Thursday, July 30, 2009

There's More to Sookie Stackhouse Than True Blood

While hanging out with friends last night, I realized that I haven't written about Charlaine Harris & her oh-so-fabulous Sookie Stackhouse series. Many may know them as the "True Blood" books, but let me assure you -- they are much more than just HBO's hit series True Blood lets on. That said, let me also state very clearly that True Blood is fantastic. It's sexy and smart and keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat exciting. And some of the characters and storylines are the same. But True Blood and the Sookie Stackhouse series are not one and the same.

The realization of what I had left out came to me last night because we were mid-discussion on all topics Sookie.

"But does she ever get with that hot wolf guy?" one friend asked.

"What ever happens to that other mind reader she met?" another said.

"Jason is so hot," sighed another. (She was talking about the series, not the books.)

As they squabbled over who had which copy and who was ready for book #5, (two people at once, causing somewhat of a problem -- one may have to go buy it rather than borrow from the community pile!) I thought about Sookie and friends, and it made me wonder why exactly we're all so infatuated with them.

I've never liked vampires (at least, prior to True Blood and Twilight). I haven't read any Anne Rice novels. I've never even watched Interview With a Vampire or the old-school version of Dracula. But for some reason True Blood caught my eye last season, and I've been addicted ever since. Let me also issue a disclaimer here and say that I like Stephenie Meyer and Twilight. But I'll let you in on a secret.... I like Sookie Stackhouse better.

After much conversation on the topic of Twilight vs. True Blood, I've decided that I like TB better because it's a tad bit more grown-up. Twilight is all teen angst and puppy love. True Blood is something entirely different. It's multi-layered (well, there ARE nine books). There are main plotlines and side plotlines. There are sub-plotlines within sub-plotlines. New characters are introduced in each book, and Harris usually carries them over to the next book and the next. And... they are grown ups. Let's face it. Twilight is interesting and all -- vampires sparkle in the sunlight. They play softball during thunderstorms so that mortals can't hear the enormous crack of the bat hitting ball. Twilight is the realm of the romantic vampire. So romantic, in fact, that Bella and Edward can hardly kiss before he has to stop her. And Bella wants to become a vampire. Sookie? Now way. She and Bill (and others, later) definitely kiss. As much as they want. And more. Sookie (and others) and bitten multiple times. Blood runs in Bon Temps. Vampires are scary and brutal, and unlike Bella, Sookie Stackhouse wants none of what Harris' vampires have to face.

So why should you read the books instead of simply watching HBO? The novels are different from the series because Harris has so much more freedom than HBO does. HBO without freedom might seem like an odd statement -- after all, they're known for being independent in their programming, and to some degree that is absolutely true. TB could never play on major networks such as NBC or CBS. The WB's Vampire Diaries debuting in the fall will probably be a milder show than TB. But HBO, with all its freedom, still has to cater to its audience. And that simply might not include all of the things Harris has written about in the series. HBO has to streamline the plot, for one thing. They have to produce separate episodes which both tell their own story and fit into the entire season. The difference in format alone makes the television show different from the novels. The number of characters who are examined is also different. While in the books, Harris has the freedom to give background on every waitress in Merlotte's, in TB producer Alan Ball is faced with giving the viewer just what they need to know to make the show make sense. It would take hours to create even a chapter of a novel on screen if every detail was shared with the viewer.

My final opinion? Watch True Blood. Read the Twilight series. But buy the Sookie Stackhouse books. Your friends will want to borrow them, and you'll want to thumb through them as new episodes of TB appear on HBO so that you can compare book to television.

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