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Buffy and Ellis Peters

September 4, 2011

On the plane today, I read Brother Cadfael’s Penance, the last of the Ellis Peter’s series. They are beautiful mystery novels, written expertly in the way that seems perfectly simple and straightforward, but requires far more skill underneath to create a distinct world with eloquence.

And they’re set just after the great schism, so while they’re technically Catholic, the lives and thoughts described are as much ordinary Orthodox as Catholic. When your main character is a monk, it’s pretty much a given that religion matters, but Ellis Peters goes further in capturing what it’s like to live a life inside the rhythms of the church, where faith and theology are central, not set aside for a crisis or occasional Sundays.

Dostoevsky is the big feast of Orthodox literature, but Ellis Peters is a nourishing bowl of soup.

The past couple of months, I’ve been rewatching Buffy. Except for episode 16 of season five which I refuse to rewatch on grounds of sobbing helplessly for hours afterwards, I’ve had seasons running in loops in the background.

And it amazes me how good Buffy it is. How much the writers and actors loved the show, because there are details picked up and echoed and moments in the background where a character reacts almost unseen that add layers.

One of the things I love about the Orthodox services – the John Chrysostom liturgy in particular – is the way the service is structured as multiple interlocking circles. There’s the circle of the year, then the week, and the day, then within the service, moving towards the moment of communion, cycles of repentance and worship with key phrases repeated in greater depth in different ways.

Now, I’m not going all “A Canticle for Leibowitz” with Buffy (although how awesome would that be for a short story?), that rhythm exists in Buffy. Some of it is the structure imposed by a TV episode set within seasons, but much of is internal, with deliberate mirroring and repetition of ideas. Who they become grow from who they were (Oh, Willow!) and Glory and Ben are Buffy and Dawn, and Riley is Xander, and there’s so much about morality and ethics and humanity in it. Wisely, for a supernatural show (Yeah, I’m looking at you Castiel) Buffy very seldom touched on actual religion, but approaches the same ideas obliquely.

I liked Firefly well enough, and Angel even more.

But Buffy is the reason TV was invented.

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