‘Longmire’ the TV show vs the Longmire books

I’m a fan of Craig Johnson’s Wyoming-set mysteries about Sheriff Walt Longmire and the offbeat citizens of his county, so I’m more than willing to give A&E’s “Longmire” series, based on the character, a try.

Robert Taylor is really growing on me as Longmire and Katee Sackhoff is ideally cast as Longmire’s deputy, Vic Morelli. Although the show was filmed in New Mexico, the stark, beautiful scenery works for me.

There are some important differences between “Longmire” and the Longmire books, however. Realizing they’re two different animals, I’m overlooking the variances for now.

But just for the record, here’s the most obvious divergences from Johnson’s books:

Cady, Longmire’s daughter. Cassidy Freeman is well-cast as Cady, the young lawyer who plays a central role in some of the novels. But the producers of the TV show made a choice by having Cady a resident of Wyoming rather than Philadelphia as she is in the books. That would appear to eliminate the Philly subplots (more on that next). It’s easier to have a long-distance character in novels than on a TV show, when viewers might wonder, “Why are there so many scenes in which two people talk on the phone?”

Philly: There’s a strong Wyoming/Philadelphia undertone to the books. Cady has a Philly law practice. Vic is from Philly. After the book in which Cady is injured and Walt and Henry Standing Bear go to Philly to find out what happened, Cady meets and falls in love with Vic’s brother, Philly cop Michael Morelli. I’m going to miss the Philly element of the TV series.

Natives: Several of the books, especially the newest, “As the Crow Flies,” have major plots and characters that revolve around the Cheyenne, Crow and other Native American nations represented in Wyoming and Montana. The most recent episode had Walt in a sweat lodge ceremony, an element of the latest book. I’d like to see a much greater representation of indigenous peoples in the books as well as …

The mystical. Almost from the beginning, the Longmire books have featured an undercurrent of the mystical as filtered through Native legends and beliefs. The mystical elements, including spirit guides of sorts who help Walt through tough spots, add a touch most other crime novels don’t have. I wish the series had more of this.

Which brings us to Henry Standing Bear. Lou Diamond Phillips is a very cool actor and he brings a familiar face to “Longmire.” But I’m not sold on him as the in-the-flesh representation of Henry Standing Bear, Walt’s lifelong Cheyenne friend and local bar owner.

I’ve noticed at least one, maybe two, moments in the series in which Walt seemed to doubt Henry, even wondering if he was up to something. That’s a different and not entirely welcome spin on the rock-solid relationship between the characters from the  books. And Phillips isn’t really physically right for role since Henry is such a huge figure. But Phillips is a nice presence and I’m willing to wait to see if he’ll establish himself in the part.

“Longmire” is a pretty good, if unsurprising, TV cop show so far. Here’s hoping it will grow to become even more.



8 thoughts on “‘Longmire’ the TV show vs the Longmire books

  1. Martin

    Hi there!
    I enjoyed reading your review. I just started to read the books after seeing the whole first season of the show, so I’d like to add my two cents and offer my opinion as someone coming from the exact opposite direction.
    I’m only a couple of dozen pages into the first book so I have absolutely no clue about what actually happens in the books and how the mood and stories will develop over time. But all the main characters seem to be introduced by where I currently stand, so I’d like to talk about the differences in the characters for a second.
    I have to say, having “met” the TV version of Walt before his alter ego from the book, I like Robert Taylor’s interpretation a lot more. The Walt in the show is quiet, introverted, plagued with grief and subconscious anger, a charming but distanced antihero. The Walt in the book however is downright chipper, talking and joking all the time. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, but it seems to paint the whole picture in a completely different color. The book seems lighter, the underlying mood a lot less dark. I’m sure, once I get used to this and accept that the book is, like you said, a whole different animal, I’ll like the other Walt just as much, especially because his character in the book seems to be very well developed and thought-through. Plus, I don’t think the book could work any other way. Craig Johnson decided to tell the story from Walt’s perspective, in a first person narrative, having Walt describe his thoughts and feelings to a large but well balanced extend, while the TV show is, by definition, to be consumed from a third person view. If Johnson had written Walt like he is in the show, he wouldn’t have much to tell to fill the book’s pages.
    As to Henry Standing Bear I think the casting is actually pretty good. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even realize that he is supposed to be rather huge in the book. All the time while Henry’s character is established in the first book (the scene in The Red Pony where he tries to find out which fuse had blown after tearing down half a dry wall) I could see the exact same thing happen with Lou Diamond Phillips as the actor. The mood of the whole scene, ripping away one board after the other without thinking much of it, the rusty fuse box, his quick and dry answers to Walt’s teasing inquiries (Walt: “Do you even have a replacement [fuse]?”, Henry: “I got these!”, pulling out a roll of pennies from his pocket) could just as well happen in the show without the slightest change in how the actors chose to portrait their characters. And I’m rather glad that the show’s producers chose to seed a bit of doubt into the relationship between Walt and Henry. I think it makes them more human and gives the relationship more credibility from the readers/viewers perspective. But I admit, a perfect man-to-man friendship that cannot be touched by anything has its own charm. I’m looking forward to see how Johnson uses this for his storytelling.
    And Vic, well, you said it; they completely nailed it with Katee Sackhoff. I’m still having some issues getting used to the fact that she’s actually supposed to be a black-haired italian, but its absolutely easy to imagine Katee hanging some ugly christmas lights in mid-november, being beyond pissed at Walt for having her do this.

    The long story short: You’re right when you say that the book and the show are two different things. I sometimes think it would have been better for us, the consumer, if the TV producers had chosen to change the names and stories a lot more and make the show only loosely based on the books. That way one wouldn’t be so tempted to look for similarities, which can only lead to disappointment, but concentrate on the stories instead. But then again, the show works so well as it is that I doubt it would have been even better if more changes had been made.

    I am looking forward for the rest of this book and the ones after this. And I’m sure I won’t be disappointed when I’m done – if I manage to draw a line between the show and the books and see them as two different things.

  2. Pingback: ‘Longmire’ kicks off second season closer to the target | keithroysdon

  3. Mike H.

    Do any of the show’s episodes take material from the novels? in other words, will the books be familiar once I’ve seen the shows?

    1. keithroysdon Post author

      There are some familiar characters and elements. I’ve been watching this season and enjoying it more, so I’ll try to write something soon about that. Thanks for the idea!

  4. Pingback: ‘Longmire” hews closer to Johnson’s books | keithroysdon

  5. DAVE W.

    Keith, Thanks for your review. I watched all the seasons that were avaliable (Dec 2015) then picked up a set of 8 books. I had no idea they were so different. I have come to enjoy both sets of “animals”. The books are slow meandering single crime stories where the TV show is much fater paced and offer mutiple plot lines. I would encourage fans to explore both but keep an open mind and find pleasure in the differences.


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