A few posts ago I promised a comparison of the first series of True Blood and the first novel of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series, Dead until Dark. The UK airing of True Blood has now finished and I thought I'd better get on with it before I forgot entirely.
The purpose of the comparison is, as with any of my reviews, to look at the elements of writing and how they were handled differently in each case. It is not to make a value judgement about the content. Disclaimer over, let's do it.
It's interesting to compare a single short novel with a TV series of 12 episodes. There is a lot more space for character development of minor characters and world building. Plus, the first tv series benefitted from several of the books in the series already being written. If anyone has read the later books, perhaps they can comment on whether developments in the novels were taken advantage of?
POV. Dead until Dark is written in first person, from the point of view of Sookie Stackhouse. True Blood has other povs. In this case I think it is good to have some insight into Bill's story - what's happening to him away from Sookie. This wasn't covered in the novel and while that didn't detract from the novel, it definitely added to the series. However, it appears that Bill didn't become a vampire official (I want to say sheriff, but I'm not sure that's right) in True Blood.
The additional pov characters also helped deliver deeper, more solid characters for True Blood. This is particularly true for Jason Stackhouse who is really quite flimsy in the book. His relationship to his sister seems to be kept the same but because we can see what's going on in his life that Sookie is not party to, he becomes a more sympathetic character.
There are several additional and enhanced characters in the TV series. Tara, who is my favourite, is completely absent from the book. (I don't know whether she appears in later books??) Lafayette, who I also like very much, is barely mentioned in the book and gets a fully developed role in the series. This is very much an improvement and gives the series a vehicle to explore social themes notably absent from the novel. Note to self: this highlights the limitations of first person pov in certain types of story. Also, I really hope that's not Lafayette's body in the back of Andy Bellefleur's car at the end of True Blood.
Sadly, my hopes that the reveal of the killer would be more effectively foreshadowed in True Blood have been dashed. Episode 11 has a couple of clues and there was one clue a little earlier on, so it's not come totally out of the blue as it did in the book. What I want from a whodunnit is to not be able to guess who the villain is, but to know that I could have worked it out when I'm given the answer. That really didn't happen in Dead until Dark; Sookie was being chased through the woods and I was all 'Rene? Really?' However, the lead up to Rene's attempt on Sookie's life was much better handled in the TV series.
I loved that Sookie got the kill. This happened in both the book and the tv series. Throughout both, Sookie is presented as a strong woman who can look after herself. In the last episode of True Blood both Sam and Bill try to come to her rescue and fail epically. Brilliant. Sookie Stackhouse, most unlikely feminist icon.
What the novel did better than the series though, was to put Bill, Jason and Sam much more convincingly in the frame for the murders. There was a point about three-quarters of the way through the book where I was thinking it really could turn out to be Sam. Bill and Jason were both serious contenders up until half way through. In True Blood, there was never any real suggestion that either Bill or Sam could have been the culprit. Andy Bellefleur's character/role was the only one that was downgraded for the series and I think that was a shame. His probing at Sam in particular never seemed very convincing.
Jason was clearly implicated at the beginning of the series but it never really came to anything. I do think that this was because he got to be a pov character and the trade off for his character development meant that he couldn't be convincingly implicated. I think it was worth it. Jason is far more entertaining in True Blood.
I feel I should say that I couldn't put Dead until Dark down. Whatever its many limitations, it was a compelling plot. And a worthwhile read; throughout I found myself thinking about how I would rewrite scenes to release their potential. Good for my development as a writer but there was always a sense of unrealised potential. I'm delighted that it was brought out so well in the tv series.
So, I can't wait for True Blood Season 2 in 2010 and in the meantime I'll slake my thirst with a couple more of the books.