I’m not sure why we find vampires so interesting. In literature they go back to the 1720s in the pre-Austro-Hungarian Empire. But their real popularity and influence came with the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1899. Written in Victorian England during the time of much disease from tuberculosis and syphilis, is it no wonder that this book focused on sex, blood and death? These traits continue in many more modern vampire tales by Charlaine Harris and others.
On a more contemporary vein, many of us grew up watching a daytime soap opera called Dark Shadows (1966-1971) in which vampires were given a more tragic and sympathetic character. Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles had a popular run between 1976 and 2003 at the same time Buffy was slaying vampires on television. Stephen King gave humans the power to rescind their invitation for a vampire to enter their domain in his book Salem’s Lot. Sookie Stackhouse, Charlaine Harris’ heroine, uses this power in her third book of the series, Club Dead. Even Sesame Street got into the vampire act with its Muppet Count von Count.
As to why the Sookie Stackhouse series is so popular, I think it has a lot to do with Sookie herself. She has the ability of hearing everyone’s thoughts and thinks of this as an affliction. In fact, she feels like a freak in her own community. She has learned to shut people out in order to survive in her job as a barmaid and waitress in fictional Bon Temps, Louisiana. She meets a vampire named Bill Compton, whom she cannot read, and is instantly drawn to him and through him, his violent world.
At twenty-six Sookie reminds me of the drama of many of my own initial encounters with the opposite sex and feeling disappointed with friends and family. I admire Harris’ handling of Sookie’s character, and the ability to hear what Sookie and others are thinking. Most of all I enjoy her non-judgmental approach to all the supernatural characters and their unique traits and habits. She may not go along with what they do and how they do it, but she accepts that they are different. And with each new book she learns more about them and herself.
Oftentimes categorized under horror in bookstores, I see her books more as a mystery/romance series. The romance is as graphic as the scenes in J. D. Robb’s futuristic Eve Dallas series and the violence can be as brutal as a hard-boiled Robert Crais novel. There are elements of humor that remind us these are fantasies, and all in all I find these books are a fast and enjoyable read. The series begins with Dead Until Dark, written in 2001, and there are now about a dozen books. I saw just one of the HBO shows True Blood, which is based on the series, and decided I like the books more.