At the end of Dead to the World Sookie agrees not to reveal to the police that Felton had been holding Jason hostage in exchange for Calvin’s assurance that he would receive Hot Shot style justice. Felton is never heard from again, and Sookie has no doubt and no regret about what happened to him. Supes have to police their own. The human justice system wasn’t designed to accommodate full moon shifting, blood drinking (pre-Great Revelation), or spell casting, for that matter.
Sookie and Jason had to come up with a story to explain Jason’s disappearance to Andy and Alcee Beck. They decided the less information Jason gave, the better. As a result, both Eric and Jason returned home on the same day claiming they couldn’t remember where they had been or what had been done to them. To counter Jason’s innate desire to spin a good yarn, Sookie remained present in the police interview and sent silent warnings to him whenever he strayed from the rehearsed story.
The story Pam and Chow told Sookie about how Eric ended up without his memory was just as carefully edited and rehearsed. She says, ”Several nights ago, we heard–at Fangtasia that a group of witches had arrived in Shreveport.” When Sookie asks why they came to town, Pam responds, “They wanted–they want– to take over Eric’s businesses. Witches want money as well as anyone, and they figure they can either take over the business, or make Eric pay to leave them alone.”
Chow took up the story to explain the terms Hallow offered. At first she demanded half of the business but after meeting Eric, she decided to settle for a fifth, if Eric would “entertain” her for seven nights. Sookie has enough sense to realize Chow’s story doesn’t add up and presses him to admit that Hallow’s curse only kicked in when he attacked her messenger.
Over the course of the novel, three times Sookie wonders if she’s getting the whole story. She eventually, and erroneously, decides that Hallow must also intend to sell Eric’s blood, which would fetch another $40,o00. Neither Pam’s story nor Sookie’s reasoning fully explain Hallow’s motivation. If it was money she wanted, she’d be praying on wealthy humans or at the very least, weaker targets than the vampire sheriff of Area 5. Selling Eric’s blood cannot be the cherry on the cake Sookie thinks it is since Eric’s cash value is minuscule compared to a fifth of his profits, which require him to be alive and productive. Hallow’s reduced offer to take a fifth instead of half indicates that, despite what Pam said, she is not motivated by money.
Hallow wants to get her hands on Eric, and it’s not just for sex. Sookie discovered her real motivation without realizing it when she was on reconnaissance counting brain patterns before the Witch War began. One of the thoughts she read was, “I want him dead.” Sookie was inside Hallow’s head, reading her thoughts. Hallow doesn’t want money, blood, or sex. She wants Eric dead. This is the only thing that fully explains why Hallow came to Shreveport and her single minded pursuit that even Sookie recognized as excessive.
The first clue about what is really going on between the Stonebrooks and the vampires is when Pam leaves the address of the nest she shares with Chow and Clancy on Sookie’s answering machine, 714 Parchman Avenue. There is no such street in Shreveport, but there is a Parchman Road in Sunflower County, Mississsippi. In fact, there are numerous Parchman Roads in Sunflower County. (Have I mentioned that sunflowers are a bad omen in True Blood?)
Apparently every road on the 18,000 acre Parchman Farm uses that name followed by a number. And what would Pam’s nest have to a farm in Mississippi? Well, Parchman Farm is no more just a farm than Pam’s house is an ordinary suburban ranch. It is the oldest prison in Mississippi. Originally built at the turn of the century to operate as a plantation penitentiary for young black men, over the decades it became the main prison in the state and the hub of the Mississippi prison system.
Referred to by William Faulker as ‘destination doom,’ Parchman is synonymous with brutality and looms large in the artistic imagination of southern musicians and writers. In O Brother, Where Art Thou? Parchman is the prison Everett Ulysses McGill and his companions escape from. Many Freedom Riders were housed at Parchman Farm, and Elvis’s father spent time there for check forgery in association with the sale of a pig.
Since the residents of Sunflower County didn’t want their home to be thought of as the death county of Mississipppi, executions were carried out in the county of conviction until the 1950s when a gas chamber was installed at Parchman. It was eventually replaced with an electric chair, which gave way as the means of execution in the 1980s to lethal injection. Edward Earl Johnson was executed at Parchman for the rape of an elderly woman and the murder of the police officer who answered her distress call. There are serious questions about his guilt and the investigation and prosecution of his case. It is curious that three True Blood characters share his names, especially since they were all created to be killed, without being killers themselves. Eddie was staked by Amy in season 1. Johnson was killed because Eric lost control of his temper, and Earl will be killed to save someone’s life.
In Dead to the World, after the Witch War when Sookie asks Pam why Hallow picked Shreveport, her answer is an enigmatic, “I’m going to find out.” Of course she is also going to ‘persuade’ Hallow to remove the curse on Eric and restore his memory. Pam set fire to Hallow’s bakery and flower shop immediately after the battle, so where exactly was Hallow ‘worked on’ til near dawn? The answer is that Pam took Hallow home to Parchman. The allusion to the nightmarish Mississippi prison reveals the location of Book Eric’s Dungeon of Doom. Pam, Chow, and Clancy are not just nest mates. They are the Area 5 prison guards…and more.
Book Eric is famous for telling Sookie that he may not reveal everything, but he always tells her the truth. Listen to what he has to say about Hallow’s motivation when he pays a final visit to Sookie at the end of the novel.
Her parents were jailed in Shreveport. They were witches, too, but they also ran confidence games of some kind, using their craft to make their victims more convinced of their sincerity. In Shreveport their luck ran out. The supernatural community refused to make any effort to get the older Stonebrooks out of jail. The woman ran afoul of a voodoo priestess while she was incarcerated, and the man ran afoul of a knife in some bathroom brawl.
Eric is not speaking about the human prison. Despite the supernatural community’s aversion to the Stonebrooks, they would have been obligated to keep them out of the human system and punish them some other way, like the werepanthers in Hot Shot. Hallow targeted Eric and wanted him dead because of what happened to her parents in the Dungeon of Doom, a.k.a. Pam’s Place. The elder Stonebrooks were incarcerated there by the sheriff of Area 5, and that’s where they died. Hallow was after vengeance, not money or sex.
In Part I of this series exploring The Merchant of Venice, the focus was on the tragedy of Shylock. Before going further, a synopsis of the plot is called for.
Bassanio, a charming party boy down on his luck, seeks to fill his coffers through marriage to the beautiful and learned Portia. As luck would have it, he also appears to love her, and she him.
Portia is an heiress who lives at her ancestral home, Belmont (Beautiful Mountain). She is honor bound to a promise she made to her father before he died. Any who wish to marry her must submit to a test. When presented with a gold, a silver, and a lead casket, the man who wins Portia’s hand and her fortune must choose the correct one.
Bassanio needs cash to finance his courtship of Portia. He turns to his dear friend, the merchant Antonio, for a loan, but all of Antonio’s ships are at sea, which means he is strapped for cash. Antonio tells Bassanio that if someone else will give him the loan, Antonino will guarantee it. This is where Shylock, the moneylender comes in. Although there is a history of animosity between him and Antonio, Shylock gives Bassanio the loan. If it is not repaid, the forfeit is a pound of Antonio’s flesh.
Bassanio takes the money and sets off for Belmont. He chooses the right casket and marries Portia; all is well. However, soon he gets word that Antonio’s ships are feared lost at sea and that he won’t be able to repay Bassanio’s loan. When Portia learns that her husband’s loan may cause the death of his friend, she immediately sends Bassanio with money to repay the loan twice over.
Because the due date is past, Shylock refuses repayment of the loan; he wants Antonio’s flesh. The civil law court is assembled to see the terms of the contract are carried out. When it looks like there is nothing that the justice system can do to save Antonio’s life, into the courtroom enters a brilliant young doctor of law who manages to save Antonio’s life because of a loophole in the law. This legal hero is actually Portia in disguise. In addition to saving Antonio, she ruins Shylock, and cons Bassanio before heading home. As Shylock comes to terms with the ramifications of the trial in Venice, Portia, Bassanio, Antonio, and their friends reunite and celebrate at Belmont.
Antonio, may be the protagonist of the play and Shylock the antagonist, but the the play from start to finish is really about Portia, the determined, daring heiress who is paradoxically also a dutiful daughter.
So, how does Portia relate to Sookie’s story? For Charlaine Harris to give her female lawyer this iconic name is no mere coincidence. Before the days when women made up more than half of the law school class, Portia was closely identified with female lawyers, so much so that the New England School of Law, which began in 1908 as a law school for women, was orignially named the Portia Law School.
Portia Bellefluer is Charlaine Harris’s homage to Shakespeare’s Portia. The aristocratic lady lawyer continues to live at her ancestral home, Belle Reve (Beautiful River), even after she marries. Like her namesake, Portia Bellefleur proved that she would do just about anything to keep her loved ones safe. She was even willing (gasp) to go undercover as a fangbanger and date Bill in an attempt to clear Andy of Lafayette’s murder.
There is an allusion to the original Portia in the first season of True Blood, too. Portia was a learned lady who had read the law on her own. In fact, she knew it so well that she was able to successfully impersonate a legal scholar and win her first and only legal case.
Rutina Wesley’s Tara is a smart, action oriented, strong woman who inexplicably loves Jason, a hedonist, not unlike Bassanio, who spends his free time drinking beer and chasing women. When the sheriff’s department brings Jason in for questioning during a murder investigation, Tara follows in Portia’s footsteps and marches into the station to confront the indifferent legal system and make sure that the man she loves doesn’t become a victim of the system.
Tara: Sheriff Dearborn. Andy. I hear you guys brought Jason in.
Tara: You charging him with anything?
Bud: Not yet, no.
Andy: Asking him some questions.
Tara: I assume he’s been properly Mirandized then.
Tara: Please tell me you have informed him that he has a right to have an attorney present.
Andy: Maybe. Doesn’t matter though cause he’s got you here now. (Andy chuckles.)
Tara: Is that funny because I’m a woman or because I’m a black woman?
Andy: I thought it was funny, you know, cuz you talk like a lawyer but you ain’t one.
Bud: How do you know all this anyway? You been taking night classes?
Tara: School is for white people looking for other white people to read to them. I figure I’d save my money and read to myself.
Jason comes out of the restroom.
Tara: I’m getting you out of here.
Andy: Like hell you are.
Tara: You charging him with anything?
Bud: She’s right. We can’t hold him.
To highlight the parallel between Tara and Portia, Andy cracks a joke about Tara playing the part of a lawyer. To paraphrase Andy, she talks like a lawyer even though she isn’t one, like Portia.
That brings us back to the Portia who really is a lawyer. Women in the legal profession may have come a long way, but Portia Bellefleur is no more than an empty shell of the original Portia. Not even Tara has the impact or importance in True Blood that Portia does in Merchant of Venice. Her presence is felt from the beginning to the end. She is the woman whose material wealth attracts a swarm of suitors, but who is also loved in her own right. She is the woman who gets drawn into the petty machinations going on in Venice because of the man she loves and leaves her beloved home to rescue him and his friend. She is the woman who has to take matters into her own hands because of an ineffectual justice system.
By now it should be clear that the real Portia is Sookie. She’s the one with a plethora of suitors, most of who are also not above using her material wealth, her telepathy (and blood), for their own purposes. After her disastrous relationship with Bill, she is the one who is careful to test her suitors before giving her heart away. She is the one who usually has to leave her beloved home because of political workings that she has no interest in. She is the one who saves not only those she loves but their associates, too. She is the one who finds true love with the most unlikely candidate.
Notice the impotent judges (officers of the court) sitting idly in the background as a man is about to be killed in front of them. (And that Antonio’s chair is a hybrid of Eric’s s1 and s3 thrones.)
Compare them to Renard Parish’s impotent officers of the law.
They are the reason Portia and Sookie have to take matters into their own hands.Part III, ‘Jessica, Shylock’s Daughter’
Be sure to read Sookieverse Blog’s review of Dead in the Family before proceeding with this post.
Alchemically Bill and Eric symbolize the warring couple, the chemicals sulphur (passionate, explosive, unpredictable, and willful) and mercury (dual natured, accommodating, passive, and wise). The characteristics associated with these metals are reflected in the way Bill and Eric interact with Sookie, even sexually. Since Eric is the vampire who takes Sookie from the white purified state to the red enlightened one, red is always associated with Eric. Alternately Bill is connected with darkness and the colors brown and black that characterize the nigredo stage of death and decomposition.
Allegorically since Eric is the Christ figure in the series, the color red is linked with him because of its association with both passion and blood.
Sookieverse points out that the only real color associated with Bill is the blue of the topaz earring that he gives to Sookie. Like everything else about Bill, this too is deceptive since topaz is not naturally blue. Blue topaz jewelry is actually made from pale yellow or gray topaz that has been irradiated, a fitting symbol of Bill’s fake persona. As the allegorical snake in the Garden of Eden who seduced the virgin, Bill is a master of disguise and an expert at deception.
The Sookie Stackhouse series is structured on an alchemical spiral similar to the Harry Potter novels. With each novel, Sookie completes the alchemical process by going through each stage: nigredo, albedo, and rubedo. This process transforms Sookie, ensuring that she is ready to successfully meet her next challenge in the upcoming book.
The alchemical journey to enlightenment begins with the black nigredostage. This is related to death and decomposition; it is the hot and dry phase. Sookie, as the prima materia, is psychologically broken down and goes through a spiritual and symbolic death. The nigredo stage in Dead Until Dark begins with Dawn Green’s death, the murder of light and life and the first murder to touch Sookie personally. From this point, the dark imagery and bodies start piling up, culminating with the murder of the four vampires and fangbanger in a fire. That conflagration marks the end of the nigredo stage.
The soggy remains of the fire the morning after indicate the beginning of the albedo stage. This stage is marked by the color white, cleansing, water, wetness, clear vision, focus, and determination. In this stage the prima materia is useful in creating silver.
Sookie believes that Bill is the unidentified vampire in Malcolm, Diane, and Liam’s nest. To give her something constructive to do, Sam insists that he and Sookie clean all the blinds, drapes, and windows in her house. Not only does this refer to the washing component of the albedo, it also points to Sookie’s ability in to see more clearly from now on. Sam makes a point to find the ammonia to begin the process because it was one of the chemicals used by medieval alchemists.
Later that night when Sookie spots Bill’s white arm coming out of the dark ground in the rain, the imagery is of the Pheonix rising to new life from the ashes. As they make love in the cemetery in the rain (the scent associated with the albedo), the imagery recalls that used by the classical Greeks to describe sex and fertility, the life giving rain falling on a newly plowed field. Sookie reinforces this when she describes herself being plowed into the mud by Bill. This sex between Bill and Sookie is life giving. He was dead but now is alive and brings her back to spiritual life. From this stage, Sookie is focused and knows how important Bill is to her.Her doubts are over, and she is totally committed to their relationship.
The white dress Sookie wears to Fangtasia is also representative of this stage. When Sookie tries to identify who has been embezzling Eric’s money, for the first time, she is able to use her gift in a productive way. This gives her the confidence to later use it to help identify the killer. This usefulness relates to the albedo stage being the first one that creates something of value, silver. The albedo stage must also include an affirmation of life after a near death encounter. This occurs when Eric stakes Long Shadow and saves Sookie’s life.
The rubedo stage occurs when what has been hidden is revealed and the alchemical marriage of opposites is seen. Short skinny white Kevin and tall meaty black Kenya waiting in Sookie’s hospital room provide the symbolic alchemical marriage. When Sookie regains consciousness after her battle with Rene, Kevin and Kenya reveal the truth of the killings and fill in the gaps in the narrative. There is also a budding alchemical romance between the widowed Dr. Sonntag and dumb as a stump J.B. du Rone. The flower arrangement that Sookie receives from Eric are also an indication of the rubedo stage. Not only is the central flower red, but the rubedo is associated with the scent of flowers.
Dead Until Dark ends with an appearance by the three characters who symbolize the three stages of the alchemical drama. Bill represents death and the nigredo stage. Eric represents eternal life as her savior and enlightenment for teaching Sookie that telephathy is a tool she can use to help others. The rubedo stage is symbolized by Sam, with his ruddy complexion and strawberry blond hair and the revelation of his true nature as a shifter. He is the red Sun King who will eventually unite with Sookie’s Moon Queen.
Sam and, in later books, other shifters and weres are used to mark the rubedo stage, but after DITF, I no longer believe that Sam is the Red King. DITF is the first novel in the overarching rubido phase. Sam’s golden red halo is shorn, and it is becoming increasingly clear that CH has switched the warring couple. Sookie is the Sun Queen and Eric is the Moon King who must resolved their differences and unite in the perfect marriage of opposites.