Why Elena Gilbert is a Better Character in The Vampire Diaries Books

For today’s post, I have decided to share my thoughts on why the book version of Elena from The Vampire Diaries is superior to her television show counterpart!   This post is partially inspired by different YouTube videos that I have recently seen comparing the novels to the series.   In those videos, the opinion seemed to largely fall into the novel version of Elena is unlikable and therefore the television version is better.    This is kind of ironic considering the mass of the fandom from the show, which I have seen up until this point, seem to find the series interpretation of Elena to be annoying.   I myself always hoped that they would begin to transition to Elena being more like her book counterpart, but that just did not happen.   This is in large part because most of Elena’s attributes were given to Caroline in the series. After all, the creators did not want to show Elena as a bitch in the beginning for fear of her being unsympathetic.

Caroline became the character that is shown as shallow and bitchy in the beginning, seemingly focused only on boy craziness and popularity.   This is validly seen as less than attractive, and it is how Elena first presents early on in the novel series.   Now, just as Caroline becomes a much deeper character once she becomes a vampire, Elena as a character grew and evolved into an empathetic and loving figure.   Actually, I feel that in the case of both the novel Elena and the television show Caroline, they always were empathetic and loving, but put up walls to protect their hearts.   For Elena in the books, it is due to her still suffering from the death of her parents three years earlier, but she does not share this fact with anyone other than her two closest friends Bonnie and Meredith.    For Caroline in the television series, this is mostly linked to the divorce of her parents and the fact that she was closer to her father but still lived primarily with her mother.   Both Elena in the books and Caroline in the show do not pretend that they were not self-centered and shallow, but instead, acknowledge that and it solidified their growth.

There was a lot said by a certain YouTube book reviewer about the Christian allegory and holier-than-thou attitude of Elena in the Return trilogy of Vampire Diaries novels.   This YouTuber also referred to problematic portrayals of toxic relationships, perversity, and how everything revolved around Elena throughout the whole series of novels.   First off, I want to say that what he viewed as purely Christian allegory I more so take as a fairytale, faery lore, and even much older Pagan symbolism viewed through a vaguely Christianized lens.   While Elena comes back as a vaguely angelic figure at the end of the fourth novel, she is not an angel but related to Celestial Guardians, who are more like a combination of angels and faery women with hardened edges.    The fact that the YouTuber complained about both the fact that vampires did not have traditional sex in the novels (as blood sharing substituted for sex with all lust being subsumed by bloodlust), but also had major issues with vampires seeming perverse in some way was confusing.    First off, he forgot that part of Elena’s return from death was that her blood was supercharged and could make vampires feel physical human lust again, meaning that she could have sex with a vampire (not just blood share) in later novels if she chose to.    Secondly, not being able to have physical sex does not mean not feeling attraction, as blood sharing is vampiric sex in this universe of novels (likely due in part to the early volumes being written in the early 90s and not wanting to put full-on sex scenes in a YA novel in the era).   Finally, fantasy creatures and supernatural beings are natural characters that would have a differing sense of morality, so why are we so hung up on trying to apply human morality to them?

Anyway, as far as Elena’s character development, she does have a great amount of development.   It is spurred on by her finally finding actual love, yes she falls very quickly but she is a teenager.    After the death of her parents, she walled herself off and became shallow and obsessed with popularity (viewing boys she dated as a symbol of her popularity).    She did not treat her admirers at school well, being annoyed by the constant attention at a certain point (when it invaded her privacy), but she does realize how horrible that was and begins to make changes when she re-opened her heart to love.    Meeting Stefan and later Damon (whom she hates at the beginning because Stefan does and she is hung up on Stefan’s morality at that point) is when she begins to feel in ways that she had not before.   The evolution of the relationships with both brothers develops rapidly over the first three novels, but it does help her realize that both the Salvatore brothers and her true friends are very important and she is willing to die to protect the town she loves.    This is an act of love and redemption, which allowed her to become a guardian spirit of the town, which brings in my faery lore connection mentioned above.   When Elena is dead she is essentially acting not as an angel or ghost, but more as a true spirit of the land of her hometown Fell’s Church.   Her goal is not just to protect the men she loved or her friends alone, but to defend the town and protect the land, which is a very fae-spirit-of-the-land energy.    She defeated Klaus by calling on the unrestful dead who died in a Civil War battle in this small Virginia town, to prevent more blood from being shed there.   Her desire to love and protect is what allowed her to be returned to a human body again.   This time she also had her magical abilities that are a little angelic and a little faery.

Once she is back, it takes some time for her to regain her footing in the human realm.   She is still of the Otherworld more than human, which means she can think and understand certain things, but not remember basic things, such as how to read and write, and her long-term memories.   Eventually, this clicks back into place and the chaos of the Return series ensued.   When she heals Damon from his possession by the Malach demonic entity, she is not so much casting out his sins (that Christian allegory) but forgiving him for what he has done because it was done under the sway of an outside force and she is removing the possessing Malach!   Elena’s burgeoning wings powers are both a little angelic and a lot faery as well (what with her needing to believe in order to make them work).    I actually truly enjoy all of the faery and fairytale elements and references.    

The discomfort the YouTuber felt at the slavery in the next book in the Return trilogy is understandable, but it was humans being held as slaves in the Dark Dimension, which is a Dark Otherworldly, and hellish realm.   It makes sense for humans to be viewed this way there.   Elena’s desire to one day return to the Dark Dimension to save those humans shows her growth, I do not view it as holier-than-thou, but instead as a sign of her empathy!   Of course, that would never happen as L.J. Smith lost the right to write the later books and her intended ending was not used.   This is why some fans, myself included, have read the last six books but do not consider them canon.   I want to also briefly speak on the comment the YouTuber made about inclusion in the novels.   First off, Meredith is a Latina, as is acknowledged way back in the fourth novel (published in 1992).   Secondly, even though two Kitsune are portrayed as purely evil there is a Kitsune character who is a figure of positive magic.   He is the one who was imprisoned in the cell next to Stefan and used magic to make it possible for a vampire to turn human again!   This means that the portrayal of Japanese cultural figures is not as negative as that reviewer viewed it.   At the end of the day, these novels are not perfect and subject of their times, but once again they are also fantasy (not meant to be showing something purely rooted in reality).     

Now, I do acknowledge that there are facets of the romantic entanglements of Elena, Stefan, and Damon (that perennial love triangle) that are toxic.   But this is fantasy fiction and I believe that we can enjoy and even ship relationships without idealizing them as perfect!   Even as a teenager first reading the books, I did not think these relationships were totally healthy, even though I wanted certain characters together.   The truth is that they are enjoyable to read, and they are not about purely human beings, they are about Otherworldly and supernatural beings (or part humans) so their relationships should not be judged by purely human standards!   All that being said, even with toxic elements, these relationships are not all bad.   They are about people who love one another deeply and are willing to (and do) die to protect one another.   

Now that I have rambled on about Elena as a character and the series development in the novels, I will bring this to a close.    I love both the novels and series equally, but differently, I view Elena as the best female in the novels and Caroline as the best in the series (as she takes on the Elena essence in the series).   There is a lot that is imperfect, but I felt the desire to stand up for these books that had meant so much to me during my late teen years.    I do not know if I would feel so strongly had I read them first as an adult, but I have re-read them several times (giving me a lot of depth of analysis) and I still enjoy them.   I do hope that you have enjoyed this post.   Do you enjoy The Vampire Diaries novels or television series?   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Further Reading/Watching

  • The Vampire Diaries Novels (the first 7, at least)
  • The Vampire Diaries (2009)
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLU4l-qJX8o (This is the YouTube video that I referred to specifically in this post if you want to compare opinions.)