by Sandy Auden
The Supernatural fan community is passionate and discerning and it's no surprise that the show has inspired a whole range of people, including professional writers and professors, to share their thoughts on the Supernatural universe.
Some of these thoughts have now been crafted into essays and published in BenBella Book's In The Hunt. With editorial support from Leah Wilson at Benbella, the volume features an introduction by Supernatural fiction writer Keith R. A. DeCandido and twenty two essays on topics as diverse as the depiction of faith, the treatment of myths and legends and how to go demon hunting on a budget, the latter by Supernatural RPG author Jamie Chambers.
Enthusiasm for the TV show is evident all through In The Hunt and even influenced its inception as Leah Wilson explained: "I've been working with our Smart Pop series for about five years, and near the beginning of season two I got an email from one of our past contributors, Mary Borsellino, suggesting we do a Smart Pop on Supernatural.
"We didn't jump on the idea right away, but the concept kept nagging at me. I hadn't actually even watched the show at that point, but from everything I knew about it, it was a great fit: both smart and richly thematic. And really, I think I just talked it up to my boss so long and so obnoxiously that he finally greenlit the book mostly to shut me up!"
Author Keith R. A. DeCandido was already waiting in the wings. "I've been a regular contributor to the Smart Pop books going back to my essay for Finding Serenity in 2005. I had also made it clear to Leah Wilson long ago that if they did a Supernatural book, I wanted in."
And Jamie Chambers' vast knowledge from the Supernatural RPG game helped him slip onboard easily too. "My friend, author and editor James Lowder, has written several pieces for BenBella Books and recommended me because he knew I was intimately familiar with the show. After that it was just a matter of a few emails and a painless contract and I was on my way."
The rest of the contributors followed from a range of sources. "We have a pretty extensive list of novelists and pop culture writers and others who we have relationships with from past Smart Pop anthologies, and who we'll invite to participate -- with the condition that they need to actually genuinely be a fan of the show," said Wilson.
"We also do a lot of research; one thing I did in this case was talk to Mary about other essay-friendly Supernatural fans and writers she knew of. And because we began an essay contest with Supernatural.tv website in late 2007 (the three winners have their essays in the book), a handful of our contributors actually found out about the book and came to me on their own."
From there, the contents of the book were decided. "The topics are mostly author-generated, with some guidance and brainstorming from us," continued Wilson. "My goal was always to push our contributors to come up with something surprising: an unusual argument, unexpected evidence, a new way of looking at a character or event. And of course, I also wanted to make sure the book covered a range of topics that felt like they did a decent job of representing the show.
"It's pretty much impossible to sum up three years of a show like Supernatural in two dozen episodes, but we did manage to touch on the boys, and John, and the Impala, plus the concept of horror in the show and its use of urban legends. We even talked about the Trickster, and Gordon Brown, and Wincest. So hopefully if a reader runs into one piece or one topic they aren't crazy about for whatever reason, the book still has plenty else to offer."
For Chambers' contribution, it was his take on hunting the cheap and cheerful way that won the day. "I pitched a bunch of topics, since I knew lots of others would be writing about various aspects of the show," he said. "'Blue Collar Ghost Hunters' was the favorite of my suggestions with Leah Wilson. The piece evolved from an almost-scholarly look at the Winchester family lifestyle to one with a lot more humor and personality. It proved the importance of having a great editor steer you along the right path.
"Writing this article was relatively painless and easy," Chambers continued. "I'd already spent a lot of time working on the subject matter. And because my article was somewhat casual and about a specific subject it kind of wrote itself. I brought my laptop into a local bar named Thumbs Up here in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin -- the exact kind of place you'd expect Sam and Dean to stop for a beer and to hustle pool -- and wrote the articles while sipping a drink and perhaps enjoying an occasional cigar. Once I had a draft, Leah gave me some guidance to fix a few things and it was all done.
"I didn't have to do any hardcore research either. I had already been so deep in Supernatural episodes and scripts that I knew the material inside and out. I think I looked up a few things online to confirm a few details and just blazed through the rest. It was a fun process, and I'd love to work on more Supernatural material."
That Supernatural can generate such a wide range of essay topics gives an indication of the quality and depth of the show. Asking someone about their favourite aspect of the show also generates a wide range of answers:
For DeCandido: "It's better than it needs to be. It could get away with being a superficial show about two pretty men in a cool car, but they've developed a mythology, a series of excellent character arcs, plus strong, smart scripting and excellent music to give us something far better.
For Wilson: "I think what I appreciate most is the show's capacity for and interest in surprising the viewer. The first few episodes of season four really typified that for me -- we're in season four, two or three seasons past when most series would have already shot their proverbial surprise load, and all of a sudden everything we thought we knew about the show's cosmology and back-story is flipped on its head. The premiere managed to wholly change the scope of what was even possible; I spent the entire episode on the edge of my seat, totally unsettled, and loving every second of it. Any show that can do that, and feel like it's earned it, after three full seasons? Brilliant.
And for Chambers: "The show works for me on many levels. I've been a ghost and folklore junkie since I was a kid. My maternal grandmother was really into the paranormal and had a bunch of old books from the '40s and '50s that she would share to me. We'd also watch things like Unsolved Mysteries together, and she would buy me young readers ghost and monster books by folks like Daniel Cohen.
"So the fact that Supernatural is grounded in real folklore (rather than making up its own mythology, like other shows like Buffy and Charmed are known for) was the reason why I got interested in Supernatural to begin with and why my wife and I were tuned into the very first episode.
"At the same time, the story of a broken family trying to find closure really works for me, and the relationship between the brothers makes it so much more interesting than a monster-of-the-week. Sam and Dean are great characters that have evolved over time. I'll be a loyal viewer until the end.
"Of course, the Impala is awesome and the soundtrack kicks ass. I guess I don't have any one favorite aspect. It was like [series creator Eric] Kripke made the show just for me."
In The Hunt is available now from BenBella Books.
Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit www.sandyauden.co.uk.
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