Ode to Buffy

She saved the world. A lot.

I didn’t discover Buffy the Vampire Slayer until sophomore year of college, years after the original series had ended. I checked out the first season on DVD from my university library, vaguely remembering half an episode I’d watched at a friend’s house in middle school and looking for some way to procrastinate. (This is pre-Netflix, folks.) I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

From the very first wolf-howl in that old-school opening credits montage, I was hooked. No, scratch that–I was in love. Set against a delightfully 90’s backdrop of denim skirts, pleather jackets, and fluffy bangs, the show sucked me in with its tight writing, colorful characters and yes, its heart. I commandeered the communal TV, let my roommates know who was the new head of the household (Buffy Summers, obvs) and settled in for one long, wild ride.

The heart and soul of the show is, of course, Buffy Summers, a sixteen-year-old California blonde with a petite frame and skimpy outfits who just happens to have superpowers. There’s a line in the first episode where a voice-over explains exactly who Buffy is:

In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.

I remember one word always stuck out at me in that introduction, and it was the word alone. She alone will stand against the forces of darkness. In all the billions of humans on earth, Buffy was the only one with the power to face down evil. How’s that for female empowerment! But Buffy was never a steely-eyed warrior raised from birth with a stake in her hand. No–Buffy was the kind of female superhero I’d been looking for my whole life: spunky with a side of snark, who still had to worry about homework, bad hair, and mean girls when she wasn’t saving the world from ancient vampires with fruit punch mouth or ravening demon hordes from Sunnydale’s unfortunate Hellmouth problem.

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Holidays Are For Reading

Humbug!
Humbug!

I was always a voracious reader. As a kid, most of my free time was spent reading. Picture books, chapter books, horse magazines, fairy tales; pretty much anything I could get my grubby little hands on. But as I got older, school and friends and extracurricular activities started taking up more of my free time, and my reading time was more and more often confined to bedtime and weekends (heavens forbid). And that’s when I discovered the magical time known as the winter holidays.

Just think–two glorious weeks empty of schoolwork and extracurriculars! Friends off to visit relatives or tied up with family obligations. Shorter days. The winter break was, for me, a series of long, beautiful hours just asking to be filled up with reading. Plus, for Christmas I was guaranteed a pile of new and exciting books just waiting to be cracked open and devoured.

In middle school, my grandmother sent me Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. I sat curled up on the sofa in front of a roaring fire for hours and hours and hours. I did not come up for air until I had read every wonderful word of that book, and when I finally dragged myself off the couch it was to insist that my mom drive me to the bookstore to buy the next two installments (The Goblet of Fire wouldn’t come out for two years yet.)

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Monster Mash Part III: Vampires

Black clouds scud across the moon, nearly full. The chill breeze has a little…bite to it. A tap-tapping on the window startles you out of your slumber. Perhaps it is only a tree branch, shaking in the wind. Or perhaps it is something else? Someone else?

Pop culture may have remade vampires into sexy, brooding vegetarians, but Halloween reminds us that while vampires might be fangtastic, and know how to have a bloody good time, they are ultimately denizens of the night who enjoy violence and murder. So let’s sink out teeth into literature’s creepiest vampires…

That's what friends are for!
That’s what friends are for!

1. Carmilla, Carmilla

Beautiful, languid, and mysterious, Carmilla insinuates herself into the lives of innocent young women, one at a time. Her mercurial moods and unsettling sexual advances distract her prey from her exotic tastes: the catlike monster that visits them in their nightmares and drinks of their blood is really her. Eventually, each girl wastes away and dies, leaving Carmilla free to find a new female companion. Best friends forever…or until you die.

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Monster Mash Part II: Witches

A dank fog creeps between trees that reach with skeletal claws towards a darkening sky. Brittle leaves clatter together in a chill wind that moans over chimney-tops and hammers at windows well-shuttered against the night.

Are those bats that flit across the moon and cast shadows over unlit thresholds? Or something worse? Hold each other tightly and keep your doors barred, children, for something wicked this way comes.* In no particular order I present some of the scariest literary witches.

*Author’s note: I am well aware that not all witches have warts or fly on broomsticks, and (to quote Xander Harris) “witches they were persecuted. Wicca good and love the earth and women power and I’ll be over here.” In the spirit of Hallowe’en I am choosing to ignore this fact.

Bellatrix, complete with meth teeth.
Bellatrix, complete with meth teeth.

1. Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter Series

Voldemort’s right hand woman and a die-hard Death Eater, Bellatrix is deeply evil. Sent to Azkaban for torturing Neville Longbottom’s parents until they went permanently insane, Bellatrix is also responsible for the curse that kills Sirius Black, her cousin and Harry’s godfather. Dumbledore describes her as “…dear Bellatrix, who likes to play with her food before eating it.” Yikes.

2. The Witch of the Waste, Howl’s Moving Castle

After seducing Howl by appearing to him as a pretty young woman, the Witch puts a curse on him so that the moment he falls in love he will have to return to her side. Later, she curses young Sophie so that she turns into an ancient crone who cannot speak of the spell to anyone. I wouldn’t want to get on this curse-happy Witch’s bad side!

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Monster Mash Part I: Ghosts

The end of October approaches–the days grow colder and darker and the leaves twist and scurry, pushed and pulled by chill breezes. But is it only the wind that taps against our windows and creeps beneath our locked doors? Or is it something more sinister, something that lurks in shadows and darkens our dreams?

With Hallowe’en less than a week away, I thought I’d tackle some of the creepier monsters in myth and legend, starting today with ghosts. The spirits of the dead are known to creep closer as November approaches, waiting for that time when the veil is thin enough for them to go wailing out into the night, bemoaning lives wasted and loves lost. With no further ado, here are six of the creepiest ghosts in literature.

"Revenge my murder most foul!"
“Revenge my murder most foul!”

1. King Hamlet, Hamlet

“Murder most foul!” Shakespeare employed ghosts as a device in more than one of his plays, but the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father is by far the creepiest. He wanders purgatory with blood trickling from his ear, reliving his murder and demanding revenge. Later, he haunts his traitorous wife’s closet wearing only a nightgown. *shudder*

2. The Headless Horseman, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Supposedly a Hessian soldier hired to suppress the American Revolution who was beheaded by an errant cannonball. Every night, astride a demonic steed, the headless specter gallops through the streets of Sleepy Hollow with his severed head lashed to the pommel of his saddle. And beware to those who cross his path–he might subject you to the same fate that ended his life.

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