Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Review

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THE JOURNALS OF RUPERT GILES, VOL. I

by Nancy Holder

reviewed by Shiai

Rupert Giles

There are several levels of Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels. There are the undeniably "Adult" works, which blend wit, fantasy and horror with the best of any genre works. Then there are the so-called Young Adult books, which tend to simplify their stories (although it can only rarely be said that any of these books are simplistic). And finally, there are the novelizations of actual episodes from the television show.

"The Journals of Rupert Giles, Vol. 1" falls into this last category.

(And the title is misleading...there have not been any additional "Journals" published to date.)

In a way, episode novelizations aren't wholly "real" novels, as they're basically just scripts rewritten into prose form, with little or no changes.

But author Nancy Holder has turned the concept of the novelization upside down, and in so doing, produced a surprisingly good novel!

Her task was to take three existing Giles-centric episode scripts ("Helpless" by David Fury, "A New Man" by Jane Espenson, and "Blood Ties" by Steven S. DeKnight), adapt them into one book, and link them loosely. In other such Buffy novelizations, the linking sections are the barest of efforts; for instance, in "The Willow Files," the three script stories are tied together vaguely by a few paragraphs from Willow's diary, which offer little in the way of depth or insight; it's just a device to create the illusion that the book is one full story, rather than three short, unrelated ones.

But Holder rejects this established premise. Or, more precisely, she breaks down its self-imposed limitations and takes it to new frontiers. For the author has decided to take three seemingly unrelated events from the past and weave them into the tapestry of a single story.

The book opens with Rupert Giles, Watcher to Buffy Summers, the current Slayer (a mortal girl chosen by the Powers That Be to battle supernatural menaces to mankind), crafting a magical symbol alone in the woods outside of the town of Sunnydale, California, where Buffy lives. It is the night of Buffy's twentieth birthday, and only hours after the events of "Blood Ties" took place.

With singleminded intent, Giles completes the mystic circle on the cold ground. He then pauses to collect his thoughts, and his emotions are clearly tinged with melancholy. For some unfathomable reason, Buffy seems to face some of her most dangerous crises on her birthdays, and today was most definitely not an exception.

Giles thinks of his predestined task, to be the Slayer's Watcher...her mentor. He thinks of Jenny Calendar, an early ally in Giles and Buffy's crusade, "dead in the earth these three years...he would always miss her. Always love her." He thinks of his youth at Oxford. And then he slashed his palm with a ceremonial knife and summoned the demon Krathalal with the lure of a blood rite.

The lifespan of a Slayer is traditionally not lengthy. Usually called around the age of 15, very few lived to see 20. Buffy has reached that milestone, but Giles is now terrified that her luck can't hold out much longer. In order to better the odds in her favor, Giles now offers his own life to Krathalal, in exchange for the demon to use its power to protect Buffy until her next birthday, to grant her at least one more full year of life.

Intrigued by the offer, the demon agrees...but first, he forces the dying Watcher to read aloud three entries from his own journal.

The first is "Helpless," which chronicles the events of Buffy's 18th birthday...as well as the details of her own Watcher's betrayal of her. The Cruciamentum is a test given to every Slayer on her 18th birthday (should she live long enough to see that day), designed to test her courage and intellect in a situation where she does not have her powers. Secretly given a potent drug by her own Watcher, Buffy is reduced to being simply human again. Then, under the machinations of the Council of Watchers, the secret cabal which has guided the Slayers since ancient times, she is trapped in a building with a particularly crazed vampire named Kralik. Her goal is to defeat him without having her powers to rely upon. Failing that, she will surely die, and another teenaged girl will be called by the Powers That Be to serve as the next Slayer.

Although Giles reluctantly goes along with the Council's plan at first, he ultimately decides that, Watcher or no, he cannot stand idly by while the seemingly helpless Buffy faces Kralik, even if it means the end of his career. As Quentin Travers, the head of the Council, observes, "You have a father's love for the child."

The tale finished, Krathalal observes that Buffy trusted him, yet he betrayed her. The interpretation pains Giles, because at heart it is true. The demon then instructs the Watcher to read another entry which it has specifically chosen.

"A New Man" takes place one year later, on Buffy's 19th birthday. Giles is unemployed and a bit aimless, while Buffy and her friends (the "Scooby Gang") are busy with college and romantic relationships, leaving Giles feeling far outside the inner-circle. Feeling sorry for himself, Giles runs into an old nemesis/friend, Ethan Rayne, and the two decide to drown their sorrows in a pint or twenty. But Rayne, who is always up to something more than what he admits to...and it's usually something wicked...has spiked Rupert's drink. As a result, the Watcher awakens the next morning not only with a nasty hangover, but with the shocked discovery that he has been turned into a Fyarl demon! Naturally, he can only speak in a demonic tongue now, so he can't communicate with Buffy or the Scoobies. And, naturally, taking one look at the monstrous beast, they're convinced he's evil and must be slain.

And Buffy comes within a heartbeat of doing so, until she looks deep into the eyes of the monster and says, "Oh, God. Giles!"

Krathalal muses that on that day, it was the Slayer's turn to betray her Watcher, nearly killing him in the process. But now Giles understands what the demon is doing...it's attempting to weaken the Watcher's resolve, to break his will in despair and drive him to try and renounce the bargain with the devil, in which case Krathalal can still claim Giles' life, but not have to offer the boon of protecting Buffy.

Lastly, the demon orders the Watcher to open his journal to its most recent entry, the events of the last twenty-four hours, in a tale called "Blood Ties."

Glory the Hellgod, a seemingly indestructible being, is on Earth and searching for something known only as the Key, and she doesn't much care who she has to kill to get it. A band of monks who had protected the key for untold generations, knowing they could no longer guard it from the mad goddess, used the power of the Key itself to not only create a human vessel to hide it within, but to actually alter reality to the point where everyone who knew the vessel would be implanted with false memories, so that they would believe they had always known this person...even the Key, for its own safety, would not know the truth about itself And the vessel they created was Dawn Summers, the younger sister of the Slayer.

But Buffy had discovered that Dawn was not really her sister...indeed, not a real person at all, and she shared the information with her Watcher. At first, they decide to tell no one else, not even Buffy's Mother, who goes on believing that she has a second child. But finally, with Glory growing closer to uncovering the truth about the Key, Buffy and Giles decide that the Scoobies, who will be risking their lives to battle the Hellgod, deserve to know about Dawn. Unfortunately, Dawn overhears them, learns the truth about herself, and runs away in horror...straight into the hands of Glory.

Buffy and her friends manage to rescue Dawn, but they are unable to defeat Glory; the best they can manage is to escape. And it is this encounter which has driven Giles into the woods, and into making a Faustian bargain with the Mephistic Krathalal, in order to save his Slayer.

The demon now taunts Giles, telling him that his usefulness to Buffy is over. But the Watcher cannot be swayed...in rereading his entries, he has come to realize just how important the bond between himself and Buffy is. Travers was right, they are more like father and daughter than Watcher and Slayer. Giles thinks, "I am her father, in nearly every sense of the word. What a wonderful life I have led. It's a life worth giving up for her...."

Holder has done an excellent job of weaving three separate stories into a narrative whole, and in employing a linking sequence that not only makes for a good story in its own right, but which is also crafted in such a way as to allow Giles to draw a specific lesson from the three tales he told...that no matter what his official role, his true worth to Buffy is as father.

Perhaps even more importantly, however, Holder has taken three stories written by others and already fixed firmly in the minds of TV viewers and added her own touches to them. The edge which a novel has over a script is that the author is able to take the reader into the minds of the characters, and in all three adaptations, she layers on backstory and motivation and little bits that longtime fans of the show cannot help but love. I've chosen an example from each story to illustrate this:

In "Helpless," Holder takes us into the head of Xander Harris, the irreverent, steadfast Scooby, always ready with a quip. The Scoobies are desperately searching for some explanation as to how Buffy lost her powers, not knowing that Giles knows the secret truth. Buffy asks her Watcher if he has discovered anything, and he taciturnly says no, he hasn't. Watching this exchange, Xander thinks, Huh. Not the usual thing for him, acting like she's buggin' with a big-azz question like that. Maybe he's got acute Watcher-waster disease, only instead of losing the ability to punch and slash like the Buffster, his vast powers of sarcasm and sardonic British humor will mysteriously disappear.

Then I, and I alone, will rule as king of the witty retort.

Muwahaha.

"A New Man" takes place not long after Willow Rosenberg has met a fellow Wiccan practitioner, Tara Maclay, at UC Sunnydale. Tara, painfully shy and afflicted with a stammer, felt a strong affinity with Willow the moment they met, and now Willow has asked if they could try some magick together.

Willow was actually there, in Tara's room, and Tara was so very happy. Her face was warm, and she was too shy to tell the pretty redhead that she had prayed to the Goddess for her dear new friend to come to her. And magickally, wonderfully, she was here....

"I'm glad you wanted to get together," Willow said warmly. "I know it's late."

"I...thanks," Tara managed, actually getting all the words out without stammering. "I was happy you called." Actually, I was ecstatic. I hurried to place an apple for the Goddess in the woods by the bike path....

I really like this person, Tara thought...She's sweet and nice and...and I think she wants to be my friend.

And finally, in "Blood Ties," Holder gives us a glimpse into the thoughts of Spike, the vampire who was once one of Buffy's deadliest enemies, but who now struggles to do good...and who also secretly loves the Slayer.

Spike the Vampire stood in the shadows at the back of the house on Revello, havin' a cigarette, watching the general merriment of the Slayer's twentieth birthday party through the windows. He felt supremely sorry for himself.

When Charles Dickens wrote those novels about the orphans always looking in, never part of the fun, he was thinking about me. Okay, not me precisely, but he knew about the loneliness of the human heart. Or the unbeatin' vampire heart. At any rate, he got it, and God, she looks good enough to eat tonight. Not that I would bite her, even if I could. Unless she wanted me to....

There are two ways in which to do a novelization of Buffy the Vampire Slayer...the usual way, and Nancy Holder's way. She set the challenge for herself to take what she was given and really run with it, making the works of a trio of other writers something very nearly her own. And in so doing, she has created something that even viewers who have memorized every line of dialogue from these episodes can enjoy, because of all of the added elements she has contributed.

As Rupert Giles cares about Buffy Summers, Nancy Holder cares about these stories.

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