Buffy and the Warrior Woman’s Classic Quest

I just wrote the book Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey (Feb 2012, McFarland). And why not—it’s an obvious place to go. A long list of authors have analyzed Buffy’s becoming the Chosen One, refusing and then accepting her calling, and finally descending into death (twice!) to return stronger than before, with a deeper wisdom of adulthood and its costs. In these steps, the hero’s and heroine’s journeys are basically the same. But there’s really more going on.

There’s the hero’s quest, in which Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker battles his dark father, sacrifices his life, and returns stronger than before. There’s the lesser-known classic heroine’s journey in which Snow White or Psyche faces the evil stepmother and sacrifices her life to save her loved ones. And there’s the warrior woman’s quest, which blends both in a fascinating story arc. This is Buffy’s journey.

There are many warrior women: Eowyn, Artemis, Mu Lan, Annabeth of the Percy Jackson books, Xena, Elektra. The 2010 Alice in Wonderland, long hair flying over her shining armor. The upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman. And now Katniss of The Hunger Games has captured our hearts. These heroines ride and fight beside men, often dressed as men, like Alanna of the Tamora Pierce books. They follow the hero’s quest with male mentors and male weapons, fighting to defeat the dark lord and save the world. Yet after they succeed, they feel a discontentment, a lack of something. She has outfought all the boys and, in doing so, has become a boy herself. The heroine sets out again, this time questing for her lost feminine side. She battles the wicked stepmother and child killer, once more sacrificing her life, but this time to protect her most innocent self, the little sister Dawn Summers or Primrose Everdeen.

My study follows Buffy’s path as she defeats the male monsters of the patriarchy (the Master, the Judge, Angelus, and the Mayor) and then finds something is missing. She turns to other mentors than fatherly Giles: Professor Walsh, the “evil mom,” Dracula, the deep, mystical masculine and dark mentor, the savage First Slayer. All of these encourage Buffy to accept that death is her gift, that she needs the dark energy of the unconscious rather than the shallow masculine world of the everyday.

All this crystalizes in season five when Buffy gains a new sister to protect. The heroine’s journey is about rescuing loved ones: Meg Murray’s father and brother in A Wrinkle in Time, Coraline’s parents, and Katniss’s family and friends in The Hunger Games. Even Twilight’s Bella becomes a powerful shield when her baby daughter is endangered.  In season five, Buffy harnesses her new dark-born powers to accept that death is a gift and to save Dawn. She also battles the first of the female Big Bads, Glory. This blonde goddess is fashionable, flippant, and spoiled, like Buffy’s season one cheerleader self she must leave behind to become a good adoptive mother. After Buffy returns from death in the culmination of her heroine’s quest, Glory is succeeded by Dark Willow and the First, once again, Big Bads that mirror Buffy and try to slay the innocent while Buffy struggles to protect them.  Buffy finally grows into a leader, but also surrogate mom for an entire household of young slayers. At last she remakes the world, redefining it as a place of feminine power, where an army of her chosen ones can defend the helpless and take back the night.

While the hero always gets a sword (as Buffy does when she battles Angelus) or a knife (echoing Buffy’s stakes), heroines fight with tools of life and perception—holy water like Lucy’s healing potion, or a silver amulet like Buffy’s cross. Silver, seen in Artemis’s bow or Galadriel’s ring, is associated with mirror magic and sight because of its clarity. It’s also a symbol of purity and protection. The heroine is also known for a distance weapon like a bow—Katniss in The Hunger Games has a silver bow, then later a black bow of fire and death. Buffy too frequently shoots a crossbow.

Buffy’s ultimate weapon, of course, is the scythe, echoing the crescent moon and the ancient axes wielded by the priestesses of Crete. It is the death weapon, casting Buffy as the mature slayer, no longer a sweet princess clinging to her daylight powers. She rules the night and knows that death truly is a gift. And she pulls it from the stone, establishing herself as the one true slayer, the mythic hero coming to remake the world.

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Filed under Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Heroine's Journey, mythology, Pop Culture

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