Thursday, January 29, 2015

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Little Red Riding Hood

I keep coming across references to scholarly people discussing the show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in relation to fairy tales, especially as a modern retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood". Last year Heidi Anne Heiner of Surlalune shared the schedule for the American Folklore Society's Annual Meeting, and it included a session titled "What's in the Basket Little Girl?: Reading Buffy as Little Red Riding Hood." I remember reading that and thinking I could almost teach that session (not really, but Buffy is one of my go-to Netflix shows to have on while I do chores and by now I've seen every episode at least once). There are of course some obvious connections-the transformation of Little Red, a helpless girl being overtaken by monsters, to Buffy, a powerful young woman whom the monsters themselves fear. And of course there's the episode where Buffy dresses up as LRRH for Halloween.

But there's more to delve into. The book Buffy in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching With the Vampire Slayer, edited by Jodie A. Kreider and Meghan K. Winchell, includes a chapter called "Little Red Riding...Buffy?" The chapter outlines a unit that can be taught to college literature students, covers a thorough history of the famous tale, and encourages students to compare and contrast the themes found in LRRH and a specific episode of Buffy. Sample pages can be read online and it's clear from those that using television as a teaching tool doesn't mean your lesson plan is dumbed down! The chapter also includes discussion questions which  could be used outside of a classroom-perhaps a book club or other discussion group.

Buffy and connections to fairy tales are also discussed in the book Channeling Wonder: Fairy Tales on Television (Series in Fairy-Tale Studies). Apparently using Buffy in academic contexts is nothing new or unusual. According to Wikipedia,
Buffy is notable for attracting the interest of scholars of popular culture, as a subset of popular culture studies, and some academic settings include the show as a topic of literary study and analysis.[107][108] National Public Radio describes Buffy as having a "special following among academics, some of whom have staked a claim in what they call 'Buffy Studies.'"[109] Though not widely recognized as a distinct discipline, the term "Buffy studies" is commonly used amongst the peer-reviewed academic Buffy-related writings.[110]
I also really like the episode "Gingerbread," which has an interesting way of looking at "Hansel and Gretel"...


  1. Don't forget the extraordinary episode "Hush" in which speech is taken away from all the residents and almost the entire episode is without any dialogue, to great effect. "The Gentlemen" are fairy tale monster constructs of Joss Whedon's own, which he says he created in response to a wide variety of tales (which he loves) and various folklore (which he considers greatly important). I believe "Hush" was nominated for an Emmy but didn't actually win. The writing is brilliant and the whole episode extremely fairy tale. (I adore Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was a late adopter, wondering why on earth people raved about this show, but now I am one of them!) The entire show, over all the seasons, subscribes to many fairy tale themes and principles. Someone could teach an entire semester on Buffy and fairy tales!

    1. "Hush" is a great episode, I didn't know about the fairy tale influence! I love the show too, I love the balance between dark and creepy episodes with humor-humor is very important to me, and how the monsters usually represent something that an average teen would be dealing with, from potential new stepdads, unpleasant college roommates, drugs and alcohol. Dark fantasy tends to be the best when the creators are familiar with traditional fairy tales, it seems! And hey, if you ever teach a course/write anything on the fairy tales in Buffy, I will totally sign up!

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