I have been a full fledged Buffy fanatic ever since the first episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer aired way back in 1997. Like so many other teens and twenty-somethings I connected with Buffy and the Scoobie Gang because I saw aspects of my own life reflected in their travails. Not only do I love watching the show, I love reading about it as well. As the academic area known as Buffy Studies grew, spawning conferences and the online literary magazine Slayage, I devoured any and all academic material I could find relating to Buffy. Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite Television Show had been on my wish list for some time, so when I got it for Christmas I dove in with glee.
Unfortunately, it wound up being one of those mixed bags I so often find myself writing about. There were only a handful or really stand out essays. Roxanne Longstreet Conrad’s essay “Is That Your Final Answer…” takes the form of a long essay question on a young demon’s midterm. The question? Identify and prove the identity of the most powerful individual force for good in Sunnydale. What makes this essay really interesting, aside from the inventive frame, is the respondent’s thoughtful answer that Xander Harris is the most powerful force for good. In “A Slayer Comes to Town” Scott Westerfield interprets Buffy through his own theoretical framework, identifying the central themes that Buffy has in common with several other science fiction and fantasy oriented shows. And in “Unseen Horrors & Shadowy Manipulations” Kevin Andrew Murphy looks at how the demands of censors and studio executives shaped the series.
However, most of the essays were disappointing. In “A Buffy Confession” Justine Larbalestier spends thirteen pages lambasting people who constantly whine that the show was better last season, and then turns into one of those people in the last page of the essay. Sherrilyn Kenyon puts forth the absurd argument that Buffy is really a psychic vampire who feeds off the testosterone of all the men in her life in “The Search for Spike’s Balls.” It would be interesting if she actually used evidence from the show to back up her thesis.
One of the problems with this collection is the editor has chosen to include several essays on the same topic, all of which eventually come to the same conclusion. There were a number of essays about Buffy’s love life, or that specifically cited it as an example to illustrate another point. Yet, there was almost no variation in the interpretations. They all concluded that Buffy and the Scoobies have had almost uniformly horrible love lives. Tell me something I don’t know! With so many different essays on the same topic, I would expect each to present a different view on the issue. Reading so many authors come to the same conclusion was not only redundant but a massive waste of my time as a reader.
And that, as I said, isn’t the fault of the essayists, but of editor Glenn Yaffeth. It wasn’t until after I’d placed Seven Seasons of Buffy on my bookshelf that I realized I’d had a bad experience with his work in the past. He also edited a collection of essays on The Matrix called Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosphy, and Religion in The Matrix that I was less than dazzled by.
I also had Five Seasons of Angel, a book of essays in the same vein and also edited by Yaffeth, on my wish list for a while. After reading Seven Seasons of Buffy it came off. I have come to the realization that Yaffeth and I simply do not mix. The five or six good essays are worth the read if you are a hardcore Buffy fan, but don’t spend money on the whole thing. Borrow the book from a friend or read through it at the library or in Barnes and Noble. If a truly stellar collection of academic Buffy writings is what you’re looking for I highly recommend Buffy, The Vampire Slayer and Philosophy edited by James South. Or if you’re specifically interested in what the series has to say about religion, check out What Would Buffy Do by Jana Riess.