Review: In the Hunt: Unauthorized Essays on Supernatural

By Paula R. Stiles

inthehuntIn the Hunt: Unauthorized Essays on Supernatural. Supernatural.tv with Leah Wilson, ed. Dallas: BenBella Books, Inc., 2009. xvi, 275pp. US $14.95/CAN $17.50. ISBN: 978-1-933771-63-2.

In the Hunt came out last spring and it’s already a bit obsolete. The publisher even admits this in the preface by noting that the forward by Keith R.A. DeCandido, introduction by Supernatural.tv and 22 essays were all written between seasons three and four of the show (interestingly, 18 out of the 24 authors are women). If there were a hiatus between two seasons of a show most problematical for the creation of such a collection, the summer between seasons three and four of Supernatural would be it. On the other hand, these essays do a good job (however inadvertently) of showing what a huge sea change occurred in season four.

They also do a good job of introducing the reader to the basic debates going on in the show (even if some of those have been emphatically, if not definitively, settled by the events of season four). There is the now-settled debate about whether God or angels exist in the Supernaturalverse (Gregory Stevenson’s “Horror, Humanity and the Demon in the Mirror” and Avril Hannah-Jones’ “Good and Evil in the World of Supernatural“); the now-dated defense of John Winchester’s parenting (Tanya Huff’s “‘We’re Not Exactly the Bradys'”); an essay explaining why Sam gets no respect because he’s the character we’re really like while Dean is the one we want to be (Dodger Winslow’s “The Burden of Being Sammy: (A Parenthetical Discussion of Self-Perception Versus Reality)”, which I’ve also seen online); two more explaining why it actually sucks out loud to be Dean (Amy Garvey’s “We’ve Got Work to Do: Sacrifice, Heroism, and Sam and Dean Winchester” and Tanya Michaels’ “Dean Winchester: Bad-Ass…or Soccer Mom?”); and the venerable argument that the show is “misogynist” because the writers always give in to the (largely female) online fandom complaints about poorly-written female characters and that’s why Buffy‘s so much better (Mary Borsellino’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jo the Monster Killer”).

Several essays deal with the nature of the supernatural in the show (Randall M. Jensen’s “What’s Supernatural about Supernatural?” and Shanna Swendson’s “Keepers of the Lore”); the use of practical folklore in the show (Jamie Chambers’ “Blue Collar Ghost Hunters”) and even the question of whether Supernatural is affecting the folklore back (London E. Brickley’s “Ghouls in Cyberspace: Supernatural Sources in the Modern, Demon-Blogging World”). There is the inevitable clutch of sociological gender studies (including, but not limited to: Jacob Clifton’s “Spreading Disaster: Gender in the Supernatural Universe” and Carol Poole’s “Who Threw Momma on the Ceiling? Analyzing Supernatural‘s Primal Scene of Trauma”) and the equally-inevitable examination of Wincest (Emily Turner’s “Scary Just Got Sexy: Transgression in Supernatural and Its Fanfiction”). One essay looks at how each of the Winchester men could be labeled “heroes” (Sheryl A. Rakowski’s “A Powerful Need: Heroism, Winchester-Style”) . This unfortunately leaves out the original hunter of the family, who was revealed early in season four to be Mary. There’s an article accusing the Colt of being a deus ex machina (Tracy S. Morris’ “John Winchester and the Magic Bullet Theory”); one thoroughly examining the character of the Trickster from seasons two and three (Maria Lima’s “Another Roadside Attraction: The Role of the Trickster in Supernatural“); two essays about the show’s iconic Impala (Jules Wilkinson’s “Back in Black” and Mary Fechter’s “Riding Down the Highway: Why the Impala Is the Third Main Character”); and one that examines the morality of the show through the recurring antagonist Gordon Walker (Amy Berner’s “The Evils of Hating…Um, Evil: What Gordon Walker Did Wrong and Why We Needed Him, Anyway”). Finally, there are two humorous essays, one a satirical look at the show from the MOTW’s point of view that I wanted to like but couldn’t quite warm to (Robert T. Jeschonek’s “Sympathy for the Devils”) and an hysterically epistolary paean to the overly obsessed fanbeing that uses actual gossip and urban legend from and about the fandom (Heather Swain’s “A Supernatural Love Story”)

The book could have used some more discussion of ethnicity. Also, its obsolescence really shows in three areas: angels, Ruby and Mary. None of the authors in the book seemed to feel that angels would ever be more than suggested on the show, which went along with Kripke’s perennial assertion that the show would never show God or angels. Needless to say, season four changed that perception, but not before the essays came in. Still, considering the book’s extensive discussions of the recurring theme of faith (particularly Dean’s) in the episodes “Faith”, “House of the Holy” and “Sin City”, the possibility might have been raised more strongly. The authors also seemed to feel that Ruby was gone for good at the end of season three, when she turned out to be a major part of season four in a new “meatsuit” (for better or worse). Considering Ruby’s apparent fate at the end of season three and the early news that the actress playing her wouldn’t be back in season four, though, it’s understandable that she appeared to be gone for good.

Perhaps less defensible is the general dismissal of Mary as a passive and innocent victim isolated by death from a family of testosterone-laden men. Even as early as season one’s “Home”, we knew that Mary was a stronger and more ambiguous figure than implied in her death scene from the Pilot. It also was clear by the end of season two that she had some kind of connection to the show’s main villain, Yellow-Eyed Demon (AKA Azazel). So, while her turning out, in season four, to have been a hunter from a family of hunters may have been a surprise, her deal with YED shouldn’t have been.

I’m not going to comment any further on individual articles. For one, that would make this review three times as long as it will be, already, and for another, it’s not necessary. What I think doesn’t matter; whether this book is worth buying does. I will say that In the Hunt covers most of the bases in terms of the discussions I’ve seen about Supernatural. The fact that I don’t agree with half of the authors just goes to show the broad range of viewpoints gathered here. If you’re into fanwank, this is a good collection to have. Plenty of fans weigh in here with the scholars. If you’re into scholarly discussion, it’s also a good book to have. Just keep in mind that it’s part of a series that caters to laypersons, and therefore won’t be loaded with footnotes or citations external to the show.

Interested in purchasing this book? Buy In the Hunt: Unauthorized Essays on Supernatural from Amazon.com or purchase it from your local bookstore.

About Paula R. Stiles

Paula is not at all paranoid about government conspiracies after six years in EMS, two years in Africa for the Peace Corps, a few summers with the Park Service, and ten years studying the Knights Templar. She's seen governments in action. They couldn't cover up a toy picnic table, let alone evidence of alien visitation. Writes about science for fun, history for money, and zombies for the company. You can read her sober-as-a-judge book about Templars in medieval Spain, Templar Convivencia, on Amazon. You can find her homepage at: http://thesnowleopard.net.

Paula R. StilesReview: In the Hunt: Unauthorized Essays on Supernatural