Those of you who know the Science Fiction/Fantasy field may be wondering why I consider Jim Butcher an inspiration. Today’s post is an attempt at answering that question.
Unlike other creators who I consider general role models, Butcher is an inspiration for one specific aspect of his work. To date, he has published 14 novels in the Harry Dresden series without falling into the pitholes that long-running series with a single main character are prone to: telling the same story over and over again or warping the character in some arbitrary way to allow the author to start over.
As a counter-example in the same “urban fantasy” genre, consider Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. Hamilton, IMNSHO, commits both sins. Through the first eight books, Anita faces a series of opponents of increasing strength, culminating in “Blue Moon” where she encounters a demon. In Blake’s universe, demons are at the apex of evil power, so Hamilton doesn’t have a whole lot of room to continue escalating Anita’s opponents; instead Anita, formerly a self-doubting heroine with a strong personal moral code throws her moral code out of the window, choosing to drift through a series of repetitious encounters and complaining about her unhappiness. She sleeps with vampires and a variety of weres and has multiple relationships at once, things she had previously vehemently rejected. She acquires new powers, each of which seems to serve little purpose but to drag her from one partner to another. In short, the later books of the series feature a character who shares little with the original beyond a name, and the stories have changed from fantasy-themed mysteries to fantasy-themed generic romances. (Disclosure: I read the first half-dozen books multiple times, haven’t re-read later books at all, and stopped reading them entirely around book 13; it’s possible things have improved since then, but it seems unlikely based on the synopses I read while writing this paragraph.)
How does Butcher avoid similar fates for Harry? Over the course of the series, Harry acquires a set of allies, people he can count on to assist him when an opponent is beyond his own abilities. His allies have lives of their own as well. They move in and out of the novels, things change in their lives when they’re not on stage, and they return with new motivations derived from their off-stage experiences. Harry grows in knowledge and power, not so much gaining new powers as enhancing and refining the ones he has. The cost of growth is in self-doubt and concern over his ability to continue doing what he believes to be his mission: protecting Chicago and its residents from the supernatural powers they don’t believe in and couldn’t fight if they did. The result is that Harry changes greatly, but he’s still the same person as in the first book, just more nuanced and thus more interesting. Meanwhile, each book still has a “whodunnit” at the core – or at the very least a “whydunnit”.
According to Butcher’s website, he has a definite end planned for the series, with another nine books to go, give or take. Unlike Anita, who seems to be hopelessly adrift and likely to remain that way until the public stops buying the books, Harry is going someplace. He may not like it when he gets there, and he definitely isn’t going to like the trip, but I have faith in Butcher that I will enjoy the trip and be satisfied that I’ve arrived at the right place.
I didn’t read past the first Dresden book because I found it too sexist. Does that improve at all?
I had to think about this a bit, as I didn’t find the book particularly sexist. Harry is somewhat sexist, but yes, that does change over time. Harry’s sexism is probably inevitable — the early books in the series do show a strong noir influence, and Harry is clearly designed in that model.