Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dresden Again

Allow me to preface today’s post with a caveat:  It was never my intention to turn this blog into a drooling Harry Dresden fanboy site.  Seriously.

But good God damn.

The last time I talked about the Dresden Files (an urban fantasy series by Jim Butcher), I mentioned that it had gone from being good to really, really good.  That was along about book 7 or 8.  I am now on book 13, and it is no longer really, really good.

It is fucking insanely awesome.

Now, last time I tried to express just why it was so awesome, I theorized it was because of its perfect balance between episodic adventures and an overarching story arc.  And, it’s true: there’s something indescribably delicious about the way it sucks you in with a monster-of-the-week premise until you’re almost surprised to realize you’re hip deep in mythic quest territory.  But I’ve recently realized there’s another element going on here.

I’m a lot like Harry Dresden.

I mean, Harry is generally relatable: he has an affable, everyman quality that makes him instantly likeable, and I’m sure a lot of people will see themselves (or at least bits of themselves) in Harry.  But, for me, it seems to go beyond that.

I first noticed it when Harry was dealing with the White Council in one of the later books.  The White Council, of course, is the organization of wizards to which Harry belongs.  Harry hates dealing with them, because it’s all politics.  Harry hates politics.  I do too.  Harry deals with politics much the same way I do: he’s blunt, he’s abrasive, he bulls his way through, knocking over with main force what he can’t deal with via subtlety.  Yet, as the series progresses, Harry actually gets better at politics, almost by accident.  He still hates it, and he’s still not particularly skilled at it, but he manages to get by, and even score a few points now and again.  I feel much the same way at work: I still avoid the politics, and bulldoze it where I can, but every now and again, just from having survived this long, I manage to score a point here or there.  Just like Harry.

And, once I started to see similarities between myself and Dresden, I couldn’t stop seeing them.  Harry is a wiseass: if you’re familiar with psychic detective Shawn Spencer, you’ll recognize Harry’s tendency towards inanity in the face of danger or authority.  (Harry’s not quite as off-putting as Shawn, but close.)  Harry has a wacky sense of humor, but he also has a lot of pent up anger.  He has an overblown sense of injustice, which is often the trigger for his anger.  He has an insouciant sense of fatalism which leads many of his friends to think of him as cynical, yet at heart he’s a hopeless romantic.  He’s passionate about certain things, and careless about others.  His friends think he’s stubborn, but he doesn’t view himself that way.  He’s desperately loyal to those friends, protective of them, would do anything for them.  Little things bug him; big things roll off his back.  When he says “Oh, come on!  How is that fair??” ... I hear myself.

Harry doesn’t always think of himself as a good man, and yet he always tries to do the right thing.  He knows he has faults, and mostly he’s comfortable with them.  He knows he can be loud, and that he can get on people’s nerves, but he’s pretty much a love-me-or-leave-me guy, so that doesn’t bother him.  He’s direct, and he’s honest, and he has a great deal of talent at one particular thing, which makes him respected by some and laughable to others.  I’m not a professional wizard, obviously, but, as a professional programmer for over half my life, I have experience with being a geek in both positive and negative senses of the word.

Of course, the coolest thing about reading the adventures of someone who’s a lot like you is the parts where he’s not like you.  I am not, as I mentioned, a professional wizard, nor a private investigator, nor do I hang out with vampires, werewolves, holy knights, and various stripes of wild fae.  Harry Dresden’s personality may be close to mine, but his life is far more exciting, which is good, because who would want to read about my boring-ass life?  Harry’s life is anything but boring.  Harry’s life is not always fun for Harry, but it will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Check it out.  You’ll be glad you did.

Recommended Reading Order

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to at least check out this great series.  If you really get into it, you may want to know what order to read things in, and I’m going to help you out.

For the most part, this is a no-brainer.  There are 13 novels in the series, and the 14th is due out later this month.  The publication order matches the chronological order within the fictional world, so you just read them in the order they came out and you’re golden.  The only monkey wrench is Side Jobs.

Side Jobs is a collection of short stories and novellas set in the Dresden Files universe.  Each one contains a short introduction and a blurb telling you where it fits, chronologically.  If you like, you can read it at the point where I read it:

Simple Reading Order:

Read Side Jobs between Changes and Ghost Story.  Do not read it earlier, because the last story in it (“Aftermath”) contains major spoilers for Changes, and don’t read it later, because I think “Aftermath” really gives an important context to Ghost Story (not to mention the useful background info you get from “A Restoration of Faith”).

Or, you could alternately try:

More Complex Reading Order:

It might make more sense to read the stories in the order in which they fall in between the books.  This works very well for almost all of them, in fact; the only problem is “A Restoration of Faith.”  Chronologically, it’s first (before Storm Front, even).  But I think it works much better as a flashback than as an introduction.  Reading it first would be like trying to read New Spring before the remainder of the Wheel of Time books, or trying to watch In the Beginning before the first season of Babylon 5 (both of which I’ve tried).  It just doesn’t work.  There’s too much going on that only makes sense when you’re looking back on it with some perspective.

On the other hand, the rest of the stories are just the opposite: they give context to the books that follow (or at least some of them do).  Certainly I know that if I’d read “Heorot” before reading Changes, a couple of things would have made a lot more sense (for just one example).

So, in the order below, I’ve chosen a good place to drop in “A Restoration of Faith,” and I’ve left the others where they naturally fall.  So this is mostly nothing you couldn’t have figured out for yourself, but hopefully this saves you the hassle of working it all out.  Enjoy.

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