Friday, June 12, 2009

Time to Vamp It Up!

In honor of the return of HBO's True Blood this Sunday I thought it was time to pay a little respect to the show and the author behind this newest vampire obsession, Charlaine Harris. True Blood, the show about a telepathic barmaid in Northern Louisiana and her run-ins with the supernatural world became a cult hit for HBO when it first aired last year. But this show and the success that it has given a house mom in Arkansas has been a long time in coming. Charlaine Harris has been writing since 1981, but while a great writer she did not start to receive any undue attention until 2001 when she introduced Sookie Stackhouse in the book Dead Until Dark. But even her Southern Vampire series took awhile to firmly establish itself, not even being released in hardcover till book four in 2004, a sign that the publisher has higher hopes for it. Personally I believe that with the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2003 and then the end of Angel in 2004 the world needed a new Vampire outlet, and here was Sookie Stackhouse. Her books went from being USA Today Bestselling Author to New York Times Bestselling Author, till finally last month, Dead and Gone debuted in the coveted number one slot on the New York Times Bestsellers List, which I am sure is due to the show and the increased exposure of this great quirky little series.

I first picked up the books in 2004 and I was instantly hooked. The books narrated by Sookie have created a very interesting and believable supernatural world co-existing with ours. A world where vampires no longer hide their existence because synthetic Japanese blood has made it possible to sustain their "lives" without taking lives. Sookie is an interesting first person narrator in the fact that she is able to read others' minds, so we hear all that Sookie hears and feel all the Sookie feels. The ninth book in the series came out last month, and Sookie has lost a little of her pep (characterwise, not series wise, the series keeps getting better and better). She has been through a lot, seen a lot of death and lived through many a trauma and many fights with Weres, Shifters, Vamps, Fairies and Humans. I think also that's what makes Sookie so interesting, while she does have a paranormal power she is a flawed human thrown in amongst the chaos. The series also shows us that sometimes it's the humans who inflict the worst pain on each other, from Rene in Dead Until Dark to Arelene in Dead and Gone. The books have a great wicked wit and show a bit of the humor among the horror of life.

Now onto the show. Back in the Fall of 2006 Charlaine Harris did a book signing at Booked for Murder here in Madison, and even that far back she had seen the script for True Blood and had met with Alan Ball, of Six Feet Under fame. So her time to be in the spotlight was already approaching. The show premiered last fall, and I have to say, I hated it the first time I watched it. The first series is loosely based on the first book, Dead Until Dark, and it was this flexibility with my beloved books that annoyed me. Jason and Lafayette were dead right, but everyone else acted or was entirely different to what I expected, especially Tara. I found the show overly dramatic and criticized Ball for doing a vampire show while openly admitting to never having watched any other vampire dramatizations, even Buffy! So I didn't watch the show after the pilot, wasn't planning on watching the show, yet everyone else I knew was, and that's how I gave it a second chance. I kept repeating to myself to remember that I love the book The Princess Bride just as much as I love the movie, though they are nothing alike, and if I can divorce the two I can enjoy it. And enjoy it I did. The show for the sake of television has to be more of an ensemble piece then the first person narration of the books. Also the character of Tara, while nothing like the books, is totally fascinating and interesting in her own way. I like to view it as someone in the Sookie Stackhouse discussion group I belong to on goodreads said: The show is basically what would happen if Sookie sold the rights to her story. The show is not how I view the books, but it's quality entertainment.

So go check out season one now on DVD, season two starts Sunday, and there are nine wonderful books and many short stories out there for you to devour. Be warned, the show appears to be following the overall story arches of the books relatively closely, so if you don't want to be spoiled as to what's happening in the show, maybe don't read them just yet.


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