Jim Butcher has written eleven books about the wizard Harry Dresden. The SciFi channel based a short-lived show on them. But I only discovered the Dresden Files this Thanksgiving. Okay, that’s not entirely true. A friend of mine at work told me about them months ago. He said, “No, really, I think you’re going to really like these books.” He knows my taste in movies, but I still didn’t trust his judgment because my taste in literature is slightly more elevated – usually. Well, and in all honesty, I didn’t trust his judgment because I know his taste. But he was insistent. He brought the first book, Storm Front, into the office and left it on my desk. I said, “I’m working my way through Iceland’s sagas. I’m not going to get to this for a long time.” I put the paperback in the “deferred” stack on the bookcase behind my desk and ignored it all summer.
Then, on the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, I was getting ready to leave the office when I realized I had finished my magazine on the bus that morning, and had not brought anything else to read on the ride home. Casting around, my eyes fell on Storm Front at the top of the deferred books pile. “What the hell,” I thought, and stuffed it in my bag.
Seven chapters later, I got off the bus. By the time people started to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner the next day, I had finished the book. I had spent Thanksgiving day completely absorbed in the supernatural version of Chicago that Butcher had created. (Good thing I wasn’t supposed to cook.) Although many other writers have copied his magical realist noir approach, Jim Butcher did it first (my friends who read a lot of this sort of thing tell me) and best (I’m confident stating this without reading any of the others). I’ve read enough fantasy novels to know the conventions, and enough arcana to recognize the mythical traditions Butcher draws from. He knows how to write a good fantasy story, with just enough explanation of how things work to make it interesting without ever crossing the line into midichlorian territory. Despite the magic and the present day setting, and his use of a gumshoe protagonist who is actually a nice guy instead of a hardened cynic, he manages to nail the film noir atmosphere of a good detective story anyway.
I’m sure that part of the appeal is how much I can identify with the author. We’ve never met, but I know him. He’s sensitive ponytail guy, just like most of my friends. We’ve practiced the same martial arts, read many of the same books and watched a lot of the same movies. Half of Dresden’s magical powers are extrapolations of aikido philosophy. His magical wizard’s staff is an aikido jo. I love that while Dresden is clearly Butcher’s alter-ego, Butcher still allows him to be a dork in service to the story. He’s a socially inept technophobe who spends most of the first two books in ridiculous scrounged outfits (Pulp Fiction hit men, anyone?). He is surrounded by strong, sexy women and holds pretensions of chivalry, but he’s shy around women in person, and rarely gets the girl. When he does, he’s never sure why.
I’ve read the first two books and can’t wait to tear through the remaining nine. The only downside is that ever since I started reading the Dresden Files, all of my personal computing devices have been on the fritz, and streetlights keep going off as I walk past them.