Lives of the saints (and sinners)

Lives of the saints.jpg
Have you ever heard the word “hagiography”?  As I understand, it is the Christian concept of reading or telling the story of saints or holy men and women—describing their lives and activities and the ways in which they answer the call of their God to go beyond themselves to serve a greater purpose. The idea is that if we hear or read about these extraordinary people, we will be inspired to behave in a similar manner.  We become elevated by their example.

We do exactly the same thing in secular culture.  We read the biographies of great men and women, as told by others, and we read their autobiographies and memoirs with even more enthusiasm.  We somehow think that if we can do like they did or say what they said, we’ll be more like they are.  And I think this is fundamentally true.

However, I vastly prefer to take as my examples the heroes and heroines of my fantasy smut novels.  For one thing, their sex lives are way better, and they are willing to tell me all about it, which is just awesome.  Secondly, for some reason which I’m sure I’ll get around to exploring one of these days, I’m a lot more interested in make believe people than in the real deal.  I’m sure there’s a deep psychological explanation for this, but we’ll let that go for now.

In the event, I think it’s a much more Herculean feat to walk away from Vampire Bill if you’re Sookie Stackhouse than it would have been—and was—to tell some badboy treating me poorly to go pound sand. In the past, I was fairly inclined to accept bad behavior because I was afraid no one would want me or have me, or some such insecure drivel that seemed critical al the time.

But Sookie, of True Blood fame, one of the greatest protagonists ever created by the tremendously talented Charlaine Harris, Sookie, who’d been a virgin before her vampire lover, was able to walk away.  Even though, as a vampire, Bill was sexually tireless, endlessly creative and had a bite that could send women over the cliff of a world-stopping orgasm.  Even though she wasn’t certain she’d ever have another lover whose mind she couldn’t read (it’s a real mood killer, Sookie explains, to stay in the sexual moment when your partner is thinking that your rear end is a tad too big for his taste—totally!). When you look at it like that, my own fears and insecurities pale by comparison and her strength of character, her integrity and the power of her will are truly inspiring.

I’d be lying if I told you that I never thought about Sookie doing the hard thing and walking away from Bill after she decides she needs some time to figure out whether the relationship is good for her or just intensely pleasurable (and no, I’ve learned, those aren’t the same things). Wouldn’t we all have done well at certain points in our lives to have asked ourselves the same question, and, more importantly, acted on it?

I also think about Sookie breaking her blood bond to the white-hot Viking vampire, Eric (and doesn’t that description just do it for you?!) because she wants to make sure her feelings are real and her own, rather than being magically altered or enhanced.  In truth, I must admit that I questioned Sookie’s sanity just a bit with that one—after all, who really cares whether you get butterflies in your stomach and damp down below when confronted by a blond Adonis who claims to love you because he put a spell on you?  At first glance, not me, I can tell you that much.  But I like Sookie and I admire her, so her actions made me think—maybe her decision to cut the blood bond makes sense if living in reality rather than fantasy is the goal.

And isn’t that interesting--a fictional character whose premium on authenticity makes me question my own blithe discounting of the same. Maybe I have something to learn from Ms. Stackhouse after all—someone who is not real—about that which is real and a better way of negotiating it.

The bottom line here is that reading about Sookie’s life and getting into her head through a first-person narrative, makes me want to be a better person who makes superior decisions and behaves with integrity.

Kind of like the concept of I started with—hagiography. But instead of reading about the saints, I get to read about the sinners. Way more fun, if you ask me.