Review: The Supernatural Book of Monsters, Spirits, Demons and Ghouls

The Supernatural Book of Monsters, Spirits, Demons, and Ghouls by Alex Irvine

Review by Paula R. Stiles

Irvine, Alex. The Supernatural Book of Monsters, Spirits, Demons, and Ghouls. New York: Harper Entertainment, 2007. 219pp. $14.95. ISBN#: 978-0-06-136703-8.

Supernatural, the CW show about two brothers riding the back roads of America, hunting down urban legends and the demon that killed their mother, has developed a real cult following, largely due to its concept (American urban legends), and the good looks and great acting of its two leads (not necessarily in that order). The writing for the show is also pretty decent–at least in the macro, not always in the micro.

A good place to start with the show’s tie-ins is in the non-fiction: the season companions and the reference books. The Supernatural Book of Monsters, Spirits, Demons, and Ghouls, for example, is actually a good general overview to supernatural urban legends, better than some of the truly craptastic “serious” guides you’ll see out there. If you enjoy the Weird U.S. series or local-legend authors like IFP’s own Pamela K. Kinney, you should enjoy this, regardless of how you feel about the show. The author has done his homework, here. I don’t agree with his approach in every instance (he tends to overgeneralize and simplify conflicting legends), but I can at least see where he’s coming from.

The book is divided into five sections: Spirits; Monsters; Ghouls, Revenants, Et Cetera; Witches, Familiars, and Black Dogs; and Demons. It also has two appendices: Herbs, Oils, and Hoodoo Hands; and Names and Attributes of European Demons. Demons from other parts of the world do appear, but in the earlier section, Demons. Here, you’ll find pages on the Acheri, Djinn and the Yellow-Eyed Demon who murdered Sam and Dean’s mother, Mary, as well as some others we haven’t met, so far. This section also includes the Roman Catholic exorcism ritual that the brothers use, Rituale Romanum, in its entirety, albeit only in Latin. No translation, sorry.

Fittingly, the book starts with the Pilot’s Monster of the Week, the Woman in White (AKA La Llorona or The Vanishing Hitchhiker). The second entry covers the MOTW from episode three, “Dead in the Water”: water spirits. The Wendigo (episode 1.02) and the Rakshasa (2.02, “Everybody Loves a Clown”) come later in the section on Monsters, not being spirits. Vampires, zombies and the shtriga appear in Ghouls, Revenants, Et Cetera. I’m not sure what’s creepier: that the brothers have encountered so many revenants on the show (which tends to use mostly humanoid monsters for budgetary reasons), or that there are so many more out there.

Ironically, where the book falls down is in its voice. To tie it into the show, the author uses the conceit of having the book narrated by Sam and Dean. Mostly, it sounds like Dean. The problem with giving a dual narrator, though, is that it distances us from both of them. When they talk about monsters they’ve encountered in the show, they refer to each other in the third person. This renders some of their more violent encounters too flat. A lot of the show’s draw is the emotional intensity of, say, Dean fighting off the deadly attentions of an overeager Reaper in the season two premiere “In My Time of Dying”, or Sam being possessed by a vengeful demon in “Born Under a Bad Sign”. None of that comes through in this book.

Another problem (not really the book’s fault) is that The Supernatural Book of Monsters, Spirits, Demons, and Ghouls came out in 2007, toward the end of season two, and only appears to cover events through the first half of the season. Needless to say, the brothers have run up quite a body(less) count of new monsters since then. The book could use a new edition, especially now that the show has introduced angels. Angels aren’t covered by The Supernatural Book of Monsters, Spirits, Demons, and Ghouls, even though some creatures that appeared in seasons three and four (like witches and ghouls) are. Also missing are elements specific to the show, like the Colt. Since that’s a strictly fictional story not based in folklore, don’t expect to see it explained here.

This is a book that could have used an index for easy location of the smaller things. That said, the table of contents is detailed and the book has a nice, open format in its typesetting that makes it fairly easy to find even minor monsters on a casual flip-through. Aside from the Rituale Romanum, I really liked the addition of the lists of demons and magical herbs at the end. That took a fair bit of research and raises the book above the level of a curiosity mainly aimed at the show’s audience to something that has use even for someone who is only interested in the folklore. The illustrations are also good, both descriptive and creepy. If you’re looking for more Sam-and-Dean angst, you may be disappointed, but if you’re looking for a deeper examination of the show’s folklore, this book’s right up your alley.

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