True Blood vs. Sookie Stackhouse Books

“True Blood,” a hit HBO series based on the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris, has been my guilty pleasure as soon as I saw an advertisement for it and for a second thought they really were trying to sell people synthetic blood. Instead, they were selling the show, of course, but for a moments, I was torn out of what I knew as reality and I liked it. Yes, it’s about vampires, and yes, there are lots of good looking people in it, but no, it is not “Twilight” for adults. Neither is it as deplorable as “Vampire Diaries.”

In case you aren’t yet a rabid fan of the show, here are some basics: Sookie Stackhouse, barmaid in Bon Temps, Louisiana, can read minds. She is tormented by this gift, because she has very poor control of it. A man walks into her bar and he is a blank. She is instantly attracted to the sound of nothing that she is getting from him. The reason his mind is not broadcasting to her, is because he is a vampire, but despite that, they fall madly in love. The world “True Blood” takes place in is much like our own, with one key difference. All the weird shit you read/heard about (barring outer space), is probably true, and it’s also pretty well organized. A Japanese corporation develops Tru Blood, a drink emulating the nutritional value and flavor of human blood, and bam! Vampires, who were real all along, can now leave the underworld and come into the limelight. The idea is that they no longer need to drink from humans and are therefore tame kittens that we no longer need to fear.

Obviously, with instinct of herd cattle around a wolf, human beings aren’t into the idea of vampires walking among them. Enter every story about an abused minority and apply it to vampires. “God Hates Fangs” says a billboard in the intro. So vampires are fighting for their rights, establishing themselves in the human society, and people are either trying to accept them or kill them. Enough for a show all in itself, right? Well, vampires aren’t the only boogiemen out there. As the show continues, weirdness amplifies, and Sookie Stackhouse is in the middle of it all.

Sookie and her boyfriend, Vampire Bill (or just Bill, or VB, whatever)

So I watched season 1. The driving plot point was a murderer loose in Bon Temps, who is out to kill anyone associating with vampires since he can’t get at the vampires themselves. The ending shocked me and almost made me cry. It was amazing. Eventually, season 2 started, and it was pretty good too. The seasons are about 12 episodes each and the wait is LOOONG, so I thought, hell! Why don’t I just grab the damn books then! I’m not scared of some printed materials, and I sure don’t feel like waiting.

Each book, and they are numerous, describes one season. Just to remind myself of what happened in season 2, and also to see how different the story is in the book, I picked up “Dead in Dallas.” The differences are huge. Apparently Lafayette, the beloved homosexual cook of Merlotte’s (bar where Sookie works), dies in the first chapter. I wasn’t surprised, even a few pages in I could already tell that he was not the colorful character I learned to look forward to on screen, but a bland stand in. OK, fine, he was obviously going nowhere anyway. What else is different? Well, Sookie is frigging boring and shallow. OK, fine, I can deal with that too. I mean, she is supposed to be a barmaid in a small town of Louisiana and I can work with a stereotype if I need to. Then it turns out… everyone is boring and shallow. And one-dimensional.

Where “True Blood” is populated by men, women (and miscellaneous) who are full of life and angst, and are all entangled in each others’ lives, “Dead in Dallas” spits the characters out at you in full force, each one of them is quickly defined for you, and then set to function in their sad little way.  No one taught Harris to “show, not just tell.”  They show up again throughout the book to play out some one-dimensional tripe, and are then forgotten. The  rich development I fell in lust with on screen was obviously due to creator Alan Ball, not creator Charlaine Harris.

Here come a ton of spoilers! Forget Lafaytte, he’s obviously taken on a life of his own in the show and is not ground for comparison. But lets take his cousin Tara. Tara on “True Blood” is a product of an abusive alcoholic mother who bonded with outcast Sookie whose grandmother took care of Tara when Tara’s own mother preferred to chase her around with a broken bottle. Tara is outspoken and angry and as fiercely loyal and loving as she is fucked in the head. In the second season she has already slept with Sookie’s boss Sam (who can’t make up his mind about things either, in some part due to being a shape shifter) and is now entangled with “Eggs,” a guy she met in what’s basically a cult of Dionysus. She is under mind-control via crazed maenead and is also working at Merlotte’s where she regularly gives people a piece of her mind. She is protective of Sookie and will do anything for her.

Now let’s take book Tara, who I finally stumble upon in the last few chapters of “Dead in Dallas.” First of all, book Tara appears to be white. The book doesn’t mention her race, which is why I know she’s white. Every black or Hispanic person is described as such. Tara is still dating a guy named “Eggs,” but it isn’t clear how they met, and that probably doesn’t matter anyway. Sookie sees them fleetingly at a football game when she goes out for a smidgen of normalcy. Later, it turns out Tara and Eggs are involved in this cult, but hell, you didn’t know anything about them before, so you can’t help your lack of giving a shit. The end. That’s it on Tara.

Another good example, nay! An excellent example of missed opportunities for plot development, is Jason Stackhouse, Sookie’s brother. In “Dead in Dallas,” Sookie infiltrates the Fellowship of the Sun, a cult mascarading as a church where the basis of worship is murdering vampires and their associates. In the book, she goes in, almost gets killed and raped, makes an ally and learns about an organization of shape-shifters, and then gets out. OK, not bad, right? In the show, Sookie shows up at the Fellowship, but has no idea that one of its latest recruits is her brother. Jason has been wary of vampires and did not approve of Bill. While he was still imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit in the previous season, Fellowship people approached him and insinuated the idea of vampires at the root of all his troubles. So Jason became a soldier of the sun and he felt good about it. He made friends, he fell in love, and then reality came crashing in on him when he realized that his sister is being hunted by the friends he just made. And a hard choice had to be made.

Another excellent idea the show producers had has been introduction of other couples. In the books, Sookie and Bill are initially the hot item, and are more or less the only item. No one else’s relationships are really discussed and Sookie and Bill seem to operate like this: Bill is hungry, he tears clothes off Sookie, drinks her blood and has sex with her. The next day Sookie would like to find out how Bill wants her to dress, so she dresses nice and slutty for him. He puts her in mortal danger and is then concerned, but fails to express said concern as anything other than lust. Rinse and repeat. I’m bored. Admittedly, even though their relationship is much more multidimensional in the show, they still bore me. In fact, the problem I now see with Anna Paquin as Sookie is that she is too perfect as the Sookie in the book. That means she is fairly bland, dressed in something skimpy, and can only think in one direction. Thankfully, the producers added Hoyt (friend of Jason’s, present in book as well but in no way explored) and Jessica (a new vampire Bill was forced to make as punishment who is fascinating in her own right probably due to the fact that she is not part of the book at all). The fledgling vampire and the sweet and awkward country boy try to do what they can to love each other without killing each other and their tenderness is palatable and also exactly what’s missing from Sookie and Bill.

So, watching “True Blood” is a guilty pleasure of mine. Which means that reading the Sookie Stackhouse books can hardly be elevated above just wasting my time. I feel as if I am feeding my brain processed crap of  no nutritional value that is going to go straight to fat. The writing style is full of short choppy sentences and very basic vocabulary. Occasionally Sookie will “emerge” out of a vehicle and someone has to “extricate” luggage, but there is a feel of a thesaurus to those sentences as they don’t match the rest of the book’s style at all and aren’t necessary in that context. The story is straightforward. There are mysteries around, but the story isn’t set up to taunt and drop hints throughout, finally giving you a satisfying ending. The mysteries are just parts of the overall plot that haven’t been gotten to, so it’s something surprising that you didn’t know about, but then you had no idea what you were missing until it was handed over to you on a silver platter.

Overall, I highly recommend you find a way to watch “True Blood.” The popularity of the show has made it easy enough to find episodes online if you lack HBO, or you can just go ahead and buy/rent seasons 1&2. I assure you, they’re worthwhile. As to the books, if you are in the mood for a breeze of a book about the supernatural where the overall plot is uncomplicated, but does suck you in by throwing mythical figures into the world, go ahead. Borrow them from your local library. Watch the show first though, so you don’t spoil it needlessly.

So what did I learn from this experiment in cross-media examination? Well, waiting for season three of “True Blood” does suck, but it IS worth it, considering the alternative.

    • eatthelemons
    • April 24th, 2010

    So I just finished “Dead in Dallas.” Yeah, I wrote a review before actually finishing the book. And now I feel that I was a bit harsh. I’ll rework the review to add in the fact that the books are a different, less mature and intricate take on a story, but the story did originate with Harris, and she deserves praise for it. I didn’t hate reading this book. It was relaxing, easy, and quick. Nothing wrong with that.

    • eatthelemons
    • June 16th, 2010

    OK, I take it back about taking things back. I’ve been reading the books and they’re just as flat and one-dimensional as ever. Although I have to give her props for the insane amount of details. Even though the details are usually mundane, it really makes the world real enough to pull you in and keep you turning pages.

    The show, in the meantime, is not even really following the books at this point, so reading them doesn’t seem to be giving much away. True Blood has evolved past the constraint of the Sookie Stackhouse books.

  1. Thanks so much for the review, I am a new fan of the show & am just in the middle of season 3, I was wondering if i should buy the books or not, i am thinking not & thats thanks to your review & my own personality it would bug me if things were different in the books then in the show I love. The books sound like they are mainly Bill and Sookie driven and I dont know about you but i am a huge Eric and Sookie fan so my hope is the two of them will get together, that really bothered me when you said in the book Bill raped Sookie i dont think I would want to read that either, I guess thats the problem with having a show/ movie based on books things change and its annoying.

      • eatthelemons
      • July 23rd, 2011

      you’re welcome. I sorta stopped watching after the second season but that’s because I don’t have cable. All I’ve seen was very different from the books though. And there is actually a Sookie/Eric book. Dead to the World, is dedicated to Eric losing his memory and becoming Sookie’s boyfriend until he got better.

    • Kelli
    • February 8th, 2012

    I’ve been reading reviews saying that the True Blood series is better than the books and I am absolutely shocked. Maybe it’s because I read all of the books first – but I personally think the show is pretty awful. I probably wouldn’t have bothered with the books if I had seen the show first – I’ve watched the first two seasons and can’t get over how truly horrific parts of it really are. Watching the whole MaryAnn BS made me want to gouge my eyes out – it was ridiculous – my impression that it was really just a way to excuse all the idiotic orgy scenes – really????? And the casting is completely wrong for several of the characters in my opinion – in particular Pam and Eric. And where is Bubba???? He’s in basically every book and nowhere to be seen on the show – huge disappointment. The ONLY thing about the show that I really like is they kept Lafayette – otherwise…not a fan. I realize this isn’t the popular opinion being posted but SOMEBODY had to say it :-o

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