BookBin2010: Dead Until Dark

I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken about this at length here at the lair, but I enjoyed the first season of HBO’s True Blood immensely. I decided to rent the show after learning that it was the latest effort from Alan Ball. For those who don’t know who he is, Ball is the writer of the brilliant film American Beauty as well as the creator of Six Feet Under, which I consider one of the greatest television shows ever created. He also used to write for Grace Under Fire, the sitcom headed by one of my all-time favorite comediennes, Brett Butler.

Needless to say, all I needed to know was that Ball was the creative force behind True Blood for me to immediately hop on board. In fact, I didn’t even realize that the series had literary roots until I was about halfway through watching the first season.

Imagine my delight, then, when I did realize that there was a whole series of novels behind this wonderful show! Author Charlaine Harris has been writing the adventures of Sookie Stackhouse since her 2001 inaugural “Southern Vampire” novel, Dead Until Dark.

I was so excited that I nearly bought the entire series tout de suite. Then my older and wiser (and cheaper) self spoke up and kindly suggested that perhaps I should only buy the first book, just to be on the safe side. And so I followed these wiser words and picked up a copy of Dead Until Dark back in January with a gift card I’d gotten for Christmas. However, the novel became lost amidst my maelstrom of book piles until renting the second season of True Blood jogged my memory regarding its existence in my collection. What better time to read the book that inspired the first season than while watching the second season?

Indeed.

There’s a certain irony in the fact that the acronym for the first Sookie Stackhouse novel is “DUD,” because that’s pretty much how I felt toward it as I was reading it. Harris subscribes to a belief that I simply do not embrace regarding vampires, and that is the belief that they are sexy.

Vampires are not sexy. Vampires are a hair’s breadth away from total death. This truth causes me to suspect that the stink of decay is always about them, more than likely worsening the longer they go in between feedings. Additionally, their personal grooming is hampered by the fact that they can’t really check what they look like in a mirror, and their breath must reek of a fetid, coppery tang that no amount of Scope could ever hope to erase. What part of that description screams sexy to you?

True, Harris’s story is nowhere near as insipid or poorly written as that other vampire series, but I still wasn’t enamored of her take on the vampire mythology. I suppose I prefer my vampires cruel like Keifer or campy like Cruise.

[Loba Tangent: There’s a confession for you all. I love Tom Cruise as Lestat in Interview With the Vampire. I think, however, that’s because I don’t view his performance as most people view it: a failed attempt at depth and darkness. I see it instead as one of the most delightfully campy and subsequently hilarious takes on a vampire that’s ever been committed to film. I mean, come on, how can you not find him funny when he says things like “Evildoers are easier, and they taste better” or “All I need do to find you, Louis, is follow the corpses of rats”? Lestat as played by Cruise was pure camp and vamp, which I admittedly found refreshing among the hordes of dark and brooding vampires before him.]

However, I am thankful to Harris for providing the foundation on which Ball built the first season of True Blood. Ball was able to expand upon and deepen the allegorical aspects of Harris’s tale of outsiders and the fear held by the majority that prevents them from ever finding acceptance in mainstream society. I think this was the strength of that first season for me. It definitely was not the relationship aspect. Again, vampire ≠ sexy.

Also, there was the joy of Ball being able to expand certain peripheral characters and even add new blood to the character pool from that first novel. I think the character who benefited the most from this freedom was Lafayette Reynolds. Mentioned only in random and disappointingly brief moments in Dead Until Dark, Lafayette becomes one of the strongest secondary players in Ball’s True Blood. As portrayed by Nelsan Ellis, Lafayette is a delicious dichotomy of stereotyping both fulfilled and nullified. He is at times coarse and spiteful, but always with a savory complexity that draws you in for another taste.

Ellis’s portrayal of Lafayette was, in fact, one of the few bright spots from the disappointingly anemic second season of True Blood. I was extremely let down by this show’s second season. Every bit of the nuances and complexities that drew me in with the first season were apparently drained from the show in order to make room for more focus on the relationship tangles of Sookie, Bill, and vampire competition Eric, as well as for a completely ridiculous storyline that I believe was added as a means of keeping the residents of Bon Temps in the mix while Sookie went to Dallas for most of this season. The failure of the Bon Temps story was even more disappointing for this Trek aficionado since it featured the ever lovely and forever Bajoran Michelle Forbes.

Final Verdict: I’m very glad that I’m much wiser or at least much cheaper than I was in my youth. Otherwise, I fear I would be stuck with a whole series of novels to sell on eBay right now rather than simply having one Sookie Stackhouse novel to tote to the thrift store. One visit to Bon Temps and Sookie’s literary world was quite enough for me, thank you. As for True Blood, my interest in revisiting the show is about as dead as all those non-sexy vampires. For me, the magic is most assuredly gone, replaced by too much focus on vampiristic love and lust in Louisiana. Still, I’m glad I own the first season on DVD, and I’m forever grateful to the show for introducing me to one of the most wonderful songs in the history of television themes.