Thursday, August 30, 2012
Charlaine Harris, Sookie Stackhouse, & True Blood
There’s been a lot of indignation in the mystery community about Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher, Lee Child’s wildly popular thriller protagonist, in a movie due out right before Christmas. Charlaine Harris’s vampire-loving protagonist, Sookie Stackhouse, has been similarly transformed in the TV series True Blood, not by actress Anna Paquin but rather by the show’s creator, Alan Ball, and his team of writers. And that’s okay.
I’m a big fan of Charlaine Harris, who gets my vote for most beloved success story in the mystery world.
I’m still enjoying Sookie’s story as it unfolds in the books Charlaine is writing, and I’m also enjoying the very different story that is being offered to TV viewers.
One of Charlaine’s greatest strengths as a writer is her gift for characterization. You’ll never meet more convincing, utterly down-to-earth characters than Lily, the traumatized but gutsy night-owl cleaning lady sleuth; Sookie, the telepathic barmaid who finds it a relief to date vampires because she can’t read their thoughts; and Harper, the lightning survivor who can find the dead and knows how they died. On TV, the actors do a fine job of inhabiting Sookie and those around her, although not all of them are quite the same characters as in the books. I like some of TV’s variations on the theme very much. Sookie’s brother Jason, for example, is more likable and is developed much more fully in True Blood. This season, he’s really growing up, and he’s played by a terrific actor (Ryan Kwanten) who’s moving quite subtly from being naïve, self-centered, and not too bright to a guy who’s thoughtful and wants to change. I also find vampire Bill’s “progeny” Jessica, who’s not in the books at all, tremendously appealing.
I’m not saying I like everything about the story line in either version of Sookie’s adventures. I’m not saying I wouldn’t be just as happy without some of the gore and sex that Alan Ball puts onto the screen. But both author and creator have done a fine job with a character who’s both complex and original—Harris broke new ground when she started writing vampires with a sense of humor—and whom we care about as she pursues her destiny in two alternate worlds.