The Brothers Winchester: Supernatural as a Modern American Fairy Tale Collection

The final guest post from Dr. Rudy’s 394r Applied English class is from Shana Pickett. We hope you enjoy this one and the others that preceded it!

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Mysterious murders, man-eating monsters, and magic spells.

Damsels in distress, demons, and dashing dudes.

It’s a guns-blazing, hair-raising, monster-slaying good time.

What’s not to love about CW’s Supernatural? It’s an immensely popular show that started in 2005 and is currently in it’s 12th season, and going strong, still consistently drawing 2 million US viewers per episode1. It follows the adventures of brothers Sam and Dean Winchester, who have been trained from a young age by their father to hunt monsters after the gruesome death of their mother. They travel across the country in search of creatures to hunt in hopes of making the world a safer place, and living the Winchester mantra: “Saving People. Hunting things. The family business.”

But Sam and Dean aren’t the first brothers to go looking for lore. Once upon a time, in the early 1800’s, two brothers criss crossed Germany looking for a good story. Their names were Jacob and Wilheim Grimm. In a continuation of the tradition started by the Brothers Grimm, Supernfreedomatural is a collection of modern American fairy tales. The purpose behind televising these tales is the same as the purpose of the Grimm’s original collection, to foster a national identity and pride. This is an especially vital mission today in a post 9/11 world where many Americans feel that their values and way of life are under attack. Through this emphasis on American folklore, Supernatural reinforces American values such as freedom, brotherhood, and apple pie.

This practice of collecting stories to boost a country’s national identity started in the 1800s with the Grimm brothers. Back then, Germany was occupied by France and was struggling to define a unified culture after existing so long as many separate entities. Fairy tales were super popular, but occupied by the French as well, and were mainly shared among the aristocracy in their hoity-toity salons. Jacob and Wilheim Grimm dreamed of a day when Germany would be united, but that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon if everyone wanted to be French because they had all the cool culture. Then, the brothers got a brilliant idea. It probably went a little something like this:

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So that’s what they did. They travelled the countryside, collecting the tales told by the everyday, average Hans and Hilda, and in 1812, their collection of stories was published as Kinder und Hausmarchen, which we know today as Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Supernatural, a show about two brothers who also travel the country looking for stories, has even incorporated some of the Grimm’s tales into the show. Season 3 has an episode called Bedtime Stories, where the brothers investigate some grisly murders that resemble fairy tales such as “The Three Little Pigs,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Snow White,” and “Hansel and Gretel.” In fact, “Hansel and Gretel” makes multiple appearances in the show. In the season 10 episode About A Boy, the original witch from the fairy tale guest stars. My personal favorite “Hansel and Gretel” episode is from the season 1, Wendigo, where there are kids lost in the woods, a man-eating monster that can only be killed by fire, and a trail of peanut M&M’s. Other lesser known tales are used as well, such as “Godfather Death” (Appointment in Samarra) and “The Robber Bridegroom” (Of Grave Importance).

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Death, playing the role of the Robber Bridegroom, faces off with Dean Winchester in “Appointment in Samarra”

However, the show does not rely exclusively on the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. Most of the episodes explore the lore of America. As Supernatural creator Eric Kripke said, “We have a folklore in mythology that is as rich and developed as any world culture’s and as uniquely American as baseball2.” His original purpose in creating the show was to explore the folklore of America. There are episodes about The Hook Man urban legend, wendigos, a Slender Man-esque monster, La Llorona, and skin-walkers. Other episodes focus on more international lore such as vampires, werewolves, and jinn. The variety of lore in the show reflects the multicultural heritage of the American people. While the lore incorporated may not be explicitly called a fairy tale, most of the episodes do involve some type of magic or wonder like in the Grimm tales.

The tales collected by the Grimms also reflected the fears and anxieties of their day. There are a lot of stories that deal with starvation, like “Hansel and Gretel,” because that was a very real danger for the people back then. While Americans don’t necessarily worry about starving to death, we are worried by other things, and have been especially anxious since the horrible events of 9/11. 9/11 made Americans realize that we are not exempt from attack as previously thought, but as vulnerable as anyone else in the world. Most of the episodes of Supernatural mirror this vulnerability, with some sort of mysterious threat terrorizing small-town America, be it a witch, werewolf, or what have you. Often, the monster is someone from the community, speaking to the growing fear of terrorists and ISIS sleeper cells hiding among the American public.

But rather than leave us in fear, Supernatural follows in the footsteps of the Grimm brothers and shows American values triumphing over these threats, namely freedom, brotherhood, classic cars, and apple pie. Sam and Dean Winchester live outside the law, bending the rules to suit their needs, having no ties, travelling from place to place with all

Winchester tools of the trade: silver bullets (werewolves), rock salt (ghosts), and assorted knives.

Winchester tools of the trade: silver bullets (werewolves), rock salt (ghosts), and assorted knives.

their belongings in their 1967 Chevy Impala, embodying freedom. They are not unlike many of the protagonists in the Grimm tales, who were not from fortunate backgrounds and had to rely on their wits to get what they want out of life. Supernatural also emphasizes freedoms unique to Americans as well. One of the most central freedoms to their job as monster hunters is their Second Amendment rights, enabling them to kill any monster that comes their way. In fact, one of the major story arcs of the series involves a magical Colt pistol that can kill anything.

Brotherhood and unity play a vital role in the plot of the series, just as they were to the plots of Grimm tales about siblings like Hansel and Gretel or Joringa and Joringel. Sam and Dean share a traumatic past, and they often disagree and fight with one another. But when it is most important, they will always be there for each other, come hell or high water (and they’ve encountered both). The brothers serve as a reminder to the American people that we are stronger when we are united, and to not let our differences come between us when there are bigger fish to fry.

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Third, Supernatural puts a special emphasis on aspects of American culture like cars, rock n’ roll, and food. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know the music that Jacob and Wilehim listened to as they travelled around Germany, and they didn’t have classic cars back then, but music and cars help Supernatural to celebrate American cultural identity. The brothers’ vehicle of choice is a beautiful, American-made 1967 Chevy Impala, affectionately called Baby. The Impala has become an icon of the series, not unlike the DeLorean from Back to the Future or the yellow and black Camaro from the Transformers series. Music contributes to the cultural celebration, and allowed Supernatural to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for music in 2006. The soundtrack of the show is largely classic rock, with the theme song for the show being “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas, and Dean hardly listening to any music that came out after the 1980’s. If you need to see this for yourself, here’s a collection of some of the best Impala moments from the show.

One thing that the Brothers Grimm and Supernatural do share is their celebration of national foods. The Germans were famous for their gingerbread, and so the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel made the tale distinctly German. American foods are celebrated in Supernatural in a similar, but more humorous fashion. Sam and Dean’s regular consumption of American foods like fast food hamburgers and pie gives the show a distinctly American feel and promotes national identity through these foods. The emphasis on food also provides comic relief in an otherwise dark and gory show, as seen in this video of all the references to pie in the first 8 seasons alone.

Overall, the emphasis on American culture, values, freedoms, and folklore in Supernatural follow the tradition started by the Grimm brothers and their collections of stories. Like the fairy tales of the Grimm’s, Supernatural is a collection of fairy tales meant to combat American fears in a post-9/11 and to foster a national identity and pride.

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