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March 09 2005

The Original "Reivers" were in Scotland. At WonderCon, a member of the audience brought up the original "reivers" of Scotland to Joss, who said he had not heard of them. This is a link to a current story regarding a stone that contained a curse laid upon the reivers by the Archbishop of Glasgow 500 years ago.

I saw that news story and wondered if Joss had heard of them. :) Reavers and curses, how appropriate.
For anybody interested in the Border reivers, George MacDonald Fraser's "The Steel Bonnets" is an absolute is a truly magisterial study about a largely otherwise ignored period of histery, at least the history of the Debatable Lands of the Anglo-Scottish boarder...he also wrote a brief but gripping novel about the subject, "The Candlemass Road."

My wife and I chuckled when we heard the term used in "Firefly"...we visited the boarder country a few years ago and checked in on many of the places described in the book.

I notice the article mentions was there that the word was actually first used, interchangeable with black rent.

Okay, going back to my parents' basement...!
Great link, darkling. And thanks for those suggestions, Chris in Virginia.

At this point I must disclose that, as my great-grandmother was a border Elliot, and with Swinton and Scott ancestors also, I appear to be a direct descendant of these Reavers, um, reivers. And am now following happily in their footsteps: attorney, reaver, what's the diff?

Can't take responsibility for Carlisle's woes, though. And is "sporting humiliation" something that it has experienced only since 2001 . . . ?
Chris in Virginia, not being familiar at all with the reivers, I looked up a bit on your reference, and it appears that we owe even more linguistically to the reivers than the word blackmail. There is a quotation from the book you mention here, as well as a short passage from another book, and the topic itself looks fascinating.
I don't follow the reasoning of assuming these "Reivers" are somehow related to our Firefly's "Reavers" when Whedon himself admits no prior knowledge. Surely the word has been used scores of times over the millenia to refer to countless other groups and individuals.

Whedon has admitted that if there's an inspiration for the Reavers of Firefly, any acknowledgment for said inspiration would go to the native Americans of colonial America. If that's the case, no doubt Whedon is keeping in mind that the colonists of early America imagined the natives as monstrous beasts and savages, while we have learned objectively that in many ways the natives of north America were more socially interactive, civilized and complicated as human beings than the colonists cared to imagine.

We know so little about these particular Reavers in Whedon's story. Only that they are given as a reason or perhaps excuse for countless events in the black. Some of these stories may be true and some may not. There may in fact be several different "tribes" of Reavers, some which are more violent or otherwise dangerous than others. In a way, Serenity's crew may find they have more in common with Reavers than the people of the Core.

This is all speculation of course. Whedon may also surprise us all and introduce the Reavers as an alien race. I hope not, personally, but it's his story. We'll find out come September I suppose.

However, I don't expect the Reavers to be revealed as picts with blue makeup and wearing kilts. These Reavers have about as much to do with those Reivers as my love life has to do with existence. So I guess I'm saying I don't understand the very validity of this notion. The above link didn't mention Reavers or Whedon that I could see. Seems an academic exercise in futulity to me. Now, if Whedon comes forward and admits to knowing about this when he came up with the idea of Reavers, that would be news. Until then, I'm just scratching my head at this whole thread. =?
ZM, you're right that Joss did not base his Reavers on these reivers. That doesn't mean we can't have an interesting and possibly enlightening discussion about the roots of the word, which apparently has to do with plundering, and the associations that the word has acquired over time. As your own post shows in its comment about the connection between Reavers and native Americans, even somewhat esoteric and seemingly unconnected items can teach us something. I don't believe anyone has stated that the chief Reaver will be played by Mel Gibson in woad or that there is any direct connection between Firefly and the Scots Borders. We're not testing a logical proposition, we're having a bit of fun, is all.
However, I don't expect the Reavers to be revealed as picts with blue makeup and wearing kilts

LOL! Neither do I since Picts didn't wear kilts and neither did Reivers, being Lowlanders and not Highlanders.

When I first encountered Reavers on Firefly I did assume that they were based on the Reivers in the Borders, especially since Joss went to school in Britain and may have come across the term, whether he consciously realises it or not.
SNT, I just checked the index to The Steel Bonnets...the Elliots are listed dozens of times! Only the Armstrongs seem to be more prominent in Fraser's book about the Border rievers. From the dust jacket:

In The Steel Bonnets, their terrible tale is told for the first time in full and in its historical context: how the "reivers" (murdering robbers) organized and ran their raids, how they operated ther system of extortion an dterrorism, which gave the word "blackmail" to the English language, how they swept up whole clans and villages in pursuit of their own blood feuds or as willing pawns in the wars of the kings.
They even have their own web site where you can find various interesting titbits, such as the fact that Nixon is one of the traditional reiver family names.

There was even a BBC tv series called 'The Borderers' about them in the late 60's.
Yup, I watched The Borderers as a kid.
In the introduction, Fraser talks about how chilled he was to see three men on the 1969 Inagural stand--Nixon, Johnson, and (Billy) Graham, all border riever family names!

SNT, your riever/lawyer remark reminded me of this exchange from Angel Season 1:

Cordelia: Why isn't Wolfram & Hart in here?
Wesley: Because they're lawyers, not demons.
Cordelia: Fine line, if you ask me.
Ruadh, you made the same assumption about Joss that I did. I'm sure at some point he had to have heard of the Reivers, and just didn't consciously remember them. They lived on the Border, and from there they committed raids; much like the Reavers who come from the border (edge of the galaxy/universe (I've heard both terms used)) and conduct horrifying, bloody raids on small settlements.

When I first heard the term "Reaver" it rang some kind of bell, either genetic or unconscious in me. I found it very frightening. A little detail about me: the first time I heard bagpipes played live, I burst into tears and cried through the whole performance. That must have been genetic memory. I'm mixed Scots, Welsh, Irish and English, with a bit of German and French to really stir up things.

BTW, I work for a large, international law firm. When people ask where I work, I say, "Wolfram & Hart LLP."
CiV: my favorite lawyer line in Angel is this one from the Trial, AtS Season Two:

Darla: "I don't trust them, but I know a thing or two about mind games. (To Angel) So do you. We played them together for over a century."
Cordy: "Yes, but you were just soulless bloodsucking demons, they're lawyers."
WOW! i actually live in weird. I also wondered whether thatís where joss got his inspiration from, but apparently not.
willozbitch, really? The site of the Bold Buccluch's raid to free Kinmont Willie Armstrong?

We stayed at a B&B that actually belonged to the current duke in Irvine, just across the border.

I'm thinking that this notion of rievers/reavers being almost a subliminal thing for Joss and many people educated in Britain makes a lot of sense. No way to tell for sure, I guess.
Hey SNT - Johnstone clan here - way back. I can't recall the relationship, I'll have to find the geneology charts, but I think it's through my Dad's matrilineal side. That's the problem when you're Scots, Irish, Norewgian and English from both sides!

Add me to the list of folks who assumed that Joss got the idea of the Reavers from the history of the Borders.

And Chris - never be ashamed of your geekdom - embrace it! Thanks for the recommendation.

Who gets all geeked out about things like reivers, the "fanny-pack" mummy guy, &etc., ad infinitum
Well Reivers may have been a subconcious influence but I think more a direct influence may have been Event Horizon more than anything else. Certainly the first time I saw 'Bushwhacked', the whole notion of the Reavers and what they did screamed of that movie.


Only the Armstrongs seem to be more prominent in Fraser's book about the Border rievers.

That would be my mother's side of the family. I do enjoy having wild Scottish blood in me. Though there is that first man of the moon thing going for them. Fortunately, my dad's side of the family the Frasers seem to have led a more peaceful and noble history. We founded Canada or something like that. Go us.
Simon, the Armstrongs have their very own chapter in "The Steel Bonnets"'s called "Armstrong's in Action"...wild Scottish blood indeed!
ZachsMind wrote:
Whedon has admitted that if there's an inspiration for the Reavers of Firefly, any acknowledgment for said inspiration would go to the native Americans of colonial America.

Just a small clarification. JW was talking about the perceived savages of westerns: the Apache on the 19th-century frontier of the United States, not colonial America (e.g., here).

As for where his word choice came from, who knows. Perhaps he stumbled on "reave" in a dictionary and thought "plunderers"/"despoilers" were the right sort of folk for his story.
You know, it's threads like this that make me love Whedonesque - research, history, erudite comment, wit. This is a great place.

Sorry, finished gushing - will return to usual taciturn and sarcastic mode now!

So what about those reavers huh? (sorry, couldn't come up with research or history or erudite comment or wit!)
Fascinating stuff. I'm a German/Scots-Irish hybrid with roots in clan Gunn, and based on the names given I don't think reivers run in my family (so far, only one or two blackguards of minor note in the bunch).... I can entirely believe that JW didn't consciously choose the term 'reaver' for his FFverse villains, but if so, I am amazed at the synchronistic perfection of the choice.

If FF is based roughly on the class/economic/socio-political dynamic of the US War Between the States, as he has said, then 'reiver' as a term couldn't be more appropriate. The Civil War-period North ('The Alliance') had greater urbanization, general wealth, technological advances, and power, inheritance and the tradition of social privilege solidified through intermarriage of approved bloodlines. Most of the early settlers in the North were of well-to-do British extraction, with other monied Northern European strains mixed in.

The South ('The Independents'), by contrast, was people-rich and technology/wealth poor, less urbanized, and less concerned with adherence to strict social classes. That made it possible for its ruling aristocracy -- which somewhat chafed at the ruling hand of Britain after tasting freedom in the New World -- to spurn traditional class designations and intermarry with naturalized immigrant strains of lower/working class Scots-Irish, Spanish, Portuguese and African American peoples. Hence, class tensions and the breakdown of accepted social mores played a huge part in the war(s).

Inara, Simon and River all have connections to what would be the equivalent of Northern, monied backgrounds (and are all Alliance-affiliated- or -friendly 'fish out of water' in their current situation); notice the friction they frequently have with Mal and Kaylee*, in particular, who both seem to have aspects of the freer, less convention-bound Southern stamp on their Independent characters.

Along with lots of other Old World folktales, vestiges of reiver legends have been transmitted to generations of present-day US Southerners through British and Scots-Irish songs, many of which have become the basis of Appalachian folk songs that are still sung in the mountainous regions not too far from where I live today. (Reminiscent of songs such as these, for example.) If the Alliance is the North and the Independents are the South, then Reavers being an imaginary extension of reivers doesn't seem at all far-fetched, even if it was unintentional.

Projecting 500 years into the future, it's easy for me to believe that Mal, with his combination of canny intuitive smarts and occasional ruthlessness, has more than a bit of Southern-born Scots-Irish hot-bloodedness in him (and maybe even a touch of reiver, too -- though if anyone's got pure reiver in them, I'd vouch it was Jayne). It's not inconceivable that growing up on Shadow, Mal might also have heard such story-songs glorifying outlaws from Earth-that-was, much as some Dixie-proud Southerners glorify ignoble figures of the Old South to this day.

Maybe cellular/ancestral memory helps explain why Mal and Jayne were so visibly freaked by their (if I remember correctly) first real encounter with Reavers? Odds are JW will end up carrying the linguistic connection to its logical conclusion by having someone in Serenity become "be-reaved" before all's said and done.

[*Not that almost stereotypical "sweet Southern girl" Kaylee has real friction with anyone. It's just over class and conventions of social propriety that she and Simon tend to clash.]

[ edited by Wiseblood on 2005-03-11 06:10 ]
Sir Walter Scott's first published work was "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders", a collection of ballads about the Borders...yes, I have a copy of it, and will occasionally pour a single malt, light a fire and read to the wife about rievers like Jock of the Side or Kinmont Willie Armstrong...

Interesting observations, Wiseblood...the North/South analogy is good as far as it goes, which isn't all the way, of course. I liked your point about how "some Dixie-proud Southerners glorify ignoble figures of the Old South to this day."

Indeed they do. I worked in Richmond, far from "The People's Republic of Northern Virginia" some years ago...once made a casual reference to the "Civil War" and was roundly rebuked for incorrect nomenclature...I apoligized, and said "War Between the States," and heard the tut-tuts all over again. "Uh, Chris, we call it the 'War of Northern Aggression' in these parts. Well, that was just more than enough, and I responded, "You mean the 'War of Treasonous Secession' in which traitors like Bob Lee and Stonewall Jackson took up arms against the country they had sworn to defend?!"

Had to run out of the office before huge glass ashtrays (this was in Richmond, remember) hit me in the face.

If we take the Civil War (yes, Civil War, damn it!) analogy a bit further, I could see the Reavers as being somewhat analogous to groups like Quantrill's Raiders...brutal, savage, on the fringe, and then beyond it.
"Acch! Reivers?!! Willie's gettin' in the queue for Serenity!!!

Grease me up, lassie!"

[ edited by bookrats on 2005-03-11 02:29 ]

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