I’ve been reading the Dresden Files for years. I love Harry and his setting unreservedly – and I’ve already talked elsewhere about how stunned I’ve been to read some pretty vicious attacks on the books because of Harry’s chauvinism. My review of Fool Moon, as with the rest of the series, is the two-word directive “read it”; following are some ill-informed but well-meaning philosophical maunderings on Harry and his attitudes.
Here’s one section which probably gets Our Harry in hot water with the PC police:
I was feeling guilty and a little queasy still. It was my fault Murphy had gotten in trouble. I had put her in the middle of extremely questionable circumstances by not telling her what was going on last spring. The pressure she was under now was my responsibility.
I have what might be considered a very out-of-date and chauvinist attitude about women. I like to treat women like ladies. I like to open doors for them, pay for the meal when I’m on a date, bring flowers, draw out their seat for them – all that sort of thing. I guess I could call it an attitude of chivalry, if I thought more of myself. Whatever you called it, Murphy was a lady in distress. And since I had put her there, it only seemed right that I should get her out of trouble, too.
I think a key phrase there is “if I thought more of myself”. I have been rocked back a bit by some of the vitriol I’ve seen thrown at Harry Dresden about this chivalrous/chauvinist attitude – by men and women both, which was almost as surprising. It is not something that has ever, ever bothered me: it’s an attribute of his, like his height and the duster and blasting rod. I could pseudo-psychoanalyze it (and have done) – his mother died when he was very young, his first love didn’t … exactly work out, he has a very limited experience with women and idealizes them. He has a limited experience with people in general, really; it’s not like he had an ordinary K-12 education.) He knows full good and well that Karrin Murphy could probably take him in a fight and move on to the next big guy, but part of his respect for her is a deference to her gender. (Okay, his comments about her cuteness got on my nerves in this one – but she IS cute and cheerleadery. Jim Butcher has every right to make his main female character cute and cheerleaderly if he wants to. Also, the book is in the first person. It’s not like Harry’s saying in the middle of a conversation “the way you flip your hair back makes me want to get you some pompoms” – he’s thinking it. I’m pretty sure just about everyone has inappropriate thoughts now and then. I used to zone out a little talking to someone I used to work with because he had the most amazing blue eyes. *shrug* Human nature.) He recognizes that his point of view can – no, will be taken badly by some (not just readers). But he can no more change than I can suddenly begin feeling warm and cozy thoughts about snakes. I could learn to tolerate snakes (if I wanted to), and Harry could learn – probably has learned – to moderate his chivalry a bit – but it is what it is. It harms no one. Usually. Just himself.
And see, that’s the part of it I get. I’m never (to date) faced with vampires or werewolves and the choice to involve others in a fight or not. But in smaller things, I understand his attitude. It’s not exclusive to women, I don’t think; I haven’t made a study of it, but I’ll be paying attention through the books as I reread (and read the later ones for the first time) to see if his stance is drastically different where “muggle” men are involved. I don’t think it is, substantially. What he’s saying above is that if he can take on a fight and keep Murphy out of it, keep her from being hurt, protect her not only physically but also from seeing what she doesn’t need to see (which in his world isn’t a light matter), he will do so. And I believe the same holds true for Michael when he’s introduced. Michael needs even less help in a fight than Murphy does, and yet Harry doesn’t call him unless he absolutely has to (or does Michael call him first? Hm).
There’s another aspect to it, I think: Harry’s used to being alone. He is the only wizard “in the book”, and fights most of his battles alone. He’s the only one qualified to take on most of the enemies he encounters, or at least the only one qualified who’s out on the front lines. Murphy may be formidable, but she has nothing against a demon or – as we find in this book – a werewolf; she can fire as many cute little silver bullets as she’s got, and still end up being lunch. A messy, sloppy, agonized lunch. Follow the early books through, and for long stretches it seems like the only … people he sees apart from (when he’s lucky) the occasional client are Mister and Bob. And Murphy, who’s got her own problems, and won’t let him close. It’s another ingredient in the perfect recipe for a man who’s not going to let someone else assume risk that he could conceivably take on – and for a man who has a problem with delegating. I’ve always had to do for myself; I have a very hard time asking for help when I need it. It doesn’t even occur to me. My last boss hated that, but I couldn’t help it: give me a job, and I will do it. Give me a hundred jobs, and I’ll get a sick feeling in my stomach, but I will do them. It will not cross my mind to ask anyone for help, for several reasons: 1) it’s my job; 2) if you gave me the work the expectation must be that I can and will do it; 3) if no one else knows how to do what I need done it will take just about as long to show them how as to just do it; 4) everyone else has a desk full of work of their own to deal with; and last but not least, 5) asking for help is a sign of weakness. It’s a show of vulnerability, and – particularly with the rabid alpha who ran my last office – you just don’t show the alpha male vulnerability.
There’s more magic in a baby’s first giggle than in any firestorm a wizard can conjure up, and don’t let anyone tell you any different.
I didn’t want to believe that killing was deep inside of me. I didn’t want to think about the part of me that took a dark joy in gathering all the power it could and using it as I saw fit, everything else be damned. There was power to be had in hatred, too, in anger and in lust, in selfishness and in pride. And I knew that there was some dark corner of me that would enjoy using magic for killing—and then long for more. That was black magic, and it was easy to use. Easy and fun. Like Legos.
The first line – pure and perfect. My first reaction to that last line was a startled smile and a muttered “Jim Butcher, you sick bastard.”
Magic comes from the heart, from your feelings, your deepest expressions of desire. That’s why black magic is so easy—it comes from lust, from fear and anger, from things that are easy to feed and make grow. The sort I do is harder. It comes from something deeper than that, a truer and purer source—harder to tap, harder to keep, but ultimately more elegant, more powerful. My magic. That was at the heart of me. It was a manifestation of what I believed, what I lived. It came from my desire to see to it that someone stood between the darkness and the people it would devour. It came from my love of a good steak, from the way I would sometimes cry at a good movie or a moving symphony. From my life. From the hope that I could make things better for someone else, if not always for me. Somewhere, in all of that, I touched on something that wasn’t tapped out, in spite of how horrible the past days had been, something that hadn’t gone cold and numb inside of me. I grasped it, held it in my hand like a firefly, and willed its energy out, into the circle I had created with the spinning amulet on the end of its chain.
That, right there, is why I love Harry Dresden. And Jim Butcher.
Alone. It’s one of those small words that means entirely too much. Like fear. Or trust.
This was interesting, and made me look up the line: “My mother’s dark past? I had expected that she was a wizardess, but I had never been able to prove anything, one way or another.”
…Wizardess? Okay. It’s better than what James Marsters says: wizardress.
Some have complained about his being a “wet” performance, meaning you can hear Marsters swallow now and then. It never bothered me – until it was pointed out to me (sorry about that if I just did the same thing). Even then I was having too good a time with Spike-that-was to care much. Talent trumps spit. James Marsters reads parts of this as if he never saw it before he turned on the recorder. I love him, I do, but I can’t help but occasionally quirk an eyebrow at something he says. “Wizardress”. “Growing defiantly” for “growling defiantly”. A spattering of others. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad performance – far from it. In some places, like the climactic battle in which Harry changes a little in a way that I will not spoil, the way Marsters’s voice changes with the story is impressive. He seems to like Harry as much as I do, and relishes the role. And his is the only voice I want to hear as Harry. Know how you can tell? The fact that I’m not irritated beyond the bounds of reason with the issues I mentioned. It takes quite a bit of talent to overcome such things which ordinarily would send me round the twist. James Marsters has talent to spare.
So does Harry Dresden.
So does Jim Butcher.
What a team.
- The Dresden Files Reread: Book 1, Storm Front (tor.com)
- The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (paranormalbibliophile.wordpress.com)
- The Dresden Files Reread: Book 2, Fool Moon (tor.com)