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Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the best TV show ever made and I would let it babysit my children

The cult TV show – 20 years old today -– played with genres, bust clichés and spawned a language. If you haven't watched it – why not?

“He’s going to bite her.”

Words cannot describe the glee I felt when my boyfriend fell hook, line, and sinking fangs for the first ever scene in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. In it, Darla – an innocent blonde in schoolgirl attire –nervously breaks into Sunnydale High School with a teenaged boy. In a bored tone, my boyfriend promptly called out the apparent unoriginality of the 17-year-old TV show that I was – and this is no exaggeration – physically forcing him to watch. “He’s so going to bite her.”

On screen, the teenaged boy is reassuring Darla that they are alone. “Are you sure?” she asks coyly. “I’m sure,” he replies. Pleased with this news, Darla’s angelic face transforms into that of hideous vampire, and she buries her yellow fangs into the unsuspecting boy’s neck.

This scene is, fundamentally, the essence of Buffy. “I would love to see a movie in which a blonde wanders into a dark alley, takes care of herself and deploys her powers,” Joss Whedon, the show’s creator, told TIME magazine in the Nineties. Although the initial movie version eventually derailed from Whedon’s vision and flopped, the ensuing TV show became a cult classic which flipped every existing trope on its head while constructing a thousand brilliant new ones. If anything you see in Buffy feels tired and clichéd, it’s only because the show did it first, and so very, very well, that every other show had no choice but to follow suit.

My joy at my boyfriend’s initial mistake was only matched in intensity when, ninety episodes later, I found myself sobbing (completely and utterly red-face baby-wail sobbing) in his arms. Why? Because at the crucial moment when Travers, a member of the Watchers’ Council, was pausing for his big reveal, my boyfriend interrupted to guess the plot.


“Glory isn’t a demon. . .” said Travers.

“. . . She’s a god,” said my boyfriend.

There is no doubt that my sobbing was an extreme overreaction to this development. But I was crying because my boyfriend had guessed a reveal that, over a decade earlier, had flooded my body with emotion. I remember how I felt, as a child, when that moment aired. I can viscerally recall the “Oh SHIIIIIT” reaction tingling up from my spine and forcing me to flap my hands like an excited cartoon character.

I could devote time here to talk about the technical reasons why Buffy is widely regarded as one of the best TV shows ever made (it invented a language, it was incredibly progressive, it is the most-studied item of pop culture ever) but to me it is a combination of two, very simple factors. It makes me laugh, and it makes me cry.

Lots of shows do both things, sure, but they end up being both less comedic and less tragic than if they simply focused on generating one emotion. Not Buffy. It makes me laugh more than any comedy and cry more than any drama – so much so that I can confidently call it my favourite example of both genres.

This is why I insist that the people I love watch Buffy. While Harry Potter is a big old phone-cover and wardrobe-accessories part of my life, I still allow my boyfriend to sleep in the same bed as me despite the fact he’s never read it. With Buffy, he was forced to watch the show within the first few, fleeting, should-still-be fairy-tale moments of our romance. No, I don’t want to meet your parents. You have to meet Joyce Summers.

I write this next sentence wary that it ruins my chances of ever seeking out any fame, lest it be dug up and used as evidence to prove that I am a fundamentally terrible person undeserving of the aforementioned fame. If I had a child, and for some reason I had to choose someone other than myself to raise that child, I would not choose a nanny. I would choose Buffy. The show taught me everything that I need to know about life, love, loss, and librarians.  

Postscript: I will concede that there is one single flaw in all 144 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and his name is Riley Finn.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

The Isle of Man, from where author Zoe Gilbert hails. CREDIT: GETTY
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Zoe Gilbert’s original debut novel Folk feeds our new appetite for myth

Is Folk a novel? Its publisher says so, but I’m not sure.

I’ll put up my hands and make an admission: I don’t read many contemporary novels. Most of them seem, well, too contemporary. For a long time, much “literary” fiction has skated along the surface of modern urban life, engaging with the “interiority” of the middle-class mind and whatever cultural brouhaha is currently in fashion among the progressive literati.

The result is a kind of placid, smug dullness about which it’s mostly impossible to care: an Ian McEwan-isation of the soul. For years, writers shunned or simply ignored the old storytellers’ realms of mythology, image and the collective unconscious; the strange, magical depths which underlie all things, but which our society prefers to pretend is not really there.

But something is stirring. In recent years, novelists have begun to venture out beyond the shores of reason, beyond the city and sometimes beyond the human, too. The result is a small blooming of books, and of films and music, which are exploring this strange otherness again. Writers such as Daisy Johnson, Andrew Michael Hurley, Sylvia Linsteadt and Ben Myers are pushing the boundaries of what has been called “folk horror”. They, in turn, are drawing from a thriving underworld of eeriness, folk culture and myth that is perhaps unparalleled in Britain since the 1970s.

What is going on here? Well, people are hungry. Hungry for real meat, and missing what they don’t know they have lost. What we might call the “folk soul” still undergirds our vision of the world, however many gadgets we use to navigate it. Why else would the likes of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings continue to grip the popular imagination?

The surface is not enough. Our culture is starving people of spiritual and mythic nourishment. We barely even know what these words mean any more, so how would our writers know how to engage with them? Yet when our stories remain stuck in a permanent present, something is missing – something old, strange and sacred. “Fantasy” novelists such as Alan Garner, M John Harrison and the late Ursula K Le Guin, have long known this better than their “literary” counterparts.

In this vein comes Folk, the debut novel by Zoe Gilbert, a past winner of the Costa Short Story Award. It draws deeply from the old tales of the Isle of Man, from where the author hails, to give us a book which is genuinely original, disturbing, beautiful and gripping. It is both a joy to read, and –always a bonus – a tricky book to pin down

Is Folk a novel? Its publisher says it is, but I’m not sure. It has recurring characters, but no single storyline; each chapter could stand alone. So is it a collection of short stories? Yes, but no: the same characters recur throughout, popping in and out of each others’ tales and adding to the weight of the whole. That whole makes up a convincing world peopled with distinctive characters, a verdant, living landscape and a liminality of strange beings who regularly intrude upon the everyday lives of the humans.

Perhaps Folk is neither a novel nor a collection of stories; perhaps it is a map. Indeed, one of its attractions for me is that a map of Neverness, the fictional village in which the stories are set, is the first thing you see when you open the book. (I am a sucker for books with maps in the front: I grew up on fantasy novels, and the cartography was always part of the attraction.) Folk can be read as a map of the British mythic imagination: of the river under the river. Starkly original and expertly written, it draws you, like a faerie song, into a kingdom from which you may never escape, and may not want to.

Gilbert’s writing has shades of Le Guin and Angela Carter, and like both of those authors she knows that real mythology, real folk culture, has a core of darkness to it; a core that both repels and entices. True fairytales are not fluffy, and they often do not have happy endings. There is an undercurrent of earthy danger here; a raw sexuality too, unashamed of itself.

A young boy is burned alive in a gorse bush, seeing visions of angels; a girl’s father kills and skins her pet hares; a woman is kidnapped by a water bull and ravished beneath the waves; a girl drowns her father by mistake; a woman murders her sister to steal her lover. But the darkness is not revelled in or overdone; it is intrinsic to the book’s realism. “Realism” might seem a bizarre word to use about tales set in a mythic land in which men are born with wings for arms and women become hares. But in a book like this, it is imperative that the newly-minted world has an internal logic and consistency.

Folk succeeds triumphantly in this regard. Reading its chapters – which have titles like “The Neverness Ox-men”, “Fishskin, Hareskin”, and “A Winter Guest” – is like sitting by a fire with some old storyteller, listening to the strange tales of his people. The work that has gone into creating the world of Neverness has paid off. These seem like stories from a real place.

This is the marker of the novel’s success: that immersion in its world makes that world seem, for a while, more real than the one you are living in. More appealing, too. When you turn the last page, you may find yourself looking out of the window, or at the screen of your phone or laptop, with a pang of regret and a sense of loss. Then you might find yourself returning to Neverness, like the children return to Narnia. It beats what passes at the moment for “reality”, and it is more human, too. 

“Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist” by Paul Kingsnorth is published in paperback by Faber & Faber

Zoe Gilbert
Bloomsbury, 256pp, £14.99

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Putin’s spy game