Sunday, September 5, 2010

In the Beginning, There Was Joss (Buffy)

Okay, I’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I’ve had a hard time understanding what the world was supposed to have been like in prehistoric times. Sometimes it seems to be going off of biblical myth, sometimes scientific data, and sometimes its own mythology entirely. Here are the facts they offer, my interpretations, and my fannish compromise in visualizing Buffyverse prehistory.
Now, when Buffy started, I think they were trying to make it a Christian show to some extent. While the show would end with God as an ambiguous entity in a polytheistic world of Powers That Be, the early seasons of Buffy have more explicit references to Christian myth presented as fact, such as the vampire meme of saying you were at the crucifixion of Jesus to look impressively old to your vampire buddies, and the Christian origin myth presented as a viable base for the Buffyverse mythos. Technically, the Christian myth is presented as false, but the fact that Giles would reference that as a starting point instead of the Paleozoic era says something about what Buffyverse mythology is based on.
According to Giles in “The Harvest”: “This world is older than any of you know. Contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise. For untold eons demons walked the Earth. They made it their home, their… their Hell. But in time they lost their purchase on this reality. The way was made for mortal animals, for, for man. All that remains of the Old Ones are vestiges, certain magics, certain creatures.”
So, what does this mean? I’m guessing by “This world is older than any of you know”, Giles isn’t referring to the estimated age of the planet Earth as 4.6 billion years old, but rather to the creationist concept of the Earth as 6,000 years old. I’m also guessing by “older” he doesn’t mean 4.6 billion years old, but instead something just a bit greater than 6,000 years, maybe 100,000.
The second part references the Garden of Eden and rejects it as the beginning of the Earth. Now, this might seem to some as evidence against my suggestion that the earlier seasons of the show have Christian ideology, but rewriting Christian myth can be done in a Christian fantasy show. In Supernatural, they have an original Bible that says different things from the mistranslated version the rest of the world has. Presumably, the Watchers have an original Bible or something. On the other hand, Giles never says God created the world and populated it with demons. He just kind of leaves it ambiguous.
Anyway, later in the episode, Giles describes the Boca del Infierno, what he translates as the Hellmouth. Literally, it’s Mouth of Hell, but I guess Hellmouth’s catchier. The Hellmouth is a “portal between this reality and the next”. If the Master opens the Hellmouth, the demons come back and end the world.
So, basically, the demons originally ruled the world and it was a horrible place, “their Hell”. Then something happened to separate “Hell” from Earth. Hell became a separate reality with the Old Ones and other demons populating it, and Hell is connected to Earth via the Hellmouth portal. While the Buffyverse later would include a wide variety of dimensions for Hell, Heaven, and mortal, at this point in the show’s development I think only Earth and one Hell were explicitly real. They never mentioned Heaven, but I would be surprised if it didn’t exist as well.
In season two’s “Bad Eggs”, Sunnydale High is assaulted by a “pre-prehistoric” creature, the Mother Bezoar and its offspring. What I don’t get is why everyone seems to think the Bezoar isn’t a demon. It’s in one of Giles’ books, after all, and it’s pretty complex for an ordinary animal. Just because it’s never explicitly described as a demon doesn’t mean it isn’t one, especially on this show. As it is called “pre-prehistoric” and is buried close to the Hellmouth, I wonder if it isn’t supposed to be an Old One that got out of Hell at some point.
Season two’s finale involves another portal to Hell, in the form of the petrified demon Acathla. Buffy sends Angel into Hell to close the portal. In season three, Angel is sent back by some unknown powerful entity (God? The First Evil? Jasmine?), and we have the first mention of Hell dimensions. Buffy goes to a Hell in “Anne”, but it’s not the same Hell that Angel went to, and it’s likely neither are the Hell attached to Earth via the Hellmouth.
Just as the show’s theology gets complicated, so does its origin mythos. The Mayor wants to become the physical embodiment of an Old One—a giant snake called Olvikan—in an event called the Ascension. To help ensure things go smoothly, he tries to cover up evidence of the last Ascension. A volcanologist found the Ascended being’s skeleton, which he believed was a dinosaur fossil, so the Mayor had him killed. But that just raises the question of how dinosaurs fit into all this.
Is scientific data accurate insofar as the Mesozoic era? Is it that the Earth is older than 4.6 billion years, there was a period of demonic ruling before they got shipped off to their various dimensions, and mortal creatures evolved as paleontologists believe? Season four’s “Beer Bad” seems to support this with the depiction of a caveman sort of early human, such as homo ergaster or more likely a generic melding of early hominids. This would actually make sense and be a good backstory.
In season seven’s “Get It Done”, however, Dawn reads an origin story of the First Slayer that puts humans at the same time as the demons. Similarly, in Angel season four’s “Shiny Happy People”, Jasmine tells a story of the beginning of the world: “In the beginning, before the time of man, great beings walked the earth. Untold power emanated from all quarters—the seeds of what would come to be known as good and evil. But the shadows stretched and became darkness, and the malevolent among us grew stronger. The earth became a demon realm. Those of us who had the will to resist left this place, but we remained ever-watchful . . . But then something new emerged from deep inside the Earth—neither demon, nor god. [Man.] And it seemed, for a time, that through this new race, a balance might be restored.” While Jasmine is not entirely trustworthy, I don’t see any reason she would lie about anything that wouldn’t impact her apparent morality. So, I don’t quite trust the stuff about good and evil, but it seems likely that the stuff about demons and humans existing at the same time is accurate. Again, how do the dinosaurs and cavemen fit into this?
Well, I found it interesting to see a dinosaur in the graphic novel Angel: After the Fall (Volume 1). After L.A. is sent to a Hell dimension, the demons take over the city. One of the warriors the demons send against Angel is a talking T-Rex named Kenny. Now, I haven’t read the other novels in the series, so it might be revealed elsewhere that Kenny’s a dinosaur borrowed from Earth and imbued (that’s the word) with sapience or that he’s a something demon that’s taken the form of a dinosaur, but it doesn’t say anything about it on the websites I’ve investigated. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel Wiki says that Kenny is a “T-Rex-like demon”, but I’m not sure how much I can trust it. Wikis have been known for implementing fanfiction to force anomalies to fit in the standard mythos instead of accurately depicting them as anomalies. It’s intriguing to consider the possibility that Kenny is in fact the dinosaur he appears to be.
This might be a stretch, but maybe dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures were the Old Ones and the Mesozoic era was literally Hell on Earth. That would make the origin timelines mesh together better. The dinosaur fossils could be demon fossils. It would work with Anya saying Old Ones were much bigger than present day demons. Now, I’m not saying the First Slayer killed the dinosaurs. Humans and whatever caveman sort we see in “Beer Bad” could have appeared around the time scientists think humans evolved. If we’re going by Jasmine’s story, it’s unlikely that humans evolved so much as they just appeared. Maybe God created humanity or maybe it was a cosmic fluke; she doesn’t really go into any detail there and it’s left ambiguous.
So, here’s my fannish version of the origin of the Buffyverse: 4.6 billion years ago, the planet Earth was formed; life emerged in the form of the Powers That Be; prehistoric animals showed up: the demon Old Ones, some which are popularly known as dinosaurs; 65 million years ago, most of the Old Ones were swept off to rule Hell dimensions, thousands of powerful Old Ones imprisoned in the Deeper Well in the Earth, and several left on Earth such as the Bezoar and the First Evil; roughly 2 million years ago “Beer Bad” cavemen came out of the Earth and possibly were the ones to interbreed with the remaining Old Ones and produce lesser demons like vampires; the “Beer Bad” cavemen then evolved into the modern human 200,000 years ago; the humans created the First Slayer, and that’s history.
That’s fanfiction, but I think it’s fairly consistent with what Joss has shown of the Buffyverse origins. I don’t think he really had it written out like that. I think Joss and co. were just making stuff up as they went along. As a dedicated Buffy fan (is there a name for that? Slayerette? Scooby?), I like having a coherent mythology to work off of.
So, to conclude, the Buffyverse has an unstable origin story with confusing elements. Originally, it was based pretty heavily in the Christian myth, but then changed to exist as its own unique story. It doesn’t quite make sense, as there are clear inconsistencies with science, which is otherwise portrayed as accurate. Where do the dinosaurs and cavemen fit in? I like my idea, that the dinosaurs are the demons. I wish Joss could have made the mythology a bit more clear.

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