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Reading Log: Creatures, Beasts, and Others

When I first discovered Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries series, a commentor on my blog mentioned that I might also like Laurel K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter and Kim Harrison's Hollows series. Boy, was that commentor ever right. One reviewer on Hamilton's books calls her novels "R-rated Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which they are.

But as I've been reading them, I can't help but let the English major in me out just a little. What is it that attracts me to these stories of vampires, werewolves, fairies, psychics, etc.? One of the things that I'm finding in all of these stories are conversations about what it means to be human, and what it means to have prejudices. The basic rules seem to be the same through all of the stories: vampires burn in sunlight, werewolves turn at the full moon, holy water and silver can be extremely painful if not fatal, non-human creatures seem to be stronger than humans, etc. But what also links the stories are the internal conflicts of the main characters (in all of the novels above, the protagonist is a woman, and the narrative is in the first person). Sookie Stackhouse can read/sense people's thoughts, Anita Blake is a necromancer and animator with more-than-human power, Rachel Morgan is a witch--even a separate species from human. And each heroine finds herself making a distinction between human and "monster," the label society seems to give to non-humans.

I find Anita Blake the most interesting, possibly because she's in more novels than either Sookie or Rachel at this point. Her dilemma is quite interesting. She has two men very interested in her: Richard Zeeman, a biology teacher at the junior high who happens to also be a werewolf, and Jean-Claude, the Master of the City, who is a vampire. In the first books, she is far more drawn to Richard, the "living" man. But when she finally sees him change into a wolf, she rejects the beast for the corpse. Fortunately, Hamilton carries these internal struggles through several novels, which highlights the believability of Anita's problems. And it doesn't help matters that no matter how "human" Blake is herself, her jobs as Vampire Executioner and professional Animator, as well as the danger she consistently finds herself in, have led her to question her own "humanity" more and more.

Back to my question of why these stories are so interesting. Believe it or not, they have a very strong connection with politics and society today. No, I don't remember much about Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, but I think I remember the essay talking about how we push things away from us, turn them into "other," that we don't want or like or think we need. By writing about vampires, werewolves, zombies, and other creatures of horror, Hamilton, Harrison, and Harris are giving us creatures against which to define ourselves. But what happens when we start to sympathize, empathize, or even love these "beasts?" In the same way, especially in American politics, we find a group (or many groups) that we ARE NOT in order to define who we are. Rather than looking for similarities, we tend to look for and emphasize differences to make ourselves feel better about ourselves and our choices.

Don't know, but this is definitely the most analysis I've done on any piece of writing since finishing the dis. Might be there really is a scholar in me somewhere, definitely the scariest creature I can think of to give me nightmares.