Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dissecting The Essential Supernatural: On the Road with Sam and Dean Winchester: A Book Review

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*full disclosure: a preview edition of this book was provided by Insight Editions Publishing/The Press House.

Writer: Nicholas Knight.

*Supplemental material by Christopher Cerasi.

*Foreword by Eric Kripke.

Before getting back on the road again with Sam and Dean Winchester next year, newcomers to the series can do well to get caught up with seven years of history with Insight Editions' book, The Essential Supernatural: On the Road with Sam and Dean Winchester. Even die-hard fans will find this volume indispensable despite a few flaws. This coffee table edition does a great job at summarizing all the important details from seasons one to seven but what elements in this book are truly essential for readers to know?

Even a look at what season eight may become is included. But with part of the season already aired, the review copy arriving very late, and readers considering a purchase after finishing watching this season, this chapter becomes moot.

The book is chock full of publicity and production photos with some detailed content of what goes on behind the scenes. A great introduction from series creator Eric Kripke helps readers understand what his intentions were for the show.

From actors Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, their anecdotes about how Sam and Dean developed throughout the years makes for an interesting read. Some of the side-bar information are well researched and discussed, but some of the entries feels too short—especially from the supporting cast like Misha Collins with simple half page side-bar entry. These are important figures in the series! Even Rob Benedict (who played Chuck, the prophet of the lord) does not get to say much in a similar-sized entry. Most of these entries are more like fond recollections of being in a series than an "insider's look" of the world that the team of performers have built. More could have been done here. At least the the who's who of the angels who landed on Earth and the chieftains running around Hell makes up the lack of content. To have all the angels listed, smited or not, and the rankings of demons defined is a terrific highlight of creating a scorecard of who's left in the playing field.

Sadly, not even this book can define what a devil is. Spelled with a capital D or not, that is a theological question that will never get answered. Demons rule parts of Hell these days. The Devil is locked up and if Beezulbulb is angry, he should be frothing at the mouth. This Lord of the Flies is a unique entity. He was never another name for Lucifer. Sadly, two pages is not enough for explaining who the true Morning Star is.

Another nitpick that astute readers versed in ancient cultures will notice is in how all the pre-christian deities are lumped into a simple 'Pagan' category. The definition of "cultures pre-dating the coming of Christianity" is never even suggested. Instead, they are entities "who feed upon humans" and they "gain power through their worship." Poor word choice makes this entry very indigestible.

Osiris never once fed on the souls of humans; in life, he was the ruler of Egypt. In death, he presided over the 'weighing of the heart,' a ceremony where the soul is judged against the feather of truth to discover if the soul is either good or evil. Those who did not pass judgement were eaten by Ammit, a hybrid monster. While this series was never known for accurately portraying the divine in proper context, no series, especially "Stargate SG-1", ever did. The series writers often subjugated them to alternate interpretations to suit the series' definition of an antagonistic figure instead.

When season three introduced a reality show called the "Ghostfacers," a significant section of the book is dedicated to explaining their purpose within the show. They are a tongue-in-cheek look at how pop culture and (reality) television have taken on a fascination with the world of the supernatural. Even the Ghostfacers realized that they have to be careful in what not to wish for. One of these wannabe hunters died.

CW's "Supernatural" delivers more of a story about two brothers experiencing plenty of dysfunctional family crisis moments, either in between them or with others. While their attempts at resolution is never perfect, to watch how they may resolve it each week is what keeps most viewers coming back than the daily monster of the week that the first four seasons represented. And the season summaries show the sacrifices Sam and Dean make for each other, and the people they influence along the way.

When the curious prophet of the Lord, Chuck Shurley, has his own multi-page spread, readers know he is very important to the series mythology. Curiously, there is no entry for Kevin Tran. He arrived late in season seven and this book, The Essential Supernatural, may well have been in the final stages of editing and layout by then. Should this book get a revision a few years down the road, a new chapter will be required to include all the events that occurred in season eight and beyond. Hopefully in the series, the two will meet up.

Some of the swag included in this book, like stickers and an air freshener, are a cute touch, but they are unneeded. The advice to anyone thinking of detaching the glued-on picture cards is to not do so. A very hot air dryer might soften the adhesive enough to loosen the cards, but the way they are bound at the factory make them very difficult to remove. And that makes reading a few pages tough. Most of these cards are just duplicate images from the book. These items are more of a hinderance than a favourable inclusion, like the map showing every place the Winchesters hit on the road to defeating the monsters of urban legend and mythological lore.

Overall: 7.5 out of 10.

More details and purchasing info' can be found at Insight Editions:

The Essential Supernatural at Insight Editions

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