You Can’t Always Get What You Want…

May 4, 2012 in Blood Ties and Blood Bonds, Character & Plot Analysis, Deadlocked - Book 12, Eric Northman, Sookie & Eric, Sookie Stackhouse

It’s been a huge week! With so much fabulous discussion over the past few days, and so much new stuff to talk about, it’s been tough just trying to decide where to start. So, I figured we’d begin with the elephant in the room – Eric’s betrothal to Freyda. What does Freyda really want, is this union as inevitable as Deadlocked would have us believe, and if we grant the basic premise that Eric genuinely doesn’t want to leave with Freyda – what will it take to send this pushy bitch packing?

It was impossible to miss in Deadlocked – a triumvirate of evil, to borrow from that other guy.   Constant reiteration of the inevitability of this union, reinforcement of Eric’s compatibility with Freyda and the repeated suggestion that Eric has a hard-on for power; an idea that has been actively quashed in earlier books.   Keep Reading…

What’s In A Name?

April 16, 2012 in Dead Ever After - Book 13, Deadlocked - Book 12, Promo Events, Sookie & Eric, Sookie Stackhouse

A few interesting bits of news have filtered out from the Romantic Times Convention held this past weekend in Chicago. Charlaine Harris attended, along with several other authors from the paranormal romance genre.

With only two weeks left until the release of Deadlocked, it feels like we’re jumping the gun a bit for Charlaine to announce the title of the 13th and final book in the Sookie series – but that’s just what she did. Sookie’s final outing will be titled Dead Ever After, a cute little play on the Happily Ever After/HEA angle that has stuck to these books like glue, in spite of Ms Harris’ best efforts.

In the absence of any word on her Facebook or blog, I’ve been sitting on this post due to a nagging feeling that Charlaine had unintentionally trolled her romance reading hosts – that she’d perhaps thrown this title out there as a joke and they missed her dark sense of humour. Ms Harris spends so much time and energy trying to convince readers that Sookie’s HEA is secondary to her story as an individual, that it seemed counter-intuitive to me that she’d give the final book a title that plays so directly to the romance angle after all this time. But then, it’s not the author who has the final say on the title, either. The publisher usually holds sway here, and this particular choice says to me that the publisher knows exactly who is reading these books…and why.

That can only be a good thing, right?

At any rate over the last day or so the title has started to grow on me, and of course I can see lots of possibilities. A long held and popular theory here is that we’ll see at least one, if not two major deaths in the final book. As much as it pains me to say it, my gut feeling one of these deaths may be Pam. It pains me far less to say that if not Pam, then it will probably be Bill. But even better than that, if we take this title strictly at face value it would seem a Dead (Vampire) Happily Ever After is still very much on the cards.

I want you all to remember this come May 1st, because I think the timing of this announcement is very much by design. Just saying.

You can read a few more of Charlaine’s comments during the session here.

Image source

Hero Worship

February 1, 2012 in Character & Plot Analysis, Eric Northman, Sookie & Eric, Symbolism & Motif

 

You’ve heard the argument a million times – “Eric is bad!” “Even Charlaine says so!” “Charlaine says some fans aren’t reading the same books she’s writing!”.

But what if being “bad” wasn’t such a bad thing after all?
This is a guest post by krtmd.

 

* * * * *

It should come as no surprise to frequent visitors of Sookieverseblog that I am an unashamed Eric lover. I prefer him to all other characters in the series outside of Sookie, and truly believe he will end the series firmly entrenched in our beloved telepath’s life as her HEA. We’ve explored at length on this very blog lots of ways the books reveal things about Eric that lead us to this conclusion, most notably SVB’s “Loved by a Vampire” series. Charlaine Harris has said that ‘it’s all in the books’, but are there other things about the books that could lead us to the same conclusion? I would argue that it’s Eric’s very role in the series that tells us a lot.

So, step into my Wayback Machine, boys and girls, because Professor Krtmd is taking you back to high school English class. Let’s explore some themes in literature, shall we?

Q: Ms. Harris, You’ve continually said that the SSN are not romance novels, and I would add that Eric Northman is a bit of an antihero. Are you surprised by the reader response to his character and the intense interest in Sookie’s HEA?
A: Yes, very surprised. Some readers are sure they see a traditional romance hero in Eric, but he’s anything but that. He’s a murderer, many times over, and pragmatic. But he does love Sookie. However, romance novels always end with everyone happy except really bad guys, and that’s not the way I write.
(source – Washington Post online chat)

When I asked Ms. Harris this question online several months ago, I myself labeled Eric an antihero, and not to my surprise, she didn’t disagree with me. I was surprised, however, to find that some readers were disturbed by that characterization.

Why?

I’m here to tell you that not only is Eric very much an antihero, but also why you, as an Eric and Sookie shipper, should be happy about that.

So… what is an antihero?

According to our trusty friend Professor Wikipedia, an antihero is “generally considered to be a protagonist whose character is at least in some regards conspicuously contrary to that of the archetypal hero…”

Wait, back up. What’s an archetype?

Again, our friend the Professor defines an archetype as a “universally understood symbol or term or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated. Archetypes are often used in myths and storytelling across different cultures… Archetypes are likewise supposed to have been present in folklore and literature for thousands of years, including prehistoric artwork. The use of archetypes to illuminate personality and literature was advanced by Carl Jung early in the 20th century, who suggested the existence of universal contentless forms that channel experiences and emotions, resulting in recognizable and typical patterns of behavior with certain probable outcomes. Archetypes are cited as important to both ancient mythology and modern narratives”.

Huh?

It’s not that bad. Simply put, an archetype in literature gives us a framework for agreed upon behavior – the mother, the child, the trickster, the gambler, the hero, etc. We expect the archetypal characters to act in specific ways. The hero will be selfless, and always thinking of others. The villain will be devious and evil, seeking the destruction of others. These are purposeful simplifications of human behavior, but useful in literature or movies, for helping the audience to identify and understand a character’s behavior. Of course, in real life, seldom are humans so predictable. Which is precisely why the antihero is so attractive. The antihero has shades of both black and white, exhibiting non-hero qualities, like selfishness or even committing immoral acts, while simultaneously acting in a heroic fashion.

The antihero is often considered selfish, or judged harshly by his peers. He is surrounded by people who don’t value him, so he is distrustful of others, assuming the worst. He’s been betrayed, or misused, in the past, so he protects himself first. But that doesn’t mean that the antihero doesn’t have a moral compass. In fact, it’s precisely these past experiences that give the antihero a rather strong moral sense of what’s right and wrong, even if they act in ways outside of societal norms. “The ends justify the means” might be their motto.
The antihero, however, is not a villain. He or she will commit acts of a heroic nature, often at great personal risk. The antihero’s story will often be a journey, not necessarily one of redemption, but certainly one of change. And it’s because of their past experiences that when they come across someone of significance, worthy of notice, of their help, that they can recognize it and are willing to act accordingly.

Okay, then. Who are some other antiheroes?

In an article for The Cornell Daily Sun, Kory Mitchell had this to say about antiheroes:

Antiheroes are protagonists who, contrary to the Supermans and Atticus Finches of yore, display conspicuous personal flaws. Indeed, many are defined by their chronic lack of conviction, gruff demeanor, reprehensible behavior or general moral shortcomings. Often those around them perceive them to be ne’er-do-wells or outcasts until they perform a contradictory heroic deed. Yet, despite these chinks in the armor, or perhaps because of them, we as readers or audience members root for these characters. Though many antiheroes have unrealistically exaggerated “bad” characteristics, the presence of both a light side and a dark side still brings them closer to the truth of human character than the traditional hero. Plus, people with a little edge are just more fun. Thus we love them more deeply because they are more relatable.

He goes on to cite several examples from literature, movies and television, including Sydney Carton from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Dexter, and my personal favorite, Fight Club’s Tyler Durden.

“All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.” – Tyler Durden

According to Listserve, the top 10 movie antiheroes are The Crow, Mad Max, Snake (from Escape from New York), Dirty Harry, Tyler Durden, Clint Eastwood’s ‘man with no name’ from the westerns, The MacManus Brothers, D-Fens, Leon from The Professional, and Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver.

Obviously, some of these famous antiheroes are pretty nasty indeed, but they also have some very real and likable characteristics that make them sympathetic to the audience. Leon is a cold-blooded assassin and yet he takes tender care of the young girl he befriends. Travis Bickle is an outright psychopath, but we find him endearing enough to worry about his outcome. All of the movie antiheroes cited have one thing in common – they’ve been hardened by the world around them and their circumstances, until something comes along to shake their foundation.

Oh, hey there! You sure are…attractive

Through Sookie, Charlaine Harris goes to great lengths to remind us how physically attractive Eric is – he’s all man, his hair long and blonde, his body built for swinging a sword. Sookie is tremendously attracted to him physically, and they have a good sex life.

Although there are many of us who fantasize about such a man, and such a sex life, for ourselves, I think there are other things about Eric, or any antihero that make them attractive characters – and I don’t mean in the physical sense.

Author of the ASOIAF series (which is riddled with antiheroes – Jaime, Sandor, Tyrion, etc.) George R. R. Martin, recently interviewed Bernard Cornwell for the Amazon blog Omnivoracious, and they talked a little about the attractiveness of the “grey” characters.

GRRM: A familiar theme in a lot of epic fantasy is the conflict between good and evil. The villains are often Dark Lords of various ilks, with demonic henchmen and hordes of twisted, malformed underlings clad in black. The heroes are noble, brave, chaste, and very fair to look upon. Yes, Tolkien made something grand and glorious from that, but in the hands of lesser writers, well … let’s just say that sort of fantasy has lost its interest for me. It is the grey characters who interest me the most. Those are the sort I prefer to write about… and read about. It seems to me that you share that affinity. What is it about flawed characters that makes them more interesting than conventional heroes?

BC: Maybe all our heroes are reflections of ourselves? I’m not claiming to be Richard Sharpe (God forbid), but I’m sure parts of my personality leaked into him (he’s very grumpy in the morning). And perhaps flawed characters are more interesting because they are forced to make a choice . . . a conventionally good character will always do the moral, right thing. Boring. Sharpe often does the right thing, but usually for the wrong reasons, and that’s much more interesting!

Antiheroes are attractive to audiences because they are relatable. I’d venture to say that most of us could easily find and point out our most undesirable characteristics. We are all flawed. To read about the selfless hero, who always acts morally or responsibly is not only a bit boring, but it points out the very things about ourselves we don’t like.

The antihero can also save the day, so to speak, but he can do it in a way that’s much more intelligible to the audience. Perhaps he does so grudgingly, or for more than one reason. Maybe he acts in spite of himself, or commits a heinous act for the greater good. Whatever the case, this grey area leaves us more to chew on, more to think about – and it’s considerably less boring to read, or watch.

Eric is attractive to us, not just because he’s hot and has amazing sexabilities, but because he’s a grey character. We wonder at his motivations. We can’t always predict what he’ll do next or how he will react. We ponder, at great length and often around these parts, why he does what he does. This is what keeps us waiting, year after year, book after book, dying to know what happens next. And despite her “surprise” at fan reaction to Eric, Charlaine Harris damn well knows it.

Ok, so show me how Eric is an antihero…

Actually, this part is easy. Let’s start with the bad, shall we?

• Eric has committed immoral acts, including murder. Eric is a vampire. He has existed for centuries, long before there was synthetic blood to drink. “Young vampires are so hungry; at first, I killed even when I didn’t mean to.” –Eric, Dead and Gone
• Eric can be selfish. In Club Dead, he sends Sookie to Jackson, Mississippi to look for Bill to save his own skin with then Queen Sophie Anne. He also admits he will be friends with Sookie as long as it’s in his best interest to do so.
• Eric threatens others, including Sookie, with violence in order to get what he wants. As early as their second meeting in Dead Until Dark, when Eric summons Sookie and Bill to Fangtasia to help find the thief, Sookie knows that Eric will use those she loves against her in order to get her assistance.
• In Dead as a Doornail, he even threatens to kill Sookie himself, in what I would argue is the sexiest murder threat ever, in order to rid himself of having to think about her anymore.

But, like the other antiheroes I mentioned Eric is slowly and subtly changed by his relationship with Sookie. He begins to do things for her that might not be in his best interest.

• In All Together Dead, Eric steps in when Andre tries to force Sookie into a blood exchange in Rhodes. Now before anyone jumps all over this, I will state unequivocally that, yes, Eric benefits personally from having Sookie bonded to him. But it was also at great risk to himself that he stepped in against Andre’s wishes.
• In From Dead to Worse, Eric surprises Sookie with marriage, vamp style, in Fangtasia. Does Eric benefit from tying Sookie to him, yet again? You bet. But he also makes an enemy of his new boss, Victor Madden, in the process. And Sookie doesn’t have to go to Las Vegas.
• In Dead and Gone, Eric wades into a conflict between the fairies to protect Sookie, the woman he loves. In fact, he and Pam further anger Victor Madden in order to render aid to Sookie when she’s caught in the fairy war.
• Even Pam has noticed that the usually pragmatic Eric has changed. “Truly, Eric’s a great vampire, and very practical. But he isn’t practical nowadays – not when it comes to you.” -Pam, Dead in the Family.

Compare and Contrast Time

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

George Lucas wrote a little series of movies that changed cinema forever, yadda, yadda, yadda. But he also gave us one of the greatest popular culture antiheroes of all time.

In a nutshell, when we first meet Han Solo, he’s a mercenary for hire. A smuggler looking out for number one – himself. He’s not in it for the ‘revolution, sister. He’s in it for the money.’ But something comes along that slowly changes his mind. Hmmm. Could it be a woman?

It can be argued that Han sticks around the Rebel Alliance for so long because, against his better judgment, he befriends both Luke and Leia. Their lives begin to matter to him. He starts to risk his own life in order to save theirs. And to show his commitment to Leia, he joins the Alliance in the final movie and eventually admits his love for her.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

I’ll go one step further. The object of Han’s affection? Leia? Yep, she’s an orphan. A princess, in fact, with some strange, secret relatives. Oh yeah, and she’s got some special powers. Other people want her dead, and she needs to be protected, although most of the time, she ends up rescuing herself or the hero. (Yeah – it’s a little creepy isn’t it?)

Now I will say this. While in both cases, these men make changes in their lives, in neither case is at the behest of the woman involved. Eric isn’t changed by Sookie, or even wants to change because of Sookie, nor does Sookie really have a desire for Eric to change. Rather, Eric is changed by the love he feels for Sookie. In fact, both Eric and Han resist their feelings for a long time, choosing to push away rather than embrace the woman they are so conflicted about. But once they’ve made their peace with how they feel, well then it’s game on.

So, in conclusion…

I think a strong case can be made for Eric as a classic antihero. While demonstrating several conspicuous character flaws, Eric can also behave in a heroic fashion – at least when it comes to the woman he loves. He might have gained significant political power by marrying Sookie, but he also prevented Victor from carting her off to serve Felipe de Castro in the process. Most importantly, I think we will see Eric make some choices (*cough* Queen of Oklahoma *cough*) in the final two books that will show unequivocally how he feels about Sookie, and how much of himself he’s willing to risk. Perhaps we will even see a fulfillment of the promise he made way back in Dead to the World.

Popular culture contains numerous examples of antiheroes, and we’ve examined only a small sampling in this post. Many of these classic antiheroes share several character flaws with our Viking; acting in one’s own best interest, threatening others with harm in order to get what they want. These are not necessarily the ideals of society, but certainly effective motivators all the same.

And I’ve also admitted I have a Star Wars obsession in a public forum.

Oh, and by the way…

In the end, Han Solo gets the girl.

Image: Blue Milk Special

Mr High Handed and the Fairy Prince – II

December 5, 2011 in Character & Plot Analysis, Dead Reckoning - Book 11, Eric Northman, Niall, Sookie & Eric, Sookie Stackhouse

Welcome back to Part II of our post examining the relationship between Eric and Niall.  My apologies for taking a few days longer than I should have to get this up, real life and all that crap.

If you haven’t already, make sure you read Part I, which addresses some key questions relating to when and how Eric and Niall joined forces in relation to Sookie, and what information was shared between them. Part I established that Eric and Niall were conducting surveillance on Sookie (via Terry and then Claudine) since at least Book 3.  Continuing on from where we left off in the last post – if Eric and Niall were playing track the telepath at least as far back as Club Dead (3),  it raises some reasonable questions.

  • Did Eric know that Sookie was a fairy as far back as book 3?
  • Did he know that Niall was her great grandfather?
  • How could Eric know that Niall was a fairy prince, yet NOT suspect that Niall’s interest indicated some sort of connection?
  • What was Eric’s payoff for helping Niall?  (We all know there had to be something).
HOW LONG DID ERIC KNOW THAT SOOKIE WAS A FAIRY?

 

In Definitely Dead (6), Sookie discovers she has fairy blood thanks to Andre, who according to Sophie-Anne has a particular “nose” for identifying fairies through their blood. This implies that while all vampires can “smell” fairy scent, they don’t all have the ability to identify race based on sampling the blood. According to Sookie in Dead and Gone(9):

“The trace of fairy blood I carried made me more attractive to supes, at least to some vampires. Not all of them could detect the little trace of fairy in my genes, but they tended to at least be interested in me, though occasionally that had negative results.”

While there are a number of references from DUD (1) through CD (3) to Eric noting Sookie smells or tastes different to other humans, and multiple references in later books to him smelling fairies on her by association (after she’s been with Niall or Claudine), there is nothing that I can find to indicate that Eric was able to identify that Sookie was a fairy by the taste of her blood alone.

Not all of them could detect the little trace of fairy in my genes”.

Pam and Maxwell Lee’s conversation at the end of Dead and Gone (9) would seem to indicate that a vampire getting hold of a fairy is a rare event (at least when the vampire doesn’t have a part-fairy girlfriend giving them reason to be in direct contact with fairies – a situation that is far from the norm):

“It will be too bad if they leave this world,” Pam said. “I love them so much. They’re so hard to catch.”
Maxwell Lee said, “I never had a fairy.”
Dead and Gone (9)

We know that Eric was actually told for certain that Sookie was part fairy by Sookie herself in Definitely Dead (6):

“You have fairy blood,” Eric said, as if his own lightbulb had just lit up. “That explains a lot.”
Eric, Definitely Dead (6)

As is often her habit when it comes to Eric, Sookie launches into a full rant over his daring to say to her face that if it weren’t for her “special” blood he wouldn’t be interested in her. In fact, Eric isn’t looking for an explanation for his interest in Sookie at all, and it would seem that his “lightbulb” moment was actually the beginnings of his putting together an explanation for why this secretive fairy prince was keeping tabs on his Number One Crush. By the time Sookie confirms her fairy blood to Eric in Definitely Dead (6), Niall has been in contact with him for at least three or four books. So why didn’t the interest of a fairy prince cause Eric to at least suspect that Sookie may have been part fae before this?

Legitimate question is legit, right?

It stands to reason that he most probably did suspect it.  Eric is not stupid, and anyone of reasonable intelligence would be wondering what on earth a fairy prince could possibly want with this human girl living in the backwoods of the South.  There is simply no way that Eric could have NOT suspected, if his communication with Niall about Sookie goes back to the beginning of the series, and in fact, Eric’s curiosity about this is most likely one of the reasons he agreed to help Niall in the first place.  But Niall wasn’t ready or willing to tell Eric anything of importance just yet (“I had to know him better first”), so Eric’s suspicions about Sookie remained just that until Sookie confirmed them in Definitely Dead.

Yet that still doesn’t allow us to confirm Niall’s assertion that Eric only found out he and Sookie were related in Book 8.  Can we find proof of that in Book 8 that doesn’t require taking Niall’s word for it?

HOW LONG DID ERIC KNOW THAT SOOKIE WAS RELATED TO NIALL?

 

Sookie herself seemed concerned about what Eric knew and when he knew it in From Dead to Worse, when she asked Niall how long Eric had known of their family tie:

“Has he known I was your kin for very long?” I held my breath, waiting for the answer. Niall had turned to go. Now he turned back a little, so I saw his face in profile.
“No,” he said. “I had to know him better, first. I told him only before he brought you to meet me. He wouldn’t help me until I told him why I wanted you.
Niall to Sookie (and Sam) – From Dead to Worse (8)

So it would appear that all Eric knew for sure in Book 8 was that Sookie was a fairy who had a fairy prince tailing her.   You have to think that red lights have turned into screaming sirens for him at this point – but he’s still missing something to put the pieces of Sookie’s background together.   At least, he’s missing something until the time came that Niall needed assistance that only Eric could provide – an introduction to his great-granddaughter.

The fact that Eric had to drive a bargain with Niall in the first place – refusing to help until Niall spilled the beans – establishes that as of book 8, Eric did not have the full picture, as Niall has claimed. If Eric already knew Sookie and Niall’s connection, he would have no reason to use leverage against Niall at all. Niall needed an “in” with Sookie, and he identified Eric as the supe she would be most likely to trust, most likely due to their bond.  But Niall required Eric’s co operation, and this presented a golden opportunity for Eric to get to the bottom of the Sookie/fairy connection once and for all. Never one to miss an opportunity, he milked it for all it was worth.

While it would also be reasonable to question Niall’s version of events given his often “odd” behavior, we know from Claude that “fairies can’t lie”. This little quirk is common to fairy mythology even outside the world of the SVM, as is their penchant for being creative with the truth (as Sookie observes in Dead Reckoning).

Creative truth telling? That has a familiar ring! Which brings us to Mr “I might not tell you everything I know, but what I tell you, it’s true”.

SO WHAT’S THE PAYOFF FOR ERIC?

 

The million dollar question! Does his motivation even matter? After all motivation, coercion, or any other reason mattered not a dolt when we crucified Bill for lying by omission to Sookie under orders of the queen. Lies by omission are, after all, still lies. And this would hardly be the first time Eric’s been selective with the truth where Sookie was concerned. I love him as much as anyone but the fact remains that good reasons notwithstanding, he has more than once sat on information that Sookie probably would have preferred to know.  Eric is pragmatic, he can be self serving, and his motivation to act is most often multi-layered. Yet we also know that that he’s genuinely fallen in love against his better judgement and that according to Pam, his feelings over ride his self-interest with increasing frequency:

“He is male enough to want to look strong in front of you, Sookie. Truly, Eric’s a great vampire, and very practical. But he isn’t practical nowadays—not when it comes to you.”

Pam – Dead in the Family (10)

While it’s tempting to view Eric’s long association with Niall in terms of what we know of his character and his feelings for Sookie in later books – and to consequently believe that there’s a whole lot of rewriting going on – that would be to overlook a long established fact that Eric hasn’t always been able (or wanted to) to put Sookie’s interests or feelings before his own. That tendency is a very recent development for his character, and one that still isn’t an automatic response. He is learning – his willingness to stare down Victor over Sookie in DAG – a move that earned him a powerful enemy but one that he made regardless of the consequences – is evidence of this.  But there’s still a certain amount of truth in the adage about teaching an old dog new tricks. In examining Eric’s motivation for establishing an arrangement that was clearly in place from early in the series, we need to be mindful of the fact that his inclination to put anyone before himself has been a long road, and a concession he was only able to make once he was deeply involved and even then, only under certain circumstances and after much angst.

“One of the most wonderful, and the most appalling, things about Eric loving me was that he didn‘t give a shit about anyone else.”
Sookie, Dead Reckoning (11)

He never has, and he most likely never will. So I think it’s fair to say in books 1 and 2 at least, Sookie would have counted amongst the vast majority of people Eric really “didn’t give a shit about.” Sure, she was interesting to him but she was also valuable for other reasons – reasons he probably didn’t mind sharing with Niall if doing so greased the wheels of the existing “business relationship” they already shared. Eric’s interest in Sookie was clear in Dead Until Dark (1) and Living Dead in Dallas (2) and straight forward at first – a combination of her abilities, her fiesty nature and a sense of humor he intuitively recognised to be not unlike his own, and an intoxicating quality he couldn’t quite pin down is probably the best explanation for his initial pursuit of her.  While not quite in love yet, Eric was most certainly intrigued by Sookie in the early books.  It’s hardly surprising that a pragmatic vampire would view Niall’s proposal as a good opportunity to satiate his own curiosity, while possibly finding out more about Sookie than he could on his own. Having a fairy prince owing him a favor certainly couldn’t hurt, either.

As time went on and Eric’s initial curiosity about the telepath deepened into emotional investment, keeping the truth to himself obviously became a little less morally black and white. While I can think of a number reasons for his choice to do this – keeping Niall away until he knew he was trustworthy, keeping Sookie in the dark because she would have almost certainly forced the issue, and the likelihood of some sort of threat hanging over his head from Niall to name a few – it must also be acknowledged that there were perks for Eric too.  His knowledge of her day to day life via Terry was far more intimate than it would have been  from the fringes in Shreveport.   And of course, he was courting the favor of a very powerful supernatural figure who happened to be related to his girlfriend. The benefits for Eric to this end are pretty clear.

According to Dermot:

“I suppose he [Eric] thought that he would get Niall‘s goodwill as kind of a finder‘s fee.” Dermot shrugged. “That seems to have worked for Eric. Vampires are all venal and selfish.”

Dermot, on Eric bringing Sookie to meet Niall – Dead Reckoning (11)

Providing assistance in exchange for Niall’s goodwill certainly seems to have “worked” for Eric:

“The vampire is not a bad man, and he loves you.”
Niall to Sookie, Dead and Gone (9)

I’d say that’s about as close to a ringing endorsement from a fairy that any vampire is likely to get.

THE BOTTOM LINE

 

1. Eric found out for certain that Sookie had fairy blood in Definitely Dead (6) – nothing in Dead Reckoning contradicts this previously established plot point.

2. Eric did not get confirmation of Sookie’s relationship to Niall until Niall requested his help in From Dead to Worse (8).  Nothing in Dead Reckoning contradicts this already established plot point.

3. Eric knew that a fairy prince was interested in Sookie well before Book 8, and even though it should have given him reason to suspect that Sookie was in some way connected to the fae, he kept his suspicions to himself.

4. We don’t know for sure Eric’s reasons for not coming clean with Sookie, but we can reasonably assume from his motivations for similar actions in the past that they most likely involve a combination of self interest, protecting Sookie, and appeasing Niall.

The bottom line on Eric’s handling of this situation is not whether it’s better or worse than anything any other suitor has or has not done. They’ve all done some shitty things, Eric included. The bottom line for me is how Sookie feels about it, and how it impacted on her life.

And really, it didn’t.

Niall’s goal was to get closer to Sookie, and Eric’s was to keep her safe. The method they used to attain those goals isn’t exactly upstanding, but then, Sookie isn’t above choosing the “weakest tool” when it suits her purposes either.  Witness her use of an unwitting Bubba in her plan to finish off Victor in Dead Reckoning.  Bubba was her tool and it mattered squat to Sookie that he was upset and agitated by Victor and his crew. Not a single fuck was given that day by Sookie, yet Harris has taken great care to nuture a sense of trust between Sookie and Bubba since the earliest books.  In fact, it could certainly be argued that Sookie’s trust in Bubba to keep her ass out of trouble is second only to her trust in Eric or Bill. And Bubba certainly trusts Sookie more than Terry ever trusted Eric.  There are no sacred cows in the SVM.

Sookie’s own ruthlessness doesn’t give Eric a free pass – but I think it goes some way towards explaining why Sookie only gave Eric the obligatory, half assed lecture over Terry rather than completely tearing strips off him as some readers felt would be more in character.   That, and the fact that she’d known since forever that he was tailing her anyway. Sookie lived, loved, fought and killed as she would have always done. Nothing changed in her life, and no one toyed with her emotions as a result of this to achieve their own ends. Eric didn’t need to manipulate her to fall in love with him to execute this task – she continued to live her life, first with Bill and then with Quinn while Eric held her at a distance and then fell in love with her in spite of himself. Winning her heart was never a means to an end – which is why this isn’t the dealbreaker for Sookie that Bill’s betrayal was.

It would also seem that Sookie’s expectations of vampires have become more realistic as the series has progressed, and that she views surveillance, selective versions of the truth, and general high handed meddling with a less judgemental eye than she would have even five books ago.  Is this a good thing for Sookie?  I guess time will tell, but she certainly seems to have decided for now that taking a realistic view of vampire behaviour is far less frustrating than trying to impose a human moral framework on someone who is no longer human. Sookie struggled with the problem of finding a moral compass in Eric over and over in Dead Reckoning, but that’s another post.

I don’t think we’re anywhere near done with Niall, and given what we already know about Deadlocked, I wouldn’t be surprised to see even more of Eric and Niall’s background shake out in the next book.   And of course, just how much shit ends up sticking to Eric at the end of this depends almost entirely on the as yet unknown nature of Niall’s agenda (you know he has one).   If Niall’s motives turn out to be nefarious, Eric’s involvement in combination with the QOK situation, and the general dramas he and Sookie are having could easily combine to bring it all undone.

I don’t think it will – but you know already that I’m the eternal optimist.  Let us know what you think in the comments!

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Mr High Handed and the Fairy Prince

November 30, 2011 in Character & Plot Analysis, Dead Reckoning - Book 11, Dead to the World - Book 4, Eric Northman, From Dead to Worse - Book 8, Niall, Sookie Stackhouse

Depending on your point of view, Dead Reckoning is either a “getting close to the end”,  expositional book that begins the process of tidying up loose ends – or the harbinger of a Viking-sized character assassination, rooted in blind panic and designed to kill off the rampant worship of a character whose popularity has somehow unintentionally eclipsed that of others in the series.

There are at least three key Eric-related incidents in book eleven that have generated quite the ruckus – Eric’s collaboration with Niall to keep tabs on Sookie, a collaboration which apparently goes back to the beginnings of the SVM; his physical brawling with Pam; and “Bitegate” (as Eric’s bite at the end of the novel has come to be known in these parts)….also known as The Really Big BAD.

I don’t have a crystal ball.  Nor do I proclaim to know Harris’ plans for Sookie, for Eric, or for the two of them as a couple – and I’m absolutely not here to tell anyone that their reading of the books is wrong. But I will openly admit that I don’t understand why so many people seem to find Dead Reckoning so discouraging, or why they believe Harris is trying to retcon her story in order to hose down some uncontained and purely accidental explosion in Eric’s popularity. I know only what makes sense to me given Sookie’s narrative and Eric’s character development over the course of almost twelve books, and it’s from that perspective that I’d like to take a closer look at one of the bombs mentioned above:  the nature of the relationship between Eric and Niall.  Specifically, whether this relationship casts Eric in a deceptive light, and whether evidence exists in earlier books to support the background of this relationship as it was laid out in Dead Reckoning.

I hope that by the end of this two part post we’ll have a clearer idea of how this partnership evolved based solely on details provided in Dead Reckoning and the ten books preceding it. This means putting aside preconceptions about the impact of True Blood on the direction of the novels (and since nine of the eleven were completed before the show even aired, that shouldn’t be too hard); the author’s notoriously twisty interview soundbites on Eric, and anything else that is not spelt out between the covers of these books. When we reach the end of this series, all that will matter is what is written in black and white.  So for the purpose of this post, that’s all I could really give a shit about.

As Sookie’s narration can at times be unreliable (ie. she can only relate what she believes to be true at the time), I’ve tried to only include Sookie’s take where it can be verified by other characters or subsequent events.

So are you still with me? Good.

Dead Reckoning raised the following questions:

  • What did Eric tell Niall about Sookie?
  • When did Eric and Niall have Terry start watching Sookie?
  • How long did Eric know Sookie was a fairy?
  • How long did Eric know Sookie was related to Niall?
  • Why would Eric feed Niall information? What was in it for him?

 

So let’s dive in, head first. And what better place to begin than at the very beginning.

CARELESS WHISPERS – WHAT DID ERIC TELL NIALL?



Eric and Niall have a history spanning many years; at least back to Sookie’s youth and probably even before she was born:

“I have known Eric Northman for a long time. I thought you would come if he asked you to.”
Niall to Sookie at their first meeting, From Dead to Worse (8)

“He [Eric] has been useful to me in the past, but he can’t second-guess me with you.”
Niall to Sookie, From Dead to Worse (8)

In Dead Reckoning, Sookie was given a brief history of her great grandfather’s involvement in her life from Claude and Dermot:

[Niall] assumed you would be the same as Jason . . . essentially a normal human.”
“But then he heard you weren‘t,” Dermot said.
“Heard? From who? Whom?”…
“From Eric.”
Sookie, Dermot and Claude – Dead Reckoning (11)

Cue Horrified Reaction from entire book fandom  - “HOLYSHIT!  WHUTTHEFUCKINGHELLNOW??”

What’s the deal, Eric? Have you taken up stalking babies? Did you somehow find out Sookie was a fairy and just decide to keep that all to yourself? Did you pull a Sophie-Anne and screw information about her telepathy out of Hadley? Shit, were you watching from the shrubbery when Sookie got beaten up? (“Move ovah Eric….this is MAH bush!!”)

What exactly did you tell Niall, Northman? And more to the point, what business was it of yours to be telling him anything?

While it’s easy to jump to all sorts of heinous conclusions and read this as a nuclear bomb going off, I’m pretty happy to leave that to those who have turned jumping to heinous conclusions about Eric into an Olympic sport. Instead I’m going to do something outrageously sensible, and look at this in the wider context of previous books to see if we can’t make some sense.

There’s no implication whatsoever here that Eric had any knowledge of who or what Sookie was before she met him in Dead Until Dark, or that their meeting in Fangtasia all those moons ago was not the first time Eric had heard of Sookie Stackhouse.

Does this passage say that Niall heard from Eric that Sookie was a fairy?
Though it might be an almost automatic leap to this conclusion since Fairy Prince Niall is on the receiving end of the information, it actually says nothing of the sort.

What it does say is that Niall heard from Eric that Sookie wasn’t a “normal human”.

So what exactly did Niall hear from Eric?

Given the fact that there’s zero evidence in previous books to support an argument that Eric knew Sookie was a fairy before his association with Niall and before Sookie herself told him – and that it’s a well established fact that he knew she was a telepath from the night they met – what Eric most likely told Niall was that this “non normal human” was a telepath.

Not particularly earth shattering in the overall scheme of things, considering every man and his three legged dog in Bon Temps knew that Sookie could read minds anyway.

Yet, now we’re left wondering why Niall would ever give a crap about some random telepath in Bon Temps. We know from Dead Reckoning that Niall visited Jason as a newborn to determine whether he had the essential spark. Upon learning that he didn’t, Niall lost interest in the Stackhouse children and when Sookie was born, assumed that she too was a normal human and didn’t bother to check on her. But he knew about her. He knew she lived in Bon Temps, he knew her name and her age and most importantly, he knew her genealogy – specifically her direct descent from Fintan, half fairy and dear friend of the telepathic demon, Cataliades.

“I’ve known about your family for the past sixty years, give or take. But my son Fintan forbade me seeing any of you.”
Niall, first meeting, From Dead to Worse (8)

It’s the essential spark, not the telepathy, that interests Niall.  But for the telepathy gift to manifest in the Stackhouse line in the first place, the spark must already be present. So when Eric told Niall he’d met a telepath from Bon Temps (and perhaps even told him who she was, though the theory still holds even if he didn’t give Niall her name), how many dots does Niall need to connect to work out that it’s probably Sookie, that she has the spark after all, and that she’s suddenly worthy of his interest?

Given what he knew of the Stackhouses already, not many dots at all.

EVERY STEP YOU TAKE – WHEN DID TERRY START WATCHING SOOKIE?


“Niall thought to ask Eric to alert him to events in your life. Eric would tell Niall from time to time what you were up to. “
Claude to Sookie, Dead Reckoning (11)

“Sookie? You knew they wanted me to watch out for you? They come to my trailer at night, for months, that big blond one and then the shining one. They always wanted to know about you..”
”Sure,” I said, thinking, What?
”They wanted to know how you were doing and who was you hanging with, and who hated you and who loved you…”
”That’s okay,” I said. “It was okay to tell them.”
Terry and Sookie, Dead Reckoning (11)

Sookie then thinks to herself:

“I’d known Eric had had someone watching me while I dated Bill and while I was on my own later. I’d guessed that my great-grandfather had had some source of knowledge, too.”
Sookie, Dead Reckoning (11)

OH, REALLY? Sookie knew someone had been watching her? More retcon, obviously!   Since when did Sookie know she was being stalked by someone besides her creepy woods-dwelling ex – and if she knew this to be fact all along, why didn’t she mention it before?

Well, actually…she did.

Dead Reckoning is set in May 2006, but as far back as Dead as a Doornail (set in late January, 2005) Sookie knew that someone was “informing” on her to Eric, and she expressed it in no uncertain terms:

After a moment’s silence, [Eric] said, “I wish I knew who’s trying to kill you. And I hear you had a visit from some private detectives. What did they want of you?”
“Who told you that?”
Now I had something else to worry about. Someone was informing on me. I could feel my blood pressure rise.
Sookie and Eric, Dead as a Doornail (5)

Naturally, Sookie wonders if the informant is Charles Twining – a relative stranger and employee of Eric’s who is working at Merlotte’s and has recently started staying with her. But as she left work earlier that day, having just spoken with Lily and Jack Leeds (the private investigators Eric mentions above), she randomly notes:

Charles Twining was due to relieve Terry at full dark.
Sookie, Dead as a Doornail (5)

Terry…the self-confessed snitch.

WELL, FANCY THAT.

So in book 5, we learned: that Terry was working the same shift as Sookie when the Leed’s visited her at Merlotte’s, that Eric knew about the Leed’s visit before Sookie told him herself, and that Sookie suspected that someone was informing on her to Eric.

We now have solid evidence that Eric and Niall had Terry running surveillance back in Dead as a Doornail (5). Can we trace Niall and Eric’s arrangement back even further than that?

Let’s find out.

“Niall thought to ask Eric to alert him to events in your life. Eric would tell Niall from time to time what you were up to. There came a time when Eric thought you needed the protection of your great-grandfather, and of course you were withering.”

“So Grandfather sent Claudine, and then when she grew worried she couldn‘t take care of you, he decided to meet you himself.”
Sookie, Claude and Dermot – Dead Reckoning (11)

Exactly when did Eric begin to think that Sookie required Niall’s protection? Well, Claudine first lands in Sookie’s life early in Dead to the World (4), just after Eric was cursed. Since Dermot maintains that it was at Eric’s insistence that Niall sent Claudine – and Eric was amnesiac and staying with Sookie from the opening pages of DTTW – it must be the case that Eric’s request for Niall’s protection came during the events of Club Dead (3), at the latest.

What happened during Club Dead that left Sookie vulnerable enough in Eric’s eyes that he started to think she needed additional protection? Sookie dumped Bill – and found herself alone and unattached to a vampire for the first time since entering the supernatural world. A rather precarious position to be in when powerful vampires as far away as Dallas and New Orleans already know about your neat little party trick, or have witnessed it firsthand.

Eric was almost definitely conferring with Niall throughout Club Dead. We can reasonably extrapolate from here that their initial conversation about Sookie occured even earlier – in Living Dead in Dallas (2), or possibly even Dead Until Dark (1), since we know that some time elapsed between Eric first telling Niall about Sookie, and his request for Niall’s protection.

We also have Eric’s rather succinct defense in Dead Reckoning, when Sookie called him out on the way he got her to marry him, and about his deal with Terry:

“But that happened before I knew you, Sookie”.
Eric, Dead Reckoning (11)

Since he was obviously quite well acquainted with Sookie by the time he married her in Dead and Gone (9), these manipulations happened when he didn’t “know” her in the sense that he “knows” her now – they weren’t as emotionally connected.  His mention of the marriage is what actually clarifies this.   This line has been used to argue that Eric hired Terry or was conspiring with Niall before he met Sookie. It’s pretty clear when you actually read it in context with what comes before and after it, that is not what he means at all.

THE BOTTOM LINE



That’s a truckload of dry and tedious shit I’ve made you wade through up there, and we’re still only two questions into the five at the beginning of this post. Let’s condense the key points down into a tight little summary, just to make sure we have everything straight.

1. Eric told Niall that Sookie was a telepath, and this conversation definitely occurred before Dead as a Doornail (5).

2. Niall deduced from this information and his prior knowledge of the Stackhouses that Sookie probably possessed the essential spark and therefore warranted further investigation.

3. Niall asked Eric to keep him informed of Sookie’s business, and Eric coerced her co-worker, Terry, to do this on a day to day basis. This deal was clearly already operating by Book 5 so it must have been struck prior to this.

4. Eric requested protection for Sookie from Niall, which Niall sent in the form of Claudine. The timing of Claudine’s arrival indicates that Eric made this request before he was cursed in the opening pages of Dead to the World (4), most likely during Club Dead (3).

Whoa, I think a need a drink.  Now that we have a timeframe for when Eric and Niall started watching Sookie, the last few questions on our list can be tackled.

How long did Eric know that Sookie was a fairy?
How long did Eric know Sookie was related to Niall?

And the elephant in the room: what was in this arrangement for Eric?

Is his association with Niall comparable to Bill’s association with Sophie-Anne? After all, both vampires made deals with a more powerful supe who wanted to get closer to Sookie….didn’t they?

Stay tuned for part 2 in the next day or two, where I’ll take a look at these questions a little more closely.

Image: sallynevermore

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