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Arts & Culture

'True Blood's' Source Material Shines

The cover of Charlaine Harris' "Dead in the Family"
The cover of Charlaine Harris' "Dead in the Family"

So. I know this is Culture Lust, where we are supposed to spend our days contemplating literary legends and the latest Pulitzer Prize (go UCSD!). But, just so you know, I am reading a charming book about vampires right now.

“Oh,” a friend said, after I revealed my current book of the week. “Is that the one where they sparkle in the sun?”

“No,” I told him. “No, definitely not.”

Indeed, as anyone who’s caught an episode of "True Blood" knows, the undead denizens of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series are just how vampires should be – they’re unrepentantly violent, overtly sexual, and, most importantly, they have fangs. If you cross them, they will kill you (kill you dead), not gaze at you longingly over mushroom ravioli.

But, in the books, vampires aren’t the only supernatural (“supe”) stars in Sookie Stackhouse’s world. A slew of otherworldly (and ultra-hunky, natch) beings pepper the series, from the requisite werewolves to fairies with washboard abs.

Logically, they all lust for Stackhouse, who amply fills out her size-8 Merlotte’s waitressing uniform while saving the world - or at least Louisiana - with her psychic prowess.

In its novel-to-premium cable transition, however, somehow, that feisty, man-juggling ingénue (and her oft-admired curves) got lost.

As much as I adore Anna Paquin, I’m sure I’m not the only "True Blood" fan who’s grown weary of her, um, undying attachment to vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) on the show. Though I’m only on Book Five (“Dead as a Doornail”), the Miss Stackhouse of Harris’ series is ferociously independent, and quick to dismiss any suitors who step on her Keds.

One thing I will commend Alan Ball (creator of the HBO series) on, however, is his excellent casting of other characters in the series – especially the 6-foot-4 ex-Viking Eric Northman, skillfully (and dreamily) portrayed by Alexander Skarsgard, and the vampire Lorena (Mariana Klaveno), whose bitchiness is book-perfect.

Ball has also preserved the series’ small-town Southerness, something that manifests itself in the books through twangy colloquialisms (“spanky clean” is my favorite) and a predilection for xenophobia (condensed in the HBO version as “God Hates Fangs!”).

There are parallels galore between the vampire and gay rights movement, though it's interesting to note that Harris penned the first book in the series in 2001, far before a peep of Prop 8 (also interesting: she’s the senior warden at her Episcopalian Church!).

But HBO purists, fret not – aside from the first book in the series (“Dead Until Dark”), Ball’s version of Bon Temps offers a slightly altered universe than Harris had planned. You can follow both and still be surprised, though with her tenth book, “Dead in the Family,” just released, you may want to hold off – as far as I can tell, the TV version has only reached book three.

Later in the week, I found myself discussing the caveats of casting a werewolf with one of my co-workers. Like Sookie, we work together in a bar/restaurant, and one of my small joys is the conversations that ensue during a slow night.

“Who do you picture playing Alcide? I’m thinking someone slightly Hugh Jackman-esque…”

We both pause, do that thing – you know, where you self-consciously glance around to see who’s listening – and start to laugh.

“Do you know what people would think if they just heard us?”

“Sure,” she says, eyes still shifting, “…nerd alert!”

Whatever. After reading all of this, you know I wear my badge with honor.

Tune into These Days this Thursday to hear author Charlaine Harris discuss "Dead in the Family," the tenth book in her Southern Vampires series.