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Alan Ball's 'True Blood' vs. Charlaine Harris's 'Dead Until Dark'

Trueblood  You know how they always say the book is better than the movie? Turns out the same can't be said for television series.



I finally jumped on the True Blood bandwagon a few weeks ago while I was cooped up at my parents' farm with nothing better to do than watch a bunch of bayou dwellers fuck and suck each other. I enjoyed the first season so much that I immediately watched it again with my husband and got the first of the Southern Vampire Mysteries series, aka The Sookie Stackhouse Novels, by Charlaine Harris.

And while I certainly was not expecting anything Faulknerian about Dead Until Dark, I am still reeling from what a turd that book was. Finishing it while revisiting the first season of True Blood—which follows the central plot of Dead Until Dark reasonably faithfully—only made that turd stinkier. Basically, it turns out that everything that is particularly awesome about True Blood bears the stamp of Alan Ball. 

**There be spoilers ahead, so if you have not yet watched True Blood or read Dead Until Dark, consider yourself warned.**

Lafayette1
 
Characters:
Okay, so you know how the best characters on True Blood are Tara and Lafayette? Don't argue with me, they just are. Well, Tara isn't even in Dead Until Dark, and Lafayette is a throwaway character that is basically "gay black fry cook who wears make-up." Everything about Lafayette that is bad-ass is pure Alan Ball.

As for the principle characters, Beel and Sookeh have far more chemistry on True Blood than on a single page of Dead Until Dark. On True Blood, you at least get the impression that Sookie likes Bill. In the book, she mostly seems irritated with him when she's not fucking him, and is completely dense about his feelings for her because she's gotten so used to reading people's minds that she's incapable of reading body language or actions. I guess what it boils down to is that I like True Blood Sookie, but I can't stand Dead Until Dark Sookie.

Score -  Alan Ball: 1, Charlaine Harris: 0
 
Rene_sookie
 
Plot: So the central story of season one is that there's some dude killing fangbangers in Bon Temps, right? Well, that's the central story of Dead Until Dark, too. The killer is the same in both, but Rene Lenier is a very different character on True Blood than in Dead Until Dark. First of all, he's actually a developed character on True Blood. You get the sense of him as a real likable dude rather than just some guy. Changing his history to make him a drifter from another town bearing a false identity and accent to match? And changing his fate to the grisly one he meets at the point of a shovel? All Alan Ball.

Then you have all the subplots of True Blood: Jason's V addiction, his fucked up relationship with Amy Burley (a throwaway character in the book), the relationships between Sam and Tara and Tara and her mother, and Lafayette's entrepreneurship. In the book, time that might have been spent developing supporting characters and their stories was instead used to describe Sookie's totally dated hair accessories and denim dresses.

Score -  Alan Ball: 2, Charlaine Harris: Zip

True-blood-sex
 
Sex: The sex is waaaay hotter in True Blood. I have read some pretty hot sex scenes in my day, but Charlaine Harris did not write them.

Score - Alan Ball: 3, Charlaine Harris: Nada

Fellowship-of-the-Sun-true-blood-2966013-800-600
 
Themes: The thing I love so much about True Blood (other than all the totally hot sex of course), is that it uses vampires to delve deep into our cultural attitudes about sex, addiction and religion. True Blood takes Charlaine Harris's throwaway line about vampires "coming out of the coffin" and draws a parallel between vampires and queers living openly in "mainstream" society. True Blood also reveals a conflict within the vampire community, juxtaposing vampires who wish to mainstream with those who see mainstreaming as an affront to their way of life. This parallels a similar assimilationist-vs.-liberationist dichotomy in the queer community, and Alan Ball effectively develops an allegory for that conflict. If there are deeper themes such as that in the Sookie Stackhouse novels, they certainly aren't in Dead Until Dark.

Score - Alan Ball: 4, Charlaine Harris: Zilch

In summation, if you're a fan of True Blood for any of the reasons I mentioned and haven't yet read one of Harris's books, I recommend you skip them altogether, sit back, and enjoy the show.







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Comments

Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah

Thank you. I loathed "Dead Until Dark" when Bubba was introduced I would have thrown the book in the garbage can had I not been reading it on my iPhone.

I loved the first season of "True Blood" but after that it lost me.

Kim

I love the TV series, and was going to read the books. Then I read a couple pages on Amazon.com and decided that the books had to suck, no pun intended :) I'm glad I didn't waste the money on the books now. Can't wait for season 3 to start!

Fiona

I listened to all the audiobooks last summer as a way to escape from my brain numbing job, and the main thing that I learned is that every time the plot gets stale, if you introduce a new love interest, a new species or a new death, that will make everything better. Fleshed out characters and witty dialog are overrated. All you need is sex and violence, and anything can be explained with magic.

That said, there are some story lines in the books that I'm really hoping are interpreted by the series. It will be interesting to see how close it stays to the books.

Anne

I agree with the awesomeness of season 1, but I just need to comment after having read the whole series of books, that some of what Alan Ball introduces in season 1 is actually from books later in the series. The Fellowship of the Sun is a major part of book 2. The issues about vamps staying "in the closet" is address more as well later in the series, as well as other parallels to real social issues. And the sex scenes get better in the books too! I haven't watched Season 2 yet, but I know that they pull some characters from later in the series into that season as well. So, you might want to keep reading before giving up on the books completely. But don't get me wrong, I love what they've done with the show. Keeps it entertaining if you've already read the books and know what supposed to happen!

Tuesday

In my opinion i love the show and the books. Alan Ball is a genius in his way of going with the show, and Charlaine Harris is a genius in her way of going with the books. I loev the show a wee bit more though just cause you can actually watch it and it's exciting. The books are exciting too. I love them both ;)

sassystitcher

I love the show and started reading the books after season 2. The first couple confused because they weren't like the show, but I kept reading because I just like books. In the books, I really just love Eric. And I wish the Eric on TV was more like the Eric in the books. My friend who watches and hasn't read and I have discussed (read: talked loudly with strong opinions) Eric's character at length. She likes the TV one...I think he should be more like the book. Maybe Alan Ball could make a spin-off series about just Eric and stick in more details...and more sex? Some of those scenes were worth reading more than once ;)

march

I have to agree on everything, and I read all the books except #8, I am so glad that Alan Ball has gone his own way with this series, to me the the tv series is much better than the books.

Amalah

Dead Until Dark was my least favorite book of the series. BUT! I love the fact that I can read the books and watch the show, and basically get two entirely different takes on the same characters, universe (and even basic plots) without feeling like I'm spoiling either. The show is more my usual style (not a big paperback mystery/romance reader), but the books really grew on me. I'd actually say it's kind of unfair to even compare the two, and I can't think of a another book-to-tv/movie adaptation where that's happened. (Except maybe Adaptation/Orchid Thief?)

Though I must agree with several people above me: Book Eric is so goddamn sexy. So. Goddamn. Sexy.

Snarky Amber


I think the best analog would be Dexter and the Dexter Darkly Dreaming books.

Jessi

I don't think it's fair to judge based on the first book of the series. It's not the strongest. That said, I really love the book series, but I don't love it nearly as much as Harris' Grave series, and I've only seen an episode or two of the TV series.

Rhonda

Yeah. I watched season one then read the first book and was bored/underwhelmed with the book. It’s not a great book, plus I hate watching a movie/show and then reading the book. I must do it the other way around. I kept reading though mainly because I got the first seven books on a smoking Amazon deal. By book three I was in lurve with the book series. Seriously. Love. Eric is…well he’s better then chocolate. So you may want to keep going.

Although, as much as I love the book series I’m starting to worry that Charlaine has jumped the $hark and the books are kind of going downhill since book seven. I’m honestly hoping she wraps up the series. It sucks that these authors keep milking the cash cow and releasing more and more books instead of wrapping it up with integrity for the series and characters. But alas that’s another post. BTW here is a release of book 10’s first chapter (book coming in May) Dead in the Family: http://www.charlaineharris.com/DITFChpt1.pdf

Suzy Q

And yet, there would probably be no "True Blood" without the books. I find it interesting that you choose to bash a writer, and a successful one at that. (No, I haven't read the books and yes, I love the series.)

Lena

The first book isn't the strongest; it actually didn't enthrall me much into wanting to read it until about halfway through. And then it was still kind of, "Okay. That was alright."

Trust me, it gets better.

It took me about 2 weeks to get through the first book...and then once I started book 2, I read the whole series in a week. So please don't judge it solely on the Dead until Dark!

(And PS maybe Sookie acts kind of ambivalent towards Bill because...wait for it!...she knows he's not always straight with her. Hard to fully love someone whose sole purpose is to really fuck you up.)

sookieverseblog

I do agree with the commenters who have said that it's probably a bit premature to judge an (almost) 10 book series based on the first book. Harris does find her stride as she goes along, like many writers.

The reason True Blood's characters and storylines are more "filled out" than the books is obviously because the books are narrated by Sookie. If it's not happening to her, or she isn't in some way involved, or another character isn't interacting with her - then we don't see it. It is a different perspective to True Blood, but does mean that the reader is privy to Sookie's thoughts and feelings - and that makes Book Sookie alot more sympathetic.

As the books progress Sookie becomes progressively stronger, wiser and more confident - the translation of this growth on True Blood appears to be that Sookie just becomes louder, whinier and bitchier. I really don't like her much right now and I hope to see her evolve a bit more next season.

As far as a lack of chemistry between book Bill and Sookie - well there is a reason for that. Book Bill is darker than TB Bill, but the main reason is that Bill isn't meant to be Sookie's main love interest. Again something that is fleshed out more from book two onwards.

I don't mind True Blood but it is essentially fanfic. Some things Ball has done well - the Eric/Godric arc for example was a major departure from the books and I (and many other book fans) really enjoyed that. Other things have been unforgivable but I'm not going to start on those since this post is too long already ;)

VampirePamsGirl

I have to agree with the many people before me that have stated that the books get much better as you go on and that Book Eric is (as Rhonda commented) better than chocolate.

I am completely addicted to the SVM series, but that addiction did not begin until probably about the third book. I enjoyed the first one well enough but it was just alright. By the end of Living Dead in Dallas I was enjoying it much more and after Club Dead, I was hooked. Dead to the World just cemented it for me.

And (again as has been said) there was a good bit of the stuff you enjoyed from True Blood that is from the books, just not Book 1.

I do agree that Tara and Lafayette in TB Season 1 were much better than in any of the books, but if you haven't watched Season 2 yet well... brace yourself for some disappointment there, especially with Tara. She went from being one of my favorite characters in S1 to one of my least favorites in S2.

As for Lafayette, I think a lot of the praise for that success in S1 can also be heaped on the actor Nelson Ellis. I believe I've even read AB state in an interview that he was quite surprised with where that character/actor had went.

I would definitely recommend trying the books myself. I watched the show first (and loved it for many of the same reasons) and then I read the books and now I love them better than the show.

Rhonda

I am so getting my geek on right now! I’m loving reading the responses from other people who love the books! I’m the only one in my little world who reads the books so I never have anyone to talk to who truly understands my secret passion for Eric ;-p

KimAZ

Doesn't have to be an either/or. I am devoted to TB and have read all 9 books. Both have their merits, especially book 4 (Eric 24/7).

Lucie @ UO

This is why the books win - ERIC ERIC ERIC book 4. And as other commenters have said, it's not quite fair to compare plot and character development that takes place over nine books and is woven into the first season to just one SVS book.

But yeah, I think the first season is more interesting overall. The show is made to go along with the books as a different perspective, since the books are only from Sookie's point of view and therefore cannot go into all those other side stories.

I would just hate for someone to read this and decide not to give the series a shot. After all, it was Dead Until Dark that inspired Allan Ball to make a show for the first time since 6FU ended. At least get to book 4! You won't regret it!

Adisson

Another vote that the books grow on you. And that season 2 was a bit of a letdown for Alan Ball. I was expecting a lot more from him since season 1 was so compelling, but season 2 practically made me want to stop watching. keep reading/watching and let us know what you think after that too. I'll be interested to see if your opinions change at all. :)

April

Great points but I do really like the books too. Like many others have stated, the first book is probably my least favorite and I had to get a couple of books into the series to really love it. And again, as others have said, it's usually an either/or thing for me with movies/shows/books but I actually enjoy both for some very different reasons.

Alan Ball has a great point of view and fleshes out characters like Lafayette and Tara beautifully. Believe me, book Tara is not as interesting as show Tara. And don't even get me STARTED on book Bill. I have NO clue why anyone who reads the books feels any emotion for Bill. Book Eric is another story though. Ditto on the above "Eric is better than chocolate" sentiments because oh my, yes. Absolutely he is. And Bill? Not impressed.

I am from south MS and think the books and show capture some of the most interesting things about the South. The conflicting religious church lady/ bigot/ sinner/ passion/dark/light/etc., are done beautifully in both. Hell, it's captured perfectly in just the opening credits of the show.

I think the comparisons between vampire/gay rights are genius however, I think we should be careful to say in True Blood vampire rights = gay rights in America. Because there are vampires in the show/books who are evil because of who they are; what they are doing is wrong - at least to our basic human understanding of killing = wrong. So those in True Blood who have some kind of fear of the vampires are at least in some small ways, justified in their fears in ways that people who are afraid of gay men and women just aren't.

Or maybe I've spent way too much time thinking about this.

Anyway, I love the fact that both make us think and examine those things.

mouthy_broad

i disagree. i can barely stand to watch the tv show and will skip episodes. but i am truly obsessed with the books. the books just keep getting better and better. the first book is not the best.

JAR

I read the books first and I love the series. Eric... all Eric, all the way! Bill shows his arse ways more in the books. The books definitely improve as they go.

I just started watching the series. I enjoy it but I really prefer the books.

Kelly

I have to agree that the show is a totally different way to go than the books. I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing, but as a long time reader of the series, I think the characters really do grow and become more compelling as the series goes on. And as for the character of Bubba, I miss him most of all. Maybe it is because I am from that area of the South, and now live in Memphis, but still I miss that character. He is protected by all the vampires (and Sookie)and really seems to be a touchstone for the series.
Also, I must add my 2 cents in to the ERIC IS THE BEST camp. Book Eric is hot, hot, hot, and if Allan Ball doesn't play up his growing relationship with Sookie, he will be alienating a lot of the watchers / readers. Bill should just walk out into the Sun and die, as he is pretty worthless. And if I don't have to hear him drawl "Suucky" again, I will be happy.

rkmama

I got through maybe the first 70 pages of Dead Until Dark and felt it was one of the worst things I have ever read. I could not go on and was very tempted to burn it. Part of it was that Lafeyette and Tara were the only reasons I got through the first 5 episodes of TB season 1 and partly because the writing was beyond terrible (which I'm more than willing to look past for a good story of which this book didn't really have either).
Based on season 1 of True Blood and Dead Until Dark I think Amber's review is more than fair. However, I'm glad I read these comments because I'd really be willing to give it another try.

Austin

I'm glad to hear the books get better because I am halfway through Dead Until Dark and I am so sad and bored and ready to scratch my eyeballs out of my face because OMFG LAAAAME. But I love True Blood and I love Mamapop so I'll give the rest of the books a go.

Sarah C.

I started the series when I picked up book 4 at a used book store and fell in love with it. The books definitely get better. I don't know if I would have been such a fan if I'd started with the first one...I went out and ordered all of the others (there were only 4 at that point, so I was reading backstory) the day I finished it and have a hard time watching the show. I keep yelling "But that's WRONG! Tara owns a clothing shop!" at the screen.

And yes, TV Eric doesn't hold a candle to Book Eric. Wowzer.

Bitchilla

It's pretty rare that I like something better on the screen than on the page, but that is definitely the case with True Blood/Dead Until Dark. The first book was bad, the second book was AWFUL. I hear some of you saying the books get better, but I don't think I could make it that far. The show however? LOVE IT.

Isabel

I've read a ton of the Sookie books and pretty much hated every single one. (She likes banana clips...I GET IT!) Because of this I never even gave True Blood a chance. And I actually subscribe to HBO. Should I try to watch them?




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