Monday, April 20, 2009

Two's company, three's literature

Leah of BenBella Books was kind enough to send me a copy of In the Hunt, their recent essay collection on Supernatural. Since I'm only midway through the book there won't be a review right this minute, but there was one essay that made me blink and, of course, reach for the keyboard.

This essay, called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jo the Monster Killer discusses an episode of Buffy called The Zeppo. Though it's been a while since I've seen this ep and I'm fuzzy on the details, I do know that the basic plot is "everybody forgets Xander." The author of the essay discusses the similarities between Xander and Dean Winchester in the realm of traditional masculinity. I don't disagree with that, but if I had the chance to write an essay much longer than this blog entry about the ways Xander and Dean parallel each other, I'd go with this oversimplified explanation:

Margaret Cho once said in a standup routine that in every group of three female friends, there's always the smart one, the nice one, and, um, the flirt. I feel the same way Cho does, but my saying is a little different. I say that in every group of three literary/television/movie friends, there's always the body, the mind, and the soul. Xander and Dean, like Ron Weasley and Luke Skywalker, both serve as the soul. Buffy and Harry are the bodies, the ones with special strengths, the ones chosen to fulfill great prophecies. Willow and Hermione are Research Girls. Ron and Xander are the ones who love almost unconditionally and are, all things considered, the ones with the stable emotions when all around them is chaos. Though it seems like the heroes can function just fine without these sidekicks, the truth is that the heroes would be lost without them. Do we really think that Harry would know up from down in the wizarding world without Ron? It's often the soul that brings a sense of bravery to the group, but not bravery in a let's-break-stuff sort of way. The soul always knows what the right thing to do is, even it's hard (thanks, Dumbledore!), and they do that right thing without question.

This mind-body-soul is a little hard to see at first in Supernatural, because the series only has two main characters, rather than the three we see all the time in Buffy or Harry Potter. What tricks us in SPN is that the third main character is not a person but a car. For those unfamiliar with SPN (and why??), two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, travel the country in a black 1967 Chevy Impala, lovingly referred to by fans as the Metallicar. The car was passed down to Dean by their father, and he often treats the car better than he treats his (human) brother. In the Winchester clan, Sam is the mind, the one prone to abstract thinking. The car is the body because, um, it's a muscle car. Dean is the soul, the one prone to sacrifice and doing things because he believes they're in the best interests of those he loves. Although Dean is marketed as the suave type, he's a creampuff when it comes to Sam and the car. It's all part of his charm, just like a viewer can't help but being charmed by Xander's dedication to the Scooby gang. Could Buffy and Harry accomplish slayings and fighting the Dark Lord on their own? Likewise, could Sam Winchester have gone along with his destiny and led a demon army? I suppose they could, but they'd be awfully boring.

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