If there’s one statement that applies to all Supernatural fans, it’s that they’re passionate. Whatever the divisions over characters, plot, writing, and showrunning (and will those wars never end?), most of us can probably tell you who wrote each episode and tell you exactly which scene that screencap is from. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’d make the Trekkies from the time of The Original Series proud.
With that said – we’re demanding. To create a companion book to a show with a fandom as notoriously obsessive as Supernatural takes talent. It has to say something new that the season companions don’t already, that you can’t find on the Supernatural wiki or in the countless interviews we’ve all read. I’m still trying to figure out whether The Essential Supernatural satisfies this criterion. There’s parts of it that are endlessly frustrating, and yet others that are ceaselessly absorbing.
Let me elaborate.
On the one hand, it’s really satisfying.
It’s a larger than normal book – about twice the size of a regular hardcover, or, if it makes you happier to think in terms of paving slab sizes, it’s about a quarter of one of those. There’s some really nice, glossy, high-quality full-size photos of the Winchesters, so that you while your hours away gazing into Dean Winchester’s green eyes. In general, the full-color photographs throughout the book are wonderful – a beautiful selection of scenes from the show and a choice of promotional photos that makes one believe this show does actually know how to do promo photos. It’s a satisfying photo album to brighten anyone’s day.
But there’s also a part of me that’s also much more interested in intellectual stimulation, and in that particular department, I’m sad to say, this title falls behind the season companions. Not to say that it’s entirely devoid of interesting facts and tidibts, but simply that they are more sparse than one would imagine.
To begin with, the book contains detailed summaries of each season, one per chapter – an unnecessary and almost frustrating addition. It’s hard to imagine why the kind of Supernatural fan that would shell out fifty bucks for a large, snazzy, glossy new title that even Kripke says is for those who are really dedicated would need a summary of each season. In fact, if your method of being a fan is at all like mine, then you, like me, may very well get offended by someone else trying to summarize your favorite story. You start nitpicking (Dean’s time in Hell didn’t seem like 40 years, it was 40 years – think of it like relativity. Time passes differently). Also, I really don’t need a family history of the Campbells. Yes, they’re all dead. Yes, I watched them all die gruesome deaths because I like my shows with generous helpings of pain. There’s nothing more irritating to a fan than being informed of the obvious with the assumption that we don’t know it.
There are, however, a few interesting quotes from Kripke on the evolution of the story. There are sections in which the art and special effects and other departments talk about their contributions, which I found fascinating because Supernatural doesn’t slack in its attention to details. Each motel sign, motel room, each menu is painstakingly designed by a team of dedicated artists – sometimes they even design beer bottle labels for specific episode! And, given that these tiny details sometimes reference the plot of the show itself, it’s fascinating to read about. Still, much of the text is summary rather than new information, celebrating things we’ve seen rather than talking about their significance. While there’s certainly some insight on the creative process, it’s not really where the book is worth its money.
Where it IS worth its money, aside from the beautiful photography, are the surprises scattered throughout the book. If you like surprises, read ahead at your own risk; if you like knowing the contents of the treasure chest before you open it, then here goes. There’s a Supernatural car air freshener, which doesn’t sound that cool until you remember that Sam and Dean once decorated their Christmas tree with air fresheners and then you feel so much better about yours. Mine’s definitely going on my tree next year. There are the covers of several of Carver Edlund’s novels (you know the ones I mean, or at least, you should if you’re considering the investment this book entails). It doesn’t contain the cover of the first book in the series (you know, the one where Sam’s hair is about the length it’ll be next season?), but it does contain covers for Route 666, Scarecrow, The Benders, and Wendigo, which I know will be exciting additions to my geeky walls. There’s stickers with sigils and pentacles (though I must note that the design on one of the pentacles is slightly inaccurate).
In short: if you’re looking for information on character growth from the showrunners and analyses of particular episodes, the season companions are your friends. If, however, you’re interested in gorgeous photography (the season companions are sadly black and white), extras you can’t find on the internet (trust me, you can’t find them on the internet), some interesting photos of the set design and art design that you can’t really see elsewhere, then yes, this is for you. It’s a gorgeous book, a visual pleasure to peruse – but in terms of words and ideas, the more interesting stuff could be had elsewhere.