The Dresden Files
describes two things. First of all it is a catch-all title for a series of books written by Jim Butcher
covering the adventures of one Harry Dresden
. Set in and around Chicago, these books take place in a modern day world but one where magic, vampires, werewolves, demons etc are real and present a clear and present danger to a mostly oblivious population. Dresden serves as a consultant to the Chicago police
and the novels combine the traditions of fantasy and hard boiled detective
stories into a tasty brew. The Dresden Files is also the name of a television series carried in 2007 on the SciFi channel
. Production was interrupted by the writer's strike but cancelled after its end due to "poor ratings", though only Battlestar Galactica
drew higher ratings on the network. The TV series was set in a similar, but not identical universe. This writeup will cover both, hopefully without giving too much away.
Harry Copperfield Blackstone Dresden is the protagonist and viewpoint character of both novels and TV series. In the books he stands six feet, six inches tall, and wears a hat and a long leatther duster similar to one Clint Eastwood wore in several movies. The jacket is enchanted with protective spells, and he carries his magic wand ala Gandalf, a smaller blasting wand, a shield bracelet, a control ring and at times an energy belt to restore him to strength. He lives in Chicago, Illinois and works there openly as a wizard. Given that most people don't believe in the supernatural, Dresden at the start of the novels ekes out a modest living handling psychic problems and assisting talents.
Harry is the son of a stage magician and a real wizard. His mother, a true wizard, was murdered soon after his birth. His father was a stage magician who died of an aneurism when he was six, probably of unnatural causes. In the books his mother's story will lead to many complications, but I will not say more to preserve the surprises. He was taken in by his uncle, Justin DuMorne and raised alongside another young wizard named Elaine. DuMorne later tried to possess him and was killed by Dresden in self-defense. However he used magic, which made many in the wizarding community think him evil. That event will create problems for Harry throughout his career. He was taken in and raised by Wizard Ebenezar McCoy until he stepped out on his own.
Harry is a very powerful wizard, but subtlety has no hold on him. He's blunt, outspoken, honorable and honest, though capable of a tactical lie. He's funny, and honestly likes women even though he's protective of them and likes to ogle. He also has a strong sense of right and wrong. In a word, Harry is a passionate man, and his passions govern both his social interaction and his magic, which is drawn from his emotions. Harry's utter disdain for diplomacy causes him problems but is consistent with his magic and nature. He's young and out to save the world. But he also feels a lot of guilt and protectiveness toward his friends, kids and anyone in a skirt, most of which is product of his time with McCoy and his late father.
In the books Harry shows an ability to learn from his mistakes and if not to become diplomatic, at least to forgive and work with people he does not like. This is one good reason to read the books in order. He remains Harry throughout, but the Harry of Turn Coat is a much wiser and better developed character then he was in Fool Moon. More powerful too. The world too gains depth and complexity as the series progresses.
In the TV series Harry is played by Paul Blackthorne. He wears a sweatsuit rather than a duster, and uses a hockey stick and drumsticks as wands. No hats. He's also a bit of a ladies man, something the literary Harry would like to be. He's also capable of subtlety and sensitivity. And he speaks with more of a working class accent than in the books.
Karrin Murphy is his counterpart in the Chicago Police Department. "Five feet nothing with short blonde hair" the twice divorced Lt. Murphy heads the Special Investigations division of Chicago P.D. S.I. gets all the unexplainable cases, and she began hiring Dresden a consultant, which provides most of his income, and gets her cases solved. She's the daughter of a tough cop in a police family and though she has a feminine side the blonde and petite Murphy is not about to be held back in a man's world. She's a crack shot, a black belt and absolutely devoted to her job. Her rather butch appearance comes from her desire to be seen first and only as a cop.
In the books Murphy is the most important supporting character, and Harry's closest friend unless maybe you count his dog, Mouse. She is a very tough, strong woman, but they become very close, enough so that many fans continue to speculate about romance between them. She is the most important supporting character in the series, and is changed by the events around her. As the series continues, the number of supporting characters increase dramatically.
In the TV series the short, blonde and butch Murphy was played by tall, dark and feminine actress Valerie Cruz. Her Murphy is named Connie rather than Karen, is a lot softer than her literary counterpart, and during early episodes she seemed to grope for her character, as playing Murphy requires a delicate balance between feminine and tough. She's also a single mother where the literary Murphy lives alone.
Bob is a spirit of intellect who lives inside a Skull inside Harry's Laboratory. In the books he never leaves his skull by day, although he sometimes possesses Dresden's cat Mister to go out snooping for Harry. Bob is expert at potions and though lacking the necessary equipment, utterly obsessed by sex. Bob is used primarily as a plot device for exposition in both series and the TV show, but as a character he's not without merit. Bob stayed in his skull for the series pilot, but the skull did not work so well on screen so for the TV series he was recast using actor Terrence Mann to play his spirit. On TV, Bob is a wizard who was condemned to living inside a skull for using black magic to resurrect his wife. He also taught Harry magic as a boy.
Susan Rodriguez is a local tabloid reporter who is always after Harry for a good story. Given that she's really pretty, charming and smart Harry often gives her one and there's reason to believe that she likes him for more than information. A hispanic woman in the books, she's a blonde in the pilot who does not appear in the TV series.
Thomas Raith is the son of the King of the White Court of Vampires. He's a spoiled, dissipated youth with easy charm and charisma. Though one would think he and Dresden wouldn't get along Thomas turns up a lot and helps Harry when he can. Why a vampire would help Harry is explained in the sixth book, Blood Rites.
Michael Carpenter is both a carpenter and a Knight of the Cross, wielder of the blessed sword Amorracchius. Michael lives every good thing you might want from a religious person, and his power comes from his purity and unshakable faith. And the sword. He does not appear in the TV series.
Gentleman Johnny Marcone is a Chicago crime lord and a Black Hat, a term used for those who dabble in Black Magic. But he's primarily a businesseman, and while willing to use violence does not enjoy it. He'd like to hire Dresden, if he could or at least keep him away. And he has a very dark and unexpected secret. He too is more of a player in the book.
Bianca is a Red Court Vampire who appears in both the books and the TV series. In both she owns a night club/brothel for privileged. A breathtaking redhead, in the books she is a scheming monster. In the TV series she is something else, a reluctant vampire who befriends, helps and even sleeps with Dresden, making her the blood-drinking equivalent of the hooker with a heart of gold. In the books she is not very nice at all.
Morgan is a Warden of the White Council. A wizard, Warden's are the cops in magicland. In the books he is the sort of person gamers describe as lawful awful meaning he is utterly committed to the last comma of the Law. Naturally that (and Harry's history) lead to quite a bit of conflict between the two. In the TV series the character played by Conrad Coates views Dresden with less hostility, and less of an obstacle, and a lot more smarts. He's not Dresden's friend, but Morgan is honest and capable of helping him from behind the scenes.
Ebenezar McCoy is a elder wizard of the White Council. Born in Scotland he now lives on a farm in Arkansas. He took in Harry after the boy was accused of violating the Laws of Magic in combat against his former master Justin duMorne. McCoy is really the man who taught Harry about responsibility and the importance of using magic ethically. He's the guy who turned Harry into the man he was, but he is also a very old and powerful wizard.
The Dresden Universe
Butcher's series borrows from about every psychic tradition available to it, and this writeup makes no attempt to do more than briefly summarize it. If it's ever been mentioned in the psychic or fantasy literatures, it's in there, giving Butcher a rich vein to mind for both allies and adversaries. Wizards, at least the good ones, live under the governing White Council. A group of elected wizards headed by the Merlin they set and enforce the rules for magicians, and to some degree the other powers operating in this world. The gray-clad Wardens work for them, and Ebenezar McCoy sits on the White Council.
There are three vampire courts. The White Counrt are succubi, who drain the life forces of their victims. Whites are the least powerful and the least vulnerable of the three courts. Red Court vampires must avoid the sun, but they look and appear human right up until they kill. Black Court vampires look human until their bodies decay. Blacks are the most powerful vampires and reproduce the most easily. For that reason the White Council allowed Bram Stoker to publish Dracula in order to teach us mortals how to fight them.
The Nevernever is where almost everyone else magical lives, including demons, faeries of all sizes and power levels, fallen angels and God knows what else. Butcher wisely leaves it open-ended so almost anything might appear to be from the nevernever.
It is generally accepted that it would be bad for the magical people if the normals did not learn of their existence, and that more than the White Council governs their behavior. For example Vampires rarely kill their prey, and limit their numbers. People in the know about the mystic worlds aren't suppose to share much information a rule even Dresden respects, despite the fact that he's the only wizard in the phone book.
The books are all told in first person and narrated by Dresden himself. Dresden is a reliable, entertaining narrator, funny and self-deprecating. Except for Dresden himself, characterization is not the series strong point. But they are wonderfully plotted and paced and when things go wrong for Harry Dresden, they go wrong in a big way. Generally he faces multiple challenges at the same time, with unrelated challenges often ending up related. They are fast moving battles between good and evil, and Harry is very clever at getting out of impossible predicaments. And he always pays a price for what happens. People die in the Dresden novels, and not just the bad guys. They're a good, easy read that's complex enough to leave your brain on, but simple enough to leave it in 'Drive'. They can be enjoyed out of order, but each book builds on the last. I recommend starting with Storm Front.
The literary universe is rather complex. There is the Never Never, where the purely magical things live. The most prominent group are the Sidhe, or Fairies, ruled by Queens and divided into Summer and Winter who are implacably hostile to each other. Harry's life is often complicated by matters with the Sidhe, particularly as his Godmother is a noble in the Winter Court.
The series began with the pilot, an adaptation of the first novel Storm Front
. In it Bob is locked in his skull, Susan Rodriguez is there as a blonde but all the basic elements of the TV series are in place. The later episode of the same name uses much from the pilot
, with obvious differences. The pilot was not broadcast until after the series was cancelled and then at three AM. Since it was already made, the broadcast was probably intended to provide both free content and throw a bone to the series many disgruntled fans.
The actual series comprised twelve episodes and ran from January through October 2007. Harry is less powerful on TV, and capable of actual diplomacy. The villains too are less scary and they tend to come at him one at a time. The White Council is handled in a fairly ham-fisted way (to be fair they could be better in the early books as well). But Blackthorne's take on Dresden as a more humble, troubled hero works while remaining true to the author's vision. Murphy starts off looking a bit shrill but improves with every episode. And Terrence Mann's Bob is entertaining and evidence of real improvement that came from viewing the pilot.
Most fans of the books readily criticize the series. Given the differences between television and print they could not be the same. Though no Battlestar Galactica, the series was well plotted by TV standards, and both Blackthorne and Mann really carry the series. It was a lot of fun and showed real development in both actors and cast. It's well worth watching. The fans of the show have begun a series or letter-writing campaigns trying to bring it back even though the cast and crew have moved on to new jobs. The series also served to introduce many new fans to the books.
The Dresden Files covers a series of eleven books and a short-lived TV series that are well plotted with interesting characters and an interesting world. As such they make for good entertainment and both are highly recommended.