume that the wolf takes active enjoyment in his power over the rabbit. If you reject a Cartesian view of animals as automatons, there may be something analogous to those feelings in animalsbut this is clearly an anthropomorphic projection of feelings we definitively experience ourselves. (And again we have the suggestion that humans are, in their secret core, more prey than predator: those who identify too closely with the rabbits are thrill-seekers, admired for their insanity; those who identify too closely with the wolves are sociopaths, punished for theirs.)

So this experience, the relationship between prey and predatorthe tremendous power imbalance, the struggle of the highest stakes, the thrill, the sensualityis at the heart of the legends of giants and “littles,” of dragons and damsels in distress. Predator and prey, and the corresponding themes of dominance, submission and challenge, form the basis of our oldest stories, stories very likely as old as language.

Fight, flight or f…

All right: sensuality and sexuality aren’t identical. But if sensuality lies at the heart of macrophilia and its cousin vorarephilia1, we need to explain how we get from point A to point B, especially when point B may be down a giantess’s throat. We know that sensuality and sexuality are intermingled, not just socially but physically, and I suspect that’s the key. Overwhelming the senses is part of sex, and kinks intensify the sensual experiencethey connect a nonsexual but sensual act with sexual sensuality. Given how intense predation and associated concepts are, it’s not surprising that connections between the two may be made. (Interestingly, Diane Ackerman’s Natural History of the Senses suggests that taste and sex may even be biologically connected.)

And, I suspect the connections aren’t as rare as one might think. It’s just that most of those connections have been civilized to a point where most don’t recognize it for what it is.

Symbolic predation

As civilization has progressed, the feral power of these stories has been abstracted as feral dangers seemed progressively more remote and mythic. With abstraction comes ritualization. Ehrenreich’s hypothesis about war is that our approach to it is an abstraction and ritualization of our fear of predation; it’s provocative, but well-reasoned. It’s arguably a shorter stretch to suggest that BDSM is a ritualization of prey and predator relationships.

This might be a more controversial assertion in the bondage community than Ehrenreich’s is in academia, but if you strip away the ritualization and the terminology, what is it that’s being abstracted? A hierarchy enforced by domination, pain and submission. That phrase could just as easily be applied to a wolf pack, and for that matter, the food chain.

Through the centuries, both openly and clandestinely, the feral aspects have been given new veneers. In warfare, there is torture; in BDSM, the torture has become ritualized. The essence of the predator/prey relationship is present, but it’s been transformed, the animal aspects deeply submerged.

That brings home a distinction between that and macrophilia; the animal aspects (even with human giants) are right on the surface. The other distinction is, of course, that macrophilia and vorarephilia are fantasy fetishesintellectual exercises if one wants to be kind, mental masturbation if one doesn’t.

Fantasy and reality

Some years back, I had a discussion with a friend in the BDSM scene, in which he spokedisapprovinglyabout people he’d met online in the past who “actually fantasize about being eaten alive!” He avowed that he had friends who liked to run electric current through their genitalia and even they thought vorarephilia was sick.

Setting aside whether someone who gets off by barbecuing his private parts is really in a position to make moral condemnations of other fetishes, it’s worth looking at what does make people uncomfortable or “squicked” about the concepts. Emotional arguments can’t really be examined. (The “no offense, but you’re sick, dude” comment someone left on one of my stories doesn’t offend me, but it’s not something I’m going to argue about with them, either.) There are a few more objective criticisms I’ve heard over the years it’s worth considering, though.

It’s unrealizable

Absolutely true, and absolutely irrelevant. There are many unrealizable (or technically fulfillable but incredibly unlikely) fantasies out there that wouldn’t strike anyone as intrinsically dangerousfantasizing about a deceased lover, the current Playboy centerfold, or about winning the lottery. Any fantasy becomes unhealthy when it becomes an obsession, but that has nothing to do with the obsession’s subject. Next.

It’s too extreme

A more interesting criticism, the one that’s probably at the heart of most “Ick!” reactions to all thisand in some ways certainly true. We’re talking about giant wolves rampaging through towns, swallowing people whole, stomping on orphanages and using crosstown busses as non-UL-approved sex toys.

Well, no, wait: we’re talking about fantasizing about giant wolves rampaging through towns. Not only is it something that isn’t happening in reality, it’s something that can’t happen in reality. Even if I “lust in my heart” after some feral giantess, I’m not engaging in anything that’s going to cause me or anyone else physical harm.

The assumption that graphic fantasies lead to graphic real acts is made by social critics and pundits every couple of years after whatever the tragedy of the moment may be, and I can imagine it being trotted out here. It doesn’t hold water here, either, though. A mass murderer might well be attracted to a first-person shooter for reasons that connect to his insanity, but playing first-person shooters is not a sign of homicidal tendencies.

It’s not real contact

This was actually the main argument of my friend against fantasy fetishes. The focus of the act is, so the argument goes, entirely on the fetish rather than on the fact that it’s taking place with another being, particularly since it’s taking place through roleplay, almost always online. These are people who aren’t going to develop any other relationship beyond this shared fetish.

Well, yes. People who meet online for roleplay may not have enough in common to be more than friendly acquaintances in other settings. But this isn’t a unique property of unrealizable fetishes or of online play in general, sexual or otherwise. Strangers at a themed club are brought together by that theme, whether the club is online or in the real world. People do not go to a leather bar in the belief that it will be the perfect place to have long, earnest discussions about Surrealist painters.

The distance imposed by online meetings also removes physical reality, and it’s the ability to roleplay in a virtual world that allows for these kind of fantasies to be interactive in the first place. It’s possible to imagine clubs in the not-so-distant future that allow patrons to enter a shared virtual world with graphic avatars representing them, that let you actually “feel” what it’s like to be someone else. I don’t doubt that avatar sex would be that far behindand I don’t doubt that fantasy fetishes, including macro and vore, would be, either.

From predator/prey to macrophilia

So how did we get from dark predator/prey stories to giants?

It could be argued that predators who can take down humans have to be pretty big, and that they’re most dangerous to childrenso the archetype buried in our collective unconscious isn’t just of the wolf, it’s of the wolf big enough to carry you off in her jaws.

There are “gentle giant” stories out there, of courseones that aren’t violent and either depict sex as consensual or have little to no sexual component at all. But I think these go back to the same archetypesthe sharp points may be sanded down, but the understanding that the giant is the one in power still informs every scene he’s in. The fear is transformed to awe.

As for the “furry” aspects, tracing it down from animal predators makes that seem almost natural. This isn’t to suggest that Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman should have involved a giant cheetah woman2 rather than human, but the primal nature is nonetheless there. Most giant/giantess stories out on the net involve the giant human behaving in dominant and/or feral fashion.

So after all this, so what?

Good question. First off, I know there will be people who consider themselves macrophiles who don’t think this described them at all. Fair enough. There’s also likely to be people who find macrophilia way too freaky and haven’t had their minds changed by these musings. Also fairI’m merely exploring ideas, not looking for converts.

Our fantasies might be unusualokay, no “might” about itbut it’s hard to argue that they’re objectively kinkier, more dangerous and less socially acceptable than what goes on at an average fetish ball. “Acceptability” is ultimately a mirage, anywayunless you’re in the adult entertainment field, your kinks aren’t going on your resume no matter what they are. And as for being dangerous, fantasies about giant cats are certainly no more damaging than real whips and chains, no matter how one defines “damage.”

And if it’s not too ludicrous to talk about myths and archetypes like I have been, we may just be closer to thema little less civilized, a little more primal. That’s not such a bad thing for a fantasy.


  1. Fantasizing about being eaten, often swallowed whole. Not all “macros” are “vore” fans, and vice-versa, but they’re often found together. You’ll see “vorarephilia” spelled multiple ways; since the root is the real Latin word vorare (“to swallow”), though, this is the one I’m sticking with.

  2. Although it totally would have been better with a giant cheetah woman.

December 2003