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Before there was a Slayer

18th January 2007 (00:12)
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Recently for open_on_sundayI wrote a series of three linked drabbles about the First Slayer when she was still just a girl, with speech and a name (I decided to call her Hiywan, for reasons explained below the cut), and not yet alone. The prompt was 'disobedience', and I was inspired by the opening stanza of Milton's Paradise Lost:

Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the world, and all our woe

Since these drabbles tie into some other things I've written about the origins of the Slayer line, I thought it would be interesting to provide some Author's Notes and a commentary on the thought processes behind their creation.

My main aim was to draw a parallel between the origin story of the Slayer mythology and the legend of Eve, the apple and the Fall of Man. The story crystallised around my mental image of a girl sneaking out of her family's encampment early one morning and spying the three Shadowmen passing by; being forbidden by her father to go after them, but disobeying him; then getting caught and forced to take part in their ritual to create the Slayer.

Of course, the standard version of the story in Genesis isn't particularly empowering: Eve is a silly woman meddling with things she was told not to touch, giving way to temptation and dragging her partner down with her in her fall from grace. To fit the ethos of the Buffyverse, I wanted to subvert that message; depicting my protagonist's curiosity, willfullness and openness to new things as positive qualities. Before there was a Slayer, vampires and demons ruled the night and humans could only cower in dread; Hiywan's involuntary sacrifice in becoming the First Slayer changed the world. She took the fear out of the darkness.

Of course, the story doesn't have a happy ending for her; indeed, as I wrote it it's a classical tragedy. Her own hubris in disobeying her father and trying to steal the strangers' magical secret leads directly to her own downfall. Hiywan's mistake was acting alone, without the help and support of her family and friends. Over the countless millennia to follow she would lose everything: her humanity, her memory, her feelings and emotions, even her name, as her personality merged with that of the demonic force energising the Slayer line.

Even so, I'd like to think that even as the Slayer Spirit stripped Hiywan of her personal identity, her soul also infused it with just a little touch of humanity; and each subsequent Slayer who lived and died did the same, until the power behind the Slayer line was no longer merely a demon, but something new. A force for good. A force that would, eventiually, be able to inspire and empower Buffy and Willow to change the world...

Anyway, here are the drabbles, reposted from open_on_sunday, and below you'll find my commentary.

Of Man’s first disobedience

Hiywan is always the daring one. She creeps out of the shelter before daybreak, while her clan still huddle there in fear. And so she sees the three strangers passing by.

And that is a fearful thing, for no normal man walks abroad at night. Hiywan starts to call out, to ask why they are unafraid; but her father pulls her back inside, forbidding her to make a sound. Strangers are trouble. New things are dangerous. Best to hide.

Hiywan feigns agreement. The strangers’ footprints are clear in the dust, and soon her father will need her to fetch water…

And the fruit of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste

The lake shimmers like silver fire. A family of long-necks stoops to drink, spreading their forelegs wide. Hiywan’s throat burns, but she can’t join them. The three men she’s been tracking all morning have stopped. She smells smoke. Clearly these are mighty sorcerers, to command fire at will.

She slowly circles around, keeping the wind in her face. The brightness of the lake should hide her approach. As she gets closer she sees one of them holding a wooden box, carefully as a suckling babe, and she knows now that this is their power.

And that it will be hers.

Brought Death into the world

She screams, lashing her feet as hard as she can, but the hands are merciless. Brutal strength bears her to the ground. Something heavy and cold and smooth as bone is clamped around her legs.

One of the sorcerers holds up the box she’d almost managed to take. “Foolish child. Do you even know what this is?”

“We should kill her.”

“Yet she showed skill and cunning far greater than any other. Perhaps…?”

The sorcerer with the box nods. He smiles at her, but his eyes are ice.

“It seems, girl, you will learn what is in here after all...”

Author's Notes

Of Man's first disobedience
Or in this case, woman's. I'm envisaging Hiywan as being a year or two past puberty - 14 or 15 - which would make her an adult woman by ancient standards.

When I wrote the first draft of this story, I actually called the protagonist 'Eve'. However, I knew that was too clichéd, and did some research into alternatives. 

(Trivia: my Google search history currently contains the following: "Giles taking off his glasses; evil; darkhorse; Eve cognates; paradise lost; 1688 bill of rights; mst3k; clan of the cave bear". I'll let you all work out what motivated those searches...). 

The Hebrew version of Eve, Chavvah, had unfortunate connotations for a British audience, so I avoided that... but the list of cognates also included Hiywan, which I simply liked the sound of... plus, the language it was in - Ge'ze - was an East African language, so seemed appropriate for the First Slayer. (Even though if you want to get technical about it, she lived many thousands of years before the first Ge'ze speaker was born...)  Hiywan means 'source of life', which is especially ironic for the girl who would become the First Slayer.

She creeps out of the shelter before daybreak, while her clan still huddle there in fear.
With no Slayer, vampires rule the night. However, they're unable to enter even a primitive lean-to shelter, if it's home to a group of humans.

Three strangers
Obviously, these are the Shadow Men from 'Get It Done'.

to ask why
Curiosity, the (so-called) sin of Woman... and the main reason we're not still wearing skins and living in caves. Hiywan was ahead of her time.

Her father
I did toy with the idea that Hiywan's clan would be unaware of the concept of fatherhood, in the sense that they hadn't drawn the connection between sex and babies being born almost a year later. One theory claims that it wasn't until humans domesticated animals and were able to observe their breeding cycles at close quarters that this became general knowledge. However, explaining all this in a 100-word drabble wasn't really practical... and anyway, it suits the theme for Hiywan to defy patriarchal authority. ("But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it.")

and the fruit of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
The forbidden fruit, in this case, is (she thinks) magical knowledge that will keep her clan safe from vampires. She's right...

the lake shimmers like silver fire
This is meant to conjure a vivid image of the African plains and the hot tropical sun. I was also searching for a metaphor that would be meaningful to a Stone Age tribe, but had to settle on 'silver' as the colour, not a direct reference to the metal. Incidentally, this story is set in the days when the Sahara Desert was fertile grassland.

Giraffes, obviously.

Clearly these are mighty sorcerers
They are, of course, but Hiywan's reaching a correct conclusion through incorrect means.

to command fire at will.
Hiywan's clan know about fire, but see it as a precious gift from the Sky God (in the form of lightning which sets trees on fire). They carry a glowing firestick around with them, carefully tended and never allowed to go out until the sacred flame is ready to be passed to a new firestick. They don't know how to light new fires at will.

the brightness of the lake should hide her approach
Assuming she's sensible enough to keep low and not be silhouetted against it, of course; otherwise this is the equivalent of a fighter pilot attacking out of the sun. The idea is to show Hiywan's great skill and cunning as a hunter - likewise with her instinctively making sure she is downwind of her prey.

wooden box
As seen in 'Get It Done', the sorcerors have trapped the Slayer Spirit inside it. Hiywan, though, just assumes that it contains some powerful magical fetish that will strengthen her clan. She's even right, in a way.

it will be hers
Can you say "dramatic irony"? :)

Brought Death into the world
Death, the Slayer, same diff. (Pace Buffy)

Something heavy and cold and smooth as bone
Hiywan doesn't have the first clue what a metal chain is. I'm not sure how the sorcerors got it - either they're from a much more advanced civilisation far away, or they acquired it through magic, or captured/traded it from demons (who presumably already have metalworking).

she'd almost managed to take
Exactly how is left to the reader's imagination here; but my assumption is that having got close enough to see the box, she waits until the sorcerors are asleep before sneaking into their camp. However, a warding spell wakes them and she has to fight. Which she does with surprising skill, but is outnumbered and eventually dragged down.

far greater than any other
The sorcerors are searching for a girl worthy of becoming the mortal host for the Slayer Spirit - the implication is that they've been searching for a long time, and travelled far from home before finding one.

he smiles at her, but his eyes are ice
Courtesy costs nothing, even when you're about to turn a teenage girl into the vessel for an ancient demonic force of death and destruction...


Posted by: petzipellepingo (petzipellepingo)
Posted at: 18th January 2007 12:08 (UTC)
chosen buffy by beneathgulmissy

I'd like to think that even as the Slayer Spirit stripped Hiywan of her personal identity, her soul also infused it with just a little touch of humanity; and each subsequent Slayer who lived and died did the same, until the power behind the Slayer line was no longer merely a demon, but something new. A force for good. A force that would, eventiually, be able to inspire and empower Buffy and Willow to change the world...
And with their change the Chosen One is no longer a single fighter alone in the world but one of a Sisterhood, who can stand together against the forces of darkness.
And I remember those drabbles, nice to see someone fleshing out the life of the First Slayer.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 18th January 2007 14:15 (UTC)

It took thousands of years, but Hiywan's story had a happy ending at last. Thanks for reading (and reccing).

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 18th January 2007 14:16 (UTC)

Very interesting stuff especially on the choice of name and you are right it is more empowering. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the shadowmen. I always found the shoehorned introduction of the guardians as one of the disasters of season 7.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 18th January 2007 14:28 (UTC)

Thanks. Have you read my earlier post on 'The secret history of the Slayers'? (It's linked in the opening paragraph above) I came up with a possible explanation for the Shadow Men and the Guardians there, expressed in terms of the conflict between the female-priestesses/accepting-nature ethos of hunter-gatherer societies and the male-priests/controlling-nature ethos of agricultural civilisation.

The Shadow Men aren't evil as such - they're protecting humanity in the best way they know how - but they are ruthless and cold-blooded and think the end justifies the means.

As for the Guardians, well, if I ever extend this story to full length Hiywan's grandmother will be one of them...

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 18th January 2007 14:42 (UTC)

Nope not read that. That is a really good idea. Certainly seen that conflict discussed before in the rise of the pantheons of the near east supplanting what appears to be an earlier widespread worship of a mother goddess.

Where would this put the birthplace of the slayer then. In the precursor societies that existed on the north african plains before the growth of the Sahara or in the headwaters of the nile valley ? Certainly it seems that the rise of the cities as you suggest gradually led to the supplanting of matriarchal late neolithic cultures.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 18th January 2007 15:41 (UTC)

I'm not sure; in my mind the origin of the First Slayer tends to move about in both space and time. Given her appearance, she's probably African (or maybe Australian Aborigine) and that fits the whole 'humanity originated in Africa' thing. But on the other hand, by the time Homo habilis and Homo erectus had evolved into Homo sapiens we'd already left Africa and spread out across the globe, so she could be from anywhere. Even so, for symbolic reasons I'd like to say Hiywan lived in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya.

As for the Shadowmen - I believe in 'Get It Done' they're speaking Swahili, which also indicates East Africa. Of course, to fit my overall scheme they'd have to be from somewhere in the Fertile Crescent... reconciling that requires the assumption I used in my story, that they'd travelled far afield looking for a girl to make into the Slayer. That also explains how they have metalworking (the chain) while Hiywan's people are still Stone Age.

As a side issue, an awful lot of the magic spells and rituals on the show were written in Sumerian, implying that the god-kings of Sumeria were extremely powerful magicians. Maybe there's a connection to the Shadow Men there.

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 18th January 2007 16:38 (UTC)

As a side issue, an awful lot of the magic spells and rituals on the show were written in Sumerian, implying that the god-kings of Sumeria were extremely powerful magicians. Maybe there's a connection to the Shadow Men there.

*fantasizes again about that Gargoyles fic I never finished that ripped a bit from the plot of Snow Crash*

Thanks for the additional commentary -- I never get enough of seeing how greater minds work. Seriously, not being humble for its own sake or anything, I see myself more as a slightly above-average pulp author, not always consciously aware of what I'm trying to do or say until after something's written and other people point it out. All your fic speaks of great care and thoughtfulness, and I really appreciate the time and trouble you go to in order to present not just characters and scenarios, but *ideas*.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 19th January 2007 10:38 (UTC)

*Blushes*. Thanks. Although I have to say that I didn't necessarily think all this through beforehand either... some of my notes are me looking back with hindsight and working out what I had in mind at the time.

Not to mention that I shamelessly steal ideas from other sources (I've already mentioned Jean Auel's 'Clan of the Cave Bear' as one source; Larry Gonick's 'Cartoon History of the Universe' is another, and the writing style is partly a Tolkien pastiche. Again, not really consciously while writing; it's more that looking back now I can see where my influences came from.

Though it is true that I try to keep the details true to the overall message, not to mention in-character and realistic, and it's nice for that to be appreciated! Thanks again.

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 18th January 2007 17:49 (UTC)

Entirely possible for them to be from Sumeria/Babylonian or Elam contact seems to exist with precursor kingdoms and cities to Sheba providing possible access into the East African hinterland.

Alternatively they could come from a precursor civilization swallowed by the desertification of the sahara around the 3rd millennia BC, some hints that maybe this is originally what drove the Egyptians into the nile valley. This might have driven the shadowmen to search for the slayer. Of course there are real world causes of the desertification but there could be buffyverse reasons as well ?

Maybe there was a hellmouth around lakes victoria etc and around 7500bc caused the break out of the nile.

Your meta has started all sorts of interesting thoughts in my head.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 27th January 2007 15:45 (UTC)
Evolution of Homo Sapiens

I thought the conventional view was that H. sapiens evolved in one population in Africa, not simultaneously from populations of precursor species around the world: the lines of those Homo habilis and Homo erectus outside Africa became extinct. But then when was the first slayer? H.sapiens had reached Australia by 40,000 b.p.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 27th January 2007 17:38 (UTC)
Re: Evolution of Homo Sapiens

Not being an expert on such matters, I really don't know. Any date I give to the First Slayer has to be considered purely poetic, not literal. (Or simply a product of a mistake due to my lack of knowledge...)

A couple of times I refer to her living "ten thousand years ago", but only because that's a nice round number. Mind you, 8000 BC is about right for the start of the Neolithic agricultural revolution, so it works out well from that perspective.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 27th January 2007 20:30 (UTC)
Re: Evolution of Homo Sapiens

According to the Times Atlas of World History, Agriculture spread from Southwest Asia into North Africa, to what is now the Sahara desert, in the 7th Millenium BC. Tropical African crops such as Millet and Sorghum were domesticated around 4000 BC

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 28th January 2007 19:44 (UTC)
Re: Evolution of Homo Sapiens

Greetings, mysterious anonymous stranger. :)

The Times Atlas of Archaeology 1988 gives the following timeline:

12,000 BC, Egypt: grindstones used to make flour from (wild) grass.
10,500 BC, Japan: earliest known pottery.
9000 BC, Mesopotamia: sheep domesticated.
8000 BC, Palestine: wheat, barley and pulses domesticated.
7500 BC, Sahara: pottery reaches sub-Saharan Africa.
7000 BC, Anatolia: Goats and pigs domesticated.
6500 BC, Anatolia: earliest known textiles (linen).
6500 BC, North Africa: cattle domesticated.
6200 BC, Anatolia: metal-working developed (copper smelting).
6000 BC, Mesopotamia: kiln-fired pottery developed.
5500 BC, Mesopotamia: earliest known irrigation system.
5000 BC, China: wet rice farming developed.
4500 BC, Mesopotamia: earliest known use of ploughs and sailing ships.
4400 BC, Central Asia: horses domesticated.
3650 BC, Southern Russia: earliest known wheeled vehicle.
3500 BC, Sumeria: first cities.
3250 BC, Sumeria: earliest known writing.

So, the First Slayer lived at some indeterminate time between 9000 BC and 3500 BC. I also note that Civilization gets it wrong, since in that you normally develop irrigation and the wheel before bronze working, not after. :)

Posted by: Peasant (peasant_)
Posted at: 18th January 2007 21:53 (UTC)

I like these very much. The weaving in of the Milton works nicely and you have a very simple but very evocative use of language. And the back-story you create is highly satisfying.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 19th January 2007 10:43 (UTC)

Thanks. Though I'm a little curious about 'very simple' since I think I've a tendency to ramble on in long sentences with lots of subordinate clauses and obscure vocabulary. Unless I break up the sentences. Like this. Which is ungrammatical, though I do like the way it sounds.

Still, it's always good to know how your writing comes across to other people. Thanks again.

Posted by: Just Keeping Things In Perspective (quietpoet)
Posted at: 23rd January 2007 21:28 (UTC)

i somehow missed these when you posted it last week. I remembered you had posted something I wanted to come back to...and you got my anthropology/mythology geek self very happy indeed. LOVED this

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th January 2007 00:30 (UTC)

Yay! I'm especially glad that what I wrote sounded plausible enough to convince someone who's studied the subject properly... ;)

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