Knowledge, Power and Disaster in Buffyverse, Pt. 3 – Giles

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Above, Giles explains the problem with computers in I, Robot…You, Jane, S1E8. .gif by flowerdrop

Key figure and arguably the anchor of early season Buffy, Rupert Giles (Buffy’s Watcher), we learn was a curator at “a British museum or The British Museum”. (Willow, BtVS S1E1) Giles learned that he was to become a Watcher at the age of ten, from his father and mother, who were also Watchers.

His early years required intensive duty to scholastics which eventually led him to a rebellious period when he and his peers delved beyond their studies, exploring the dark and black arts. They utilized books and materials they had little ability to wield or control let alone understand. Giles often cautions Willow, and serves as a direct warning to all, not to reach beyond their means where learning is concerned, especially in the learning of magics. (Fred later serves as a direct warning/example of the danger of intensive scholastics… another entry will cover that.)

Due to his years delving into the black arts, which function in the show as a drug Giles (known then as ‘Ripper”) and his peers tried to control a demon named Eyeghon, who eventually hunts down the entire group, save Ethan Rayne and Giles, and murders each one. This speckled history of Giles’ is revealed in the episode “The Dark Age,” (S2E8).

In this episode Giles’ history directly compromises the most important people in his life: Jenny Calendar and Buffy. Jenny ends up being possessed by Eyeghon (and thus Buffy ends up beating her to a pulp, working out some subconscious father-figure/jealousy issues in the meantime), while Buffy gets held captive by Ethan Rayne who tries to deflect Eyeghon’s attention from himself by offering up Buffy.

The metaphor of knowledge as a drug is therefore laid out early. If school & scholastics are the beer and wine of the education world (with the ability to get one buzzed or even drunk on knowledge/power), magic is the Meth. Magic is the Heroin of knowledge. Magic is a way to utilize learning immediately in a way that can impact the user’s immediate environment. In light of this, each character can then be viewed through this facet.

Willow is clearly cut out to be an addict, with her drive and obsession for all knowledge. Giles was a recreational user who let it get the better of him. Cordelia is content with “beer & wine,” Xander has no appetite whatsoever, and Buffy has a natural aptitude but no time to capitalize on it because she is a Slayer.

At the library (and later at the magic shop), we know Giles tries to keep the most powerful books where the others will not be able to easily access them. We also know Willow quickly begins to ignore this boundary, sneaking the books she wants to read or see. Early on Buffy is in support of Willow, especially when it will benefit her, thinking her behavior is harmless like when Willow proposes they access the books for history regarding Angel. This is one of the first times we see the addict/co-dependent relationship between Buffy and Willow start to shape itself. (Willow’s addiction and the co-dependence of the Scoobies will be addressed in another essay.)

Giles’ cautions to Willow are from a place of experience, and he is never okay with Willow’s behavior, despite seeing from time to time that her considerable, eventual power is sometimes their only hope. Giles’ attempt to use magic for entertainment as an adolescent creates an unshakable problem that follows him well into adulthood and harms what he loves best. Despite seeing this first hand, Willow does not cease to reach for power and knowledge she does not have. Being the smartest student in school and having the best grades does not satisfy her in any way, it causes her to want more. Where Giles tried to utilize knowledge/magic for recreation, Willow becomes an addict to the Nth; falsely believing she can achieve some sort of mastery where Giles failed due to, as she perceives, his ineptitude.

What we know of Giles is that he comes to rest somewhere in the middle where knowledge is concerned. He knows from experience that he must self-discipline and recognize when something is too far out of his realm. If a job is too big, rather than plow ahead and attempt something dangerous, he will generally contact someone with the right abilities or resources for the job. In converse fashion, Willow will always try everything on her own, even when she is well out of her depth. The “fix” she gets when she is able to apply herself successfully is more than enough for her to eat her failures, and the failures  serve to create deeper craving for her to have more successes.

2 thoughts on “Knowledge, Power and Disaster in Buffyverse, Pt. 3 – Giles

  1. Interesting read because the relationship between Willow and Giles throughout the series was intriguing for me. Willow learns the dangers of ‘addiction’ after experiencing the wrong turn in life. She had friends like Xander with the ‘yellow crayon’ speech to bring her out from the darkness and had Giles who gave her a second chance. That’s why Giles had a fatherly figure to the Scooby gang… he tried to teach them from his own past mistakes–just like any parent would do for his or her child.

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