My husband recently started reading the SVM, thanks to my tireless bugging, and pressuring him. Firstly, let me say that there is nothing funnier than getting a totally straight (but not homophobic) guy to read sex scenes from a female point of view. The hesitation with which he approaches the idea of craving sex with a man is quite funny. He’s in DTTW now past the witch war, so he’s squirmed quite a bit.
But enough of my casual sadism.
There was this moment, when he looked up at me, and said “Who the hell would want to be a telepath? That sounds like autism. What a living hell.” We have a son with Asperger’s Syndrome (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) so we’re well acquainted with the hell that it can be for him. Lots of people take going to concerts and being in crowds for granted, but it pushes our son over the edge. It’s too much constant input, and the need for relief from too much stimulus that sends our youngest son into solitude. It’s constant, and never ending. It comes with a great deal of intelligence and lateral thinking, but most of the time, it’s a pain.
So it is too with Sookie’s telepathy. It is not a supernatural gift, but rather a heavy burden that removes her from normality. It’s a constant grind for her, one that makes conversation with humans difficult at best, and sometimes downright impossible. Some days she can’t filter people out very well, and other days, it’s completely easy for her to do so. It is not something that there is a constant need and use for, but rather something that most of the time, she wishes she didn’t have.
Sookie has used telepathy to her benefit, but it is an omnipresent problem for her. There just aren’t that many kids in Bon Temps who’ve been knocked over the head by the cleaning lady and stowed in a bin to account for the amount of grind she takes at her job, or the fact that Dove Beck has been hurting African American citizens because he can. When it’s not of use, her telepathy doesn’t recede into nothing, with no difficulty for her. It exists while she sleeps, it exists while she’s shopping, it exists when she’s at school. It is exhausting for Sookie to be in the company of her fellow humans. In order for it to be rightfully called a “power” it would have to actually come with power. But knowing that while I was watching this movie today I was also thinking about doing my nails and writing this post doesn’t really give one power.
In most supernatural or fantasy genre books, there exists “gifts” or “powers”. Most of the time, they’re used in a positive manner. You need a car shifted off a granny, you call in Superman, and he saves the day. You need a vampire staked, it’s all cool, let’s call on Buffy. But when they don’t need it, the ability goes away, and they are regular humans with regular human wants and needs, only calling upon this “power” when they need to. Fairies too consider it to be a gift, and see Sookie as lucky, but as they have no yearning to be human, I’ve disincluded them from this analysis.
This is not the case with Sookie. It’s also not the case with the vampires either. CH’s books straddle that divide, and turn what is ordinarily a “power” or “gift” into a burden as well.
One of the things that consistently draws people into vampire novels is the idea of living forever. But over and over again, while vampires keep living, I’ve never heard them talk about how wonderful it is to live forever. We have Bill, who talks about his lost family (until it gets too painful) and Eric, who talks about the children he left behind.
How fun would it really be to live forever? Would it really be endless partying, for a couple of centuries? No. That’s not what it seems to be. It seems that vampires deal with their longevity, try not to think about it, and don’t exactly flinch from death. Longevity is something that they have to get for themselves, in the world full of enemies and people they can’t trust. So it’s not really an active power, as such. Indeed, the vampires are already dead (at least once) and they have severe disadvantages when it comes to their state.
Vampires in CH’s novels don’t have gifts that are used to save the day – not the majority of the time anyway. Yes, they use some of their vampire gifts to save themselves or save Sookie, but their vampirism is not a gift to them. They are dead in the daytime in a way few vampire novels have vampires, and all the hassles that go along with being dead in the daytime (like contracting an electrician). They find there are severe disadvantages in being vampire, quite apart from what it is like to be vampire and live in vampire society.
Sookie points out that vampires are powerful at night, but helpless in the day, and that this is a dichotomy that could make them bitter, cold and indifferent to the pains of life. Just as Sookie’s ability makes her socially isolated and damn lonely. It’s not something she uses at will to find out how things are going. It is not in fact a power, or a gift, it’s something with a serious downside.
Weres, however, do have powers or gifts. They are the only ones with one, though, in the whole of the story. They’re not human, but they can appear to be so. Someone like Sam is actually a character with a positive power – he can become any animal of any size that he wishes, much like the Wonder Twins (someone watched the Super Friends hour as a child and has been known to chant at her husband “Form of…an annoying child” as a terrible in-joke her children will never get, to which he responds “Form of…a set of earplugs”).
What are Sam’s drawbacks? That if he’s a bird, he might fly into power lines, and that as a smaller animal, he might get run over by a car. So, you say, Sam is on the higher end of the scale – what about the shifters at the other end of the scale? Jason for example is a bitten were-panther. That can’t be good. Oh but it is. Jason doesn’t need to tell everyone about his power, and while he’s not as elegant as the rest of the panthers, I saw him using his night vision and tracking abilities, and he absolutely loves his panther-ness.
There are few drawbacks to the actual gift among weres. They are the natural consequence of living – like getting too tired to shift, or enduring the problems of the animal, like being too small or not being used to flying. But humans can walk into things and get fatigued as well. I’m sure if you pushed a vampire hard enough, you could get them to do that too – a higher threshold is a benefit, but the vampires are not immune from fatigue. Alexei became fatigued, as did the fairies he was fighting. I suspect that there is no creature that can’t both walk into things, feels like it’s too small, and gets fatigued. These are not burdens different from the rest of humanity.
One striking thing I noticed too is that Eric never calls telepathy a “gift”. He calls it an “ability”. I think that it shows a depth of understanding in Eric that these things are not one sided. One of the many reasons why he is my favourite suitor. Bill, Sam, Quinn and Alcide have all called telepathy a gift, when Sookie fully feels that it’s a curse. Eric goes for the more neutral term.
For me, that speaks to a special relationship between Sookie and Eric, and one little way that CH has tipped her hand. Sookie cannot spend her life fighting with someone over something so fundamental – that her telepathy is not in fact a gift. She really shouldn’t have to explain that it’s not all happiness and roses to someone she’s supposed to be connected to. I mean, geez, she’s known Eric a year and a half and she knows being dead in the day is a giant pain in the arse, and a dichotomy to endure. Eric is surely smart enough to figure that one out – and why he calls it an ability.
Sam, Quinn and Alcide will never see that for Sookie, it has been a bigger burden than it has been a help. They have always been able to pass as human. Where the drawback really comes is in society, where for the first time, they learn that they are not human enough. That is where weres and shifters will pay for their gifts. They find that they have things finally taken from them, like citizenship.
But vampires and Sookie have always had their drawbacks built right into their abilities, and their ability to pass as human. They cannot hide that there is something wrong with them, and can live in close proximity to other full humans for only a short period of time before things start to make it obvious. Sam’s father was in the army for many years, and he was able to hide his shifting abilities, and no one ever knew. Tray and Sam lived among the folks of Bon Temps for years without ever being suspected of being different. Loners, perhaps, and a bit weird, but not supernatural.
Vampires can’t pass undetected for long periods of time amongst humans. The only reason that they would have been able to carry on as long as they can is because they can glamour people. Vampires would be forever trying to be secretive – so secretive that it has become a way of life. Eric makes it quite the profession, but even he makes little slip ups when he’s unaware, like baring his fangs when he finds himself in Sookie’s house at the end of DTTW.
Sookie, too makes slip ups, and in a small community like Bon Temps, they may not know what is wrong with her, in that she doesn’t talk about it, and they don’t talk about it, but they know that she’s not normal. They fear her and shun her just as they would a vampire – with horror. Sookie talks often about the difficulty of holding on ordinary conversations, and Bill says he has the same difficulty – glamouring a human to stay still so they can have a chat (because he notes he doesn’t have to do that with Sookie).
I always cringe when I see people wanting her to embrace her telepathy with open arms and make use of it. Truly, I do. There’s a great deal of difference between accepting what you are, and what your limitations are, and not wanting to be different sometimes. The yearning to be human is powerful in Sookie, the idea of being able to slip about in a crowd of humans without somehow giving yourself away, and not wanting to keep secrets. There are potentially good things about her telepathy, and about vampirism, but that doesn’t mean that hiding aspects of yourself, trying to fit that square peg into the round human hole doesn’t hurt sometimes.
Neither vampirism or telepathy are anything but a burden with occasional benefits. They are not “powers” – they are something to be endured – a separation from humanity. They are not glamorous powers, they are glamour-less disabilities.