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What Would Buffy Do?: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0787969226
ISBN-10: 0787969222
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A bubbly blonde sporting black leather and whomping vampires hardly seems a spiritual paragon, but the title character of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the occult classic that aired from 1997 to 2003, is just that, argues Riess, PW's religion book review editor and a dedicated Slayer fan. Although the show is ambivalent about God's existence and ostensibly secular, it "offers a deep spiritual core that is based in ethical behavior." A "spiritually eclectic" canon on forgiveness, compassion, love, self-sacrifice and redemption guide the slayer and her friends in their battles with evil (supernatural, internal or otherwise), says Riess. Playing off the Christian youth mantra "What would Jesus do?" (which the show also pokes fun at in an episode where Xander tells Buffy, "When it's dark and I'm all alone, and I'm scared or freaked out or whatever, I always think, 'What would Buffy do?' "), Riess dissects the show's moral message according to three themes: personal spirituality, companions (friends and family) and saving the world. Sidebar quotes from prophets, philosophers and poets echo each chapter's spiritual lesson. On self-sacrifice, for example, Riess includes St. Francis's prayer for peace, and on embracing change, she refers to the Qur'an's message about change coming from within a person. This analysis, like the show, never gets mired down in too much seriousness and will add a new dimension to how both fans and critics view the popular series.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

On the surface, Buffy the Vampire Slayer doesn't seem to be a TV show associated with religion, but fans know that it has some very spiritual elements. Riess gets at the heart of the show's values and characters in this engaging book. She shows how Buffy's self-sacrifice--of a "normal" teenage existence, of the man she loves, and even of her own life--is typical of the sacrificial nature of many religious figures. The idea of redemption is also a recurring theme in the show, as Riess illustrates with three of its most complex characters: Angel, Buffy's vampire love, who becomes a soulless killer if he experiences even a moment of true happiness; Faith, the rogue slayer driven by self-hatred and envy; and Spike, the vampire whose love for Buffy causes him to seek to regain his soul. A guide to the show's seven seasons and an interview with Eliza Dushku, who played Faith, round out a fascinating, fun study. A must for fans. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 183 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (April 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0787969222
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787969226
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #513,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lawrance Bernabo HALL OF FAME on May 11, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"The Gospel According to Peanuts" by Robert L. Short is the book that I remember beginning the long string of books look at popular culture artifacts for their spiritual value. You can find similar volumes on everything from Harry Potter and the Simpson to Tony Soprano and ESPN, so it is not surprising that a volume has come out looking at "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Jana Reiss has a masters of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary to go with a Ph.D. in religion from Columbia University and is the religion book review editor at "Publisher's Weekly." She is also a fan of Buffy, although she also likes Giles and Spike, so it is not surprising that she would decide to pursue the spiritual, religious, and mythological ideas of the television series.
For me the pivotal episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in terms of the religious implications was "Amends," the third season episode written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon in which Angel is tormented by apparitions of three of his victims, including Jenny Calendar, which are really manifestations of the First. Just before dawn Buffy finds Angel on a bluff overlooking Sunnydale, waiting for sunrise so that he can die and have peace. Buffy pleads and then lashes out in anger at Angel, but before the sun can rise it starts to snow. The sun will not shine in Sunnydale that day because of the freak snowstorm. Before this episode was over I was pointing out that Whedon had just worked God into the Buffyverse. After all, who else could make it snow besides God?
Well, now we know the answer would be the Powers That Be, which are certainly god-like beings, but not the Judeo-Christian creator.
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Format: Paperback
It can be a little embarrassing to admit just how many books and articles you have read about the television show, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." If you try to put your enthusiasm into words, people look at you funny. Unless they are one of the lucky ones who have actually seen the show, and then their eyes light up with glee, just like yours. I have read quite a bit about Buffy (but not as much as Jana Riess.) I've certainly read the big three collections of academic essays about the show. "What Would Buffy Do?" is easily the best volume I've come across. It's an instant classic, a small gem of popular culture criticism.

Riess's approach is eclectic, like that of Joseph Campbell. She draws her analysis from all sorts of places: scripture, novels, drama, philosophy, are various religious traditions. Although she depends mostly on Christianity and Buddhism. Anyone who is skeptical that a "mere" TV show can sustain this kind of scrutiny will soon be convinced otherwise by Riess's intelligent, crystal-clear prose and thinking. (This book is a lot of fun to read, unlike some of the other post-modernist essays in the previously mentioned academic collections. They made my little head hurt.) There's an original interview with actress Eliza Dushku, who plays the dirty-girl slayer, Faith. She talks candidly about her experiences working on the show, and her Mormon background.

As one critic put it, "Buffy" is the most religious show on TV, a "secular universe saturated with grace." This book moves from a description of the slayer's personal spirituality, to a consideration of the spirituality of the "Scooby Gang", to an examination of what could be called the show's prophetic themes: saving the world and deliverance from evil.
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The title of WHAT WOULD BUFF DO?: THE VAMPIRE SLAYER AS SPIRITUAL GUIDE makes it obvious that the author is trying to do two things: first, she is going to discuss BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and its spin off ANGEL to a considerable extent and second, she is going to do this in such as way as to provide spiritual guidance. I give the book a five star rating, but I have to point out that it is based entirely on the way it succeeds in the first of these two tasks. I consider this to be the finest single-author analysis of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER that has yet been published, but I did not find it to be especially useful in the second of its goals, of providing spiritual guidance.
Initially I read this book simply because I am a huge BUFFY and ANGEL fan, and am a bit of a completist: I'll read just about any halfway decent discussion of BUFFY. Because of the author's desire to make Buffy into a spiritual role model, I approached the book with considerable suspicion. (For the sake of honesty, I should point out that I do have two theological degrees and did extensive graduate work on the religious thought of Kierkegaard, and still consider myself to be that rarest of creatures, a politically and socially leftist Southern Baptist, so I'm not in the least antithetical to religious ideas.) However, as I started working through Jana Riess's discussions of the various characters in Buffy and some of the themes, I was astonished at how often I found myself in agreement with her, or how she would mention some aspect of the show and I would immediately call to mind another instance that was compatible with what she said, only to have her bring that specific instance up in her book.
I think this book will delight any fan of BUFFY or ANGEL.
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