Author James Christie once made a remarkable journey from his home in Glasgow to Hollywood, travelling all the way across the States by Greyhound. The purpose of his journey was to meet with Juliet Landau, one of the stars of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the reason James’s journey was so extraordinary is because for James, coping with new experiences feels “like smashing his head through a plate glass window”. James Christie is autistic.
You can read an account of James’s journey in his brilliant novel, Dear Miss Landau. I interviewed James several months ago (interview here), and he has very kindly come back today to explain the enduring appeal of Buffy, and why the character of Drusilla in particular holds such a fascination for him.
Dru, Dru, It’s Always Been You, Dru…
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, still going strong after all these years!
During its seven-year run (1997-2003) Buffy won three Emmys and was listed tenth on Entertainment Weekly‘s 100 Greatest Shows of All Time, second on Empire‘s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time and third on TV Guide‘s Top 25 Cult TV Shows of All Time. It’s neither joke nor exaggeration to say that Buffy is one of the greatest TV series ever made, easily bearing comparison with Star Trek and MASH, and influencing later series, such as True Blood and the rebooted Doctor Who.
Spin-offs included the TV series Angel and the comic series Buffy Season Nine, and since its cancellation, Buffy merchandise has proliferated with the publication of numerous novels by Simon & Schuster as well as comics, video games and academic texts. Buffy fandom is also alive and well, particularly online. More Buffy fan-fiction stories have been written than for any other TV series ever made.
So what first guided them along the rocky brick road which led them to and past the Fall of Sunnydale?
Well, Buffy‘s creator, Joss Whedon, had been inspired by the strong character of his own mother, Lee Stearns, a teacher, feminist and political activist. He turned television and the vampire genre’s traditional conventions on their head by making a short, blonde girl – usually a silly, screaming stereotype polished off by Christopher Lee as an apéritif before the battle royal between the befanged baddie and the handsome male hero – into the main protagonist.
One girl in all the world, chosen (or more precisely, empowered) to fight the forces of darkness with the extraordinary strength and reflexes of a vampire slayer. Resident of Sunnydale, a small California town sited on the Hellmouth (a mystical convergence of evil forces), leader of the Scooby Gang (a collection of assorted local sidekicks who helped her fight evil), lover of Angel (the tormented vampire cursed with a soul and conscience) and Spike’s object of desire. Spike being a soulless vampire with platinum hair, chiseled cheekbones, a dry wit and a serious case of the hots for his own nemesis.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer succeeded because of fine writing, sympathetic characters and a high thematic concept which harked back to
tales of myth and legend from antiquity, but it became a TV classic because for the first time teenage girls could relate to a beautiful heroine whose life (despite its supernatural elements) closely mirrored their own vulnerabilities and uncertainties. Xena: Warrior Princess, it must be noted, aired a couple of years before Buffy, but its heroine was already a fully-grown woman and lived in Roman times, making complete identification with her trials and tribulations perhaps a little harder for modern-day teens.
The character of Spike also cemented the success of the series, breaking out from disposable villain to regular cast member and making almost every female viewer swoon.
That should sum up all that made Buffy a big hit. However, Spike had a demonic girlfriend called Drusilla. Dru was beautiful, blue-eyed, brunette and bonkers. She dressed in what’s been described as “a cross between a Victorian period look and the Kate Moss heroin chic fashion look” which made her the Nancy Spungen to Spike’s Sid Vicious.
Like Spike, Dru was indeed a killer. But in the same way that he was a lovelorn poet at heart, she was also a gentle girl, and Spike and Dru were the first TV vampires to be depicted as something more than one-dimensional baddies, basically just there to be staked by Buffy to the accompaniment of trendy quips like “we haven’t been properly introduced, I’m Buffy, and you’re history,” or “All right, I get it. You’re evil. Do we have to chat about it all day?”
Unlike the hopelessly conflicted Angel, Spike and Dru seemed more like straightforward old-school vampires – soulless killers who hated the sun and the Scoobies. However they were also a couple who loved each other and showed emotional vulnerability, thus enabling Whedon’s viewers to relate to them as beings, if not human beings. The first true vampire/vampire romance on television, which helped pave the way for the complex social questions posed more recently by True Blood. What if, instead of just being befanged baddies there to be killed, Spike and Dru moved in next door to you and tried to be good neighbours?
Or, in my case, good flatmates.
Drusilla the vampire, my flatmate.
Perhaps the plain and simple truth contained within the outward absurdity of that statement shows what made Buffy different from so many other shows, what truly made it so great, and why I was drawn to a character so far out of the loop she might as well have been on Mars.
In Lichtenberg, Marshak and Winston’s 1975 book on Star Trek fandom, Star Trek Lives!, they speculated that:
” ‘television people have often thought that the trick was: Offend nobody very much, please nobody very much, and hope against hope to get your slice of the pie … a trend which has led to the ‘one big rerun’ effect, to ‘playing it safe.’
Star Trek took a radically different tack.
It wanted to be loved.”
And so, I think, did Drusilla.
While Buffy was the empowered girl of today, an ultra-modern Barbie with depth and flair, Dru (born in 1840) was the archetypal Victorian flower, God-fearing and most likely hoping to make a good marriage as defined by Coventry Patmore in his 1854 poem The Angel In The House. With few legal rights, she would have been ruled both by her husband and Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.
Where Buffy sought (or had thrust upon her) empowerment, Dru was a prime candidate for Joss Whedon’s other theme of redemption. Despite the degradation of vampirism, she still showed subtle touches of her former saintliness and faint traces of the sweet girl she’d once been lingered sadly behind her mask of fangs.
Joss Whedon once said he’d “rather have a show that a hundred people need to see than a thousand like to see.”
He was right.
It’s a risk to feel fond of a gentle killer looking for love, and although thousands of youngsters hailed the empowered heroine of Buffy, perhaps some hundreds liked Dru’s old-fashioned quiet and gentle nature.
I know I did.
So though for some it’s Spike, Angel or Buffy who steals the show, for me it’ll always be you, Dru…
* * * *
Thanks very much for coming back today, James, and I hope you make the journey back to Sunset Boulevard again some day!
Are you a Buffy fan? If so, what do you think is the enduring appeal? And do you have a favourite character? If you have any questions for James, or any comments at all, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you!