I’m a little (or very) late to the Supernatural bandwagon (though I’d prefer the bandwagon in question were an Impala, because it’s a hell of a cool car and also iconic). That’s possibly a blessing, for while everyone else is agonizing over the upcoming finale to the latest season, I have the leisure of watching as many episodes in a row as I want – without the commercials. The long personal Hell of waiting for the next season, and then wiling the minutes away until each new episode, is not far off, however. Thankfully, there’s books like In the Hunt: Unauthorized Essays on Supernatural (Smart Pop series) around, which, with its quality observations and engaging arguments, is more than an entertainment; this unauthorized collection of essays is a way to experience the show at a deeper level, especially during the painful wait between seasons.
Granted, this book is a bit…behind the times, as its release coincided with the beginning of the third season, while the show is, by now, up to the magical number seven. That is, paradoxically, why this book is so good. Over seven seasons, Supernatural has introduced a universe of mythologies, a tangled mess of plot threads, and an uncountable number of characters (the majority of which are dead, because it’s Supernatural). Sometimes it’s beneficial to go back to the origins, however, and analyze this mass of fictional material piece by piece.
For example, it was not until the fourth season that the idea of angels, God, and a larger cosmology was introduced; for three seasons, we watched a show in which Hell undoubtedly existed, but the same could not be said of Heaven. It raised questions: does the existence of evil imply the existence of good? It was an entirely different perspective on the world of the Winchesters, and a perspective still valuable to consider as questions of good and evil continue to pop up on the show.
There are some particularly fine essays in the volume which deal with those questions. In particular, Avril Hannah-Jones’ submission to the collection proposes the Winchester boys as this show’s version of angels – the only forces for good in that world. Now that we’ve encountered angels and their capacity to resemble demons in their malevolence, her claim retains a remarkable amount of accuracy. The same essay also deals with theological explanations for the existence of evil as it relates to free will – also noteworthy, given the protagonists’ nicknames as “Team Free Will” a few seasons later. And, though John Winchester hasn’t been around on the show for a good number of years, his presence still hangs over the story – it’s arguably the catalyst for a large portion of events unfolding as they did, which makes Tanya Huff’s examination of his character a powerful reminder.
A number of essays also place Supernatural into a cultural and mythological context without which any understanding of the show would be particularly lacking after so many mythology-filled seasons. Mary Borsellino’s comparison of Supernatural to one of its more significant predecessors, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, points to some noteworthy parallels. Gregory Stevenson deals with the question of Supernatural as a horror show, which it still remains after many seasons. And the two last essays in the book examine the show’s integration of myths, urban legends, and Trickster lore into the show, thus dealing with another fundamental aspect of the show’s examination of American identity.
A particularly significant article – or one that stands out in its subject matter – is Emily’s Turner’s work on fan fiction; the problem with it is that the claims it makes about Supernatural fan fiction, and uses the show to justify, apply to most fan fiction. For example, the emphasis on themes of transgression on the show as the reason for those themes in fan fiction would all be really well – if those themes were not a fundamental aspect of all fan fiction. Nevertheless, the article does have the merit of considering fan fiction in general in a new light and raising some valid points.
All in all, there are some really fine essays in this collection, which raise some important points. Granted, a few of them could have benefited from continuing down the path they started a bit longer, and a couple of articles (couple in its literal meaning of “two”) are rather lackluster, but as a collection, it’s thought-provoking, and, most importantly, written by a group of fans who adore this show, but which doesn’t prevent them from breaking it apart in the name of understanding.
With Supernatural’s recent renewal for an eighth season – and possibly even a ninth – one may hope that Smart Pop continues doing what they can do so well and releases another compilation of ruminations on what should be everyone’s favorite show.