In my recent interview with Sera Gamble, I asked her an off the wall question that transpired because of an intense discussion over “Mystery Spot” on this website. I asked whether she believed Jeremy Carver implied multiple meanings in his use of “Pig in a Poke” in season three’s “Mystery Spot” (trust me, theories over that were pretty wild). I still haven’t had the opportunity to verify this with Jeremy Carver (which is why I didn’t publish this question and answer initially), but her response is golden.
I certainly wouldn’t put it past him, in theory. But in practice? Bet you a hundred bucks he picked the food because the name is funny, and people are reading way too much into it. Whoever came up with that should consider applying their gifts to pursuing a graduate degree in Comparative Literature.
So why do I bring up this amusing anecdote? It ties in perfectly to the latest book available this week from BenBella books. “In The Hunt: Unauthorized Essays on Supernatural” is the latest installment of their Smart Pop series, and this time Supernatural has earned its shot at worthy deconstruction. A lot of thought and possibly over-thought is put into these pieces. The book manages to pull together 22 essays from a wide spectrum of writers, plus a foreword from author Keith R. A. DeCandido and an introduction from Supernatural.tv. I was sent a review copy last week and have spent plenty of mind blowing time analyzing each one of these well written and brain twisting collections.
It’s interesting this book came to me when it did. Recently I’ve run into some issues with fandom burnout. Fans are restless and coming up with less than ideal ways to pass time between new episodes on Thursday nights. Lately, I’ve seen intense fan squabbling over where Sam’s character is going vs. over where Dean’s character is going, or how Jensen’s acting is better than Jared’s acting. In the process I’ve seen several fans that just want to love their show walk away from all this madness. These essays can help with such hiatus boredom in that we fans are challenged to think about the show we love in introspective and constructive ways.
The question must be asked, is the book only for the die hard fans? Is this something that can be enjoyed by someone who casually watches the show? The answer is yes, although an interest in pop culture at minimum is required. Many references are made to the contributions of Joss Whedon and his Buffy universe and a few of the topics bring up other pop culture heroes like Superman and Batman (yes, there are some Smallville comparisons).
Heck, anything sci-fi like The X-Files and even Ghostbusters gets a mention here or there. The Impala is even compared to other great cars like the Gran Torino in Starsky and Hutch, the Ferrari in Magnum P.I., and the General Lee in Dukes of Hazzard. The pop culture references aren’t limited to other TV shows and movies either, for and the fact that Eric Kripke is influenced by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces is brought up multiple times.
Coming up with an approach to this review became near impossible, for how do you summarize 24 different voices into one really neat review? I could tell just from reading the essays which authors are the casual fans and which are the obsessive diehards, but that didn’t mean that those authors with less of a heartfelt connection to the show didn’t have some great points. So how does this meta compare to the hoards of analysis I’ve read on livejournal and supernaturalwiki.com? It’s all a matter of perspective.
What I Really Enjoyed
The disclaimer at the beginning immediately caught my interest, since these essays only apply to the end of season three. It explains, “In just the first three episodes of season four, the show had already radically revised both its cosmology and its backstory”¦and rendered half a dozen carefully crafted essays not just out of date, but borderline incorrect.” After going through some of these essays, I easily found these discrepancies (like those that tackle the absence of angels) and at least give the authors an A for effort for knowing what they did at the time.
The grouping of the essays from one to another is well done and made it easy for me to drift from one thought provoking piece to another. I appreciate the differing perspectives, seeing points of view from essayists, novelists, bloggers, college professors, a psychotherapist and diehard fans. The variety of writing styles keeps the essays fresh, although some write an awful lot just to get in one or two good points. For the most part though, reading these got me thinking, and I like seeing my favorite show in new ways.
My favorite essay in the entire book is “Dean Winchester: Bad-Ass or Soccer Mom?” by Tanya Michaels. Her writing style is light and fun and she isn’t afraid to interject a lot of her own personality and fangirl love for Jensen in between her solid observations. Two other favorites are on characters Gordon Walker (“The Evils of Hating”¦Um Evil” by Amy Berner) and The Trickster (“Another Roadside Attraction” by Maria Lima). Often these secondary characters are unexplored in the meta world, and not only are their characters given real justice here, but their impact on Sam and Dean is well presented.
I also loved both essays on the Impala (“Back in Black” by Jules Wilkinson and “Riding Down The Highway” by Mary Fechter), although both made many similar points. They are good ones though. It’s also to see Shanna Swendson contribute an essay to this collection. We’ve crossed paths in another fandom and it’s thrilling to see her tackle this one. I have great love of her flare for writing about folklore and fairy tales and her presentation on the true origins of the legends in the Supernatural world are fascinating.
I also didn’t see any inaccuracies in the uses of episodes as references, except for one quote that belonged to “Devil’s Trap” instead of “Salvation.” That tells me that any author that isn’t a hardcore fan still has great respect for the fan base, for they did their homework and have great attention to detail in their subject matter.
I’m Scratching My Head Over…
As with any piece of work, there are some shortcomings. Similar themed essays are grouped together, and this often results in back to back essays bringing up the same scenes, thus creating some redundancy. Mary Winchester on the ceiling seems to be an overdone reference, for we understand the impact that tragedy had on John, Sam, and Dean from the pilot. I didn’t need to see it repeated in essays. Another heavily explored theme is the heroism of Sam and Dean, and many of those points also use the same references. By the time I read about Sam and Dean being heroes for the tenth time, I shouted “I get it already!”
The most ludicrous essay in my mind comes from a personal hang-up I’ve had ever since I first started exploring this fandom. “Scary Just Got Sexy” explores transgression in Supernatural and its fanfiction. I couldn’t take reading heavy words like “transgression,” “societal,” and “metaphysical” used to explain the concept of “Wincest” in fanfiction. The whole essay took the fandom a bit too seriously. Fanfiction is fun and exists to allow fans explore all sorts of strange taboos the networks can’t allow. Some dig it, some don’t. That’s all any essay needs to say. Also, there’s a piece that shows a series of letters back and forth called “A Supernatural Love Story.” While the concept is decent and creative, the results are not.
Overall, A Worthwhile Read
Given the fact that I pay careful attention to writing on this show, I do have to wonder if Eric Kripke, Sera Gamble, Ben Edlund, Cathryn Humphries, Jeremy Carver, and all the other writers in crafting scripts have spent hours contemplating the endless social and cultural impact their show provides like these authors did in this collection. I highly doubt it, and I’m sure if they read meta like this they’re both laughing and shaking their heads, wondering how many fans really need a life. Still, to see fans go this far, they must also feel some pride in their work.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, and find that it can be more than meta gold for those over-analytical fans that dream of that Comparative Literature degree. For any fan that wants to read about how heroism relates to Sam and Dean, how damaged they could be psychologically, how awesome the Impala is, how supernatural lore, traditional horror, or other shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer relate to two fictional brothers fighting evil on the road, or how this show relates to many elements of pop culture in general, then this book has plenty to offer.
Three of the essays presented are from the winners from the Smart Pop essay contest on supernatural.tv. The other ten finalists are credited in this book (including my personal favorite meta analyst, Bardicvoice). Their essays can be found here. Below is the official press release from BenBella books, including ordering information.
BenBella Books and Supernatural.tv Team Up to Create the Essential Companion for the Serious Supernatural Fan
Supernatural fans know there’s more to their favorite show than meets the eye; so does In the Hunt!
DALLAS: Now in its fourth season, the CW’s often-neglected Supernatural has demonstrated marked ratings gains since last season and its season premiere showed the largest yearly increase among all entertainment series returning for the 2008-09 season despite its crowded Thursday night time-slot, thanks largely to the efforts of the series’ devoted fanbase, which Supernatural creator Eric Kripke has rightfully called “some of the smartest, most passionate, most intelligent fans of any show on television.”
For In the Hunt, BenBella Books and Supernatural fansite Supernatural.tv have teamed up to give those fans the essential Supernatural companion.
In addition to the forward by Supernatural tie-in writer Keith R. A. DeCandido, and passionate, insightful essays by popular SF and fantasy author Tanya Huff, Supernatural RPG writer Jamie Chambers and many others, the book includes the three winning essays from the Supernatural.tv/Smart Pop Supernatural Essay Contest from early 2008.
From Sam and Dean Winchester and the Impala to the show’s demons, monsters and urban legend source material, In the Hunt gives Supernatural fans the in-depth, creative analysis they crave on their favorite television show. Book Details
Title: In the Hunt: Unauthorized Essays on Supernatural Floor, New York, NY 10016. To order: 800-343-4499 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Authors: Dawn Bennett, Amy Berner, Mary Borsellino, London E. Brickley Jamie Chambers, Jacob Clifton, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Mary Fechter, Amy Garvey, Avril Hannah-Jones, Tanya Huff, Randall M. Jensen, Robert T. Jeschonek, Maria Lima, Tanya Michaels, Tracy S. Morris, Carol Poole, Sheryl A. Rakowski, Gregory Stevenson, Heather Swain, Shanna Swendson, Emily Turner, Jules Wilkinson, Dodger Winslow
Publisher: BenBella Books
Publication: March 2009, $14.95, Trade paperback, ISBN-13: 9781933771632
224 pages, 6 x 9 Available at bookstores everywhere March 2009 and through Perseus Distribution, 387 Park Ave. South, 12th