written by David Steffen
Now that I have seen the entire True Blood TV series and all of the Sookie Stackhouse novels that they were based on, I have been thinking about the differences between the two and was thinking about writing up a post. This is certainly not intended to be an exhaustive list–there could easily be a book written listing out all the differences, especially since after the first few books/seasons, the two plots diverge wildly in almost every respect. So, I am only going to note a limited number, and the ones which I found the most striking, because I find it interesting to compare adaptations of a fictional universe to different media formats.
Obviously, this will be spoiler rich, as I will be covering some major plot points for the entire run of both the TV and book series.
Except for a few rare exceptions, mostly in the last book, the Sookie Stackhouse novels stick entirely with Sookie Stackhouse’s point of view. That means that anything the reader knows, Sookie has to either experience or hear someone else’s telling.
The TV series, on the other hand, shifts to different characters frequently. This gives the cast of characters much stronger backgrounds, as we see flashbacks from Sam Merlotte, we find out about Tara Thornton’s childhood, we see romantic trysts that Sookie isn’t even aware of, we see occurrences at the highest level of vampire government that Sookie will never know about. Often this is used for dramatic tension, ending a scene with one character with a cliffhanger moment and then swapping to another character to let the viewer stew a bit.
Nothing wrong with either way of telling a story, certainly. But the books are much more clearly just the story of Sookie, while the TV show is the story of ensemble cast.
2. Scale of Conflicts
In the books, many of the conflicts are on a small-scale personal or very local level. In the TV show, especially as the series progresses, many of the conflicts are on a world-stakes kind of level.
This is probably partly a consequence of the multiple POVs of the TV show, as we can see what various players are doing all over the place there, while in the books we can only see what one character who is not directly involved in major world-scale planning for either humans or vampires can see.
3. Missing/Added Characters
There are many characters who were either added just for the TV show, or which were omitted in the TV show adaptation. Too many to be worth listing (if I thought I could even remember them!)
But there were a couple ones I thought particularly notable:
Bubba, in the books, is the vampire who had once been Elvis Presley. He had died like he had in our world, but the vampire working at the morgue had been a huge fan and had raised Elvis even though Elvis had really been too far gone to be fully recoverable. As a consequence, he is sort of brain-damaged, with little memory of who he used to be, and with a penchant for cat blood. He doesn’t like to be reminded of who he was, hence the name Bubba, (though we never actually get to see him freak out in the series, the implication is that if he is reminded he becomes very violent) but occasionally will sing for people, at which point he is every bit as talented as he had been in life. The oddest thing about his character, which I thought was never explored as fully as it could’ve been, is that apparently because of Bubba’s nature being sort of a broken vampire, at least one of the vampire rules does not apply to him. He can enter homes without an invitation. This happens several times in the series before it is pointed out in the narrative–I spotted it as it happened and thought it might’ve been a writing mistake, and maybe it was one that Harris corrected later? In any case, I thought that detail begged more investigation–is the barring of entering a home somehow a psychological block common to all vampires, and somehow because Bubba is mentally handicapped he is lacking the block?
Jessica Hamby is a character invented entirely for the TV show. When Sookie spotted Eric’s embezzling bartender Long Shadow, the accused tried to kill her and Bill staked Long Shadow to defend her. As punishment for murdering a vampire, Bill was sentenced by the Vampire Authority to make a new vampire, and was given a high school girl who had snuck out after curfew. He carried out the sentence and so had to raise Jessica, who soon takes to the life of freedom compared to her oppressive Catholic parents. She continues to be a major character for the rest of the series, including romantic relationships with Hoyt Fortenberry and Jason Stackhouse. She is a particularly interesting character in the series because she is the only “baby vamp” we get to follow very closely in either incarnation–as she struggles with her newfound vampire bloodlust she has to decide where she wants to place boundaries on herself, and if she wants to be romantically involved with humans, how she can work that out with her more primal vampire nature.
4. Sookie’s Romantic Relationships
Both the book series and the TV series begin with Sookie’s romantic interest in Bill. He is the first vampire she meets, and much of it is the newfound novelty of meeting someone whose mind is not an open book to her (there are other reasons too, but that’s the biggest one). In both series, she ends up hooking up with Eric, first while his memory is missing (thanks to a witch curse) and then later without the amnesia.
In the books, she also hooks up with Quinn, a weretiger for a few books(who is not a character in the TV series, I don’t think, unless he’s a very minor bit part I didn’t notice), but ended up breaking up with him because he is too unreliable because of issues with his mother requiring his attention and repeatedly drawing him into bad situations.
In the show, she dates Alcide Herveaux for quite a while. In the books there is some romantic interest between the two, but they never really become close like they do in the show, in large part because Alcide constantly calls on her for one-sided favors without even doing her the courtesy of explaining the situation.
In the show she realizes that her distance in other relationships is that she never really got over Bill, but Bill wasn’t right for her, but his constant presence has always made her second-guess herself. In the last episodes of the series, Bill has advanced far enough in Hep-V that he has reached a stage where he has apparently started to become sort of human again, to the point where Sookie can read his thoughts. He asks her to help him die, and she does so. The final scene of the show then jumps ahead into the future, with Sookie at a dinner party, pregnant and with a boyfriend/husband whose face we never even get to see, so we know she ends up with someone in that time, but we don’t know anything about him. Although it was disappointing to not even get to meet the guy, it was good to see her move on from being trapped in that loop of a relationship.
In the books she ends up in a relationship with Sam Merlotte, triggered in part by her using her cluviel dor artifact to save his life when he would certainly have died. This was one of the more satisfying differences in favor of the book, because there was always some tension between the two that never really got to be resolved until that final book, and they were always such good friends, sharing secrets with each other that almost no one else knows.
5. Jason’s Change
In both versions, Jason is held captive by the interbreeding family of werepanthers of Hot Shot, and Jason suffers some bites from them and wonders if he will become a werepanther.
In the books, he does! Bitten were-animals are different from genetic were-animals, only able to half-transform into animal forms, and they end up weaker, but he becomes a werepanther of a sort, joins the family of Hot Shot somewhat informally, and has to deal with his new state of being for the rest of his life.
When something like this happens in the show, the readers know he will become a werepanther. But they’re wrong. Nope, in the show’s version of the universe, that’s not how it works–bites don’t transfer the were-ness of a were-animal. So Jason’s still a regular human.
6. The Maenad’s First Victim
In the second book, a super-powerful creature known as a maenad visits Bon Temps, holding huge drunken orgy parties and murdering people, poisoning Sookie. One of the first signs of her involvement is a corpse in Andy Bellifleur’s car found behind Merlotte’s–the corpse of Lafayette Reynolds, part-time cook at Merlotte’s who had been Sookie’s friend, and who had attended some of the maenad’s parties and was apparently murdered there.
Where this gets really interesting, if you think of alternate adaptations of fictional worlds , is that the show starts out appearing to be happening the same way. The corpse is discovered in Andy’s car behind Merlotte’s, and the viewer can see a dark-skinned foot with painted nails sticking out of the back seat. Sookie screams, and that’s the end of season 1, leaving the viewers on that cliffhanger until next season.
Now of course, the faithful readers of the Sookie Stackhouse novels are smugly saying to themselves that they know who the victim was, recalling Lafayette’s death in the books (the dark skinned foot with nail polish meshes with that because Lafayette does wear makeup). BUT THEY’RE WRONG. In another switcharoo, even bigger than the last one, it is a different character entirely–a scam artist who pretends to be a witch, selling exorcisms and the like (which might sometimes work). Lafayette is still alive, and in fact lives through the rest of the series and is one of the more interesting characters in the series, and even develops powers as a medium to talk to spirits, especially as a rare gay black man, something you don’t see represented too often in science fiction and fantasy. Having read the books after watching the show, I was very disappointed at Lafayette’s death without him having played more than a background role.