Truly, Madly, Deadly
The Unofficial True Blood Companion
By Becca Wilcott, Jen Hale
ECW PRESS Copyright © 2010 Becca Wilcott
All rights reserved.
Tell Me, Truebie
"What's your earliest memory of vampires? Was it a literary vampire? A cinematic vampire? A Hallowe'en costume? Was it a dangerous, funny, or sexy vampire? What impact did it have on you?"
After all the people I talked to while researching this book, when it came time to answer my own question, I couldn't recall that initial encounter. In all likelihood, it was the one from The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, or Count Chocula, mascot of the General Mills cereal, something I would have had access to as a young person — in other words, a "lower shelf" vampire. It would have been safe, defanged, and frumpy, and, in the case of Sesame Street's The Count, educational. It wouldn't have been hideously monstrous or overly sexual, like Udo Kier in Blood for Dracula lusting after the blood of "wurgens," or Max Schreck in F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922), or Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog's 1979 adaptation of the same name. Their pointed ears and consistently erect, tubular fangs were not something I was aware of as a child, although they would become my touchstone characterizations later in life any time someone mentioned a vampyr, the undead, a nightwalker.
In fact, my earliest notion that vampires were even remotely bothersome was the Bugs Bunny cartoon Transylvania 6-5000 (1963), in which Bugs engages in a magical duel with Count Blood Count. ("Abacadabra!" "Hocus pocus!") At the time, I had a fear of open waters, so, in my child's mind, I equated vampires with fish nibbling at my feet: relentless, but something to overcome nonetheless. The vampires I envisioned in my childhood weren't killers; they were people with a lot of time on their hands. They were well read, well traveled — cool.
And dude, they had great hair.
They could take whatever they wanted and in the next moment disappear as if nothing had happened. Isn't that a universal fantasy? It's the adrenalin of shoplifting a chocolate bar. (And if I'd been a child vampire, I wouldn't have been caught.)
It never occurred to me that vampires could be violent, remorseless creatures who lived by a savage code. At a young age, while my own sexual awakenings were only just beginning to take form, I had yet to consider the consensual desire to be turned or fed upon, relinquishing your mortality to sustain another's immortality. Nor, even in my advanced appreciation for the subversive, had I yet to make the connection between metaphor and actual flesh-and-bone Real Vampires — sanguine, psychic, psi, or energy — those who feed off the blood or emotional energy of individuals or nature to sustain their health, or the intersection between vampirism and the bdsm (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism) lifestyle.
For me, vampirism was a performance enhancer, less a way of life in death than a way to make what life you'd been born into something harder, better, faster, stronger, as Kanye West might say. The contemporary, romantic vampire was a better you, a sexier you, the kind of you even your worst enemy would want to be, at once admired and feared by audiences who were safely off the page, or on the other side of the television or film screen. By the time vampires found me, they'd already evolved into everything from rock stars to sparkling high school students, with Slayers in hot pursuit wielding sharpened stakes and witty comebacks. I spent my efforts considering instead what they mean to others, why they're so pervasive, and, through Alan Ball and True Blood, how the metaphor of vampirism could finally be extended to include those of us who are both natural and super — the mortals who love them.
Vampires are the perfect (and endless) fodder for any writer. With all the time in the world, what would a vampire look like in this day and age? Breathtakingly beautiful or a paunchy couch potato?
To state my bias, I don't like all fictional vampires. Namely, those who can survive in sunlight. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy the hot-bodied actors of the Twilight series and The Vampire Diaries. (See aforementioned references to good hair.) But, stake me where I stand, anything that normalizes the vampire to the level of a high school student risks de-everythinging that which makes vampires the ideal personification of our more subversive, non-mainstream wants and desires. I say this as a tried-and-true fan of Buffy (where we never saw a vampire on campus ... well, except for that one time that Spike got that ring that allowed him to walk in the sun, and — ahem, never mind about that, you know what I'm saying). You want an ideal coming-of-age metaphor, stick to werewolves and witches. But leave me my deepest, darkest vampires. To be precise, that which is not seen, not surface, and not freakin' sparkling.
Why a book about vampires then? Why True Blood? It begins and ends with Alan Ball and everything he brings to Charlaine Harris's novels. In the final moments of Six Feet Under, Alan Ball's other little hbo masterpiece, I felt as if an anvil had been dropped on my chest. I distinctly recall sitting on my couch and muttering, "Oh my god, he's going to make us watch." I won't call Alan Ball a god; I'll leave that to the actors who repeatedly praise his approach to writing and directing. But as an audience member, I feel equipped to boast that he is unmatched in his ability to get things so right ... and so wrong. He's messy. His characters are human to a fault, even the non-humans. You yell at them. You coddle them. You want to jump into the television to show them how it's done. And when Alan Ball jumps the shark, man, you just know that shark has issues. For as much as you might say — as I will in this book — that Jason's season 1 addiction feels forced, that Maryann Forrester's storyline goes on far too long, or that a certain vamp queen casting choice left many viewers agog, you cannot deny the ongoing quality of the production, and the legions of fans who will follow Alan Ball into a shallow grave. I'm amazed how many people have heard of True Blood — an international phenomenon — without knowing of Alan Ball's participation, but, once they do, vow to catch up on the series because they loved his previous projects.
Are vampires really a dirty secret? There's certainly enough criticism about the current vampire trend, but is it all that different from the offshoot of serial killer films that resulted from the immense popularity of Hannibal Lecter? If we killed that beast, we'd be without another of my favorite literary-adapted hero-slash-villains, Showtime's Dexter. And what a crime that would be. We love these archetypes because they continue to surprise us, visited in so many new ways, revisited even in the faces of the unexpected. Remember the Tom Cruise Interview with the Vampire casting debacle? Because, perhaps the true appeal of vampires is that as surely as I'm sitting here, and you are sitting there, we could both be one. That's the fantasy, isn't it? Whether we want to stay up all night, read everything, see everything, be anything, feed, or, in some cases, fly, we're told that on the other side of a remarkably simple procedure there's not so much an afterlife as an endless life, as we are. It's a truly mortal desire.
Which is precisely why you can expect to see a few unfamiliar faces in Truly, Madly, Deadly: the faces of the fans. I asked people just like me, just like you, why they love True Blood. What I got back was as surprising and multi-faceted as I should have expected. It's not just that vampires are everywhere; it's that everyone has a unique take on their appeal. There's no one vamp for every person. And if the online communities surrounding the series prove anything, it's that the fans make all the difference. During the process of writing this book, I was amazed by how many people said they would wait to watch the show if it meant they could watch it with their friends, some recording each episode then using Skype to connect with other fans around the world, just so they can experience it at the same time. And if you're not a fan of spoilers, stay away from Twitter on broadcast night. It erupts in feedback, outcry, and tweets of joy, with "#TrueBlood" regularly trending in the days leading up to and after each episode.
In a slightly sad turn, when I asked participants of my site's "Interview with a Sympathizer" questionnaire which rituals they had when watching True Blood, over 25% of respondents said that they wished they had someone to watch it with, so they could talk about the developments or, as one person said, "just to know that I'm not weird for loving it so much." So those people are in this book: bloggers, podcasters, industry professionals, screenwriters, journalists, academics, authors, artists, critics, roleplayers, vampyres, and vampires — it's the face of the fan like you've never seen it, and what we talk about is as wide-ranging as the interviewees themselves.
How does the book break down? After each episode guide, you'll find some or all of the following extras.
Night Caps: This section could also be entitled Oops, Did You Know, Tidbits, The Deets, or Etcetera. These are additional details that keep the party going after last call has been announced.
Relationship Crypt Falls: These are my shout-outs to the characters as they fumble through their relationships as friends, family, and lovers.
Paging Dr. Creepy: Whether it's a gooey prosthetic device or, in one case, an astoundingly good sound effect, this is my vote for most spine-tingling, cringe-worthy moment of each show.
Location, Location, Location: This feature highlights where some of your favorite scenes were filmed.
Suzuki Sets the Scene: Suzuki Ingerslev is True Blood's production designer, responsible for the lived-in look and feel of all locations used in the series. Each episode takes approximately 10 days to produce; Ingerslev and her team work around the clock to secure locations, build sets, and redress others for the next day's shoot. This segment will showcase some of the considerations taken for many of the sets used in seasons 1 and 2.
Encore: Each show is named after a song. This feature gives you a little background information on the song, its performer(s), and to what effect it was used in the episode.
Within many of the episodes, I'll include "Tribute" sidebars where I wax poetic on some of True Blood's supporting characters, those who carry the storylines to the edges and beyond. These are the true torch bearers of the show's most daring themes. It's unabashed, full geek-on fandom.
What else can you expect? Exclusive interviews with Kristin Bauer (Pam Ravenscroft), Patricia Bethune (Jane Bodehouse), Charlaine Harris, Kevin Jackson (the sharp mind behind Bite: A Vampire Handbook), and Karen Walton (who wrote the international cult film Ginger Snaps); an overview of HBO's brilliant viral marketing campaign; and in and out of character interviews with the Twitter True Blood players. I also have input from Alix Fox of Bizarre magazine on being an "Undead Talking Head" celebrity; Stacey May Fowles from Shameless magazine on the BDSM nature of Sookie and Bill's relationship; Brian Juergens of CampBlood.org on the intersection between the queer and horror communities; Andy Swist about his incredible True Blood paper dolls; some of your favorite fan site admins; and much more!
Finally, a note about terminology. While there is no absolute consensus, many employ "vampire" when referring to both the mythical creatures of films, television, and novels as well as those who identify as "real vampires" — sanguinarian, psi, and psychic — and use the term "vampyre" in reference to a subculture of lifestylers (or social vampires) who identify with the vampyric genre. For the purposes of this book, I'll observe these definitions.
So, how shall we proceed? Be sure to watch each episode before reading the guides. They won't spoil anything to follow, but will contain major plot points up to that episode. If you have any feedback — and especially if you'd like to be considered for a future "Interview with a Sympathizer" for my site rebeccawilcott.com — drop me a note at email@example.com. Also stop by for weekly recaps during season 3.
Yours ... truly,
The Lingering Appeal of Vampires Throughout the Entertainment Ages
"Throughout the whole vast shadowy world of ghosts and demons there is no figure so terrible, no figure so dreaded and abhorred, yet dight with such fearful fascination, as the vampire, who is himself neither ghost nor demon, but yet who partakes the dark natures and possesses the mysterious and terrible qualities of both." — Reverend Montague Summer, from The Vampire: His Kith and Kin (1928)
"It's always been blood ... blood is life ... Why do you think we eat it? It's what keeps you going. Makes you warm. Makes you hard. Makes you other than dead." — Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Walking dead. Nosferatu. Upyr. Lampir. Incubus. Pontianak. Drakul. Vampyr. Nosferatu. Vampire. It's believed that the existence of vampires may have been noted as early as 1047 in the production notes of a priest who transcribed the Book of Psalms for a prince, signing his name in Old Russian as "Upir' Likhyi'," which loosely translated means "wicked" or "foul vampire." An Austrian account in 1725 refers to the Serbian practice of exhuming dead bodies in order to kill them. Likely derived from the French "vampyre" or the German "vampir," the Oxford English Dictionary dates the first appearance of the word "vampire" to 1734 when it appeared in the travelogue "Travels of Three English Gentlemen."
If the term for vampires pre-dates our fictional accounts of them, is it possible they actually exist? Or is it more likely that we've embellished stories over time to create one of the most pervasive myths ever? And, if so, why? Alexander Skarsgård has a theory. "[V]ampires symbolize consistency and something that's permanent in a world where everything is constantly changing," he says. "Humans, animals, nature, and even mountains will change over time. To have something that will stand the test of time is attractive."
While there are many theories that attempt to explain the origin of belief in vampires, there's little room for debate when it comes to the ongoing appeal of vampires. What is it about vampires that popular fiction can't seem to get enough of them? They've even been invited past the tightly guarded gates of educational children's television. Did you know that the Muppet vampire, Count von Count from Sesame Street, complete with his obsessive counting, seems to have been based on actual vampire myth? One way to supposedly deter a vampire is to throw seeds (usually mustard) outside a door, or place a fishing net outside a window. Vampires are compelled to count the seeds or the holes in the net, delaying them until the sun comes up! And how can we forget one of the most popular vampires in children's fiction, Bunnicula, the cute little rabbit and vegetarian vampire?
Fangtastic Folkloric Facts About Vampires
1. Many scholars argue the word "vampire" is either from the Hungarian vampir or from the Turkish upior, upper, or upyr meaning "witch." Other scholars argue the term derived from the Greek word "to drink" or from the Greek nosophoros meaning "plague carrier." It may also derive from the Serbian Bamiiup or the Serbo-Crotian pirati. There are many terms for "vampire" found across cultures, suggesting that vampires are embedded in human consciousness.
2. Probably the most famous vampire of all time, Count Dracula, quoted Deuteronomy 12:23: "The blood is the life."
3. Prehistoric stone monuments called dolmens have been found over the graves of the dead in northwest Europe. Anthropologists speculate they have been placed over graves to keep vampires from rising.
4. A rare disease called porphyria (also called the "vampire" or "Dracula" disease) causes vampire-like symptoms, such as an extreme sensitivity to sunlight and sometimes hairiness. In extreme cases, teeth might be stained reddish brown, and eventually the patient may go mad.
5. Documented medical disorders that people accused of being a vampire may have suffered from include haematodipsia, which is a sexual thirst for blood, and hemeralopia or day blindness. Anemia ("bloodlessness") was often mistaken for a symptom of a vampire attack.
6. One of the most famous "true vampires" was Countess Elizabeth Bathory (1560–1614), who was accused of biting the flesh of girls while torturing them and bathing in their blood to retain her youthful beauty. She was by all accounts a very attractive woman. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Truly, Madly, Deadly by Becca Wilcott, Jen Hale. Copyright © 2010 Becca Wilcott. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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