By the Book - Literary Life Lessons

True Southern Gothic: The Sookie Stackhouse Novels by Charlaine Harris

It's almost Halloween! Here's why people have always loved a good scary story.

It’s almost Halloween! For some, the scariest time of the year is something they look forward to for ages. I, on the other hand, am kind of a coward, and not really into death and all those bloody obsessions and ghostly stories. Not that much, anyway. Sometimes, however, I do love a good vampire story, like the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. Want to know why I am a sucker (har-de-har) for these books – and why, somehow, we have loved a good horror story for centuries? Read on!

There’s really not much to the Sookie Stackhouse series: they’re about Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic cocktail waitress who lives in Bon Temps, a tiny village in Louisiana. She doesn’t date much, because she always knows what her dates are thinking. Until the broody vampire Bill Compton shows up (they have come out of the coffin – have showed the world they’re real – because they’re no longer dependent on human blood), and his thoughts remain completely silent. She then falls in love with him. Or with the next vampire. Or perhaps a Werewolf?

Right. If you’ve read some of my blog posts, you should know by now that I’m kind of a snob. I love good, literary stories, with as many philosophical and complex themes as possible. Charlaine Harris’s novels are nothing of the sort. They’re short, they’re very easy to read, and they’re not really about anything at all: the sex scenes between Sookie and her vampire Bill (or any other man, really) seem to be the highlights of each book. The only reason I started reading them is because I quite liked True Blood, the HBO series which was based on these novels. It was a hit series, and I devoured the episodes whole. The books never take me longer than three hours to read.

To me, novels like these are a perfect example of escapism: Bon Temps is a village in which everyone is drop-dead gorgeous, there are no complicated things keeping them up at night (apart from vampires, of course), the characters don’t really have any personality, and everyone seems to be obsessed about nothing but sex. Whenever I’m reading these books, I keep wishing my life was that exciting, and that I had a perfect vampire lover at my side.

This reminded me of the Gothic novels of old; they were regarded as inferior novels because they were occupied with the Supernatural, while there were so many real issues the world was faced with. Furthermore, they were mostly written and read by women, who saw these novels as a way to escape their dreary, boring old lives, with their boring old husbands. It should come as no surprise that these women were thrilled at the prospect of dreaming about vampires, or any other type of supernatural being, coming to take them away.

There is another way in which the Sookie Stackhouse novels hark back to the early nineteenth century, the heyday of Gothic fiction. These novels tended to touch upon subjects that were considered taboo and couldn’t be discussed in public. Take political or religious subjects, for instance; this was a time in which people who were critical of the government were kicked out of the country. That’s why they resorted to fiction. Vampires, for instance, were regarded as a metaphor for politicians sucking dry their constituents.

In Bon Temps, vampires have come out of the coffin because of the invention of synthetic blood, which means they no longer have to kill humans. However, many of the town’s inhabitants treat vampires with caution, or even downright hate. Vampires aren’t allowed to vote, for instance, or get married to regular people. This is a clear reference to the LGBTQ-movement, who are still fighting for equality. While it is only a minor theme in the books, Harris subtly incorporated a real issue into her supernatural- and sex-riddled novels.

In conclusion: while Sookie appears to be a simple, modern story about a human falling in love with a vampire, one should always bear in mind that almost every one of such novels is part of a long tradition of horror stories. Gothic novels are escapism at its purest, dragging their readers away from their own lives and towards something that’s so much more exciting. They are also the perfect device to discuss social and political themes that are still considered taboo.

See, I’m being a snob again. I read silly little novels and explain why I shouldn’t be embarrassed to read them, by placing them in a historical context. However, since it’s almost Halloween, the scariest time of the year, I should just be honest here (now there’s something really scary – even if there are no supernatural beings involved). Sometimes, I am drawn to these books like vampires are to blood. It’s in their nature, and it’s in mine, too.

Got anything against that? Oh, bite me.

What did you think of the Sookie Stackhouse novels? Do you ever read horror? What do you think is the genre’s special appeal? Who’s your favourite vampire? See, there’s so much to discuss when reading supernatural novels! Please share your opinion in the comments – and don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!

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