On The Vampire Diaries
A Visitor's Guide to Fell's Church
A Book Series Primer for TV Series Fans
By Red and Vee
One of the questions we’re asked most (other than “Does Paul Wesley have a Twitter account?”) is “What happens in the books?” We’ve come to expect a flood of breathless emails following every cliffhanger, fans begging us to tell them what happens next because they may fall down and DIE, DIE I tell you! before the following week’s episode. And our answer is always the same:
We don’t have a clue.
As we write this, the Vampire Diaries TV series is preparing for its second season, and we’re as excited as you are to follow the romantic entanglements, twisted family dynamics, and, yes, those heart-stopping cliffhangers that have come to define Thursday nights.
Because, again, we have no idea what’s going to happen next.
And that is why the show is fun for those of us who have read the books. We have the benefit of experiencing every surprise the writers throw at us each week and the background information to pick up on the subtle and not-so-subtle book references scattered throughout the series (Druid Room! Honoria Fell! Oh my, that’s a very large full moon you’re standing under, Tyler!). As different as the story translation is from book to screen, and how much certain characters have been altered from their book origins, book DNA runs through the TV series’ veins, and it’s a treat when the writers toss out nuggets for the fans.
This is not to say you’re missing out if you’re a fan who hasn’t read the books. But we’re sure that many of you will be interested in reading The Vampire Diaries in its original form on the page for the same reasons that you love the TV series: the core themes of love, friendship, and being true to oneself against all odds. And, after all, L.J. Smith’s series has maintained a loyal and passionate following for nearly two decades. That has to spark some curiosity in TV series fans, right? Whether your enjoyment of the show will be affected by reading the books is up to you; your own mileage will vary when encountering the numerous differences. And to help ease the transition between these parallel universes, we humbly offer this primer, free of major spoilers, for your potential excursion into book territory.
Where do we begin?
Okay, wait a sec–why is Elena blonde?
The first thing you’ll notice when you start reading The Vampire Diaries is a difference between many of the book characters and their TV series counterparts, in both appearance and personality.
The most startling character change is that of Elena Gilbert. She’s still an orphan, though she has had a few years to wrap her mind around that fact, and she still writes in her beloved diary. That’s where the similarities end. Blonde, blue-eyed, and sure of herself, the Elena Gilbert of the books is the queen of Robert E. Lee High School. She knows what she wants, and she makes sure that she gets it, no matter what the cost. She is, on the surface, rather selfish and materialistic and many readers find her hard to identify with as the heroine of a story. But stick with it, because Elena’s journey is one of the focal points of The Vampire Diaries; she evolves from a self-centered teenager, who has everything she desires, to a young woman stripped bare of all she has, who is the better for it as she realizes the most important things she can possess are love, friendship, and family.
There are still plenty of Civil War costumes to be had in the books, but the town’s history has nothing to do with the Salvatore brothers. Here, Stefan and Damon are five-hundred year-old Italian noblemen, recently moved over to the United States from Italy, complete with sexy Italian accents. Sadly, the accents don’t stick around; Stefan’s ability to go from foreigner to native within a few short weeks is used as an example of vampires’ impressive ability to blend in with their surroundings and evade detection.
The brothers’ relationship will seem very familiar for the most part, as there’s certainly a huge wedge between them over the subject of their lost love, Katherine. Really, though, she was just the final straw between siblings who already had a strained relationship. Unlike in the TV series, the pre-Katherine period wasn’t all sunshine and football between the Salvatores. The brothers never got along–just for starters, Damon blames Stefan for their mother’s death–and Katherine merely provided yet another reason for them to hate each other.
In fact, you probably won’t recognize Katherine. When Stefan and Damon knew her, she wasn’t a wicked woman, and was actually kind and loving, if a little a lot tremendously na¯ve. Katherine is still responsible for turning the boys into vampires, though the events leading up to their transformation are very different. She falls in love with the Salvatore boys when her father sends her to live in Italy so she can recover from her latest illness. What only her (non-witchy) handmaid Gudren–and, later, Stefan and Damon–is aware of is that she didn’t survive the illness, and was instead turned into a vampire to save her life. A fan of the Stefan diet (she enjoys snacking on doves), Katherine retains her kind, child-like nature, and her dream is to live forever with both of the Salvatore brothers at her side. (See? It’s still pretty kinky.) In a misguided attempt to get them to overcome their animosity toward each other, Katherine inadvertently causes them to hate each other even more, setting into motion the tragic events that culminate in the modern-day circumstances of the books. Alas, in some cases, love really does not conquer all.
Another difference between the books and TV series is who exactly loved who. The TV series portrays Damon as the one who is truly in love with Katherine, and Stefan as compelled to accept her vampirism. In the books it is Stefan she confides in, and likely Stefan is the one she loves the most. Damon, on the other hand, initially goes after Katherine just to spite Stefan, and later continues his pursuit because of the power she can offer him. How deep and genuine his feelings are for Katherine, only Damon knows.
As in the TV series, Bonnie is one of Elena’s best friends. She’s also a witch, though she leans more towards psychic visions and being used as a hotline for the dead to communicate through. She is short and bubbly with flaming red hair, a love of boys and the color pink, and a tendency to talk a little too much. Descended from Druids rather than the Salem witches, Bonnie has a Scottish heritage–her last name is McCullough, not Bennett–and a witchy grandmother she spends the summer with in Edinburgh prior to the beginning of the story. As in the TV series, it’s from her grandmother that Bonnie learns about her powers, and while she doesn’t take them seriously at first, it’s not long before everyone is relying on them to save each other and the town.
You may have a hard time recognizing Caroline Forbes (yes, same name), too. While she was friends with Elena prior to the beginning of the story, by the time we meet her in the books she is most definitely Elena’s enemy, and not the bubbly Caroline we know and love from the TV series. She is jealous of Elena’s popularity, and is both manipulative enough and selfish enough to start a campaign to knock Elena off her throne at school and ruin her social standing. In fact, you’re likely to see more of the TV series version of Caroline in Bonnie McCullough than in her vain and calculating book counterpart.
Tyler Lockwood is a bit of a jerk, but you can’t help feeling some sympathy toward him, and even liking him. He’s a product of his upbringing, with a self-centered mother and a father who believes in parenting by violence. You can understand why he’s the way he is, and deep down feel that there may be hope for him. Tyler Smallwood, on the other hand, is an unlikeable bully through and through, lacking in intelligence and common sense, easily angered, and with no respect for his fellow students. As far as he’s concerned, he’s top dog, and everyone should acknowledge that. Both versions of Tyler do share a certain . . . animalistic trait that makes itself known toward the end of the original books and that we hear will be further explored in the second season of the TV series.
Fell’s Church’s substitute history teacher doesn’t share the same background as his TV series counterpart, being fortunate enough to not experience losing his wife to a sudden case of I Wanna Be a Vampire. In fact, he’s kind of sweet on Meredith by the end of the story (more on her later). Alaric Saltzman is a parapsychology major from Duke University, called in by leading members of the Fell’s Church community (the Founders Council does not exist in the books) to deal with their vampire problem. Alaric’s experience with vampires–much like the rest of the town–is limited to anecdotal evidence from reading lore and interviewing supposed vampire victims. Suffice to say, for a guy who’s simply interested in the paranormal, he’s in way over his head. (But he does come up with nifty wood-tipped bullets for shooting vampires.) Despite this lack of experience, his heart is in the right place, and he’s firmly on board with helping save the town, and fully prepared to re-evaluate his conclusion that all vampires are bad.
Given the number of characters who have undergone transformations from book to screen, fans of Matt Donovan will be relieved to find much of his character and appearance intact within Matt Honeycutt. He’s still the same loyal, kind, and caring football player we know and love, and he’s still utterly in love with Elena. Despite differences in family background–Matt Honeycutt’s father is dead, his mother is definitely not a drunk, and he doesn’t have any siblings–they are both pretty much the same core character. In the books, Matt is also Stefan’s only human friend, giving the vampire a chance despite evidence that says Stefan’s a bad guy, and even when he finds out what Stefan is.
Vicki Donovan is as tragic in her own way as Vickie Bennett of the books. Sadly, poor Vickie Bennett isn’t as feisty, and doesn’t even get the perks of becoming a vampire. Instead, she’s attacked, used, and abused, and then left as a fragile shell of a girl at the end of it all.
Fans of the Vampire Diaries books were universally disappointed to discover that Meredith Sulez was cut from the first season of the TV series. She has long been a fan favorite, and has her own unique role in the story. Meredith is actually more Elena’s best friend than even Bonnie. She is calm, sophisticated, and the voice of reason. Where Bonnie is excitable and somewhat easily manipulated, Meredith is able to stand up to Elena; she grounds Elena, providing her with advice and offering the occasional innuendo-laden quip, and gives a voice to Elena’s conscience. Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec have promised Meredith will make an eventual appearance in the show, but who knows under what circumstances?
Another missing character is the mysterious Mrs. Flowers. The owner of the boarding house in which Stefan lives, she comes across as a dotty old lady. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that there’s something more to her than everyone originally assumed. In the TV series, Mrs. Flowers was replaced by Damon and Stefan’s descendant, Zach Salvatore. Aside from being caretakers of their respective boarding houses, Mrs. Flowers and Zach share a passion for growing things, puttering about in basements, and hideous sweaters.
Other characters you won’t exactly recognize: Judith and Margaret Gilbert, Elena’s aunt and sister. Judith is an older lady, the sister of Elena’s father, and the legal guardian of the Gilbert girls since the death of their parents. The same role is played by Jenna in the TV series, with Jenna as a hipper, younger aunt, and someone with whom Elena generally identifies and has an amicable relationship. Judith’s relationship with Elena, however, is somewhat strained, and becomes more so when Stefan and Damon enter the picture.
Margaret is Elena’s four year-old sister, a cute and innocent child who likes kittens. While she’s not a major character, she does feature heavily in a few plot points. In the TV series, she’s been replaced by the much older–and certainly hotter–Jeremy Gilbert. This change in character allows the writers more flexibility with the story. And, let’s face it, Steven R. McQueen probably wouldn’t look good in a dress, anyway. (He would, however, look adorable clutching a kitten.)
Not exactly. Stefan and Damon do spend some quality time with each other in the Salvatore family crypt after an unfortunate incident with some pointy steel objects, and we will say that another crypt features heavily in the story later on, but there’s no tomb containing twenty-something mummified vampires plotting revenge on Fell’s Church. In fact, compared to the show, there aren’t that many vampires featured in the original book series: they add up to a grand total of five, including the good guys. But, trust us, that’s more than enough to wreak havoc on the town.
The extensive changes to and expansion upon the basic plot also leads to very different motivations for individual characters, though you may be surprised at how the TV show has managed to remain remarkably true with your favorites, even when their history and their circumstances have changed (Alaric being the prime example). It’s also interesting to note that the ultimate fates of Vickie/Vicki and Mr. Tanner are the same in book and show, but the events that lead to said fates happen in distinctly different ways.
The TV series has, for the most part, taken the mythology of the books and built upon it to better serve the story it’s trying to tell. Vervain, for instance–what is little more than a glorified weed that prevents mind control in the books has become a veritable kryptonite for vampires in the TV series. Daylight rings in the show–created for specific owners using magic–are more commonplace in the books, due to the inherent mystical properties of the gemstone lapis lazuli that protects vampires from the sun, no extra witchy ju-ju necessary. Lapis is as interchangeable as Kelly Donovan’s drink preferences, and any vampire in the know is safe from the harmful effects of a great big dose of UV.
Mental powers in the books are also a little more sophisticated. Along with the ability to control people’s minds, vampires are able to speak to each other using telepathy, and can also sense each other’s Power over distances . . . provided the vampire they’re trying to sense isn’t stronger than them and deliberately blocking them.
Then there’s the shape-shifting. The crow is a bird that is synonymous with Damon in the books, to the point that it’s perhaps the most well-known symbol fans think of when they think of the series.
The process of becoming a vampire has also been expanded on in the TV series. The method in the books is as simple as dying with enough vampire blood in your system to cause the change to happen. Being turned by accident is something that can happen easily if vampires aren’t careful with sharing their blood, and a newly turned vampire could, in theory, live their unlife without ever tasting human blood. Newly turned vampires in the TV series are burdened with a darker dilemma; they must feed on human blood to complete the transformation, or they will die. While the vampires of the books can effectively choose to leave humans alone and live guilt-free, the TV series vampires are likely burdened with the fact that they began their current existence at the expense of human life–possibly the lives of people they care about.
When it comes to biting, the show certainly takes the award for being more painful (and, if we’re honest, probably more realistic). In the books, vampire bites can be savage, with throats torn at in a gruesome manner, but they can also be tender, even pleasant. When vampires feed with a view to being gentle, they simply leave two holes behind to mark where they’ve been snacking, and–providing the victim is relaxed–it can be a very pleasant experience. Both Elena and Matt give blood willingly in the books and come away from it none the worse for wear. Indeed, Elena and Stefan exchange blood as an intimate expression of love in lieu of sex. Given the vicious nature of bites in the TV series–seen in graphic detail with Caroline’s expressions of pain and the hideous marks left all over her flesh–it’s hard to see blood exchange involving biting ever being something as gentle and romanticized as it is in the books.
Aside from basic character, mythology, and story similarities, the books and the TV series do take very different directions from each other. The biggest reason for this is that the TV series has more time to expand on the story, allowing for many more subplots and character introductions. If it stuck to the book content alone, then the whole thing would be over and done with in five episodes! Where’s the fun in that? So the result is that the TV series uses elements from the books–the love triangle between the brothers and Elena, Katherine’s machinations–and introduces its own unique storylines for everyone to sink their teeth into.
Vampire Diaries fans long ago realized that using the books to work out what was going on in the TV series was an exercise in getting a first-class headache, and TV series fans will also realize that when they read the books themselves. On a positive note, it does mean that everyone gets to enjoy the books and the TV series without one spoiling the other. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it?
That’s not to say that the books have been ignored. As we mentioned, the TV series is littered with all kinds of shout-outs to the novels. The fun is in trying to spot them, from mentions of well-known place names, to key events, to scenes that have been adapted to fit in with the TV series, but are instantly recognizable to fans of the books.
While characters and events differ between the books and the TV series, the themes of love, family, and friendship remain a central focus in both. Though relationships and the events that shape them may be different from what you expected, the core story of Elena’s love for Stefan, her family, and her friends remains intact. It is a story about how love makes people stronger, about how standing together as a family–be it forged by blood or friendship–makes it possible to overcome the darkness. While Elena in the TV series certainly appreciates the family she has, especially in light of losing her parents, and goes to drastic lengths to protect those she loves from harm and anguish, Elena’s journey in the books leads her to the realization that her family and friends are what matter to her most, leaving her willing to do anything to protect them from the outside forces threatening the town of Fell’s Church, no matter what the cost.
Both the books and the TV series are also, at heart, a love story between Elena and Stefan–a story of events that tie the two together. Theirs is a love that should, by all rights, be doomed, and yet their passion for each other helps them overcome the odds, and not even death can keep the pair apart.
Still with us? While delving into the Vampire Diaries book series won’t provide much insight into the twists and turns of the show, you may come away with a better understanding of the old-school Vampire Diaries fandom’s inside jokes, cryptic references, and why certain hints get some of us so excited. (After all, it’s the book fandom that fueled the anticipation of Tyler’s little secret for months before the first hint was ever dropped in the show, though Michael Trevino himself has certainly reveled in those possibilities from the start.) And, perhaps, it will provide you with a new appreciation for how the TV show has adapted facets of the books into its own unique vision.
While it took us a while to adapt to the nature of the TV series, we are as passionate about seeing the story unfold on the screen as any other fan. We hope that you, in turn, will be entertained as you turn the pages of the books and see The Vampire Diaries’ story in an entirely new way.