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American Library Association

Bibliographic Good vs. Evil in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Author(s): GraceAnne A. DeCandido Reviewed work(s): Source: American Libraries, Vol. 30, No. 8 (Sep., 1999), pp. 44-47 Published by: American Library Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25637287 . Accessed: 20/11/2012 00:43
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44 Media I

Bibliographic

Good

vs.

Evil

KNOWLEDGE PREVAILS OVER THE FORCES OF DARKNESS, THANKSTO RUPERTGILES,

am not alone in thebelief that the appearance of school librarian Rupert Giles on television's Buffy theVampire Slayer has done more for the image of the profession than anything in the past 50 years, with the possible exception of Katharine Hepburn in Desk Set. Giles, this wily and attractive professional, is our hero librarian: a pop culture idol whose love of books and devotion to research hold the key to saving the universe?every week. I know librarians who use quotations from the episodes in their e-mail signature files; even the Internet Public Library (www.ipl.org) has named all of its office computers after characters in the show. For those who might inexpli cably have missed it,here is a rundown of the dramatis personae in theBuffyverse I
over the past three seasons.

Giles is The Watcher: the source of training, counterintelligence, and guid SCHOOL ance forhigh-school student Buffy Summers, the one of her generation chosen to LIBRARIAN be Vampire Slayer. Giles is school librarian at the Others in the cast definitely hail from the high school in Sunny dale, a balmy southern California townmost notable for being dark side. Buffy's own love (and sometimes situated on theHellmouth?a place where ex-honey) is a brooding, beautiful, 243 vampires, demons, and the forces of year-old Irish vampire named Angel, who a conscience. darkness gather as bees to honey. has been cursed with There a are and Evil blonde of demons, many vampires, Guys, Buffy, small, delicate-looking some ofwhom make multiple appearances. superhuman strength, relies on Giles not only for adult support and coaching, but High-school principal Snyder is a regular also for the research necessary to do that for bad guy, while the town's mayor is an evil which theVampire Slayer has been chosen. of monumental proportions. In the third season, Giles was officially re lieved from his Watcher duties, but he ig Giles: our great sage and sex symbol nores that and continues as Buffy's trainer, It is a heady experience for any profes to find itself an integral part of a wildly sion and confidant, father-figure. popular TV series. How much more so for Buffy's buds (called affectionately the librarians, who have been bedeviled with a Slayerettes or the Scooby Gang) include the never-cool Xander; his best friend, the bril poor public image since at least the 19th SuperLibrarian across liant and the stereotype Giles moves Willow; century. characteristics: fashion-impaired in other, not necessarily positive ways?he sweetie Xander's reluctant and later nem Respects the sacredness is both male and technologically inept. esis, the gorgeously shallow Cordelia; and of the book. Willow's genius (and occasional werewolf) Giles is tweedy, occasionally befuddled, musician. Oz the and very wise, with a certain amount of boyfriend They comprise Saves theworld daily darkness in his own past. He dropped out group. They meet and con support Buffy's through information. duct much of their research in the school li of Oxford to pursue high magick, but then to the British Library and thence to whose moved brary. Giles, collection-development Investsthemundane an must be document, policy extraordinary Sunnydale when duty called. He comes with a fierce joy. has access in the stacks to a vast number of from a family of Watchers, reads multiple volumes on vampire and demon lore, the languages, and, until her untimely death, Stands for adult comfort occult, witchcraft, spellcasting, and other and reassurance. rarities not usually found among the copies GRACEANNE A. DeCANDIDO is an editorand of Huckleberry Finn and Weetzie Bat. (That writer with her own company, Blue Roses. She has Knows that some days, at his alma mater, Oxford, and gets him into trouble with censors, too, as evil prevails. spoken about Giles we have seen in the "Gingerbread" epi at his state conference, the California Library
sode.) Association. E-mail: ladyhawk@well.com. Libraries September 1999

American

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Media I45

in

Buffy

the

Vampire

Slayer

By GraceAnne A. DeCandido

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librarian Rupert
resources reference
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^^^^J^P^^ ^^Sf^^^8j^^^y^S B^^^^8B^^^^^^^^^kS^^P Xander, t^ElfP^l^ t Cordelia. I^^^^^^^^^Bl^&Si ^^^5|flB#'^^K^"*K'| * f^^^^^^^HHl^^^K^ ^^^S^IIHb^^^^H^^^^^^^^^^B^^B ^^^^^^^

and

had a passionate relationship with the Romany


pagan computer instructor, Jenny Calendar.

techno

timateweapon"
when there

are

and that format is the least of our problems


vampires and demons about.

Here is a librarianmodel who is elegant, deeply edu cated, well (if fussily) dressed, handsome, and charged with eroticism. In a world of teens where parents rarelymake an appearance, he is a stable, friendly, and supportive adult. He stands by Buffy even when the powers that be require him to step down. He lives the faith that answers can be found, and most often found in the pages of a book. Giles is icon and image forus; in him we see our quotid ian struggles to provide the right information and the right data resolved into a cosmic drama with the forces of dark ness (some ofwhich are extremely attractive, by theway). We love Giles because at lastwe have a pop image for our uneasy relationship with dark and light, information and story, books and technology. We mourned when?and this is as emotionally compli cated as it gets?the vampire with a soul who loved Buffy murders Jenny,whom Giles loved.We see Giles struggle valiantly with information sources, we can see his love of
story, we can see, as Xander says, 1999 that "knowledge is the ul

"I believe the subtext here is rapidly becoming text" The librarians who follow Buffydiscover much library
lore and

sional drop of genuine wisdom, zens of Sunnydale.


Willow: know How what's going

information-seeking

behavior,

as well

as an

occa

in thewords of the deni

searching

Giles: Well, it.

is it you always know this stuff? You always on. I never know what's going on. here from midnight until six re you weren't

?"Angel"

The plodding nature ofmost research cannot be elimi nated, even by brilliance and magic, even when we might not want to know what it iswe are seeking. It is Giles's par ticular gift to cast a glamour over the kind of dogged refer ence we practice daily. He invests themethodical search for the fact thatwill solve the problem at hand with a kind of fierce joy, but he never underestimates its cost in time or
care.

American

Libraries

September

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46 Media |
Giles: ternoon. I'm sure my books and I are ?"Phases" in for a fascinating af stories of children, making up bedtime Angel: They're to comfort themselves in the dark. friendly vampires Imean Is that so bad? Willow: the dark can get pretty to Me" ?"Lie dark. Sometimes you need a story.

Get my books. Look stuff Giles, echoingBuffy: up.


?"The Willow: I'm sure he will. He's like... Book Man! ?"Passion"

Pack"

Books are central. It is in books thatGiles, as the Watcher, finds the images, the information, the incanta tion, the lore thatwill assist Buffy in her struggle against theHellmouth and its universe ofmonsters. While Giles re lies upon Willow to search the Internet for materials, like newspaper records and police logs not easily accessible in print, Giles believes thatwhat he needs to know forBuffy's sake lies in his many vol
umes at home and at work.

Giles also makes that neces sary leap of faith common to all good librarians: He bridges the chasm between the information as it lives in the text and the transferof that information into a form the Slayerettes and Buffy
can actually that means use. Sometimes transla literal

Willow places her hand precisely on a central truth of Buffy and of librarianship. Sometimes these teens need a story to cover themselves for a lost assignment or a lost weekend. Sometimes, though, they need a story to tell themselves to get through the latest horrific vision or ghastly demise. Sometimes it is the story itself that brings both comfort and information: In the beginning of the third Wild was season, a voiceover from Jack London's Call of the used to great effect. Buffy also identifies her role as a storybook hero in "Killed by Death," when she tells the child in the hospi tal, "We both know there
are real monsters. But there

me."

are also real heroes that monsters. And that's fight


The story enables us

to

as a true hero, Book Man, as a hero

see not only the teen Buffy


but Giles? SuperLibrarian? also.

means tion, other times it recasting what he reads into


stories, teens

vine

Jenny (toGiles): The di


exists ?"I in cyberspace as out here. Robot, You

the

risms thatmake
he serves.

tag

lines,

or

same

sense to the
The sacred

apho

Jane"

ness of the book, the literal


power of words, underscore

the action in Buffy'sworld. They form thematrix and latticework for all that terrific "pow! kick! stake!" stuff that
happens later. He's like SuperLibrarian. is the ultimate ?"Never Everyone forgets, Wil the First Date" Xander: low,

Though computers fill Giles with a (6childlike terror," his proteges are proficient in using the Internet to combat theforces of evil.

that knowledge

weapon. Kill a Boy on

Willy: So, what can I do foryou? Couple of drinks?


Xander: Yeah. pal. Let me formation, get a double ?"Amends" shot of, um ...

of in

While snide comments about Giles's profession abound, the core belief that knowledge is the answer underlies all. This is apparent fromXander's remarks, even though he and others are often cavalier about regular school assign ments. There are many weapons to be had in Sunnydale. Buffy uses the classic cross and stake, among others, and Giles has an array ofmedieval weaponry, most of it stored at the library. The Slayerettes have a very high level of ra pier teen wit, peppered with pop-cult references and sly asides. The thirst to know, however, is at the core of it all: to know the forces of darkness, to name them, and hence to defang them; to know themselves, as they dance on the edge ofmaturity; to search out the specifics of how to over master a particular demon along with the principles of how knowledge can lead to larger truths. That's a wonderful
message hearts. for us to emblazon on our t-shirts and on our

Giles has definite issues with computers and online technology. He is a living metaphor forwhat those of us d'un certain age might have gone through as the profession we thought we had joined transmuted itself into something very, very Else. The core of librarians who got theirMLS degrees 25 years ago and more are now doing things professionally We thatwere unimaginable to the selves we were then. came to librarianship because we loved the sound ofwords talking to each other, rubbing up against each other; or be more real to us than cause theworld inside a storywas far theworld inside our neighborhoods; or because we loved chasing an idea around. For many of us, librarianship origi nally was a choice to separate ourselves fromworkplaces thatwere less humane, less involved in the drama of
people's lives.

It came as a shock to some of us, as it does to Giles, that the glass box (the computer Jenny refers to as "the good box") could also be a tool in the search forknowing, and an increasingly indispensable tool. In "I Robot, You Jane," Giles tells Jenny, "If it's to last, then the getting of knowl edge should be tangible" in the smell and texture of old volumes. In the same episode, Giles confesses to Buffy that computers fillhim with "childlike terror." Jenny gently chides him for living in theMiddle Ages, and assures him he will enter the new century with a few years to spare. We do see him, much later, yelling at a computer that has wan tonly disconnected him from the FriskyWatchers Chat Room ("Gingerbread").
American Libraries September 1999

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Media I47
my books. They're confiscating we need those books. Buffy: Giles, Giles: Believe me, I tried to tell that to the nice man with . . . the big gun. Giles: This is intolerable. Snyder has interfered before, but I won't take this from that twisted little homunculus. Snyder: I love the smell of desperate Principal the morning. Giles: You get out . . . and take your marauders . . . Snyder: Oh, my. So fierce. material for a public school librarian with in Giles: Giles: done it. To because forgive people is an action deserve of compassion, Buffy. It's not it. It's done because they need Only Have Eyes For You"

?"I

you.

we

have all had supervisors who have done unforgivable things to us; we may have done a few ourselves to those we supervise. We have all had patrons who have fought their particular demons right in front of the checkout desk, and
wanted to avert our eyes. Giles, given to pronounce

We

Snyder:Justhow is Blood Rites and Sacrifices appropriate


Club branching library? Chess out? ?"Gingerbread"

ments but rarely to exhortation, here states a truth as cleanly as any prophet. We hope it comforted Buffy; it can
certainly comfort us. Giles:

Giles knows about challenges to the school library, too. In the chill ing episode above, mothers turn against their own children, attempt ing to burn the books that the prin cipal and the parents see as harmful, occult, or just plain weird. There's an aborted plot to torch teens along with titles in the guise of chasing af ter child murderers (the ghost chil dren turn out to be demons
themselves, sent to sow discord). I just work books. theWatcher, Buffy: You're Giles: Yes. Imust consult

'

for our uneasy ] image

At lastwe have a pop

Giles: What say?

Yeah. Does itget easy? Buffy:


do you want me

You mean

life?

to

I relationship ...with *. information and story, ; hooks, and technology.


She Was Bad"

hats. And, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, ever af lives happily and everybody ter. Buffy: Liar. ?"Lie toMe"

guished by thepointy horns or black

Yes, it's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distin Giles:

Lie tome. Buffy:

here.

my

?"When

spend all your dayswith books.

librarian.

But,Giles, it'sone thing tobe aWatcher and a Buffy:


. . .The point is, no one blinks ?"What's an eye My Line

if you wanna (Part 1)"

Textual analysis of the bad guys can also provide us with stories wherein we conquer the demons and go forth.Giles reminds us that some days, the dragon wins, and that good and evil are rarely so separate thatwe can distinguish them clearly without thewhite light of study and analysis. Giles: You did good work tonight, Buffy. And I got a little toysurprise. Buffy:
Giles: I had no idea that children en masse cious.

Giles takes a lot of kidding because of his perceived stuffiness,his single-minded approach to problems, and his ness. However, the kidding doesn't negate how fully the Slayerettes are invested in Giles as both a mentor and a symbol of
adult comfort and reassurance. apparent lack of current aware

could

be gra

Every now and then,people surprise you. Buffy:


?"The as Named class

Prom" protec

INDISPENSABLEBUFFY REFERENCES
ChristopherGolden and Nancy Holder, with Keith R. A. DeCandido, BuffytheVampire Slayer: TheWatcher's Guide (Pocket/ScVS,1998). There are many Buffy Web sites, official and not so. For Giles groupies, however, there is nothing like Sonja Marie's Official Giles Appreciation Society Panters Home Page (www.geocities.com/ TelevisionCity/7728/gaspers.html) and its "Words ofWisdom from theWatcher." Other good sites are The BuffyCross and Stake and Jonah (slayer.simplenet.com/tbcs/main.html) Kanter's Buffy episode guide, with sound clips (gorf.simplenet.com/buffy/index.htm). The official Buffythe Vampire Slayer site isat
www.buffy.com.

He knows what his job is, so do they, and so do we. YA reference librarian Lesley Knieriem of the South Hunting ton Public Library inHuntington Station, New York, said itwell in an e-mail: "Giles is appealing to librarians in thathe portrays us
as we like to think we devoted are: enor

tor during her senior prom, Buffy has a mo ment of solace and Giles sees the teenagers he
serves in a new

People surprise us all the time, in the questions they ask, in theway they use the answers, in their
need

light.

mously
teel, patrons,

intelligent, literate, gen


to our with a sexy, ferocious

sensitive,

times in their gratitude. Buffy and her friends have now graduated from high school, in a spec
tacular denouement that

to know,

and

some

bookish, stuffy,reserved, technophobic (this last isn't any of us!). Giles embraces his stuffi ness, pokes gentle fun at it, and
transcends it."

'ripper' concealed within, only to be let out when needed to slay the demons of ignorance. Yes, he does fit many of the stereotypes:

banished Angel and pro vided us with ample rea


son to wonder next what Giles's career move

Two excellent articles fromSalon magazine about Buffyare at www.salon.com/ent/log/1999/05/26/ and www.salon.com/ent/tv/mill/1998/ buffy_rant/ 06/08mill.html.

will be. He says Buffy no longer needs the Watcher's Council, but it is clear she still needs a
librarian. >

American

Libraries

September

1999

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