Glenn Yeffeth, editor,
Seven Seasons of Buffy
(BenBella, 2003)

Where would the world be without a Buffy?

Oh, sure, the series has been cancelled and, alas, there are no convincing rumors of a movie reunion. The stars have moved onto film careers, new TV shows or, in some cases, relative obscurity. The continuing production of paperback and comic-book stories doesn't fill the void. There is just a neatly arranged row of DVDs, covering the entire, seven-year series, left to remind us of the days when Buffy the Vampire Slayer stalked the streets of Sunnydale and fought the forces of darkness.

Television programs are always going off the air. (Some, like Firefly, never even get the chance to build a following while others, like That '70s Show, jump the shark and keep on rolling.) So why does Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar, in a role that will haunt her career forever) remain in the forefront of pop-culture and public awareness? Why are academic conferences held and college courses taught on the ins and outs of the series? For various answers, read Seven Seasons of Buffy, edited by Glenn Yeffeth.

This isn't just a collection of accolades from the fans, nor is it a detailed summary of every plot and guest star. Seven Seasons is a more scholarly work, a series of essays written by science fiction and fantasy writers who want to share their thoughts, theories and conclusions about the show. Some essays are light-hearted and fun, while others are more serious in tone. All of them are very, very interesting.

David Brin, in "Buffy vs. the Old-Fashioned 'Hero'," explains why the series broke the mold of heroic mythology and set a new standard for contemporary butt-kicking. Roxanne Longstreet Conrad -- in her whimsical essay "Is That Your Final Answer...?" -- posits a test for demons that identifies the strongest force for good in Sunnydale. (It's not who you think.) In "Sex & the Single Slayer," Nancy Kilpatrick gets down and dirty with the various men who buffed the Buffster when her guard was down. Sherrilyn Kenyon, sticking with gender issues, leads "The Search for Spike's Balls" and exposes the reasons why Buffy herself is a type of vampire -- leeching the testosterone out of every male who came her way.

Does Buffy exist in a fantasy world or are elements of fantasy intruding into hers? Scott Westerfield tackles that question -- and the constant need to dispose of the evidence -- in "A Slayer Comes to Town." Peg Aloi, after admitting to the overall appeal of "young nubile characters" on the show and confessing to an overawing attraction to Giles, waxes prosaic on the merits of lovely, earthy Tara (Amber Benson) in "Skin Pale as Apple Blossom."

I hope you have time, we're just getting started.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, who knows a thing or two about vampires, examines the balance between predator and prey, while Laura Resnick explains how Buffy's good characters have bad traits, and vice versa. Michelle Sagara West roots for the underdog in an essay explaining why whitebread Riley, not Angel or Spike, was Buffy's perfect mate. For Buffy apologists, Justine Larbalestier poses numerous defenses for common series criticisms -- and explains why all her defenses collapse in the seventh season.

Jennifer Crusie runs with a major theme of the series: Buffy's romantic infatuation with death. Marguerite Krause, on the other hand, seeks meaning in various nonromantic relationships from the show. Sarah Zettel wants to know when the Scooby gang joined the "in" crowd, while Charlaine Harris ponders the connection between ugly and evil in the series. In "Power of Becoming," one of the lengthier essays, Jacqueline Lichtenberg examines the character growth of Buffy and Willow, and touches on their place in literature.

Kevin Andrew Murphy delves into the darker issues of network control and censorship ... and explains for those ignorant of British vernacular just how Joss Whedon & Co. slipped questionable gestures and profanities past the network's watching eyes. In "Innocence," Carla Montgomery opines that, for all its openness about teen sexuality, promiscuity, homosexuality and more, the series still manages to equate sex with bad things rising.

In a more critical essay, Christie Golden explains just how far Willow's witchcraft is from Wicca and wonders why the show's creative team chose a real religion as a foundation for the show's magical pyrotechnics. Jean Lorrah, on the other hand, focuses on Xander, relationships and just how "Love Saves the World." In her interesting, highly detailed and far too lengthy essay, "A World Without Shrimp," Margaret L. Carter looks at parallel dimensions, alternate realities and, hey, just whose timeline is it, anyway? Back to the subject of love, Lawrence Watt-Evans discusses all the romantic possibilities for Buffy -- whether or not they ever came up in the series -- and comes up with an unexpected match.

And, lastly, Nancy Holder quantifies the classic hero's journey that makes up the last story arc of the series.

Perhaps Peg Aloi, in her essay mentioned above, summarized it best when she wrote, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer is thinking man's eye candy. Thinking woman's dramedy. Prime-time soap opera for Trekkies. Strokevision for loner Lovecraft buffs. Textually rich, emotionally dense, psychologically juicy, it's as layered and complex as Twin Peaks without the po-mo pretension. ... Even academics like me can get away with penning essays and presenting them at conferences, and in between the sandwiches and mineral water and panel discussions and comparing of CV's we all feel a delicious glee: watching and analyzing this sexy show is legit, somehow."

For some folks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is just a show. For others, it's a phenomenon. Seven Seasons of Buffy examines the series at its peaks and nadirs, giving the lie to anyone's belief that the series was just teen action fluff. Joss Whedon created something that will last, something worthy of academic inspection. Besides all that, it's fun.

So, too, is this book, which will open more doors into the heart of the series than you ever thought existed.

by Tom Knapp
18 February 2006

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