bardicvoice (bardicvoice) wrote,

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Supernatural University: Knowledge Is Power, Wisdom Is … Something Else – Lessons From Bobby

This is the fourth in a series of lessons drawn from characters in Supernatural. If only because we know so much less about Bobby than we do about John, Dean, and Sam, this will be the most speculative class to date. The foundation of the class lies in what we have learned about Bobby as a fountain of knowledge and an emotional rock for the boys, and is predicated on Bobby sharing with them both knowledge and wisdom, and being aware of the difference.


Let me start by exploring what we do and do not know about Bobby. Unlike the case with the Winchesters, we have no clue about how or why Bobby got started as a hunter. We can deduce from the Winchesters’ history with him, from the extent of his library, and from his breadth of competence in and understanding of the hunt that Bobby has been in the game for a long time, very possibly longer than John. Running his auto salvage yard, he lives reclusively and alone, as Daniel Elkins did, but seems more connected to and comfortable in human society than Elkins was. He has active links to multiple other hunters, and seems to be an information hub, if a less public one than the Roadhouse.


Like Pastor Jim Murphy, Bobby operates from an established base with a public face and appears to spend most of his time there. He’s evidently not a rover by nature, although he’s had no hesitation in taking to the road to help the Winchesters either in their lives (In My Time of Dying, All Hell Breaks Loose) or on the hunt (Tall Tales). He has clearly amassed a wealth of knowledge on all things supernatural – witness his immediate recognition of the Trickster in Tall Tales and his knowing that severing the bloodline wouldn’t lift the curse from a werewolf in Heart – but he appears, on the basis of his books, his choice in home decoration, and the specific nature of the help for which Dean turned to him in the first instance (Devil’s Trap), to have made demons his particular specialty, much as Daniel Elkins and Gordon Walker had focused on vampires.


We have never seen Bobby impose his own goals or moral imperatives on anyone, although his own opinions are often clear and strongly held, judging from, among other things, Bobby having threatened John with a loaded shotgun once, as described by Dean in Devil’s Trap, for reasons still never explained. He was willing to go along with Dean’s brutal interrogation of Meg, although he was also quick to point out cautionary things the boys clearly hadn’t realized, including that Meg was an innocent victim of possession and doomed to die if the demon was exorcised, to force the boys to take them into account. His compassion both for the boys and for innocent Meg was evident in his actions and his face, but he let Dean make the decisions and followed Dean’s lead.


In similar fashion, Bobby filled John’s order for supplies in In My Time of Dying even knowing that the supplies would be used to summon a demon. His only apparent comment on the request was the hesitant disquiet on his face when Sam stated “protection from the demon” as John’s purported reason for the request. Bobby clearly told Sam the truth when Sam pressed for it, but given that we saw the demon-summoning, he also provided the supplies for John; he remained neutral concerning the courses that both of them chose, simply furnishing information without dictating how it would be used.


Bobby readily offers information and advice, but he always leaves the choice of action open to others. In the very way that he asked in Born Under a Bad Sign whether they knew anything about a hunter named Wandell – the man whom Sam had murdered while possessed – he obliquely hinted that he knew the truth but didn’t want to hear them say anything incriminating, and when Dean picked up on that and professed ignorance over Sam’s protest, Bobby encouraged them to stick to that story, noting that Wandell’s friends would be out for blood and not likely to listen to explanations. Using that ploy, Bobby neatly sidestepped having to acknowledge openly what Sam had done while possessed, while also preserving his ability honestly to say, if the hunters for Wandell’s vengeance came to his door, that he hadn’t heard anything.


That Bobby loves the boys is evident. Witness his compassion and gentleness with Sam the moment he realized, in the junkyard in In My Time of Dying, that Sam’s adamant refusal to give up on the Impala was rooted in the car being an avatar of Dean: both broken, both expected to die, but both salvageable by some sympathetic magic between them so long as Sam refused to admit defeat and let either of them go. Watch his face in the finale, trying to persuade Dean to bury Sam and move on, realizing that Dean had sunk beyond his reach; and then, seeing Sam alive again, taking Dean to task for having thrown himself away. His love and his grief manifested in frustrated fury, and he rendered the only moral judgment we’ve ever heard from him when he condemned what Dean had done not because dealing with demons was abstractly wrong, but because of what having done it said about Dean’s own screwed-up sense of self-worth, and because of what realizing what Dean had done would do to Sam. That moment in the junkyard is the only time we’ve ever seen Bobby truly angry, truly furious – and I suspect that part of his bitter rage and disappointment was aimed not just at Dean, but at himself, for not having foreseen and forestalled the predictable course that Dean’s self-loathing despair would run. And when Dean invited him to exact any punishment he wanted, begging him only not to tell Sam, all the anger transmuted to grief and ran down.


Bobby’s incessant research speaks to his awareness that knowledge is power. Knowing the right weapons, the right protection, is the way to stay alive, to save others, and to defeat the enemy. Bobby exercises his knowledge in every minute; witness his preparation in having a protective, demon-trapping circle inscribed on his ceiling, ready for use, and his well-honed caution in lacing his beer with holy water as both a test and a disabling trap. Judging from Bobby saying in Devil’s Trap that he had never heard of any more than three or four demonic possessions happening in a year until just then, it’s likely that it had never occurred to him to seek out a means to guard against possession; after all, what were the odds, especially given that hunters were forewarned of the danger and thus seemingly equipped to avoid it? That he came up with charms against possession to present to the boys at the end of Born Under a Bad Sign suggests that he had done some work after John’s death, when it became apparent that demons were more plentiful and the Winchesters were targets. Bobby’s knowledge translates into victory and survival.


Knowledge is power, but wisdom is something else. I would submit that much of Bobby’s wisdom comes in the form of understanding that moral choice can never truly be forced on or made for anyone; that we each have to make our own decisions and abide by their consequences. Bobby doesn’t preach; he presents facts, he presents what he thinks and feels, but he realizes that choice ultimately comes from within, and that none of us can make others’ choices for them. His wisdom lies in not pushing his own values and choices on anyone else in lieu of the decisions they must be willing to make and accept for themselves. Wisdom doesn’t come without pain, and never more so than when the choice made by someone we love injures them; but wisdom lies in breathing through the pain to lessen it and help it heal. Wisdom lies in not berating the choice, but in making the next one better.


Wisdom goes beyond mere knowledge into the realm of understanding and awareness; into realizing that there are things beyond our control, especially including the people we love, and accepting that the most we can do is offer help and support in ways that won’t diminish them. When we make decisions for others who have the capacity to make their own choices, we deprive them of the chance to learn and grow strong on their own. We diminish them. Similarly, when others make choices for us, we don’t typically adopt them as our own and grow from them; more often, we resent and resist them. We may eventually choose to endorse those decisions when we realize and concede their good effect, but that later moment of decision becomes our own personal moment of choice. For the really important things, we have to acknowledge that we can’t choose for others and they can’t choose for us; the best we can do is provide information and offer support, and continue to help after the choice is made. That is wisdom – and that is also love.


However much he grieves for it, I expect that Bobby won’t continue to castigate Dean for the choice he made, but will instead choose to move on and seek to make the best of it. I’m certain he will support Sam’s crusade to find a way to redeem his brother, and will bend his considerable experience in supernatural research toward the goal of healing both brothers. Accepting the decision Dean made doesn’t mean surrendering the fight; it concedes only what is already past – the decision itself, and the reasons behind it – and seeks a better future. And in shaping that future, knowledge is power. And wisdom?


Wisdom is love.


Class dismissed.




My customary professorial office hours will be suspended for the next few days while I attend Comic-Con 2007. My focus will be Supernatural, so the Warner Bros. and CW booths and a certain massive function room on Saturday will be my primary target zones, but who knows what all (and who all) I'll see and hear? I promise to post full accounts upon my return!


Tags: jim beaver, meta, philosophy, supernatural, supernatural university

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