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Today's thought bending contribution comes from Randal.  Inspired by Jasminka's "Warriors of Light" he takes his brain twisting knowledge of literature (as well as occupational hazard) and has come up with a rather inspired analysis of texts and their role in Supernatural.  You'll never look at a book the same way again!  I'm still in awe over the creative minds this site attracts.  Enjoy!   

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Remember What The Dormouse Said

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

- T. S. Eliot

On that violence thing, Henriksen, Masters and Reznick might beg to differ. But I digress, and probably will often. Like each and every one of us, the Winchester brothers started out as wee hollow rugrats and needed the straw in their collective craw to not simply lie there like lazy bums chowing down bags of Funyuns with a carbonated soda chaser, but actually learn something useful, make something of itself.

Go west, young scarecrow, and watch out for monsters.

Life/death, good/evil, human/demon, heaven/hell, sacred/profane, constructive/destructive, rational/mystic, consciousness/unconsciousness, anima/animus, introvert/extrovert, emotion/intellect, Supernatural has a little piece of each. Before I make Jung's ghost cringe even further, a criminally overlooked aspect of the show in my occasionally-humble opinion is that last facet. Granted, ‘tis not as radiant or ratings-grabbing as bloodthirsty monsters, diabolically deceptive demon babes, squealing tires and pass-the-Kleenex moments, but without intellect and its judicious application fueling the brothers' saving of the damsel, the dude, or the world in distress, what good is beautiful emotion, and that's coming from a moody sap. Think I'm bloviating? Ask Bobby.

So, where does one locate this most vital tool of the trade? Books!

Texts, actually, and thanks must go out to an innocuous comment by Jasminka (the next round’s on me) who helped nudge my addled noodle from a short essay constituting a mere library of livres to a long-winded attempt at something more profound *the audience scoffs*, the primacy of texts, their interpretation and their commentary in and of the Supernatural universe. In other words, if this comes across as nothing but rambling, caffeine-saturated bullshit pulled out of thin, 3 a.m. air, as much of it was, blame her.

Anyway, in this high-tech day and age, knowledge is no longer imprisoned in musty folios and gilded leather bindings, but as we’ve seen, that’s where a lot of the stuff lies and we’ll get to that in good time. So, crack open that creaky dust jacket (or fire up that laptop) and feed your head.

Just don’t be surprised if things get curiouser and curiouser.

Paper or plastic?

Sam and Dean Winchester save people. That’s their raison d’être. So, how exactly do they find out whom to save? By reading the newspaper, of course. (Other common tropes exist; phone calls and Sam's better-than-Ovaltine visions, yet the majority of their missions remain rooted in 'printed' language, at least until this here apocalypse gig. Trust me, I counted.) Whether from smudgy newsprint or websites peekabooing behind bustyasianbeauties.com, the acrid stench of strange doings is the first step to any successful rescue.

This in and of itself isn’t going to save a soul. I can read the same articles and obituaries and likely come to an entirely different conclusion: crazy happens, but whatcha gonna do. Me? I’m not doing anything but reaching for the sports section, but they’re busting down the door with a *proper* interpretation of the text. That sound you heard was a million poststructuralists falling off their fancy office chairs with the padded arm rest.

Many episodes begin nearly in media res (not quite The Iliad, but there’s certainly a bit of Achilles and Odysseus in these gents), the case already having been chosen offscreen, and I believe it’s safe to say that there was a mental and/or verbal weeding out process leading to their decision. Some poor fool dying in an unorthodox way doesn’t necessarily scream ‘vengeful spirit!’ Lucky for the near-stiff, they know how to separate the wheat from the inky chaff. At last, after Sam and Dean have applied their specialized knowledge of unearthly symbolism, it's time to kick some ass. Don’t forget the rock salt.

Dear Diary

"This is dad's single most valuable possession. Everything that he knows about every evil thing is in here, and he's passed it on to us."

From episode one, when that rich, tan cover slams with a sharp thud on the police station table, the centrality of the text is illuminated. In Supernatural, words matter, the written (or typed) word. This two-decade worth accumulation of information, this collection of factoids and recurring patterns that will appear in their investigations are transferred from John to his sons so that they will have the knowledge to successfully navigate the dangerous, shifting waters of the (super)natural order.

"We were raised like warriors."

Warriors need weapons, and I don't mean a Colt 1911. From the description, behavior and habitat of the Wendigo to the page detailing the Roosevelt asylum, the murderous pattern of that ugly ass painting of the Merchant family to the list of known appearances of the yellow-eyed demon, the journal is nothing less than Sam and Dean's bible. And since we're speaking of religion metaphorically, why not go whole hog and mention the various exorcism rituals read in Phantom Traveler, Devil's Trap and Crossroad Blues and, thanks to Sam paying attention in Latin class, recited (and played back) in Jus In Bello.

"What he taught us, that's his legacy."

If it isn't in dad's journal - and not everything can be, witness that thick packet passed on to Ash - then it's time for the next step, the construction of the ornate buildings upon the foundation laid by John Winchester nearly a quarter of a century ago.

Guess I’m (not) Done With The Book Learning

"You're like a walking encyclopedia of weirdness."

Research is the building block of any successful hunt, or, grumble, term paper; I'm just not sure which is more dangerous long-term to the psyche. Sam and Dean spend an inordinate amount of hours in the library, a few more thumbing through town or county records, not to mention surfing the web, scouring victims' diaries, passenger manifests, doctors’ files, danashulps, brochures from the motel lobby and leafing through highbrow tome after highbrow tome whose purple prose would make Edward Bulwer-Lytton blush, all in search of that one, vital clue that might expand the margin for error.

A few of the most obvious sources are found where else but The Bobby Singer Lending Library (thanks, Faellie). We first meet that grand poobah of all things weird and spooky in Devil's Trap where Bobby presents to Sam a magical grimoire, the fabled Key of Solomon, and we later see Meg trapped by one of its images painted on the ceiling, a poetically-licensed figure 29, the fifth pentacle of Mars: "Write thou this pentacle upon virgin parchment or paper, because it is terrible unto the demons, and at its sight and aspect they will obey thee, for they cannot resist its presence." I’d say that’s about right.

The Lemegeton, the unmentioned Lesser Key of Solomon, is most famous for its first section, the Goetia, a catalogue of demons and devils similar to the Binsfield’s classification that Bobby reads from in The Magnificent Seven. "What’s in the box?" The Pentagonall ffigure of Solomon, that's what, seemingly the source of at least four further variations of this trap, three if the glyph in John's Black Rock storage facility is merely for shielding demons from ever stealing those land mines or soccer trophies.

Dean should be grateful that he's a fictional character for, according to Elizabeth M. Butler in her history of Western occult traditions, Ritual Magic, the would-be magician must experience "a preliminary period of nine days during which strict chastity and increasingly severe abstinence must be observed." Not to mention that merely spray-painting such imagery is far from adequate. I realize that I’m burgeoning on intertextuality and semiotics, entirely different articles, but that was comical. Not sure if Dean would agree, but he's busy with his little exorcism book from Sin City. Enjoy it now, dude, for it's going to be ripped apart page by page in a surly, demonic vortex.

What Is and What Should Never Be gives us a chance to go meta if so inclined, Sam’s law books, as false as the djinn-birthed reality, representing order contra the encroaching primordial chaos. Lawyers and happy domiciles truly are a million light years from home. Back on demon-haunted planet earth, part two of All Hell Breaks Loose sees everyone rummaging through their favorite bibliothèque, Dean discovering just what Samuel Colt's eighth wonder devil's trap is concealing. Staying until closing time, Are You There, God? It's Me, Dean Winchester has Bobby and the boys researching not just the nature of angels, browsing Pseudo-Dionysius and who knows what else, but the end of all things. I knew that angry spirit rampage would come in handy.

Prophecies aren't always ancient, and The Monster at the End of This Book permits us to go ultrameta ok. "I'm sitting in a Laundromat, reading about myself sitting in a Laundromat reading about myself. My head hurts." Mine, too. Must be all those texts, but Chuck’s oeuvre isn’t a bad blueprint for the future congregation of the Universal Church of Hunters. I wonder if there will be tithing. Oh, and writers, think you might want to have Sam and Dean question Carver Edlund’s free form, linguistic jazz once or twice more?

Comments  

Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-06 03:02
Randal, canny scoundrel that you are, ;-), I’ll take that kind of blame any time. This is awesome.

You wonderfully touch on an important aspect of this show – one, they use books (paper and/or computer), second, they are books: be it the archetypical elements (don’t worry, ole buddy Jung would have probably loved this, too), Campbell, Arthurian legends (well, Lancelot was flawed, but still he was the greatest knight of all), Homer, Shakespeare, the list could go on.

There’s hardly a way to describe the joy of discovering the undercurrents of texts or listening to someone reading/recitin g lines you’ve heard before and thus finding some new aspects.

That our Winchesters keep using literature (albeit primarily paranormal stuff) and other written sources to solve the mysteries at hand has always been a testimony to their intelligence (and, secretly, we’ve all somehow sensed that Dean did read as well, though not becoming a scholar). Unfortunately, as one tiny weak spot, their exorcisms wouldn’t work… in the early episodes they mix up the incantations, prayers and commands… in real life (if you believe in such a thing) the possessed would only laugh and barf pea-soup at them…(I probably couldn’t order pizza in Latin, but it comes handy when reading the inscriptions on Elizabeth I's grave). They haven’t been exorcising a lot lately, perhaps it will get better (I kind of miss them doing that).

Many of the books the brothers use, are found in ‘musty folios and gilded leather bindings’, wherever they get them from, be it Dad’s journal or some mythological dictionary, and they are put to good use. Gosh, I wish I had that kind of library at home…

Thank you so much for this astounding piece and for acknowledging one important aspect of the show (and thereby the great minds behind the scenes). I hope someone there will read this, too.
This was great. Jas
Randal
# Randal 2009-12-06 12:28
Thank you for such kind words, but I think Gawain might have a problem with your statement. 8-)

Fresh light is what I love about the show. We know that the writers do their research too, they tie bits of their cultural base into what they pen (type, I guess) and each of us brings our own to the table, everything colored by multiple viewpoints to enrich the story. Sure, one one level it's an action/dramatic yarn with definite set points, and I love that, but there's so much more, as you said in detailing the brothers' psychology, to cite one great example. We all add our small piece to appreciation.

Yeah, Sam might win an IQ test (did I just open a can of worms?) but Dean ain't no slouch. "Slaughterhouse Five Vonnegut?" Good catch on the exorcising gig. I suppose we could chalk that up to the 952 different writers the first couple of seasons used to have; how many different rituals were used?

Hear that Kripke & Co.? Devil's trap, medieval Latin and demonic angst, get to it!

Computers are great (obviously), but as a famous monster-fightin g librarian once said, books are wonderful because they're smelly.
Bevie
# Bevie 2009-12-06 13:57
Randal - I am in awe of both you and Jasminka. I have to remain almost speechless as I could never make comments worthy of this.

I am happy that our little show has attracted such insightful thinkers as the two of you. If you keep contributing such pieces, the hellatus will go much more quickly for myself and others.

Thank you so much.
joelsteinlover
# joelsteinlover 2009-12-06 14:46
Well damn. I wish like I could write like you, too.
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-06 18:23
You’re lovely, thank you, Bevie… too much praise… But, I have to admit, all this is so much fun… time flies…

:D, Jas
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-06 18:26
Randal, I haven’t counted the number of rituals they used early on, but there is only one Rituale Romanum, and all their quotes are parts of the ritual, albeit in the wrong order…Maybe you’re right, too many cooks spoil…

And yes, the smell of books… ahhhhh… I just relocated. Packing the books was an ordeal, but the smell was great…
Take care,Jas
Sablegreen
# Sablegreen 2009-12-06 20:36
What a lovely and well done article, Randal. So many new and well written article are posted here lately.....I really wish I could log in more often than I do.

I have always loved the shows use of ancient texts. …add such an allure of mystery to the series. And their use of symbols like the drawings and devil traps….seems to be right out of a Dan Brown novel. Your writing about them in such depths is amazing….wher e do you find the time? :-?:

Thanks for writing and sharing. Love to read your articles.
Randal
# Randal 2009-12-07 06:06
Bevie, thanks, but I think the show certainly deserves the bulk of the credit. If it didn't exist, we might be writing about the tripe on MSNBC or Fox News. 8-)

joelsteinlover, thanks!

Jas, if I'm not mistaken, they only used that in Phantom Traveler, right? I know there were at least two more different ones from 1.22/3.4/3.12; was the one Bobby used in 2.14 the other? I'm going to have to rewatch or this is going to bug the hell out of me.

sablegreen, thanks, and I agree. There's some great stuff here (then there's mine). The time? The key is to ignore the wife and kids. I kid. Maybe. ;-)
Suze
# Suze 2009-12-07 07:04
You forgot " Demon-Slaying For Dummies " I'm sure they've got that one somewhere too. :lol:
Randal
# Randal 2009-12-07 11:27
That's a nice book, but an interactive DVD would have helped. ;-)
Suze
# Suze 2009-12-07 14:35
I'm waiting for the pop-up version ... :lol:
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-07 16:22
Oh, I think they are using only the Rituale Romanum, if my Latin was not mistaken, but they use the chapters/incant ations in a mixed up manner. What you hear in those episodes are parts of one long ritual. Who knows, perhaps they chose to stick to certain elements easier to pronounce? And it’s shorter… if you need to call on all kinds of angels and saints… gosh… would take hours… Maybe we should ask the grand inquisitor…

Happy exorcising!
Jas
Karen
# Karen 2009-12-07 23:59
Wow Randal…great article.
I love that the research has been a big part of the show.
To have them not know everything off the top their heads and to be wrong at times on their first hunches made it more realistic for me.

By the way “Demon-slayin g for Dummies”, interactive DVD’s and Pop-ups,they all work for me.
:-)
Randal
# Randal 2009-12-08 10:41
Hmm, Sablegreen just did do an article on declining ratings, and you guys hit on a way to expand the audience to the coveted infant-to-12 bracket, pop up books!
Sablegreen
# Sablegreen 2009-12-08 12:30
Any little bit helps???
Dany
# Dany 2009-12-22 12:48
My head is spinning Randal! What a great article!

I love to read (in fact books are the only thing I spend money gladly) and I would love to have a big library that included all the books uncle Bobby has.