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Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Paperback – November 5, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This accessible collection of essays on Buffy the Vampire Slayer defends the artistic merit of the fantasy TV show with equal parts wit and insight. Wilcox, an English professor at Gordon College, is a fan of the series and doesn't condescend to other fans or disparage what she believes is "art, and deserves to be so studied. It is a work of literature, of language...of visual art...of music and sound." Wilcox looks at the big-picture narrative arc and at individual episodes, finding impressive, but sometimes tenuously connected, influences at work: Joseph Campbell's momomyth, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, John Donne, Virgil and Charles Dickens. "One of the great themes of Dickens's Bleak House," she writes, "is our interconnection; and one of the great themes of Buffy is the virtue of community." Not surprisingly, the author has no patience for critics and academics who dismiss Buffy as mere "cult TV" on the basis of its genre and argues that fantasy can have more emotional resonance than realism. Though not convincing as a work of genuine scholarship, Wilcox's book is a serviceable addition to the canon of Buffy.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Although television is often looked down upon, Wilcox, one editor of Slayage, the online journal devoted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, presents a compelling argument for it as an art form as worthy of respect and acknowledgment as film or literature. She furthers her argument by using Joss Whedon's iconic show as a salient example, drawing on the depth of the characters, the symbolism in the show, and the many real-world commentaries that permeate its narrative. The first half of the book deals with everything from the significance of the characters' names in relation to their identities to parallels between Buffy and the Harry Potter saga, while the second half offers detailed analyses of seven of Buffy's finest, most complex episodes, including the ones that deal with the loss of Buffy's virginity and the almost entirely silent episode "Hush." The library of scholarly Buffy titles continues to grow, with Wilcox's thoughtful, accessible volume an honorable addition to it. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: I. B. Tauris; First Edition edition (November 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845110293
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845110291
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.7 x 14 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #746,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rhonda V. Wilcox, Ph.D., is a professor of English at Gordon State College (Georgia) who has been writing about good television since the last century. She is the editor of Studies in Popular Culture and the coeditor of Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association. She is the author of Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2005); she is the coeditor, with David Lavery, of Fighting the Forces: What's at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2002); with Tanya R. Cochran, of Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier (2008); and with Sue Turnbull, of Investigating Veronica Mars: Essays on the Teen Detective Series (2011). She is also the coeditor of Reading Joss Whedon, forthcoming in spring 2014 from Syracuse University Press.

She is a founder and past president of the Whedon Studies Association, past president of the Popular Culture Association in the South, and a co-founding editor of Critical Studies in Television. With David Lavery, she started the Slayage conferences on Whedon--which have met every two years, starting in 2004, and which she is now continuing with Tanya Cochran and a host of other dedicated Whedonists (Whedonians? Whedonites? never sure...).

She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband, writer/musician/photographer Richard Gess; she is the mother of artist Jeff Gess, who works at the Guggenheim in New York City. She has lectured around the world on the television series that she loves, trying to wake people up to the reality that television can be art.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Hannsgen on November 19, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After you've watched several episodes of the 7-year TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," you begin to suspect that, just as in Sunnydale, something is going on beneath the surface. Wilcox explores the depths, revealing the artistic devices with which the series' creators built their marvelous world. This hardened "Buffy" follower found new insights and observations throughout the book. (Try, for example, the chapters on Buffy/Spike, "The Body," and "Once More, With Feeling.") Wilcox convinced me, too, that there's still much more to think about here - a telling point in the argument that Buffy matters.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Breezie on March 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
I bought this book after Christmas and really enjoyed it. I found Wilcox's writing to be clear and often concise. I really enjoyed the essay topics that she included, especially "When Buffy Meets Harry" which compares Buffy and Harry Potter. She does a remarkable job comparing to two of them. As a student in Media Studies and Philosophy, I found her analysis on various subjects to be very insightful.

Non-academics can really appreciate this book and understand her essays. While I do have some philosophical background, I was still able to grasp her material much easier the first time around than some of the essays I have found in other academic Buffy books.

My only complaint is her fixation with Freud, I felt that Freud and phallic comparisons were made far more often than necessary and in ways that I didn't feel were warranted. But it could just be that I'm not a big fan a Freud.

In conclusion, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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30 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 6, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
To this day, when discussing aesthetic matters with my more intellectual friends, if I mention BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, the initial reaction is usually a snicker, as if bringing BUFFY into a serious discussion was indistinguishable from doing the same with BARNEY or HEE HAW. Once they realize that I'm not making a joke but being serious, there is a somewhat stunned reaction, then amazement upon realizing that this television show with the inconceivably silly name might be taken seriously by anyone. Then there is further amazement when I inform them that BUFFY is probably the most popular show of all time among academics, who often tend to write about it not merely as detached spectators, but fans. In fact, nearly three years after the end of the series, Buffy Studies remains a vital and even expanding field. As television studies moves more and more towards the textual discussion of individual shows, a canon of the great shows is gradually forming. Though the list of canonical shows is rather small and still very much in flux, there is no question that BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is one of those few shows. Rhonda Wilcox, author of this fine collection of essays, has done as much as anyone within academia to further the serious discussion of the show.

Why does Wilcox's book matter? I can best illustrate this by referring to a proposal that C. S. Lewis makes in AN EXPERIMENT IN CRITICISM. Most critics, Lewis points out, primarily focus on what works are good or bad, a practice Lewis laments because what is regarded as great in one generation is frowned upon in another, while a reviled book in one era is considered a classic in another. Instead, Lewis suggests, we should focus instead on what works promote good reading and which preclude it.
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26 of 36 people found the following review helpful By cannotlogon on February 21, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was eager to read this book, but, ultimately found it wanting and remarkably sloppy. The book's intent, ostensibly, is to evaluate/examine the place of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the context of art, television and storytelling, in general. While it might very well have accomplished this laudable task, it is, in the end, undone by a truly slapdash writing and editing. The individual chapters are horribly disjointed, and the thematic arcs are lost in a mish-mash of misplaced references and overlong digressions that are almost imposssible to follow.

Initially, I thought perhaps this was a product of the kind of stilted, self-congratulatory, self-referential writing that weighs down many "academic" endeavors to discuss TV; however, as I continued to muddle through this book -- making inevitable mental comparisons to the many far better books I've read on the subject -- I realized that it was hindered not by its subject or its goal, but merely by poor writing and even worse editing.

I've read four or five books on the TV series, and found them all, in some manner or another, enriching and informative (the best of the lot by far being "Philosophy and BtVS: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale"). Alas, this was not one of them.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By R. Plant on May 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
I found this book absolutely fascinating. Anyone whom is interested in the critical analysis of televison or film should read this. In terms of her writing, she does digress and is often bias- but she has clear and strong arugments with which she backs up well.
I admit, I am a huge Buffy fan. And yes, I am making an effort to read all the literature out there on the show (I do myself write articles) BUT I don't think you need to be a Buffy fan to read this.
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By Mike Ryder on September 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
Growing up I loved Superman and Batman comics, and my mother despaired that I would destroy my mind by wasting time on "rubbishy comic books." She tried to force me to rather read trashy kids books, that no one remembers. But 40 years later, Superman and Batman remain as enduring archetypes for our modern world! This taught me the valuable lesson that just because something is entertaining and fun, it does NOT follow that it is trashy and a waste of time! In fact, often it means the opposite. Buffy is a case in point. Seldom has a TV show that was so entertaining been so reflective of, and influential upon, an entire generation of viewers. Buffy make an enormous contribution to our modern world of archetypes and heroes/ This book provides a gateway to understand the strength and diversity of Buffy's contributions. I recommend this book, especially if read in conjunction with The New Female Action Hero: An Analysis of Female Masculinity in the New Female Action Hero in Recent Films and Television Shows, which develops the profound (and deeply feminist) way in which Buffy contributed to the continuing evolution of the hero archetype - an archetype that continues to be central to modern culture.
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