Jennifer Crusie, editor,
Totally Charmed
(BenBella, 2005)

I've never watched much Charmed. But I'm gonna.

As a reviewer, I had a chance to see the original pilot, starring Lori Rom as Phoebe, long before the series actually aired. Then I received the new pilot, with Alyssa Milano in the role, and I enjoyed watching for differences in the way scenes were shot. But that, frankly, was as far as my interest went.

Now, I want to see more. I want to decide for myself who's better, Prue (Shannen Doherty) or her replacement sister, Paige (Rose McGowan). I want to see if they really have fashion sense as bad as people say. I want to watch the transformation of cautious Piper (Holly Marie Combs) into the group's decision-making leader. I want to see romances unravelled, babies born, demons vanquished and more. Heck, I want to see three beautiful women kick some demon butt.

Why? Because I read Totally Charmed: Demons, Whitelighters & the Power of Three, edited by Jennifer Crusie.

The book compiles a gaggle of essays on the facts, fans, flaws and fallacies of Charmed. The chapters are written by a variety of fantasy, science fiction and romance novelists, modern witches, essayists, columnists, film critics, scientists and more.

For instance, Debbie Viguie looks for foundations of the series in classic fairy tales, while Ruth Glick (a.k.a. Rebecca York) celebrates the series as a progressive step for female power. John G. Hemry explains the true power of the number 3 throughout history. Anne Perry considers the road to good or evil in light of the sisters' emotions: love, guilt, anger and more. Kate Donovan, on the other hand, tells us why the Halliwell sisters will never truly defeat evil.

Evelyn Vaughn decides whether or not killing Prue was a good decision for the series after considering other ways that departing actress Doherty could have been written out of the plot, while Leigh Adams Wright argues that the addition of Paige in the fourth season revitalized the show. Robert A. Metzger explains why Piper is the most powerful witch of all and offers suggestions for taking better advantage of her gifts. Jennifer Dunne explores the many facets of Phoebe and explains why she believes Phoebe is "the true visionary" of the family.

Jody Lynn Nye expounds on the reasons the Halliwells must keep their powers a secret. Maggie Shayne concludes that Girl Power -- these are strong, capable women, after all, who don't need much rescuing by the men in their lives -- keeps the sisters from ever finding true love. Vera Nazarian, meanwhile, concludes that the perfect mate for a Halliwell is a man who knows his way around a tool box. And Alison Kent analyzes the sisters' different approaches to dating in the first season -- and notes why relationships for the Halliwells always end in tears. Catherine Spangler, conversely, makes a convincing argument comparing season four of the series to a romance novel.

It's not all praise, either. Peg Aloi takes the series to task for not bothering to research the roots and realities of modern witchcraft. Nick Mamatas explains why the San Francisco-based series can't actually be based in San Francisco. Tanya Huff deconstructs the sisters' questionable choice in wardrobes, while Richard Garfinkle wonders why the ultra-good Elders are portrayed as snooty sots.

Valerie Taylor describes her experiences watching Charmed with her daughter, Jane, and reveals the awkward hurdles in parent-teen relations the series helped them over. Laura Resnick explains why humor is vital to the series and how it smooths over certain inconsistencies in plotting. Finally, C.J. Barry shares her thoughts after losing her Charmed virginity.

Wow, that's a whole lot of Charmed. The funny thing is, being a non-member of the Charmed fanverse, I expected to get bored with the book and quickly hand it off to another reviewer. But no, instead I found myself enjoying these deep, analytical explorations of a show I rarely watched. The hypotheses made and the arguments supporting them are interesting, and often quite fun. (Charmed fans must, by the show's very nature, have a good sense of humor, and that comes through in many of these essays.)

I can't say whether or not I'll become a fan of the show. But Totally Charmed has me wanting to turn on the television and give it a chance, and that has to be a victory for the writers.

by Tom Knapp
21 January 2006

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