13 Sep 2011

Page vs Screen: True Blood S4 vs Dead To The World

Well, the fourth season of True Blood has just finished, giving me the perfect occasion to inaugurate my Page vs Screen series! (am trying to forget I had planned to inaugurate it with Game of Thrones, and then Harry Potter and then... oops!)

True Blood is based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris. I'm not going to go into details concerning the previous seasons/novels, but in general each season is more or less loosely based on one novel (there are 11 books so far, will the series go 11 seasons?). The first season is the one that was closest to its respective novel - Dead Until Dark -, whereas the second season started to veer away from the novel (Living Dead In Dallas) and develop its own storyline parallel to the main action (i.e. Maryanne in Bon Temps) and then the third season just... woah! Major changes (deaths!!! some that should have taken place in later novels) and surprises to the principal plot from the novel (Club Dead)!!! Warning: some spoilers (for books and series) to be expected.

In general, all the main characters are pretty much the same as in the novels (Sookie, Bill, Eric, Jason, Sam, Pam, Alcide...). Where things really changed in the TV series (other than the variations on the plots) was in the development of the secondary characters (Tara, Lafayette, Terry, Arlene, Hoyt, Holly, Tommy...) and introduction of new ones (Jessica!!! Jesus). I think this is in great part due to the nature of the beast: screen vs page. The books are all narrated by Sookie, so all in the 1st person and the story is seen almost exclusively from her point of view. So the secondary characters don't get much development unless they interact with her directly. That wouldn't work as well on TV. Quite frankly it's one of the aspects I disliked the most from the books and the single major change that I think makes the TV series so much better than the books: the rich world of Bon Temps brought to life by all the secondary (and some major) characters (inhabited by some fabulous actors)! I can't imagine that place without Lafayette or Tara, and the first gets killed at the start of the second novel and the second just zips in and out of the action in several of the books.

On to Season Four of True Blood!

Straight off the bat we know things are going to be very different from the book: 

  • Sookie and fairies?!?!?! Her five minutes in fairy land equals a year for everyone else and she's been presumed dead?!?!?! The fairy story (which gets all of half an episode here) is straight out of several of the books: yes she has a fairy godmother named Claudine (who isn't supposed to die until several books later), yes she's part fairy (1/8), yes there are some fairies who want to close off all contact with the human world. But NO there's no reason why her grandfather should be in there... unless it's her real grandfather the 1/2 fairy and not Adele Stackhouse's human husband (don't ask). Oh, and NO she doesn't have any powers except for the mind reading thing (Jason's fairy inheritance has to do with his being so irresistible to women)

Claudine brings Sookie to Fairy land
  • Bill is KING?!?!?! HUH??? Ok, we knew things would be changing when we saw Bill jumping the Queen of Louisiana at the end of season 3 to protect Sookie, but I never imagined this! I kind of like it though! It helps keep him in the thick of things, which is good for all the Bill fans because as of this book he was relegated to secondary character status.

And that's just in the first episode! Dead To The World is all about a group of (mostly) werewolf witches who move into Shreveport and try to take over some of the supernatural businesses. Their leader Marnie "Hallow" takes a shine to Eric and tries to get even more from him. The apparent result of his refusing her is his being cursed and ends up wandering around with no memory of who he is or his former life. Sookie finds him on her way home from a New Year's Eve party (very beginning of the book) and takes him in and keeps him safe at Pam's request (in exchange for a large sum of money, compensation which Jason negotiated for her). Eventually vampires and werewolves and witches team up and take the witches down. And while all this is going down Jason's been held captive by some of the werepanthers in Hotshot.

Season 4 of True Blood takes the main thread of this narrative - witch trouble - and then pretty much changes everything else! Of which some of the major changes are:

Marnie channelling Antonia
  • No werewolf witches: just a bunch of amateurs under the thumb of a woman (they kept the name, Marnie) who can channel a dead witch (Antonia Gavilán de Logroño!) who was burnt by vampires during the Inquisition and wants revenge. They even mix in Tara and Lafayette (via witch Jesus) into this mess! Note: I loved the idea of vampires infiltrating the Inquisition and using it to root out their witch enemies, brilliant thinking!
  • Witches trying to take over the town isn't the main problem here, it's necromancer witches! In other words they have control of the dead (can make them do whatever they want, with some rather comic results), and since vampires are essentially walking dead... oops! 
a rotting Pam
  • Pam gets cursed too!!! With some very amusing (albeit slightly gross)  consequences. ;o)
  • No teaming up of various supes to deal with the witches. Just our favourite four vampires and Sookie, with some help from Jesus. 

the vamp squad, ready to take down those pesky witches!
  • Alcide joins the Shreveport werepack reluctantly instead of being an already trusted member.
  • Jason is only kept captive for a short while in Hotshot (to be used as "ghost daddy" to a new generation of werepanthers) but then manages to escape, terrified that at the next full moon he himself will be a werepanther (in the books yes, on the show no). Very glad he's back as he's responsible for most of the fun on this show!
  • Speaking of Jason: he's a COP!!!

Jessica&Hoyt: adorable yet not meant to be?
Most of the rest of the new stuff has to do with characters unique to the series (or who are barely a footnote in the books): Jessica and Hoyt's relationship problems, Jesus and Lafayette's delving into magic, Terry and Arlene and the whole creepy baby storyline, Andy Bellefleur (he's sheriff???) and the damn V story, Nan from the AVL, Tommy and Mrs Fortenberry and Sam, Sam and Luna and Luna's ex the leader of the Shreveport werewolf pack. 

The key points that were kept from the book (and that I think most fans wanted to see) were the Sookie and Eric relationship (enabled by his memory loss) 

amnesiac vampire can't remember why he likes her so much

and Alcide and jealous, untrustworthy Debbie. 

seriously Alcide??? again???

Although I must say that Alcide's abjuring of Debbie carried MUCH more impact in the book, in the series you don't quite realise how serious it is... basically it means she no longer exists to him. He will ignore her and any reference to her and their history together from now on. The consequences of this for Sookie also play out similarly in the book and series, with one slight jaw-dropping change. *sob*

Then there's the fact that the novels always wrap things up nicely, whereas the series has prefect the cliffhanger. Each of our characters has a "oh shit!" moment right as the screen goes to black: Bill and Eric with Nan, Sookie and Tara, Jason and an old "friend" who's changed quite a bit, Sam being visited by a werewolf, Alcide looking at a hole where someone nasty used to be buried... even Pam crying in Ginger's arms (who'da thunk it?). So bring on Season 5!!! I find myself wondering how much it can have in common with Dead As A Doornail, since most of the action on that novel can't take place in the series due to characters being dead (Calvin Norris), or completely different (Tara with a vampire? hell no!). I guess they can include the rivalries for leader of the werewolf pack (but centre it on Alcide instead of his father) and the Fellowship of the Sun hunting shifters...

So, what's your take on all this? Have you been watching the series? Read the books? Which do you prefer? Things have changed so much I'd probably say it's almost impossible to compare them, except for the fact that from the very beginning I've found the TV series to be much more interesting (and better crafted) than the books (I only re-read the book so I could write this post), and this one is no different. And that's despite my not being totally convinced by this season's various story-lines. But I will be back next year for more. ;o)


  1. I like both - I used to prefer the TV series, which I saw first, and maybe it still has the edge, but somewhat surprisingly, the books are actually less soppy at this point! Mostly I love that they're so different, as you get the best of both worlds - but equally, I love that the TV show tends to know where to draw the line, and which book plots they absolutely have to do.

    I'm sure they're going to veer even further off the books next season though, as otherwise there'd be practically no vampires in it - and they can't do Book 6 as they've killed off or otherwise changed all the requisite characters.

    Oh and I love King Bill - such a genius solution to the fact he basically disappears for several books!

  2. I haven't done either: read the books OR watched the series, so I'm useless on this one, Cris. I just had to say thanks for all the effort you put into writing this!

  3. I haven't watched the tv series, but I did read the first book. Wasn't there an Elvis vampire? Or am I thinking of a different series?

  4. Juliette: very true, the books have gotten A LOT better with the past couple of outings! I don't think anyone can imagine a series called "True Blood" without vampires so yeah, I get the feeling they're going to veer further and further away from the books... or else skip to the King of Nevada. ;o)

    DJan: thanks for that! This is definitely a series for a niche audience... sometimes I'm surprised I still watch it! One of my friends gave up on it last year 'cause she got tired of all the blood (which I usually manage to ignore).

  5. Kim: nope, this is the right series! The Elvis vampire is Bubba, a running gag throughout the series (he's "not quite there" because he wasn't "brought over properly" because he was almost completely dead plus drugged). He's actually the character from the books that I miss the most in the series, but the series creators explained early on that they wouldn't include him because it would be too complicated or something.
    I also stopped reading this series after the first book (which I only picked up out of curiosity after having seen the 1st season on TV), but ended up reading the lot of them when my sister asked me to get them for her for her birthday. They're very entertaining (if sometimes a bit cringe-inducing). But the series is a whole lot better! Unless you can't stand blood and guts... :p

  6. Hey, CrazyCris -- good comparison, and I agree with all of it. Very nice job.


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