So... I'm a recent fan of the Whedon Universe. And as I've discovered there are no casual watchers of the show. You're either in or you're not. So I'm in. In a big way. And what do I do as I wait for the next new episode of Angel? Read spoilers? No way. I have friends who have been in the fandom longer than me, and they buy books.
The first book I read about Buffy/Angel was "Reading the Vampire Slayer." I was surprised at how quickly I read it. It's true, I have always read a lot; I'm one of those people who have 4 or 6 books on the go at once. This particular book I read without reaching for one of the others. It's a collection of essays written by fans of the show who are from a wide variety of backgrounds, mostly academic. There is a research associate, a teacher, an administrator and a journalist, and others. They all approach Buffy and Angel from their own experience. If you haven't seen up to Buffy season 5 and Angel season 2, let me warn you that the whole book is a spoiler. As I'm now into multiple watchings of both shows I found these essays engrossing.
The book begins with an essay by Kaveney called "'She saved the world. A lot': An introduction to the themes and structures of Buffy and Angel". Kaveney takes us through both shows, one season at a time, while adopting the role of the tour guide who points out major themes and how various characters move the universe along.
One of my favourite things about the Whedon Universe is how they (the writers) never shy away from popular mythology. We all know that there are many views of how Vampires are, the myth vs "reality" of the undead (if there is such a thing). On Buffy the challenge was met head on when they began season five with 'Buffy vs. Dracula' (5.1). An open acknowledgement of how Vampires are viewed outside the Buffy and Angel fandom. Wilcox has written an essay called "Laugh, spawn of hell, laugh" where he begins his look at humour in the Buffy world by examining the famous Dracula/Xander exchange where Xander is invited to be the emissary of Dracula. My favourite writers are those who are able to lower our defenses through laughter and slip in a message while we're picking ourselves up off the floor. This might also be why my favourite comedians are those who kiss the edge of darkness every time they do a show. Wilcox examines some of the funnier moments in the Buffy universe, but those of us who watch religiously know that there are too many such moments to document in one small essay.
The essay that stayed with me the most after finishing the book was "Concentrate on the kicking movie. Buffy and East Asian cinema" by Dave West. As a film geek I have always loved action and well choreographed fight scenes in movies, but I never really paid much attention to how all these ideas come together. West explores how the martial arts in East Asian films differ from North American notions of martial arts. There was also information about some of the stunt doubles that have worked in the Whedon Universe. Let's all agree that when you can spot the stunt doubles vs. the actor in a fight sequence, you have watched the episode more than once. It was great to get West's view of the scenes I had been enjoying.
The only essay I was disappointed in was "Staking a claim. The series and its slash fan-fiction" by Esther Saxey. I read fan fic. A lot. I love slash fic. I saw the title of the essay and was very interested to read all about slash. However, the essay turned out to be more about who owns Joss's characters and whether or not we have a right to "borrow" them for our own fic? The only useful bit of information from the essay was that Joss doesn't seem to mind however fans choose to worship. The essay itself isn't bad - perhaps another title wouldn't have misled the reader (and pissed me off).
Did I always agree with the authors? No. I enjoyed seeing how other people see the Buffy and Angel universe. I found enough ideas about Buffy and Angel to enjoy the show on a whole new level.
The book concludes with an Episode Guide that I found very useful. As someone who watched the first five seasons of Buffy and the first two of Angel out of sequence, I appreciated the clear markers through the seasons. I have also repeatedly enjoyed a lot of episodes out of the stream of the season arc - and I'm now becoming adept at spotting which season the episode is from based on the "dusting" and the "game face". Do I know the names of all the episodes yet? No. But I'm sure I will.
Back to the Essays Index
An Unofficial Critical Companion to Buffy and Angel
Edited by Roz Kaveney
ISBN 186064 762 6