Translating Sookie: From Self-Possessed Woman to Simpering Whiner

HBO’s adaptation of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries ended last night with a series finale that was just as disappointing, ridiculous and disjointed as the show itself.

While Harris’ novels are not by any means high literature, they are loaded with political and feminist commentary, as well as what it means to cherish someone as a friend and a family member. All of this was lost on the writers of the HBO television series, who seemed to not understand the complexities of the books – and most egregiously, did not understand who Sookie Stackhouse is.

I’m a waitress. Who the hell are you?

That above quote, from the pilot episode of True Blood is probably the only time that the writers of the TV series got anywhere close to capturing the spirit of Sookie Stackhouse.

Sookie Stackhouse Merlotte's True BloodNot everyone likes BookSookie, but to me, she is the female protagonist with which I identify the most. I’ve read hundreds of books and loved dozens of female characters, but I saw myself in Sookie.

Not all of her, of course. We have differences, but who she is at her core is very much who I am.

She has a deep internal life, prompted by the fact that her town has marginalized her because of her disability. She is considered weird, odd and not someone you’d really want to be around – not because of her personal qualities or her own merit – people avoid her because she is disabled.

Sookie’s disability is her telepathy, and not blindness or any the other disabilities that I have, but still… the way that people treat her and how that affects who she is as a person is reflective of my life.

She retreats into her own mind out of self-defense and to find some peace. She’s not lonely on her own. Yes, she wishes she wasn’t so ostracized, but she values the true friends she does have. She reads non-stop to experience more of the world, because her disability prevents her from experiencing it in reality.

Sookie’s feelings of marginalization are a constant theme throughout the book series. The television series refers to it only slightly in the first season and then drops it altogether. Sookie’s telepathic ability becomes a mere plot device, not a burden that she learns to accept and even value.

A Journey to Acceptance vs a Journey to Revolve Around a Man

First and foremost, the Southern Vampire Mysteries are about Sookie’s journey to self-acceptance. She’s in her mid-twenties, that time in your life where you’re realizing that you don’t know everything and the world, even if you live in a small town, is bigger than you realized.

It’s a time when you are learning to navigate who you are.

The books are about that journey. They are a mix of friendships, romances, familial relationships, philosophical questions, coping with prejudice, standing up for injustice and celebrating who you are.

The television show would have you believe that the story is only about the codependent love relationship of Sookie and Bill, a vampire and her first boyfriend.

Romantic relationships play a part in the books. Romance is a huge part of living a life. Sookie wants the normal life that she believes her disability robbed her of. She wants to be married, have kids, etc…

However, there are several books where romance isn’t even the B-plot, it’s regulated to the C-story. No matter what is going on in the TV series, everything revolves around the relationship between Bill and Sookie.

BookSookie knows what she wants in a relationship. She wants to be the center of her partner’s life. I find this ridiculous and self-centered, but hey, she wants it, so much that she’d rather be alone than settle for something less.

TVSookie would settle for anything as long as she didn’t have to be alone.

In the series finale of True Blood, Bill tells Sookie that she’ll never be able to get over him. She’ll always be in his orbit. She’ll never live a full life because of him.

What in the seventh hell kind of bullshit is that?

BookSookie would’ve punched him in the mouth. TVSookie teared up and shook her head yes.

In both incarnations of the story, Bill started his relationship with Sookie because he was told to spy on her, he abused her and cheated on her. In the books, she eventually walks away from him. He barely features in some of the latter books. Of course, there is a part of her that will always love him, as anyone will always love their first, but she is not in his orbit.

BookSookie is in no one’s orbit.

This shift in the story, from one of self-discovery to one of a cliched and codependent romance robbed viewers of the chance to grow with the protagonist. It also robbed the character of her chance to grow.

From Self-Rescuing Woman to Damsel in Distress

BookSookie may have been naive and self-conscious about certain aspects of herself, but she was always independent. She never wanted to be rescued from anything.

TVSookie waits for the men in her life to rescue her. How original, right?

The most notable difference is the end of the first book, Dead Until Dark vs the end of the first season.

dead until darkIn the book, Sookie uses her telepathic powers, intelligence and general scrappiness to defeat the bad guy. No need for a white knight here.

In the show, Bill must rise from the grave (literally) to rescue a whimpering Sookie from certain death at the hands of a serial killer.

There was no need for the writers of the show to make this change that created such a chasm between the show and the books. This change is the exact opposite of Harris’ vision for Sookie. It positions her as wholly dependent on her vampire lover. There is no agency here.

The ending of the first book sets the stage for Sookie as a capable and strong woman, so that when she gets in over her head and does need to be rescued (as do many characters in the story), it doesn’t make her dependent – it just makes her human.

And That’s the Best Part

Harris created a woman who is flawed, occasionally bratty, at times quick to rage, demanding, compassionate, loyal, loving, hard-working, fierce, independent and willing to sacrifice almost anything for the people she loves. That’s a person with which we can all identify.

Sometimes we hate BookSookie. Sometimes we love her. Sometimes we root for her. Sometimes we admire her. Sometimes we facepalm at the stupid decisions she makes.

She’s real.

HBO’s version is one-note. She’s selfish and driven only by her romantic interests. She’s not an engaging character. She’s not a whole person.

If only HBO had wanted to tell the tale of Sookie’s journey to self-acceptance – the journey of a woman struggling to live a full life despite her disability, the journey of a woman struggling to be seen as more than her limitations. That would’ve been a show worth watching.

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