100 sci fi women #49: Cordelia Chase

I just heard Joss Whedon on the radio referring to the cancellation of Firefly, as the worst thing that had happened in his career. We feel that pain Joss. And so I am inspired to choose another Whedon woman for the list – but not from Firefly, as we only just had Kaylee.

And so, to…

Cordelia Chase Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel

Cordelia does not seem like an obvious choice for this list. When we first meet her she is vacuous and self centred and really doesn’t care about anyone or anything much other than herself and her social status. But the great thing about a character like Cordelia is that, when you start from a low base, and when you have a lot of series over which to do it, you can grow and change and learn and become someone quite different. And Cordelia certainly does that. Cordelia gets chased and stabbed and possessed and gives birth to a demon spawn and is impoverished and gets visions which slowly kill her becomes an angel and, well, you name it, she endures it. Cordelia may be self centred, but she isn’t really vacuous – even from the beginning she could sometimes be more insightful and practical, and more sarcastic, than the others. She is willing to fight when it is necessary and, as time goes by, she becomes stronger and more capable, and less self centred. Cordelia understands how the social world works, what the forces are at play, and has a keen insight into human nature, which she usually utilises to increase her popularity and status. She also has fewer false allusions about people – she understands how the world of utilitarian friendships operate. But she is a person of deep emotion as we see in her reaction to Xander’s betrayal of her. Working with Angel in Los Angeles Cordelia grows further. She develops close relationships with her colleagues, the ghost who lives in her apartment and the Grossalug to whom she has been promised. In fact, the scenes of Dennis the ghost’s sorrow about Cordelia are remarkably touching. When Cordelia gains the ability to have visions and to help people, she embraces it and is unwilling to give it up, despite the pain and suffering it ultimately causes her. What makes Cordelia an exceptional woman is her change and growth, and of course her fabulous sense of fashion.

Cordelia: “Why is it always virgin women who have to do the sacrificing?”

Wesley: “For purity, I suppose.”

Cordelia: “This has nothing to do with purity. This is all about dominance, buddy. I can bet if someone ordered a male body part for a religious ceremony, the world would be atheist like that.”

Bad Lilas I have known

I am currently watching the second season of Dexter in which we meet the character of Lila, the ex drug using, found-art, wantony sexy NA sponsor with whom Dexter finds an point of connection. As her charcter articulated some of the fundamental questions around good and evil which Dexter seeks to explore last night, it occured to me that she is not the first brunette, moreally ambiguous character of Lila I have encoutered. In Angel, Lila the lawyer erred more on the side of evil, but was not without her own ambiguity, particularly in her relationship with Wesley and her death (and post-death activities). This led me to wonder about the origins of the name, and whether it was just a co incidence or whether there might be some deeper purpose in the use of the name.

Lila derives from Sanskrit and means “play” or “amusement”. While this seems not totally off the mark, according to Wikipedia (which naturally know all) Lila is a concept within Hinduism: “Hindu denominations differ on how a human should react to awareness of Lila. Some emphasize a joyful embrace of all aspects of life (“intentional acceptance”) while maintaining distinction from the Supreme, while others advocate striving for oneness with the Supreme. Lila is an important idea in the traditional worship of Krishna (as prankster) and Shiva (as dancer), and has been used by modern writers like Stephen Nachmanovitch, Fritjof Capra, Alan Watts and Robert M. Pirsig.” Interestingly, given the moral ambiguity of the Lilas I have encoutered, Robert M Pirsig’s book is entitled Lila: An inquiry into morals.

So a Lila who is a ex junkie, who sees all people as containing good and evil and who accidentally killed a man who indeed deserved it, is clearly part of a tradition. Lila in Dexter does seem to be striving for “intentional acceptance” and I will be interested to see where the series takes her and her relationship with Dexter. She can’t turn out to be as evil as a lawyer though – the other Lila will have her beaten in that respect.