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The Biggest Differences Between The Virgin River Books And The Show

Netflix's "Virgin River" is a fan-favorite show based on a series of romance novels by author Robyn Carr. Set in the small Northern California town from which the series takes its name, the drama series stars Alexandra Breckenridge as Melinda "Mel" Monroe, a nurse practitioner and midwife from Los Angeles who has relocated to Virgin River looking for a fresh start. She ends up with more than she bargained for, though, when she falls in love with the hunky and reliable Jack Sheridan (Martin Henderson), a former Marine and the owner of the local restaurant and bar.

If you're a fan of the show and thinking of reading the books (or the other way around!), you should know that the series doesn't follow Carr's novels to a T. In fact, the show has changed a number of things along the way. Sometimes these changes are practical and have been made out of necessity, while sometimes they are done to add more drama to the proceedings. These are the biggest differences between the Virgin River books and the Netflix show.

The show introduces characters much quicker than the books

Each book in the "Virgin River" series follows a new and different set of protagonists while previous characters remain as secondary characters or in the background. That would be a strange way to write an ongoing TV show though, so the series' writers have chosen to combine multiple books and introduce characters much sooner than they were introduced on the page, while keeping Mel and Jack at the center of the story.

For instance, the first season of the show combines the storylines from the first two books, "Virgin River" and "Shelter Mountain," as the character of Paige (Lexa Doig) isn't introduced until the second book but appears as a recurring character and love interest for Preacher (Colin Lawrence) during the first season of the show. Meanwhile, the second season of the show introduces Jack's friend Mike (Marco Grazzini), whose relationship with Jack's sister, Brie (Season 3 newcomer Zibby Allen), is actually at the center of the third book, "Whispering Rock."

Introducing characters early and combining storylines from multiple books into single seasons of the show is a smart storytelling decision because it helps to build out the small town at the center of the story while creating a more balanced narrative. However, it does seem the show's writers also take liberties with these storylines as well (see: Paige being written out of the show early in Season 2 after her ex-husband comes to town looking for her).

Mel's husband didn't die in a car accident in the books, nor did she lose a child

In the TV show, Mel moves to Virgin River after the sudden and shocking death of her husband Mark (Daniel Gillies), who died in a car accident while the two were arguing about whether or not they should continue trying to have another child after their first baby was stillborn. In the books, Mel's trauma does not have quite as many layers, though it remains very sad. 

In the first book of the series, it's revealed that Mel moves to the small remote town after Mark was killed during a convenience store robbery. However, although Mel and Mark struggled with infertility and trying to have a child in the books, Mel had never successfully gotten pregnant, let alone lost a child. In fact, in the books, she's not as infertile as she thought, since she miraculously becomes pregnant with Jack's child after the two begin a relationship.

Hope and Doc are different on the page

In both the books and the TV show, Mel is hired by Hope McCrea (Annette O'Toole), the mayor of Virgin River, to help the aging town doctor, Vernon "Doc" Mullins (Tim Matheson), at his local practice. But while the show's version of Hope is a central character and a consistent presence in the series' ongoing storylines, she's a more minor character in the novels, popping in and out every once in a while but mostly staying in the background. This means the relationship she has with Doc in the show also does not exist on the page.

But beyond these differences, the characters themselves are also written differently for the show. Hope appears to be older in the novels than she is in the show, and in order to deepen the character, they've also seemingly changed her personality a bit to be more comical and quirky in nature. Meanwhile, Doc is portrayed as a gruff older man in both the books and the TV show, but perhaps even more so early on in the show. He does seem to lighten up a bit as the series goes on, though. However, if Reddit is any indication, fans of the novels are definitely not pleased with the way the writers have changed his and Hope's characters.

Charmaine is a minor character in the books

Fans of Mel and Jack's love story might like to know that in the books Charmaine (Lauren Hammersley), the woman with whom Jack has a casual physical relationship prior to Mel's arrival in town, is a relatively minor character who causes little trouble for the duo. In fact, once Jack begins to register his growing feelings for Mel, he does the right thing and immediately breaks things off with Charmaine, who easily accepts the decision. 

This means that all of the drama surrounding Charmaine and her pregnancy in the second season was fabricated for the show in order to add more drama and another obstacle to Mel and Jack's story. However, it should be mentioned that the character does get pregnant in the books, but that Jack is not the father. (And hey, it's possible he's not the father in the show, too, as some viewers have already begun speculating.)

The books are much more romantic and adult

Like many romance novels, the "Virgin River" books are all written with happily ever afters in mind because the characters' love stories are more or less finished by the end of each novel and it doesn't much matter what happens to them after they get together. TV doesn't work that way. So much like how the show's writers had to combine storylines from multiple books in order to create a balanced narrative with enough characters to fill out the small town at the center of the story, the writers have again been forced to deviate from the page and add in a lot more dramatic elements to keep the characters' stories moving. After all, the first season can't end with Mel and Jack living happily ever after—where would the series go next? So, while romance is still central to the "Virgin River" story, various narrative obstacles have been added to the story to keep the characters apart for longer or to keep them moving forward but at a slower pace (i.e. Charmaine's pregnancy, Jack being shot). This results in a show that is more dramatic than romantic in nature.

Additionally, the books, like most romance novels, are aimed at adult audiences and feature lots of intimate sex between characters. Unsurprisingly, the show dials this back a bit to keep things PG-13, which means you don't have to worry about someone walking in the room while you're watching the show.