Rant!’s DELECTABLE DUDES OF DISCOURSE Series
Rant! swoons unashamedly over literature’s hottest hunks – and it’s all subjective of course.
When it comes to delectable dudes of discourse, no novel is permeated with as many hunks of burning love as Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries series. Harris has applied every studly stereotype to her male characters; Bill Compton, Eric Northman, Sam Merlotte, Alcide Herveaux and John Quinn (to name but a few) have been sexed up with supernatural scintillation. The satire that forms the heart of the ‘Sookie Stackhouse novels’ demands that Harris’s male characters subscribe to a soap scripted semblance in order to make poignant the writing’s raging ridicule. But are Harris’s magnificent men able to transcend the literary genre that is so crucial to their composition? Can they be defined as complex characters with whom readers can engage and relate in spite of their gorgeous get-up?
Bill, Eric, Sam, Alcide and John all have one thing in common: Sookie – they have either loved or lusted the lovely lady. The men on the periphery of the whirlwind that is Sookie Stackhouse are Sam, Alcide and Quinn, who come with a mass of supernaturally charged emotional baggage, which, in itself, makes each character totally complicated. But because the men are all shelved by Sookie, readers are never given the chance to absorb the allure that exists beyond surface level superficiality.
Sam is sweet. As Sookie’s closest friend and boss he is always dragged into the drama. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed bar owner is kind and supportive, and protective in a big brother kind of way. Sam is portrayed as a happy-go-lucky, an attitude girls love, but just under the surface there appears to lurk a deep melancholy. Whether it’s unrequited love, loneliness or just ‘a shifter thing’ that is the cause of Sam’s sadness, of all Harris’s hunks he is the easiest to get along with.
Alcide Herveaux and John Quinn are Sookie’s booty calls. Vulnerable, hurt and on the rebound Sookie finds comfort in the arms of warm weres. She feels an instant attraction to Alcide, a werewolf, who is green-eyed, black-haired, big, rough, roguish, and in possession of an irresistible animal magnetism. The flirtation between Sookie and Alcide is fleeting but intense nonetheless. Quinn, a weretiger, is built, bald, scarred and his deep purple eyes are the colour of pansies. His six and a half feet-muscular frame is commanding and his presence oozes charisma and confidence, and Sookie wastes no time in helping herself to some of that! What makes these two dishy dudes so delectable is the primal nature of their seductive sex-appeal… and that’s all that readers are privy to ponder.
The two phantasmagoric fellows who dominate the life of Sookie Stackhouse and who live most vividly in the imagination of Charlaine Harris are Bill Compton and Eric Northman. Both vampires are omnipresent in the Southern Vampire Mysteries – Eric explicitly, Bill implicitly.
Bill is introduced as the romantic hero in Harris’s first novel. His brooding good looks set Sookie’s heart racing with instantaneous effect:
He was a little under six feet…He had thick brown hair, combed straight back and brushing his collar, and his long sideburns seemed curiously old fashioned… his lips were lovely, sharply sculpted, and he had arched eyebrows. His nose swooped right down out of that arch, like a Prince’s in a Byzantine mosaic. When he finally looked up, I saw his eyes were even darker than his hair, and the whites were incredibly white.
Bill is Sookie’s first love… and first loves are never forgotten. Readers are easily seduced by vampire Bill’s gentlemanly disposition, politeness and the uncharacteristic respect that, even as a vampire – a predator by nature, Bill affords the human race. But early on Bill is revealed as a great betrayer, which leads to the dissolution of his relationship with Sookie. Bill makes a mistake and pays dearly for it – he is banished from Sookie’s life – and although he only appears throughout the series as a shadow, Bill’s presence is impenetrable.
In spite of his horrendously poor judgement in matters of the heart, Bill’s love for Sookie is genuine and he is devotedly loyal to her. In Dead and Gone he tells her;
I have always loved you, and I will be proud to die in your service.
And Sookie believes him. There is an endearing humility about Bill that is best demonstrated in the way he loves Sookie from afar, realising that true love requires him to let her go. In so doing Bill denies his vampiric nature, which is driven by self-gratification. And it is this denial that makes Bill so captivating a character; rather than embrace his vampirism, as does Eric Northman, he lives in constant conflict with the vampire traits that define his ‘existence.’ Bill is a tortured soul. He is a noble, complicated being. He is a self-inflicted martyr. And there is something deeply seductive about tragic love.
Bill’s betrayal of Sookie makes way for Eric Northman, the 1000-year-old Viking vampire whose six-foot-five-inch frame is described as;
…handsome, in fact, radiant; blond and blue-eyed, tall and broad shouldered. He was wearing boots, jeans, and a vest. Period. Kind of like the guys on the cover of romance books.
Eric boasts all the classic stereotypical attributes that, in accordance with the connotations of Lord Byron’s byronic bad boy, incite unashamed aphrodisia and covetousness – he is confidently arrogant, cold, calculating, cruel and aggressive; all badass qualities that bewitch and beguile. And he is an ex-Viking – there is something terrifically enticing about rape and pillage. He is also fantastically funny, intelligent and has a great propensity for love (or so it would seem). This oxymoronic state of being is what hypnotises ladies into spellbound submission. Eric is a cold-blooded killer and a gentle lover, he embraces his vampirism and lives life with a carpe diem authority – he is attractively dangerous and, in many ways, is the archetype vampire cliché.
The relationship between Eric and Soookie dominates much of Harris’s series. They are in love but the reader is never quite sure whether this love is really real. Eric and Sookie share a blood-bond, which occurs when a human and vampire exchange blood enabling each party to experience the emotions of the other. A blood-bond evokes an instantaneous connection; a fact that renders Sookie apprehensive about her feelings for Eric, which she doesn’t always trust to be true. She wonders whether her love has been manipulated into consciousness, especially when the blood-bond itself has been engineered into being by the opportunistic Eric on more than one occasion. Sookie is cognisant of Eric’s is duplicitousness but is powerless against the blood-bond. Or is she? Harris forces the reader to forget Eric’s equivocal evil with the evocation of a tight ass and hot sex.
Although there appears to be no ‘Bill versus Eric’ competition for Sookie’s love, with Eric the clear winner, Dead and Gone ends with Niall telling his granddaughter;
The vampire is not a bad man, and he loves you.
But Niall disappears before Sookie can find out which vampire he meant. Niall’s cryptic message opens up a door for Bill to battle Eric in a duel for Sookie’s love as prize, or perhaps the blood-bond that unites Eric and Sookie will serendipitously dissipate in some conveniently constructed plot move… in which case, who knows what may happen?
With all these yummy men to choose from one would think that Sookie Stackhouse would be the envy of all and sundry. But the gorgeous guys falling over Sookie’s doorstep seem to provoke severe pain, physical, mental and emotional, which makes her life, in fact, not all that enviable. Okay, that’s a lie. The whole damsel-in-distress-knight-in-shining-armour routine is so worth a little pain. And perhaps that’s one of Charlaine Harris’s most interesting social observations; that society’s pursuit of self-gratification comes at a price. Harris uses chiselled abs and glam sex to distract her reader from character, honesty and authentic intimacy – the superficial overwhelms that which is genuine to such a degree that it becomes difficult to distinguish what is real and what is not. Choices made come with the tacit responsibility of accepting consequences. Harris ponders the aftermath of a carpe diem lifestyle and wonders whether a mediocre existence is the necessary outcome of accepting reality. The question is open ended. The point is moot.