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Though Sam is redeemed by his sacrifice at the end of season five, he will suffer for it. We still have to find out what awaits Sam after he learned about his time in hell, but it's safe to assume that it will be far from pleasant. Perhaps he will lose his mind, but he will suffer. I hope, though, that the brothers' mutual knowledge of what it means to be imprisoned in hell will strengthen their bond even more. You can talk to another of experienced pains, but the moment the other lives them, too, the understanding is, kind of, literal. 
Of course, one can't transfer Lancelot's tale completely to Sam's or Gawain's journey to Dean's, but there is common ground. And, of course, what each of us (in this case yours truly, kind readers) reads into it.
'Cowards are cruel, but the brave love mercy and delight to save.'      John Gay 
I think it's no coincidence that stories about valiant heroes, such as these two men, live on in books and novels. We find them in the Star Wars saga, in Lord of the Rings, the legends of King Arthur, of course, and many more stories out there. I believe there is an inherent need for what these characters represent. They symbolize ideals that are able to give us security, and in a world like ours, security is needed, don't you think? A knight - or chivalry - is about finding one's moral centre. And it's about a set of virtues a knight was advised to live by, thus becoming what probably most of us think of when imagining a knight. 

There is no definitive list of knightly virtues, but the meaning of the Maltese Cross (or the Cross of St. John which can be traced back to the Knights Hospitaller, one of the first knightly military orders ever established) shows us the following virtues:
It is universally agreed that the four arms of the Cross stand for the four Cardinal Virtues - namely; prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude. Various authorities give differing meanings to the eight points. It is assumed, though, that the eight obligations of the Knights are described as: To live in truth.  To have faith.  To be sincere.  To give proof of humility.  To love justice.  To be merciful.   To endure persecution.  To repent of sin.
The ethos of our favourite characters lives very much in the neighbourhood of these virtues. They live by a code they learned from their father, and that code is determined by behaving honourably. Well, most of the time. But being human, and thereby flawed as we all are, they don't succeed all the time. 
Let's take a closer look at the mentioned virtues:
Prudence - it can't be said that Sam and/or Dean haven't acted according to that. They rely on common sense most of the time, knowing the enemy, being aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and using caution when necessary (despite a knack for the occasional recklessness).
Temperance, well, we might find the occasional flaw here. We know that Dean has had difficulties saying no to fast food, alcohol and (lately) pills, and Sam's sexual activities and tendencies towards alcohol while Dean was in hell haven't been in the temperance department, either. 
Justice - both try to live by acting justly. Early on, their world truly was black and white, human and non-human. But with time they learned that there are also shades of grey and hesitated occasionally when it came to killing their prey, even discussing whether they were actually entitled to, like in Metamorphosis, before the poor guy turned to become a rugaru. 
Fortitude - I don't think I need to elaborate on that one, I'd say. Both are incredibly brave. I've written about that in previous articles, but I remain taken aback by the amount of courage these young men are capable of summoning. They have encountered the worst of possible moments, faced adversaries most people would run 'screaming to the nuthouse', and still they stand their ground and go on. Their humour and tendency to sarcasm surely is very helpful there,
"Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.'     Indira Gandhi
To live in truth, to be sincere - Sam and Dean have lied to each other, yes, and have thereby violated the virtue of living in truth, but the reasons for their lies have been rooted in a wish to protect or save the other or, an even higher goal, to save the world. And, to many close to them, they have been sincere, as much as they deemed possible. 
To have faith - for the knights of old the connotation was clearly Christian. And, when we look at the show, there is a background rooted in Christianity (the hunters use Holy Water, parts of the Catholic Rituale Romanum for exorcism, and silver and iron as weapons against various creatures also stems from Christian rituals and superstitions, etc.). Sam revealed in Houses of the Holy that he was a man who prayed every day. I'd love to know whether he still does. Dean, on the other hand, didn't believe until they actually encountered angels and, eventually, he got bigger a dose of faith than he bargained for - being the intended sheath for Michael. 
To give proof of humility - when they 'do' a job, they are not after laurel wreaths, they don't ask for payment or praise. They just do their job, save someone, kill the beast and ride off into the sunset. That is quite humble, wouldn't you say?
To love justice - I think they try to uphold what they deem to be just in accordance to their understanding of honour and righteousness. It's a very difficult standard, as justice can't be black and white. The grey shades need to be recognized, too. Both developed in this regard, immensely. It's not only 'human vs. non-human' anymore. English 18th-century jurist William Blackstone once stated 'it's better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer.' To find justice is as difficult as it gets, since it's rarely pure and it's never easy, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde.

To be merciful - also a field where the Winchesters evolved. I'd say, the moment you begin to acknowledge the grey areas of life, you cannot not be merciful. You can never be sure, if the mercy you show might backfire at you, but I believe it hugely important to be able to find mercy. And to feel sympathy, even when it seems illogical or absurd. For me, it was mercy to allow Ellen and Jo die together and fighting in Abandon All Hope or granting Bobby the chance to kill his zombie wife himself in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. I believe Dean considered it also an act of mercy to wipe Lisa's and Ben's memories so they wouldn't suffer, in Let It Bleed or bring Death to place Sam's soul back in his body so he would be 'whole' again in Appointment to Samarra. And, above all, to be able to forgive each other. Despite the darkness they found on their journey, they managed to also find forgiveness and clemency for each other.
To endure persecution - well, if the government ever got scent of the hunters' exploits, there would be a manhunt of so far unknown dimensions, wouldn't there? The Winchesters have been hunted by the FBI and police, but not for their hunting activities. They were mistaken for your 'normal' neighbourhood criminals. It would have been worse, I think, if the law knew more about them. They live outside government law, in many ways, and no administration would have that. On another level they (in particular Sam) were persecuted by their peers because of some of their adventures. Sam's connection to demon blood and some of his actions were not easily swallowed, as we see in episodes like Free To Be You And Me or Dark Side of the Moon

To repent of sin - a question of definition. Our heroes probably don't think of 'sin' in Christian terms. I see, though, a lot of repentance of personal errors and flaws and the wish to atone for committed mistakes. Sam, for instance, spent a great part of season five trying to atone for his actions that brought Lucifer back and, eventually, gave his life to bring about the devil's downfall and Dean, on the other hand, felt deep remorse because he thought to be responsible for his father's death in season two and to be the man who broke the first seal in season four. When they believe to  be wrong or to have been inadequate or untrue in their conduct, both Winchesters are ready to at least try to make amends. It the wronged someone publicly, they would apologize publicly. If they treated someone disrespectfully, they would make an apology to the face of that person. And that takes a lot of courage. Not many people, I believe, are capable of that. 
'How many times in battle have we snatched victory from the jaws of defeat? Outnumbered, outflanked, but still we triumph? With you at my side, we can do so again.'   Arthur in King Arthur (2004)
The time of chivalry has passed. Those ages have stepped back into the mists of history. But even today we find characters in fiction (and in real life) that embody what chivalry and being a knight once stood for. In a world that has been able to pervert human nobility to depravity under fascist regimes and displace common decency and thus often lost benevolence in the carnage, I think ideals like that are desired by many. It's no coincidence that stories evolving around chivalric heroes thrive at the box office or your neighbourhood book store, be it Lord of the Rings, The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, King Arthur or even Indiana Jones.
In my life I was fortunate to meet a few people who held to those values. For me, my father was a person like that. A knight, if you like (oh, he would have loved to hear me say that about him…). A wounded warrior, an honourable man, a protector and decent human being. I hope to follow his example, hoping he'd be proud, and be a decent person. We can't change the world or save it on our own. But perhaps by trying to be the best we can, we can make it - a little bit - better.
In Supernatural, the characters get on a quest for the good of mankind, if you like. Eric Kripke often compared his show to be a lot like the story of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, as most of you, kind readers, know. Luke set out to become a Jedi Knight within a story already a modern classic, though firmly grounded in myths of old (George Lucas was clearly inspired by Lord of the Rings and the Arthur legends). Even though the storyline took additional directions, I believe from day one it was planned as a story with elements of chivalrous ethos and concepts. 
The crusade our heroes Sam and Dean are embarked on isn't a religious one, but it holds religious elements and sooner or later, both are confronted with more heavenly issues than they bargained for. They aren't knights in shiny armour, no, they are more often dirty than clean (and probably reek of blood, demonic entrails and the like after a hunt) and their very human flaws are always visible. We encounter two flawed young men, sometimes scared, often wounded, stubborn, angry, desperate and forlorn. And, furthermore, despite their psychologically authentic characters, they are larger-than-life. Hardly any real person would be able to endure what they have already been through without developing some serious psychiatric illness. And, well, there are clear signs of posttraumatic stress disorder… But still they hold to what they set out to do. They try to serve mankind in their own way, even though they can't expect a reward. Actually, they're doing the best to deny the fact that they are heroes, the entire time. But they are.


They are role models. They are honourable cowboys, they are knights of today. They show that it is possible to survive atrocities, even heavily listing. It's conceivable to find forgiveness, love and a fresh start, even when we've gone astray. In many ways, these two young men embody chivalrous values in modern clothing, but the ideals underneath are very much the same. 
'Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.'  Billy Graham
Sam and Dean Winchester are fictional characters. But, who knows, perhaps out there in the dark, there are real hunters like them who fight against evil on our planet. I love this idea. Unfortunately, we will never know… 
(The picture copyrights lie, as usual, with their respected owners)


# Sylvie 2011-08-08 09:02
I love the idea of seeing Sam & Dean as modern day knights. I'm a lover of the Arthurian legend, I even named my cats Lancelot and Galahad, and will continue naming the next ones after the Arthurian knights. It's funny that you liken Dean to Gawain, seeing as he was later replaced by Galahad to find the Grail because he had become too much of a womanizer and only someone pure could touch the Grail! And Lancelot would disguise himself and go from town to town to help the downtrodden. How very like our Winchester boys. Sam reminded me of Lancelot in season 5 the most, always trying to make amends after his betrayal of Dean at the end of season 4, just like Lancelot would always try to redeem himself in Arthur's eyes for the ultimate betrayal of their friendship. And lets not forget the Impala being the beautiful black steed. Would that make Bobby Merlin? He certainly is wise enough.

I think (and this is my opinion) that so many women like this show because it resembles a good old knight in shining armour story. I grew up watching and reading about knights and chivalry. Alexandre Dumas's "Three Musketeers" has always been my favourite book, and God knows those boys were extremely flawed! But they would put their lives in danger to save the damsel in distress, in this case the Queen of France. And now we have George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire", you talk about chivalry, good and bad. I think the character of John Snow is the ultimate knight.

Anyway, as you can see you caught my heart with this article, sorry for going on and on with this, but when I latch on to a subject I like, and can't seem to shut up!
# Jasminka 2011-08-08 13:42
You know, Sylvie, some of my favourite books/legends/f ilms have always been The Three Musketeers, Lord of the Rings, The King Arthur legends, Robin Hood and the like, too.

I guess if I had an Irish Wolfhound (the kind of dog I wish I could have), I'd probably name him Lancelot (or Ragnar, since these dogs look like Vikings to me :-) ).

Bobby as Merlin? Interesting thought!
I also think that the aspect of chivalry appeals to women (apart from other reasons), I mean which woman wouldn't want to be treated in such a respectful way?

Please, don't apologize for "going on and on". It's obviously a subject I love, too!
Thank you for your comment, Sylvie. And John Snow... he is definitely a knight! I also liked Eddard Stark a lot, unfortunately, he dies too early... sniff...

Thanks again! Jas
# Linda-bookdal 2011-08-08 09:53

I really like this and love that you framed the idea of knighthood and chivalry as an ethos. There's also the issue of "testing" that occurs in many of the Arthurian romances, testing that is similar to much of the journey of Dean/Sam. In Chretien de Troyes's "Yvain" (which of course is a romance first) the main character gives up everything for the knighthood, which I think is similar to Dean's journey, how he can't quite quit the calling of the road, of the quest, even with home waiting for him. Whereas with Sam, who seems to be born into the quest, he reminds me more of a Lancelot-type character, one who is infinitely flawed at the same time that he is infinitely heroic.

And while I agree that chivalry has been hidden in many parts of modern culture, I do think that the fact that it still holds sway for us, both in movies and tv, shows how nostalgic we are for it. We want it to exist, to see it in the posture of the modern hero, which I think you point out in Sam/Dean. At the same time, though, I think their story also challenges the ideas of fealty to kings - I think of the abomination of the title when used by Crowley, here. How kingship becomes a placeholder for tyranny, which is always the danger of idle nobility. But I also think that this particular brand of knighthood speaks clearly to this story as an "American" story - how chivalry is spurred not by a foreclosed future, an undeniable fate, but rather fealty is a choice for choice, for free will, and all of the problems and benefits therein.

Sorry for the ramble. As you can see, I enjoyed the essay :).

# Linda-bookdal 2011-08-08 09:57
One more thought -

To clarify what I mean by "American" is that the show uses "kingship" as something to argue against, which I think is at the heart of the American ethos, for good or bad. The resistance to inherited royalty stands at the center of the national identity, and I think that resistance is translated in SPN as a resistance to blind fealty and allegiance. The ethos of the Winchester knighthood, then, is the question/the challenge.
# Jasminka 2011-08-08 13:50
Thank you for your comments, Linda! I think the credits belong to the writers and creators of Supernatural - they managed to weave in elements of classic knighthood in a modern costume.
And, of course, as you mention, the danger of tyranny.

I believe, since the United States were founded as a republic, there might be some kind of "innate" resistance to inherited royalty.
On the other hand - I notice how "crazy" many Americans are for royalty. Just look at how Princess Diana or the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were received when visiting. And when I look at how the Kennedys have been regarded, it's almost like a royal family, isn't it? Camelot...

For me, being a child of the 'old world', the idea of having a king/queen (without absolute power, of course) holds a notion of security. I understand why many monarchies wouldn't dream of losing their king. It can be a symbol to hold the identity of a nation. Personally, I wish the country my parents came from, had one... But that's just me.

Again: Thank you! Jas
# BagginsDVM 2011-08-08 22:53
Great article, Jas! I've always been drawn to those stories of knights & chivalry & that quest for goodness as well. I don't think any other work of literature or film will surpass my love for The Lord of the Rings or for Supernatural. There are many other wonderful ones out there, but these two works, with their flawed heroes & magnificent stories, are perfection for me. They really do inspire me to try to be a better person.
# Jas 2011-08-09 03:10
Hi Dawn, I am glad you liked what I had to offer here, thank you!

It's perfectly clear that you love Lord of the Rings ( ;-) , Miss Baggins...), and its appeal is so... ah, beautiful.

For me stories of that kind have also been very inspiring, always, and with my dad's example I hope to be an honorable person. A decent one.

Blessed be, Jas
# Brynhild 2011-08-09 16:28
Thank you for this essay, Jas! Very interesting take on the brothers and their mission.

Since I first started to watch this series, it felt like a fresh breeze blowing on my TV. And I realized that until that point, almost all of the recent tv shows didn't have real "heroes", the ones who fight to save the world, to establish justice, for other people, not minding their own needs and desires. HOW I was missing such thing!

I agree, we need heroes. And NOT "super" heroes (of which we have even too many, in fiction), but "normal" men and women who defy fear and despair and their own limits to bring some good to this world, to do the right thing, to right the wrongs, to help people in need. Knights in (not so) shining armour.

No "anti-hero", no gangster-based story, no "realistic" fictions can erase this need from our hearts. We need to be showed that courage and faith and hope are possible, even in the most hopeless situation.
# Jasminka 2011-08-10 04:01
Thank you, Brynhild! I can't disagree - this kind of heroism has always held an appeal I couldn't resist.
Though I like the occasional super-hero, but we find 'real' heroes in real life, and those teach us about courage, wouldn't you say? Be it the firefighter, the doctor who saves a life in the ER, the guy who stands up when he sees others harrassed... or, in a more unspectacular way - everyone who fights the odds of their own lives, which is often painful.

As long as Supernatural is on air, you (and I) won't have to miss this on our television screens.

Cheers, Jas
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2011-08-09 18:22
I love your analogy here, Jas. They ARE the Knights of our day, modern yet throwback. They embody a lot of our modern tendencies and behaviors, they carry themselves in manners to an extent that might not be appreciated by some, and yet their values are those found in romanticized views of the past.

I love how you've shown us Sam and Dean here, ever the reluctant heroes, and yet they wear it so very well.

This story resonates because it touches upon the fundamentals of the human condition. Anything that does this and does it well is a successful story. It's what we learn about ourselves THROUGH the characters that remain with us long after the story has ended (or in this case thus far, goes on hellatus). I know I've learned a lot about myself and humanity while watching. Courage is only one of those gifts I've been grateful to receive. There are so many more that I could list.
# Jasminka 2011-08-10 04:11
Thank you, Far Away Eyes for your comment. You know, I never really understood why the values these guys hold might not be appreciated by some... I've noticed that, too.

It's wonderful that these characters are able to serve as inspiration and examples of how to embody important human values - and still be a person of today.

Personally, I try to live according to that code (if you like) which was shown to me by my father. He was everything I find in stories like this, a simple, good human being. All I can do is try to be that, too.
Thanks! Jas
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2011-08-10 06:38
Well, they both do have some "bad" habits, as we all know.

It is a nice code to live by, though, this honor code to help those less fortunate around you.
# Julie 2011-08-10 04:19
Sorry I am late commenting here. I just loved this, for me it is the classic `Jas article` written with heart, warmth, but mostly, with love.
I think it is no coincidence that we all seem to love LOTR and The Three Musketeers around here, we need to escape to these wonderfully chivalrous heroes who represent and remind us of the best of humanity, something sorely needed at the moment.
Sam and Dean Winchester more than fit this bill and I just love the perfect comparisons you draw with Knights of old.
Love Ju
# Jasminka 2011-08-10 05:39
Oh, thank you, Julie!
This story, indeed, provides the perfect escapism!
I can imagine the writers even thinking about the idea of modern chivalry... well, if "the Krip" looked at it as a Luke-Han story... there we go. One became a Jedi Knight, the other was also a knightly companion...

Again, my heartfelt thanks! love, Jas
# Karen 2011-08-10 10:34
Hi Jasminka
A wonderful article.
I too see our Winchester brothers as modern day Knights.
They are both hero’s in my book, flaws and all.
# Jasminka 2011-08-10 13:07
Yes, they are, aren't they, Karen? Thank you so much for your comment!
Love, Jas
# Marilyn 2011-08-13 23:45

Thank you for a wonderful article. I also see Sam and Dean as heroic. They are always willing to sacrifice their lives and their dreams to help others. I think we have never gotten over our dreams and hopes of knights in shining armor and Camelot. This mundane world at times gets one down and I think we need something to aspire to.
I love the idea of Dean as Gawain; wouldn't you love to see how he would handle the "Loathely Lady" or "Green Knight" scenarios?
I am not as familiar with the Lancelot stories, except for the fact that he betrayed Arthur with Guinevere and tried to atone. I can definitely see Sam atoning in Season 5. His jumping into the Pit was the ultimate act of atonement, wasn't it?

Supernatural has so many delicious layers and it is so much fun peeling away at them. :-)