The supernatural is one of my guilty pleasures. As a kid, I memorized Sleeping Beauty. As a young adult, I was addicted to Charmed. After that went off the air, I nursed that addiction through re-runs. Then I switched to True Blood. When I got arrested, I switched to the original Charlaine Harris series on which the HBO show is based. Frequently, when books are made into movies, the resulting cinema doesn’t quite live up to the expectations cast by the original work. That’s to be expected, though, because movies necessarily have such a condensed story line that many events and characters have to be omitted. With a television adaptation, though, the verdict as to which is better isn’t so clear cut. Television series not only have the time to portray the story lines depicted in the book, but by their nature they also have the time to develop additional story lines and characters. Usually in a book/televisual adaptation, I have a clear cut favorite. In this case, I do prefer the books — but only slightly. The TV series has a lot going for it, too. Here’s the breakdown of what’s better about the on-screen version and what’s better about the original on-paper version.
Better in the TV Series
1. The addition of Jessica. Jessica isn’t in the books. Granted, she wouldn’t be as useful to the narrative of the books because one of her major roles in the series is as a connection to Bill. When Bill doesn’t frequently become an asshole or act in completely inexplicable ways, it isn’t necessary to have a character who can give us some insight as to his likely motivation. In the books, Jessica’s non-existence is part of a trend regarding female vampires — there are barely any of them. Pam’s still there, but there’s no Jessica, Tara never becomes a vampire, there’s no Lilith, and there’s no Nora because Eric has a brother instead of a sister. (Intriguingly, that brother is former Tsarevitch Alexei Romanov.) There are some female vampires in the books, but not as many, and when they do appear their roles are not as significant. From a feminist standpoint, the addition of empowered fang-bearing women is certainly a plus in the TV series (although one could argue whether that is amplified or diminished by the general trollopy behavior Sookie exhibits on screen).
2. Tara is a more developed character. Tara’s appearances in the book are fairly rare. When we do meet her, she’s white, she’s straight, and she never becomes a vampire. She’s certainly not a professional fighter; in fact, she owns a clothing store, settles down, and gets knocked up. Having the wilder Tara character that we’re shown in the TV series actually adds to Sookie’s character in some ways. Her attraction to danger seems to have more context when we see that she’s always been drawn to potentially dangerous friends. On one level, their friendship would have been dangerous when they were growing up as interracial best friends in a part of the South that was still fairly bigoted at that time. Also, though, the fact that Tara does some pretty wild stuff herself — wild for a non-supernatural, at least — hints that maybe Sookie has always welcomed a hint of danger into her life.
3. The existence of Godric. Although we do meet Eric’s maker in the books, Godric is a more intriguing character than Eric’s literary vampire maker, Ocella. Godric is almost god-like in his goodness, but Ocella is nothing of the sort. While he’s not evil per se, it is uber-creepy that he began sleeping with the former Romanov Tsarevitch after turning him … which would have occurred when Alexei was 13. Ewww. Ocella isn’t as omnipotent as Godric seems to be, and in fact he can’t even consistently control a wimpy 100-year-old vampire. Aside from the fact that Godric is more awe-inspiringly powerful than his literary equivalent, his goodness helps provide additional context for Eric’s apparent transition to being a better person (albeit a dead one) after the first few seasons.
4. Sookie has light powers. Sookie doesn’t have light-emitting hands in the book. When she gets out of the myriad difficult situations in which she inevitably finds herself, she does so either with the help of others or with her own human wit and ability. That’s all good and fine, but the addition of light powers is an empowering strength.
5. There’s no Quinn. Quinn is a weretiger Sookie dates for about one book. He’s not a bad character or anything, but his presence feels slightly redundant. That is, he’s just not that different from Alcide and not simply because they’re both weres — after all, Eric and Bill are both vampires, but they’re so vastly different it doesn’t feel redundant in Sookie’s love life. Quinn feels like Alcide, part 2.
Better in the Books
1. Sookie isn’t a slut. The fact that Sookie basically turns into a supernatural slutbag in the TV series kind of diminishes things. The whole narrative starts to feel trashy at a certain point. Not so in the book! (Admittedly, most supernatural fiction isn’t exactly what you’d call highbrow, but it certainly helps when the main character doesn’t spread her little fairy legs for every non-living and two-natured thing that comes her way.) In both the book and the TV series, Sookie sleeps with Bill, Eric, and Alcide. In the books she also sleeps with Quinn, yet in the books she manages to do so without coming across as slutty, largely because she doesn’t go back and forth. She dates Bill, breaks up with him, dates Alcide, breaks up with him, dates Quinn, breaks up with him, dates Eric … you get the idea. However, in the books she actually doesn’t sleep with or seem to lust after anybody other than the person she is currently dating. She doesn’t have slip-ups where she goes and sleeps with an ex and she certainly doesn’t land herself in the unenviable position of having other people constantly walk in on her having sex. In the books, she simply comes across as a girl who happens to have the misfortune of living in the same small town as all of her exes.
2. The existence of roommate Amelia. Amelia is a witch who lives with Sookie for quite a while after the witches are introduced to the plotline. She’s not only funny, but she also helps out from time-t0-time with her witchcraft, which makes Sookie’s continuous string of escapes from mortal danger more believable. Plus, it’s completely hilarious that Amelia has a pet cat … who was once a boyfriend on whom she accidentally cast the wrong spell during some kinky witch sex.
3. Sookie and Eric are a couple. This is so clearly what almost every True Blood fans wants to have happen in the seventh season. In the books it does. Not just for one book, but for a long while. It’s immensely satisfying. ‘Nuff said.
4. Bill doesn’t get all evil. The initial betrayal that prompted Sookie to leave Bill is the same in the books as it is in the TV series, but on screen, Bill really turns into a complete dickwad for a few of the later seasons. Currently, producers say that they’re interested in showing that characters in this series can change — and not just into animals — so it seems that Bill will prove himself less dickwadish in the coming seventh season. In the books, though, he doesn’t need that kind of redemption. He doesn’t get all into the vampire supremacy movement, which never develops into a significant political movement at all in the books. He doesn’t try to kill Sookie after drinking Lilith’s blood — because the whole Lilith thing doesn’t happen. A lot of Bill’s asshole moments are absent from the books, which feels like something of a relief. Sookie always seems to have enough supernatural trouble on her hands that extra asshole moves on Bill’s part aren’t particularly necessary anyway. Plus, as viewers it’s kind of exhausting watching Bill yo-yo back and forth between asshole and good guy.
So that’s it. That’s my round-up — which do you like better, the books or the TV shows?