Ron Glass, Shepherd Derrial Book, “Firefly”/SERENITY, Joins the Wizard World Comic Con Tour!
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|“Put a bullet to me. Bullet in the brain pan, squish!”|
|Derrial Book (commonly called Shepherd Book and born as Henry Evans) is a fictional character played by Ron Glass in the science-fiction/Western television series Firefly and its sequel movie, Serenity. He is a Shepherd (the literal English translation of the clerical title “Pastor,” from the Latin), and provides frequent spiritual advice and perspectives for the crew of Serenity.|
During production of the film Serenity, Book’s first name was Meria, and it appears as such in the documentary “Re-Lighting the Firefly.” However, by the time the film was completed, Joss Whedon changed his first name to Derrial, which is the way it appears in all printed official works based on Firefly.
Glass, a veteran actor well known for his role as Detective Ron Harris in the television sitcom Barney Miller, had never tackled the science-fiction genre and was hesitant about this role when his agent approached him. However, once he read the script he ..”.fell in love with it.” As Glass notes:
“The thing that was galvanizing for me was the characters, so the environment was secondary. I was happy to see how Book would unfold in that kind of environment and it worked really, really well.”
Glass states that Whedon and the costume designer Shawna Trpcic “had a pretty clear idea of how they wanted him to look,” and how he appears in the pilot with a distinctly priestly collar and scant possessions “was a strong reflection of the character...” For the role in the film “Serenity,” Trpcic changed her decision to have Book in loose, baggy clothes when she saw what great shape he was in, so she designed a tight tee-shirt to show off his chest.
Book’s character during the series is that of a preacher, and though Glass discussed with Whedon about making him more Buddhist, Whedon explained that the character of Inara Serra was to be the Buddhist-type and Book more of the “fundamentalist Christian guy.” Glass, himself a Buddhist, found it intriguing to play this role:
“What I was able to bring to the Christian part of it was the humanism and the humanistic point of view. It was the hook in terms of being able to make that adjustment. I wasn’t born Buddhist, so I do have some other traditions to pull from.”
Whedon conceived the character because he felt that faith was important to people dealing with being that far out in space. As Whedon states, “Shepherd Book is somebody I would probably get along famously with, except we don’t agree about anything.” He also wanted to give “a voice for the other side.”
One of the underlying aspects of the show is Shepherd Book’s secret past. He holds some sort of high priority status within the Alliance, and on numerous occasions has demonstrated a depth of knowledge in a number of fields one would not expect a clergyman to be familiar with, including space travel, firearms, hand-to-hand combat, and criminal activity. Glass enjoyed this aspect of the role as well: “Though rather mysterious, it was absolutely clear that he had had a very full life before he went off to the monastery and took on that responsibility. I loved the fact that he could save your soul but he could also kick your ass. That’s a really great combination to play.”
In the 14th episode of Firefly, “Objects in Space,” Simon berates the bounty hunter Jubal Early for assaulting Book, a Shepherd. Early replies, “That ain’t a Shepherd.” In the DVD commentary Firefly, Whedon states this is due to Early’s intuition and ability to quickly size people up. He also comments that Early’s methods for dealing with each crew member are custom-tailored to their personalities. Early disposes of Mal in a straightforward manner; Whedon then notes that Early’s method for taking out Book is equally straightforward, alluding to a similarity between the two otherwise different characters.
Another hint to Book’s mysterious past is shown in the episode “Safe.” When Book is accidentally wounded, Mal is forced to seek medical help from an Alliance cruiser. The commanding officer, after tersely dismissing Mal, changes his attitude once one of his officers shows him Book’s identification. Though the exact information on the card is never shown, the crew does note that it affords Book urgent and immediate access to the medical facilities on board, as well as free passage for Serenity without the expected inspection. Several other episodes contain allusions to Book’s past; in “The Train Job,” he is aware of the identity of crime lord Adelei Niska, while in “War Stories,” he displays a working knowledge of high-powered weaponry, first to identify sharp-shooters and later to take part in a co-ordinated assault against Adelei Niska’s space station.
On the 2007 Browncoat Cruise, Ron Glass revealed with Whedon’s permission several facts about Book, including that Derrial was not the shepherd’s real name, but the name of a man he had killed. Also, a “part of [him] is artificial, he found God in a bowl of soup, and [he] is best known for his greatest failure.” This was part of an announcement for a comic book series based on Book’s past, titled The Shepherd’s Tale. Scott Allie, editor for the Serenity: Better Days comic series, confirmed this announcement and stated that Dark Horse Comics was aiming for a late 2008 release. it was later announced that this would be seeing print in November 2010, and was subsequently released November 03, 2010.
The character, almost always referred to as “Shepherd Book,” is a Christian of an unknown denomination. The original script for pilot episode “Serenity” includes this scene establishment:
“We see, passing through frame, Shepherd BOOK. […] His clothes are plain and instantly identify him as some kind of Protestant minister.”
Throughout the series, he makes references to Christian theology and consults the Bible. Shepherd Book, in the pilot episode for the series, indicates he has been living in the Southdown Abbey and has never been married. Throughout the series there are references to monks at the Southdown Abbey as well as Biblical quotes. Shepherd Book makes references, in both the series and the movie, to having some level of insider knowledge about how the Alliance works. When Mal asks him about this he states: “I wasn’t born a Shepherd,” but declines to explain further. At one point while critically injured his identification card earned him immediate treatment from Alliance medical personnel when their CO had originally left him to die. When River was able to see into the hearts of the crew, it is hinted that he experienced a cruel and sadistic past. His biography is never fully explained during the show’s original run.
In the comic Serenity: Those Left Behind, Book expresses concern that he is being corrupted by living on Serenity and leaves the ship. By the time the movie Serenity begins, he is living on the planet Haven. In the film, Book is killed by an Alliance soldier sent to destroy Haven after Serenity manages to shake an Alliance assassin known only as “The Operative.” However, he was not a passive figure in the events leading up to his death; he defended Haven and “killed the ship that killed [them].” His last words to Mal was that he didn’t care what Mal believed in, just that he believed in something. Spurred by the shock of his death, Mal dresses his ship in Reaver camouflage and sets off for Miranda, a planet behind Reaver territory.
His background is explored further in the comic book Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale. Book was born Henry Evans, a boy who was raised by an abusive father. He ran away from home and began life as a petty criminal before being recruited by the Independence movement and moving out to the Border Worlds. Long before the Alliance begins the Unification War, forward-thinking Browncoats assign Evans to be a long-term mole. He sheds his old identity by killing a random passerby and stealing his identification card, becoming Derrial Book. His Browncoat superiors keep tabs on him by surgically removing one of his eyes and replacing it with an artificial camera. He joins the Alliance military and quickly moves up in rank. Becoming an officer, Book intentionally leads a risky operation that results in a humiliating defeat for the Alliance. He is forced to retire from the Alliance military. It is implied that the Alliance covers up the loss, therefore not officially punishing Book. Homeless, he visits a soup kitchen and finds God while contemplating a bowl of soup. He takes refuge at an abbey where he becomes a shepherd before leaving on Serenity to become a missionary.
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