Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Rhonda Wilcox is an academic look at the cult classic, each chapter drawn from papers the author presented at various conferences. The first part of the book includes chapters that look at themes that can be traced throughout the series including names/naming, a comparison of Buffy Summers with Harry Potter, redemption, and more. The second part of the text focuses on individual episodes, often alluding to the themes explicated in the previous chapters.
Wilcox, who has edited the online Slayage magazine, is an adamant defender of television as art but she is equally adamant in not being inclusive, lauding this show in particular for its intelligence and mythic relevance. Firmly rooted in Jungian interpretations as filtered through Joseph Campbell, she shows how Buffy and other characters in the series serve as hero archetypes, suggesting shadow aspects for the titular character (or even characters as she hints at some for Angel as well).
Interestingly, in the chapter on one of the more humorous episodes (“The Zeppo”), Wilcox remains academic and reserved but most of the chapters include personal asides that are not unlike how the shows interject humor, undercutting the more serious or emotionally charged moments in the show. Clearly, this author knows her audience well and doesn’t risk losing the reader’s interest. This does not detract from the serious overtone of this collection of essays.
Not to state that obvious but this book is probably not going to appeal to someone who does not or has not read watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For the fan who enjoys this show on par with most everything else that is currently airing, this book may seem tedious and overly intellectual. But for those fans who take this show seriously, who delight in hearing Willow suggest that Dark Willow may be gay and who giggle at the incestuous implications of the relationship(s) between Spike, Drusilla, Darla and Angel, these essays will be a joy to read and explore. Even the Freudian reader will smirk along with the writer as she points out the obvious phallic nature of stakes, a missile launcher, and even a car.
In a nutshell, I loved this book, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with all of her observations or the reasons she gave for certain things. Or worse, when she didn’t make observations I would have made but she either overlooked or didn’t want to include lest even the most die-hard fan feel overwhelmed. Still, I’d like to see her try to overwhelm this Buffy fan. After all, as Xander so eloquently explains, "To read makes our speaking English good."