The Sookie Stackhouse Books

by: Charlaine Harris

I wonder what it is in the gestalt that is making vampires so popular these days?

Maybe it's how we're feeling about guys like Bernie Madoff, or the IRS?

It seems as though every so often vampires, er, resurrect as a cultural icon, perhaps with a slight re-working, but generally representing some deep, slightly sexual, definitely dangerous fascination with death, immortality, and the nature of evil.

In the early 1800s Byron and his ilk were clearly delighted by all things dark and dangerous - Byron supposedly penned the poem "The Vampyre," though it was later credited to his pusher and physician, Dr. Polidori (who, it seems wrote the poem about Byron). And then in the mid-1800s, "Varney the Vampire" was published, followed about 40 years later by Bram Stoker definitive "Dracula."

It was this last that, probably unintentionally, morphed the vampire story into its present form: vampire as demon lover, as opposed to vampire as nasty, graveyard-smelly bloodsucker. Just think: Frank Langella's Dracula, versus Max Schreck's Nosferatu.

Bela Lugosi's iconic interpretation of the Count aside, most of the modern vampires have been romantic heros. (Though Lugosi's Dracula does fall into a brief foray into vampire-as-rotting-nobility - a sort of vampire as left-over class distinctions trope.)  Even Gary Oldman's brilliant portrayal of Dracula in Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula," while it depicted the horrific side of the character, also showed the vampire as possessed lover, doomed to grieve his wife throughout time.

The latest crop of vampire stories continues the thread of vampire as demon lover. In fact, these vampires are a sort of super-lover: highly romantic, physically gorgeous, practiced lovers (they've had centuries to get it right, right?), and highly focused boyfriends.

From the phenomenon of the Twilight series, to the new tv series, Moonlight, the vampire is noble, desirable, and highly sexualized. And then there's HBO's True Blood, a delightful gumbo of Southern Gothic, vampire story, murder mystery, and camp.

Set in Bon Temps, LA, True Blood is the story of the aptly-named Sookie (often mispronouned "Sucky") Stackhouse, a waitress at a Lew-si-anna roadhouse, Merlotte's (no doubt a play on Mulatte's, a real Cajun roadhouse in the bayous). In this story, vampires are real and "out of the coffin," thanks to the Japanese having invented a synthetic plasma, called "True Blood." Now that vamps don't have to drink human blood to survive, they can mingle with the humans - known in vampire circles as "mainstreaming."

The series - a very graphic sex/fantasy/horror/murder romp as done up by HBO - is based on Charlaine Harris's very successful Sookie Stackhouse novels, which are really nothing more than theme murder mysteries featuring our heroine, the plucky, stacked (ahem), and clairaudiant Sookie.

Sookie's been (ahem) dying to meet a vampire - and her wishes are fulfilled one evening when the town's resident vamp stops in a Merlotte's for a warm bottle of blood. Wonder of wonders, Sookie can't hear a thing he's thinking - which for her is a dream come true. Bombarded on all sides by thought-noise, and unable to date (who wants to know exactly what one's inamorata is thinking?), she finds the blissful silence of the vampire's presence - along with his chiseled good looks and courtly manner - fatally seductive.

Sookie and Vampire Bill become lovers, and partners is finding out Who Is Killing the Nubile Young Things of Bon Temps. Suspicion naturally falls on Vampire Bill, as well as on Sookie's dumb-but-gorgeous older brother, Jason, the town's stallion. The first season on HBO takes us part way through the second book in the series.

The books are far less Southern Gothic than the HBO series (they're more Southern redneck), the dialog far less witty, and the characters we know and love from one don't exactly match up with the characters from the other.

In both the HBO series and the books, Sookie is simple, straightforward, brave, and nobody's fool. Played by Anna Paquin, she's more childlike than the sturdy, voluptuous heroine in the books, but of all the characters, hers is most similar in both book and series. And that's about it.

Jason in the books is much more peripheral, much less developed and interesting. He's a good old boy who happens to be drop-dead handsome, and not above using his looks for all they're worth. While this is also true in the tv version, Jason is also more complex, nuanced, troubled, and plays a much larger role in events as they unfold.

Vampire Bill - Bill Compton, Civil War soldier that was - is also far more complex as portrayed on HBO. A slightly sad, slightly sinister blend of ardor and predator, Vampire Bill is everything a woman would want - except that he has no heart, and can't share breakfast in bed. In the books, Bill is more selfish, and appears to be just one in a string of supernatural lovers for Sookie.

The books introduce us to a whole world of Supes, from Weres (werewolves) and Shifters (creatures like werewolves, but a bit more civilized, and not wolves), to witches and fairies and dryads. Sookie's boss, Sam, it turns out, is a Shifter; a co-worker at Merlotte's is a witch; and everybody, it seems, is dating a supe, whether they know it or not.

Sookie takes up with Alcide, a Were of some stature and dignity, but manages to stay out of a romantic entanglement - just barely - because he's still hung up on his Shifter ex. Then Eric, the Vampire Sheriff of District 5 (around Louisiana) loses his memory, and while he was ruthless and cunning before his memory loss, he becomes pliable and almost sweet (if such a word can be applied to a Vampire) after. Sookie does end up succumbing to his Viking charms. And there's more to come!

The Supernatural world details in the books are fun - Vampires can have pictures taken of them, they simply thought better of it, as a photo of George in 1955 would look pretty much like a photo of George in 1975, so why advertise? - and the various talents, limitations, rules and enmities of the creatures allows for plenty of interesting plotline and character development.

While the HBO series has a gritty, deeper-meaning quality to it, the books are more after-dinner mints. The mysteries aren't even particularly mysterious - the murders are more a way to put our heroine in danger and allow her to be rescued, and most likely bedded, by one or more of the handsome, hedonistic, otherworldly heros.(Yes, it's true, guys are probably not going to like these books!)

The boxed set of 6 books, with names like "Dead as a Doornail," or "Dead to the World," were published in the early 2000s, and are enjoying a revival of interests thanks to HBO's cult favorite - which is replaying on HBO 2 starting Saturday, 2/21 at 9pm.  I don't have any news about a Season 2 - but I'm hoping!


" Dallas " said…
Thanks Nancy for such a thorough review of the books and Season one.

Everything we know about season two is on my blog > click Season Two in the topics ( index)

Thanks, Dallas
Nancy said…
Great - thank you!
Anonymous said…
Hi Nancy,

"just after-dinner mints"

Wow! Just like most people in this world I would have to agree that Alan Ball is a genius, but having read all the books and the short stories that accompany the books (which most people don't even know exist)I would have to say that the Sookie in the series is close to the one Charlaine created but I love Charlaine's Sookie and the story lines better. I'm a huge Charlaine Harris fan of not just this series but all her books calling he books "after dinner mints" is way off.

I would encourage everyone to read the series and I hope that y'all enjoy them as much as I have.

Best Regards!
Nancy said…
Oh, I'm with you - I love the books! I was only suggesting that the HBO series has a darker and more serious layer, where the books are lighter in tone and style. Sorry if that sounded like a put-down. For the record: I'm a fan!
E. L. Fay said…
Hi Nancy - I've heard of True Blood but your review really makes me want to check out both the books and the TV series. Redneck/Southern Gothic vampires? Excellent. You might want to try Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. It has some similarities to the "religious conspiracy" novels you like (guy and girl race around the world searching for clues to an ancient mystery) but it's incredibly well-written and it's about Dracula!

I have also nominated you for an award!
Nancy said…
Thank you so much! That's a first!
Anonymous said…
It is rather interesting for me to read this article. Thanks for it. I like such themes and anything connected to them. I definitely want to read more soon.
Anonymous said…
This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.
Anonymous said…
hi, new to the site, thanks.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Popular Posts