I’ve been indulging a guilty pleasure for a few weeks: watching my way through the DVDs of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘. I’m trying to spin it out now that I’m closing in on the final episodes so maybe some theological reflection on the topic will help delay me.
‘Buffy’ is full of insights that jog my theologian’s elbow but one in particular has me pondering now. This last series raises lots of issues about power and where it comes from and how it can be used and abused. It seems the Slayer’s power is bought at a price. Power doesn’t come for free. In the Slayer’s case it is at root achieved by the infusion of evil, of the demonic, and ultimately against the will of the Slayer, imposed by men who want to use her. Even the brightest power for the good (‘she saved the world … a lot’) involves a hidden pact with darkness. A pact Buffy herself refuses.
The same theme emerges in two other writers of fantasy. Sheri Tepper’s stories unfold strange worlds where the truly extraordinary lies right under everyone’s nose clothed in the everyday. What often drives her novels is the unmasking of the nastiness under the normalcy. And often enough its a pact or a bargain struck by some at the expense of others. The big question is what you do with the power once its origin is revealed.
Ursula LeGuin’s latest Earthsea stories also raise the question of power and its price. Earthsea runs on magic — it’s the everyday technology of life — but in the later stories it’s running awry and the difficulty is linked with death. The dead are troubling the living. It turns out that the Mages’ power was bought once long ago by a bargain. In return for magical power they would renounce the power to truly die and instead accept the fate of the shadowy world of the dry lands where all meaning and purpose disappear but existence goes on. What can be done when this is finally understood? LeGuin’s solution is to tear down the wall that divides life from this false death. To accept true death. And we are left at the end not truly knowing if magic will survive or how.
Buffy’s solution? Well, I still have several episodes to go…
It has me wondering what our own world’s bargain might be. What our power is and what pact have we made to gain it and at what price. And what would we do if the price turned out to be too great? I have some ideas.
To be continued…