Loving the Raw Dark of the Soul

This post doesn’t really have any point, but these things have been swirling around my head. I had hoped that the thing I’d feel compelled to write on was the construction of women among the fandom, but it was not to be. I need to write this one down lest I obsess the whole day. And I have better things to do. Oh, and before I forget – True Blood starts here on the 17th – and I’ll be watching it then with Mr. Minty, who makes me laugh with his coat references, and his outrage that Book Sookie would never do whatever stupid shit they have her doing on the show.

Another point of business, well, I’ve been promising for many months to try to figure out how to make a funny picture to symbolise Sookie in fanfic, staring at the wall. It’s a difficult one, because for one, Anna Paquin always looks so excited in her pictures; and because a picture of Anna Paquin sitting on a couch or sleeping just doesn’t convey that idea. I mean how does one express “mind numbing boredom” without making gestures? I was getting close to the interpretative dance, but then I hit on it. Graph of time comparison for those mathematically inclined and lovers of formal and official looking stuff, and then Sookie’s Daytime Funhouse – the least fun house in the history of funhouses. Both of which really scream “mind numbing boredom” to me. I’m sure that the backlash from True Blood without Sookie and Eric together will mean a total increase in the amount of fics in SVM where Sookie tows the line to the point that we will see poor old Sookie stuck in the fanfic funhouse, being safe and bored out of her gourd.

I really wanted to expound just a nebulous point that sometimes gets complained about in CH’s books, and that they seemingly have a talent for making people uncomfortable, due to the rawness of the inner thoughts. It’s something I notice with a lot of things actually – and one thing I like about certain writers – not avoiding rawness. I enjoy Peter Carey and Irvine Welsh for the same reason. Really icky thoughts that no one wants to consider or admit to having, but that really makes a character seem so much more real. Not necessarily because we all have the same thoughts, but rather the raw dark of the soul that makes a character so complex.

I’m talking about a range of dark and icky thoughts – for example, that Sookie feels sexual attraction to Claude – and referenced in the last couple of books that she did feel sexual attraction to her cousin. I mean, Claude is not Eric and it’s not fanfic, and therefore it’s not okay. It’s usually totally okay in fanfic – there are a few fics where Sookie is raised by Eric when he finds a baby telepath, and this is not seen as icky, despite the Westermarck Effect. Cousin attraction, sibling attraction is possible when you haven’t grown up with the person, but Americans seem to have a particular disgust to cousins kissing or whatever. You can be guaranteed that either when that is mentioned, readers are disgusted, or they ignore those dark and icky thoughts.

While I was trying to figure out Freyda, I went back to the Appius portion of the book to figure it out, and it caught my thoughts. This is the scene in question – it’s just what got my thoughts started:

Through the bond, I felt a wash of overwhelming relief from Eric. After I
thought about that, I believed I understood. Eric was relieved beyond
measure that the older vampire had brought a bedmate with him.

Dead in the Family, p. 173

Now this is just one little paragraph, but so much is conveyed in it, and really, it’s not thoughts that most people would find palatable when they sat back and thought about the circumstances. And for someone who’s in criminology and tutors in ethics, that makes it so much more interesting, because it’s close to some of the icky thoughts I read and teach. It’s close to the icky thoughts I know exist in some people, particularly those right at the coalface of bad situations.

Basically what Eric is thinking here – and Sookie knows, understands and accepts it – is that Eric is supremely glad that Appius, paedophile and rapist has brought a thirteen year old boy to ‘take one for the team’. I doubt you would find many women that would be okay with someone being cool with a paedophile father. Most people aren’t cool with paedophiles, no matter what. The popular thought is that Appius should get a little trip to behind the woodshed, that he will never return from. In real life, paedophiles are routinely killed, beaten and harassed. People will chase them out of suburbs, and make their lives a living hell. They are absolutely the most maligned offenders. Even other prisoners will do them violence.  Obviously, the case is a little different if you have a vampire over two thousand years old, because the woodshed would have to be made of silver.

It says so much about how Sookie’s moral fibre is formed up there too. To a certain extent, I think that Sookie accepts that the vampires around her have often done terrible things, and condoned other vampires doing terrible things. And while she hates Appius, she’s not going to do anything that really upsets Eric. As she tells Pam later on, it is Eric’s issue to deal with. She makes no bones about the fact that she would have killed Appius, or that she’s glad that he’s dead, but she doesn’t condemn Eric for being okay with Appius – even in Deadlocked – using wanting to fulfil Master’s last wish as an excuse as to why he has to marry Freyda.

Sookie is okay with him accepting Appius – to the point that when Sookie was going to kill Appius, Eric stopped her, and she listened. I know that Sookie gets no credit for this, because it would mess up the ideas about Eric – that he’s a white knight type, always ready to leap in and do the right thing. Oh, except for by real victims in his world, like Alexei. So instead, a really huge part of Sookie is ignored, and so is Eric’s behaviour ignored, in favour of telling little fairytales about the white knight vampire, charging in on his steed to save the damsel in distress. And always being the sort of right-minded politically correct citizen everyone expects him to be.

I think it’s a really interesting idea. That Sookie could kiss a man, be with a man, care about a man, who didn’t want a paedophile to get hurt. That he made effort to protect said paedophile, and even justified his actions citing what the rules were in Ancient Rome. Now, I should say that Eric is absolutely telling the truth about it all being normal in Ancient Rome. As non-Roman citizens, Appius wouldn’t have respected any right of a non-citizen boy to say No, and Roman men, particularly in the army, took male lovers all the time. You couldn’t marry in the army see, so Appius would have been turned before his twenty year term was up (the standard period for serving in the Legions). So Appius probably would have had male lovers for a long time when he was alive. It’s a pretty flimsy excuse as to why Appius can wear jeans and a t-shirt, but can’t grasp it’s not okay to fuck kids. I think if you can’t comprehend changing trends, then dude, stop using things with zippers and maybe I might buy your line about how fucking boys is what you think is fine, despite sending the last one round the bend by fucking him for a good twenty years .

At no point did Eric say “You know, it’s really terrible what he’s doing to Alexei, and that he will do it again. He’s made the child mad from mistreatment, and I will let you in to stake the bastard, and put the kid out of his misery.” It makes it hard for me to see this supposed white knight nobility in Eric that he didn’t find a way to kill him or stop him – just justified what Appius did. And furthermore stopped Sookie from killing him. I would think that the white knight would know that it’s wrong, and find a way to change it – or at least not stop his wife from killing said rapist/paedophile. In light of Eric saving Appius – the Eric who wants Sookie to kill joyfully – then this is just nonsensical guff. And the thought of relief that Appius brought Alexei with him shows that doubly so. Oh, I know that we can turn it somehow into how Sookie is the bad guy all too willing to think bad thoughts of Eric, but really, you want to call unreliable narrator, then stop taking any of her reality as truth – including anything positive about Eric.

I don’t know that you’d find many women willing to care about a man who is blasé about paedophilia.  I find myself that I have to keep a very close eye on myself to walk the tightrope of that moral judgement myself. It would be easy to say “Paedos and rapists are disgusting. They deserve to die. And so do people who defend them.” That is the prevailing sentiment in society. It’s easy enough to say that, and have nothing to do with them. But as a criminologist, I can’t do that if I have hopes of understanding (and thus stopping) paedophiles or rapists. Nor can I see them as the hapless victims, just doing as they were trained to do. I can understand it and still condemn it. I do that much like this journal is written – admitting that I like Eric’s character, find him intriguing, find him funny, know that Sookie loves him; and yet still not ignoring the bad things that he does, not minimising them because I like him.

I cannot afford to dismiss and polarise things in my work – see the rapist as so bad to be put to death and never bother to study how to stop future rapists – so I don’t do it in my journal. And I suspect that Sookie has a similar tightrope that she walks herself – one where she doesn’t judge Eric for his relief, for his defence of Appius, and separates it out to understand why. Sookie then sees that separated out – explained – from his main character. That it is force of circumstances that have brought an ordinary family man to this juncture, and that he did it because he needed to. After all, the alternative is that Eric will be powerless to being Appius’ victim next. That for Eric, there is a hierarchy of what is desirable, and in that case, it is okay to throw the distressed Alexei under the bus in order to get your own freedom. For me, it speaks to the raw honesty that Sookie allows Eric. This isn’t a glorious or heroic thought – this is the ickiest of the icky thoughts. I mean, this is the darkest of thoughts – that you’re glad that your rapist has brought a boy to abuse and will not visit his passions on you.

Usually in fiction, writers try to make excuses for their character. You can see it in fanfic – Eric usually thinks about how he hates Appius, and yet that doesn’t account for how Eric feels the overwhelming relief in this scene. It’s cleaned up from the messiness that is the raw thought, and everything thought is politically correct. CH gets away with a raw thought that if it were to happen in real life, there would be horror from a majority of people that Eric could be okay with sanctioning the continued abuse of people, in favour of letting offenders go free. I don’t even think Eric being pretty or fantastic in bed could get him a pass for that – people would spit on him.

This is not just an anomaly for Eric either – he first sent Sookie to find a missing vampire paedophile, Godfrey. And he’s fine with the ‘live and let live’ strategy when it comes to two known vampires who have committed rape – Mickey and Bill. Neither of whom Eric punished. This is something that Eric abides by, lives in his world with. It’s something he has come to accept long ago. Eric doesn’t bat an eyelash at some of the things that happen in his Area, by people he has control over – he really does go by the rationale of Vampires First. This is not something he puts up with because he can’t control or stop Appius – this is something that he has become okay with, even when he can control it. He certainly didn’t show sympathy for Tara, and he had complete dominion over Mickey and whether Mickey was in his Area.

I think too that it gives such a fascinating insight into what it takes Eric to survive. After all, at the time of this scene, Eric and Sookie were bonded. That Eric felt no shame for his actions is extraordinary. Sookie tells us outright on the page that she believes that Eric is happy Appius has brought a partner with him, and yet knowing that Alexei is a mentally distressed, ill boy, who has been raped as surely as Eric was, Eric feels no shame at not standing up for the kid. He endeavours to fix Alexei, with presumably the long term goal of giving him back to Appius to abuse some more.

Eric might know that Appius sees nothing wrong with it, citing the excuse of Ancient Roman rules, yet he surely knows it’s something deeply upsetting to Alexei. Despite knowing that Sookie judges it as wrong, judges Appius as a bad man, he still assures her that:

Ocella is an honorable man.
Dead in the Family, p. 244

That he has come to see the duality in Ocella – someone who raped him, someone who is abusing Alexei to the point of madness, yet still defends his character as okay. It tells me just how much injustice Eric has seen pass him by for many years. He’s the most jaded of jaded people. Eric has come to accept Appius’ failings, his own failings, and see so much crap happen that he just doesn’t see someone as one thing.

What’s even more fascinating is that he has come to terms with his own selfishness. Eric knows that it’s not healthy for Alexei, and that Appius is doing bad things, and yet Eric doesn’t even feel any shame himself that he does nothing to stop this long term habit. He has become okay with letting the injustices stand, and doesn’t feel bad about it. I think that shows a dedication to yourself, and a real honesty. That Eric has talked to himself, told himself the truth of what it is that he allows – that he is okay with himself for letting a 13 year old boy take the sort of treatment he fears himself.

For me, this makes Eric so much more fascinating, and just that little bit admirable. That he doesn’t try to make out like he is a good man, that he is a righteous white knight, but rather knows himself so well that he doesn’t feel shame for not feeling what he ought to feel. It would be so easy for Eric to tell himself lies – that Appius is a bad man he hates, but just can’t find a way to kill; that Alexei asked for it by being willing to take Appius’ blood; that Alexei really likes it; that Eric is sad for Alexei. Yet Eric never falls into this trap. He knows just how terrible it is, and never feels so squeamish as to feel shame that he’s going along with it. Eric knows he’s doing it because it’s better than losing his own freedom – no matter what the price to others.

I truly think that little bits of the inner lives of characters show just how the dark little corners of the soul work. I do respect that CH doesn’t tidy it up, make sure that if Appius isn’t ripping heads off and screeching his evil from the rooftops like an howler monkey, he is still terribly evil, and does evil things. Many people haven’t thought that Appius was actually scary, or evil, despite being a rapist and paedophile whom Eric can’t stop or control, despite him victimising Eric for many years. I find that astounding that through such a narrative, these same people would probably threaten to string Appius – and Eric – up by their balls if they were the faceless offenders seen in news articles.

That Eric finds it okay with himself, with his wife, with the world, to let it be known that he sanctions the abuse of a boy. That Sookie can still be near him without being disgusted. It would have been easy to just make sure that the evil was over-the-top, overblown. I think though that she succeeds in making evil that is understood, and evil that is very much like the evil we see in the world. More amazingly that she still makes it acceptable, the characters liked. Eric certainly didn’t lose any popularity over the whole Appius debacle.

I also think that for my part, I think it shows the love that Sookie feels for Eric – the understanding she has of him – in something so wildly unacceptable to most people. This is one of many things she tries to grasp – something not easy to understand – not as overt as walking into Eric’s house in the face of Felipe in a party mood that shows her love and commitment to Eric. Sookie is often maligned for not showing her love and understanding. I think loving someone despite these dark thoughts, trying to understand and accept that they have them in the first place, shows a tremendous commitment to Eric, and a love for Eric.

Many people would throw Eric off as a disgusting rape apologist, or a disgusting enabler of paedophiles, without bothering to explore and understand why he is that way, without bothering to think about what sorts of depths that Eric would have needed to sink to. They would want to – like Gran in the first book, skip the messy bits of history and the formation of a character, and just hear about the clean bits of history. To ignore the desperate lengths that you’ve made peace with so that you can continue to go on. You surely can not include it, as if it never happens – despite the fact that it does. Whitewash and make out like the immortal killer never has bad thoughts, and that would find him a perfectly nice man with fangs. Many people have trouble with that idea – hence the very definite whitewash of it. I personally think it shows just how much Sookie loves Eric, despite the raw dark of his soul.