At this writing, the book I’m reading is Dexter is Dead, the last volume in the Dexter Morgan series by Jeff Lindsay, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Dexter ends his career in the books as opposed to in the TV series.
Now, full disclosure here: I’ve only seen up through something like Season 4 of the TV series, but I know how far off the show veers from the books. Only Season 1 has any resemblance to the original material and, while I like what I’ve seen well enough, they don’t compare to the books. The show is like Dexter Lite, in my opinion. The dark humor isn’t there, the bitter irony, the idea that Dexter is a sociopath and that’s all there is to it. There isn’t a cure, and he doesn’t even view himself as being human. He just does his best to act like one to blend in.
Reading this got me to thinking about another book-series-turned-television-series, Game of Thrones. Like Dexter, Game of Thrones is getting ahead of the books. Dexter ended a couple years ago now, and Jeff Lindsay is only now ending it in his books. And of course, the frustration a lot of fans feel with George RR Martin is the fodder of a lot of websites—not to mention memes.
It think the frustration with GoT is a little more palpable because the show, until recently, stuck to the source material much more closely than Dexter did. From what I’ve read, Jeff Lindsay was a consultant to the show for all of one season—the first—and even that one didn’t follow the book exactly. In fact, it veered off in some significant ways.
I don’t expect shows to follow the book to the letter. As even Mr. Martin himself has said, they’re two different mediums, and things that’ll work in a book won’t necessarily translate well on the screen, and vice versa. Books are more contemplative, more able to put you inside characters’ heads, while shows can only approximate the thought processes of a character through action or, worse, the expressions and actions of the actor, which can be easily misinterpreted. And that’s just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
Of course, one could argue that the recent divergence on GoT is worse because they have outlines from Mr. Martin as to where he intends the books to go, and he is an executive producer on the show. Of course, outlines aren’t fleshed-out scenes with all their innuendo and flash. If it is that detailed, you might as well go on and write the scene itself and dispense with the outline.
I suspect the creators/producers of Dexter flinched—they didn’t think the darker Dexter of the books would appeal to a viewing audience. Maybe they’re right, though I’d argue the success of the books proves them wrong. Of course, there are a lot more people watching TV than reading books, and I have to wonder how many people who watched Dexter—or who are watching GoT, for that matter—picked up any of the books.
But for those of us who do read the books… well, we can get double enjoyment out of this trend. We get to see where the author took the original material, and compare it with how Hollywood treated their subject. Two what-ifs on one character—or characters, in the case of GoT.
That can be good or bad. I understand the finale to Dexter was very unsatisfying to a lot of people, and I admit it’s got me wondering if I want to finish watching the series when the books are so much better and more satisfying.
And that’s the other good thing about all this: if we don’t like the show, we don’t have to watch it, especially when it’s on a pay channel like Showtime or HBO, as these two series are/were. We don’t have to buy the DVDs or devote more time to a show we no longer like if we don’t want to.
We can, instead, reserve that time for reading the books we already love.