Written in the voice of Rupert Giles, Nancy Holder’s Demons of the Hellmouth: A Guide for Slayers is a highlight reel of all the “Big Bads” (and lesser bads, too) from the television canon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This is Giles’s written record of all the demons, vampires, and other forces of darkness, that Buffy and the Scooby gang faced prior to the final battle on the Hellmouth. Since Buffy is no longer the only slayer, Giles thought it best to collect his findings and create, as the title conveys, a field guide for slayers.
Alongside the accounts of these adversaries you’ll find “taped in” photos, hand-drawn sketches, and scribbled notes from Buffy, Willow, Xander, and even Faith. Unfortunately, despite the use of these devices intended to make the reader feel as if they are privy to something special, something almost sacred, it feels more like an episode guide rather than an in-universe book.
Part of what made Buffy so special was the consistency in its characters and their dialogue. While certain segments were effective in depicting Giles’s voice, many of the passages fell flat and weren’t representative of the clever, dry-witted Watcher we know and love. It’s possible that there were legal limitations on what Holder was or wasn’t allowed to include, but instead of showing us Giles’s perspective or insight, much of the book was just a regurgitation of information from the show. Which, hey, that still has its merits for super-fans.
The handwritten notes from the Scooby gang should have allowed for a deeper connection to the material, but they ended up taking away from the book more than they offered. Apart from the ones that were quotes taken directly from the show, the notes felt counterfeit because they failed to capture the characters personalities and nuance. Yes, we all know that Buffy wanted to do “normal” things like shop and go on dates, but she was SO much more than that, and yet a staggering number of her notes were about boys and clothes. Buffy was also quite witty, quick with a pun, but none of that came through. For example: in reference to Darla Buffy writes, “She tried to shoot me! What a loser vampire!” Completely lacking her essential quip-y nature.
Part of the reason that Giles’s voice didn’t completely ring true, and one of the major distractions of the book, was how Giles had information and materials that should be impossible for him to have. While I could understand that Buffy and the gang have probably filled him in on certain events that he wasn’t present for, how would he know about events that NONE of them were present for? As an audience we witnessed them, but in universe the characters should remain unaware. Not only that, but how in the world would he have pictures of some of these creatures? For example: Billy Fordham was staked immediately upon rising from the grave, yet there he is in full vamp face next to his entry.
With all that said, this is a perfectly good scrapbook, a love-letter if you will, to the villains of Buffy. It was thoroughly enjoyable to look back on seven years worth of apocalypses, magics, and encounters with evil. Several sections instantly made me want to go and watch the episodes they corresponded with.
Unlike the handwritten notes, the sketches were successful in making this book feel like it was handed to me by Buffy herself. I wish that some of the photos had been replaced with these illustrations because let’s face it; The Gentleman wouldn’t have paused for a photo-op.
The entry on Spike was one of the few instances where the book offered something more than what we got from the show. While there was no time for reflection on Spike’s ultimate sacrifice during the series finale, this passage offered the chance for both Giles and Buffy to be grateful for what he had done. Plus, it’s always fun to reminisce about Spike.
While Demons doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the Buffy-verse, it is a nice addition to any Buffy collection. The fact that a book like this is being published more than a decade after the show itself ended, is a great indication of just how influential Buffy was, and still is. For those lucky people who may be watching and obsessing about this show for the first time, this book may well provide further insight. For those of us who have seen Buffy a thousand and one times, and who have a part of our brains dedicated to the vast mythology that came from it, this book offers us an external place to hold that knowledge. At any rate, Demons succeeded in reminding me how much I love Buffy; in fact, I’m off to watch some favorite episodes now!