Buffy the Vampire Slayer
With new Harry Potter films and a Hocus Pocus remake in the works, the occult seems as popular as ever. But before Twilight and American Horror Story became cultural touchstones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer brought supernatural to the small screen. Following an unsuccessful film, the TV show became an enormous success, spawning merchandise, newspaper articles and even serious academic critiques. The final episode may have aired in 2003, but the series continues in comic book form and just last year The Independent published an article online discussing the election of Donald Trump through the lens of Buffy. In fact, the show was so influential that in a 2004 article discussing census data, The Times credited “programmes such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for the rise of paganism in the UK.
As well as making for entertaining TV, witchcraft and the occult have a number of links to Richmond Borough. Richmond has been home not only to Montague Summers, an eccentric scholar-come-reverend who wrote many books on the supernatural, but also the infamous Aleister Crowley. Hauntings are also an apparently widespread phenomenon in this historic borough, from Penlee House to the very haunted Ham House. There are reports of as many as 16 different ghosts at the latter. While we can’t verify any of these ghostly reports (and nor, apparently, can the police) we do hold numerous books by Montague Summers and Aleister Crowley in our collection.
The Demon-hunting Librarian
Any fan of Buffy has a soft spot for Rupert Giles, the school librarian and Buffy’s Watcher. As Watcher his job was to guide Buffy in her physical and psychological development as the Slayer through her training. However, it was his enormous collection of occult books and knowledge of all things demonic that kept saving the day. From almanacs to the diaries of demon acolytes his extensive collection could always point towards the answer. Giles is such a cultural icon that he was mentioned in a piece in The Times on how to become a librarian – along with a disclaimer that most librarians don’t spend quite as much time hunting demons.
Jenny Calendar is less of an icon than Giles, but was a major character during her time on the show. Her love of all things technological contrasted with Giles’ hatred of computers and the internet. Having revealed herself as a “technopagan,” her knowledge of magic, computer programming and comfort with the internet all proved valuable. Jenny’s vanquishing demons from the internet and translation of ancient curses proved that technology isn’t the enemy of old knowledge. Rather, Jenny showed that technology can be a vital tool for research and cataloguing, as well as connecting online communities. The nudge towards technology continued after Jenny left the show. The Scoobies continued researching online, as the internet increased access to knowledge – in the real world and the Buffyverse.
The Books of Ascension
Despite the Scoobies embracing technology, books still played an important role in Buffy. Apart from Giles’ insistence that knowledge should be “tangible… smelly,” the information needed when researching centuries-old demons isn’t always online. In Series 3, the Books of Ascension were the only resource with the full details of how the Mayor would turn into a demon, causing several episodes worth of drama while everyone tried to get their hands on them. Buffy is a prime example of how even online resources have their limits if used exclusively. Information needs to be uploaded to be accessible, while books need to be physically present to access their contents. Throughout the series we see all manner of databases and websites as well as obscure books used for research. Ultimately, Buffy shows that a variety of resources allow us to get the most information – and save the day.
The language used by Buffy and her friends is another memorable aspect of the show. The slang and nods to Valley Girl speech are so distinctive that the language of Buffy has spawned academic papers and even a lexicon. As in the show, slang is often a unique and perplexing part of speech. It can even leave people speaking the same language almost unable to understand each other. A quote from one of Giles’ diaries demonstrates this problem: “…[Buffy’s] abuse of the English Language is such that I understand only every other sentence.” As such, multiple books have been written about slang, including dictionaries, histories, guides and translations of other books into slang. There are even specialised dictionaries for the slang of a specific group, which Giles probably would have been very grateful to have.
With various news outlets declaring 2018 “Year of the Woman,” now might be a good time to remember Buffy Summers. Designed to turn the stereotype of the ditzy blonde cheerleader on its head, Buffy was smart, strong, and responsible. After all, the fate of the world was literally in her hands. The final episode was the ultimate girl power manifesto. It showed that every girl could be strong, and by working together good could always triumph. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a fun, campy show with a big heart and a belief in strong women, and it’s no wonder that it was voted as the second most missed show in a 2005 poll.
Not to forget (arguably) the most important moral of the show: next time you need to save the world, head straight to your local library.
A companion Pinterest board to this blog post, containing books from our catalogue that Giles might have found interesting, can be found here. Members of the library can click through the links to view the articles and resources in our Online Information Library. Members can also access current and back copies of SFX via RBdigital.
[Iona, Library Assistant]