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On Jim Butcher's Dresden Files

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I’ve been reading the Dresden Files, and I want to get my thoughts down, because it’s always worthwhile to me try to turn vague moods about writing into precise expressions that I can generalize and learn from.

I was told by several people that the books “hit their stride” with number 4, Summer Knight.  I respectfully disagree.  The problems in the early books remain, in my opinion, all the way until #9, White Night.  The problems?  Dresden’s sexism is not cute, not endearing, not charming.  It’s annoying, and at various points I simply disbelieved in Murphy’s character because of how she reacted to it.  By #9, he’s toned this down enough to be tolerable.  More significantly, in the early books I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching the author push the pieces around.  I could hear him saying, “No, I have to find a way to ramp up the tension, even if it makes no sense.”  Two people hear a phone call, but in order to increase the tension, they both conveniently forget about it.  Pfui.

So, why did I keep reading?  There is a moment toward the end of #2, Fool Moon, where, right at the high point of the action, Butcher is required to bring everything to a dead stop and spend a paragraph describing another character’s interior landscape.  While the battle hangs in the balance.  He not only gets away with it, but he makes me like it.  That is some serious chops.  That’s the shit.  Someone who can do that is worth reading.

The other thing he has going all the way is that he does exactly what I’ve tried to do (and not always succeeded at): Each book is a fully self-contained story, and each one significantly advances the overall arc.  There’s no filler.  There’s no treading water.  He leaves it all out on the field every time.  That’s how you do that.

By the time we get to #9, things are smooth.  I’m not thinking about what the author is doing any more, I’m just reading and enjoying and really, really pulling for Harry Dresden.  And moreover, we’re starting to get serious: we’re in territory where there are no easy answers, where there are no good choices, so you have to pick the least bad and live with it.  This means the books are gripping on more than just one level, and that when the book is over, you have something to chew on.  I like that.

I’m currently reading #11.

corwin

Author: corwin

Site administrative account, so probably Corwin, Felix or DD-B.

0 Comments

  1. I think one thing about Summer Knight and Dresden’s sexism is that the fallout of Book 3 makes it easy to mark it as ‘Yes, Harry, you not telling your mortal friends things about the supernatural world will hurt them’. (I read the comic adaptation of Fool Moon recently and I kind of want to shake early-series Harry Dresden to tell him to stop being a mysterious loner and talk to people about things, especially since his boundaries often seemed arbitrary.)

  2. Another thing I like about the Dresden Files is that the books keep getting better. In most long-running series, the later books aren’t as good as the earlier ones—either the author has a killer idea that makes for a kickass book and then is dragged, kicking and screaming, into a series of increasingly bad sequels or the author has the story, but the first book suffers as they learn their craft and then the books get better for a little while until they peak around book four or five, at which point the author runs out of story and the series drifts off into mediocrity.

    Any series where I can say both “The first book was good enough to keep me reading” and “my favorite was the 12th” (Butcher/Dresden) or the 13th (Bujold) or the 8th (Our Host) or the 20-somethingth (Pterry) is a series I’m going to recommend to everyone I can find.

  3. have only read the 1st so far … am now looking forward to continuing.

  4. Sexism? Maybe I missed something is the reason that I ask. I don’t count the interplay with Murphy b/c it’s just that… and his chivalry is his character, and I can identify with that, and he’s a gentleman, which is also a trait I (hopefully) share… which is one of the other reasons that I ask.

  5. “…and his chivalry is his character…” You say tomato, I say sexism. And let me add that under no circumstances would I describe myself as a feminist. For sexism to bother me, it has to be egregious.

  6. One of the reasons I feel l that Harry is sexist (despite his obvious respect for Murphy) is the fact that he keeps telling me (as the reader) how chivalrous he is. It seems like what he’s really saying is, “I’m sexist, but I call it something else, I won’t have to face up to it.”

  7. Thanks Steve for bringing this author up. Now I have something to read while waiting for you to realize that your proper place is shackled to a word processor, little more than an enslaved soul cranking out ideas and imagery to satisfy the insatiable and greedy imaginations of your readers.

    Enjoy book #11 if you can but that word processor is still there and you can’t escape fate!

    If anyone took that seriously … *shakes head*

  8. Well, you knew I was a Jim Butcher fan–I declared it in Quotables, when he gave me the Tolkien line I needed for Jhereg’s scrambled adage game. I’ve been with The Dresden Files since Storm Front first came out and am now impatiently waiting for #13 to be released in paperback so I can (maybe) afford it. I’m a little afraid of how well #12 lived up to its title by the end, however.

    As far as I’m concerned, the sexism rap is undeserved. I’ve known several flavors of sexism from the inside, and Harry Dresden doesn’t trip any of my don’t-make-me-smack-you triggers. Yeah, what some post-ers here are calling Harry’s sense of chivalry can be annoying at times, but it has never seriously detracted from my enjoyment of the series. I did find Summer Knight a bit plodding, but have always suspected that the book suffered in part from the fact that almost anything would have seemed anticlimactic after the nonstop, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink storyline in Grave Peril. (The psychic barbed wire in Peril is probably the most evil device Butcher has come up with to date–I bloody *hurt* just reading those passages.) Never had a problem with Murphy’s characterization, either. I always miss her when she isn’t around.

    I was way more annoyed when Butcher tried to bring out Harry’s dark side with the multi-book Lasciel arc. And failed miserably. Harry’s world may be dark–and that’s fine with me–but Harry himself just doesn’t *do* evil. And that’s fine, too. What I really love about the Dresden Files is the deft way Butcher (most of the time) manages to balance humor, gore, and a semi-intelligent view of the universe. And no sex-with-dead-things story line detours–always a plus, and so rare in urban fantasy these days.

    We’re in complete agreement (who knew? send up the rockets!) about Butcher’s sometimes overstrained plot devices, but I’ll forgive a great deal for a kickass storyline and a few laughs along the way. Damn, Harry’s potions crack me up. And so does Bob.

    The Dresden Files are Sam Spade. With sorcery.

  9. I found Dresden in the first book so irritating that I never even thought about reading the others. As a wannabe scientist myself, Harry’s dismissal of scientists as blind while refusing to let them know what’s going on got on my nerves, for one thing.

  10. I bought the new iPad when it came out.

    The first thing I downloaded on it was iBooks. The second was Tiassa. The third was Ghost Story.

    I was sleep deprived for the next few days.

  11. I have no idea why critiquing the harry dresden books is a good thing for another author to do. Sexist? After all the fantastic, strange and wild things (wonderfully done for sure) in the Vlad stories we are going to worry about a character in another series maybe being sexist? Dresden isnt sexist….he’s a protector and a gentleman. Butcher’s Dresden books just keep getting better and better. I intend to keep right on buying and reading them.

  12. I have no idea why critiquing the Harry Dresden books is a bad thing for another author to do.

  13. I read the first four Dresden books under the promise that Jim Butcher was the Raymond Chandler of fantasy fiction. While Butcher can be a fun read (at times), that comparison does a disservice to Chandler. My biggest problem with the Dresden files is that the plot can get a bit too… contrived, maybe? Butcher piles on complications a bit too much. I’m all for well-constructed conflict, but one bad thing after another happens to this poor sod. By the end of any given book, Butcher teeters a little too closely to farce. He could learn from Chandler’s pacing and execution. The best tension is internal, not external.

  14. Tim: Agreed. Chandler was brilliant. You don’t compare someone to Chandler lightly. I also agree about the contrived plots, but that problem (to me) is gone by book #9.

  15. I haven’t read the Dresden books, only seen the TV series, so I can’t comment on the sexism. Either I didn’t detect it, or they wrote it out.

    But if you’re looking for a fantasy “Raymond Chandler”, I really enjoyed the Garrett novels by Glen Cook. Sweet Silver Blues, Petty Pewter Gods, Red Iron Nights, etc. There is a background storyline that suggests reading them in order is a good idea, but you don’t need to.

  16. Steven, I love your novels and have for years longer than I’ve read Jim’s work. But – and you knew there’d be a “but” – as a woman I can say I honestly do not think you grok the dynamic between Harry and Murphy. The teasing about stereotypes is something a lot of people do in comfortable circumstances and much like what we in our office share. People who didn’t know us might be appalled at some of the things we shoot back and forth, but that’s because we’re friendly and enjoy banter…like Harry and Murphy do.

    Harry comes off as a sexist pig sometimes, sure…but probably not to Murphy. That’s my point.

  17. Pamela: I should probably dig around the first few books for examples. But it isn’t the teasing of Murphy that hit me; it’s the attitude expressed in front of her that I just didn’t buy her putting up with.

  18. I can understand that. 🙂

  19. I tend to give Butcher a pass on sexism claims because I think that although *Harry* is certainly sexist (in the “chivalrous” mode, admittedly), the narrative recognizes that he’s being an idiot about it.

    As in, he’s rarely portrayed as having done the right thing, it lets enemies get the drop on him, it hurts people he cares about, and any time he manages to move away from acting that way it has gone well for him.

    I suppose it’s possible that I’m giving Butcher too much credit here, of course, but that’s been my impression so far.

  20. Steven, thank you for this post. Butcher’s heavy-handed treatment of the Harry-Murphy relationship was one of the reasons I have difficulty enjoying the books. It is indeed deep sexism, for which chivalry is just the beautified name. It’s not being a gentleman, wraith, when you refuse to see someone as equal and worth having input on decisions that effect her life, it’s being a condescending prig. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the series, but it’s not all that and Butcher’s handling of female characters, along with Harry’s obsession with chivalry and sexuality of women is part of my problems with the beginning of the series.

    Interestingly, while I didn’t always like Cawti, I’ve always thought the female characters were always quite well-rounded in the Taltos series, and the issues they faced were dealt with in context of humanity (or divinity?) rather than sex. Vlad himself deals with them as people (or Dragaerns or gods).

  21. @David I agree that it’s Harry, not Jim Butcher, who is the sexist, Harry’s sexism is still off-putting, especially in the early books. I’m honestly not sure if Harry gets better or if the later books are just so much more kickass that I don’t notice it as much.

  22. @Carrol, I saw a lot of what you describe as more wizardism than sexism. Yes Harry kept secrets from Murphy that directly translated into his making decisions about her life, but he did that to everyone, not just to the female characters.

    That said, in the early books there aren’t that many (any really) male characters where Harry is in a position to make decisions for them. In Storm Front for example we have Bob (who is more or less male), Morgan, Mac, Marcone, Carmichael, Marcone’s men, the photographer, Toot-Toot, and the villain. The only male on that list that Harry really treats with respect is Mac, a character whose only lines are a grunt, shrug, and rolled eyes. Carmichael is a fairly distant second in terms of respect shown, but if you think in terms of the secrets Harry is keeping from Murphy, he’s keeping all the same secrets from Carmichael too. He’s just not talking to Carmichael as much.

    And in fairness to Harry, he does have Morgan watching his every move, and if Harry had spilled secrets at that point he would have been killed, and quite probably Murphy would have been as well. And Harry can’t let her make that decision as the act of letting her know that there is a decision to make would have made it for her anyway (just the other way around).

    Now the more overt signs of sexism, the instance to open doors even when it is not desired and such, primarily show up in non-combative social settings. With the way Dresden’s arc goes there just aren’t as many of those in the latter books. That is I’m not as sure that this aspect of Harry has gone away as much as the opportunity for him to show has.

  23. > And let me add that under no circumstances would I describe myself as a feminist. For sexism to bother me, it has to be egregious.

    Hmm. Do you want to explain that? I’m pretty sure you don’t disagree with the first basic premise of feminism that women are people and deserve equal human rights with people with penises. Do you disagree with the second that women actually get treated worse than men? Or – well I’m not going to keep guessing. You are right here, and can explain what you mean if you feel like it. Your site, so I’m not entitled to an answer unless you feel like giving one.

  24. I really do not understand how people make a big deal out of Dresden’s sence of chivalry or how you could make that sexist. Man and woman are different, physically, emotionally and in their actions. Neither is better, but different. Acting as if there is no difference is just being PC.

    Dresden is trying to protect woman as they are generally physically weaker. That does not mean he is sexist, but just looking out for those who can protect themeselves less than he can. He treats Waldo Butters the same way: he is weak and needs protection. And he is a guy.

    So no, I do not agree with the statement that Harry is a sexist.

  25. Luckily my keyboard started outputting the Greek alphabet with no known way to turn it off, otherwise this post would be much more rambly and much less to the point…

    My point being, I’m pretty sure you’re all right.

    Harry is chivalrous, as Anthony points out, as he looks out for and protects people who need protection, regardless of gender, species, etc. The problem comes in when he puts ALL (human) women in this category, which is sexist.

    Case in point (and as David and Dennis point out, probably a deliberate case in point), Murphy. There are some circumstances in the books where only involving people with magical protection and abilities makes sense. There are other circumstances where having someone professionally trained, armed and informed to assist or even replace a mainly civilian-mindsetted wizard with his head usually in the wrong place would be a great asset to the world at large. That Harry can’t distinguish the two scenarios when the trained and armed individual is a woman is a great problem for him, and his ‘chivalry’ in these cases has time and time again in the books proven counter-productive to keeping anyone safe.

  26. Anthony: I’m 56 years old. The word “feminist” has a lot of baggage for me, mostly having to do with sucking the class content out of the oppression of women and substituting vague, middle-class bullshit for actual issues. A lot of that may no longer be true of feminism, but I still could never use the term to describe myself. Make sense?

    Anthony and Emzilyn: It isn’t all the complex. Dresden’s attitude toward women bugged me enough to interfere with my enjoyment of the first several stories. To explain why it was “wrong” for it to bug me doesn’t change anything. I’m not talking right and wrong, I’m explaining how I reacted when reading it. No justification is possible or necessary. Capish?

  27. Thanks for answering. The question on “feminism” was mine, not Anthony’s. I am a little younger than you, but not much. In reply I will simply say that there have always been multiple feminisms, just as “business unionism” manages to suck class content out of large parts of the union movement. If you want a look at a feminist’s reply to the anti-feminist (and anti-socialist and anti-semitic) G.K. Chesterton, you may glimpse an early feminism free of middle class bullshit and strongly tied to the working class. http://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/clarion/1913/chesterton.htm

    You may also find Rebecca West’s biting humor reminds you of a certain character in “Freedom and Necessity” and perhaps of certain people you have known in real life. So I strongly suggest following the link in the interest of not missing a bitingly funny, and yet moving short political column that is also a glimpse of a historical instant in the larger class struggle.

  28. Gar (headdesk) I knew that.

    Thank you for the link. It is splendid.

  29. Roger Zelazny
    Glen Cook
    Neil Gaiman
    Jim Butcher
    Steven Brust

    Or my five favorite authors, though not necessarily in that order. 🙂

  30. I never read Butcher so I wasn’t intending on commenting. I thought if I dropped in to sniff around, maybe, I might pick up an errant idea or two that was left lying around.

    Gar, thanks, I think, for the link. After reading it I now know 3 things: my education is horribly inadequate, I’ve spent almost 48 years completely sheltered, and, as a consequence of 1 and 2, my clockwork is ideologically fouled by middle-class bullshit.

    None of these are surprises, I’ve suspected it for some time. Still, the article and its implications is a bit of a bucketful of cold water to the face. So, thanks Gar, it was swell.

  31. I never thought one of my favourite authors would comment on another… Well, I guess it hadn’t occurred to me that authors have other things to do than writing! *gasp*

    I’m a huge fan of SF and fantasy, and Steven Burst and Jim Butcher are two of my favourite authors. Vlad and Dresden both are complex characters with humour, which is what I love in main characters. I didn’t read the Dresden files in order, which is probably why I wasn’t annoyed by the characterization in the earlier novels. Anyway, I don’t expect characters to be perfect, because otherwise, I wouldn’t need my imagination.

    I find the two author’s different approaches to writing to be absolutely fascinating. Jim Butcher follows outlines pretty strictly (which he talks about on his journal http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/) while Burst usually doesn’t (at least according to http://dreamcafe.com/books.html). Pretty interesting, that.

  32. I read “Storm Front” shortly after coming to a weary halt in reading the “Anita Blake” series lent to me by my sister-in-law. I wanted to like both series, but there always was something that bothered me… Like a sudden course of action that seemed random when it began but had to occur so that something else could happen later in the plot. Or characters that I either couldn’t respect or didn’t like well enough to continue the series.

    I’ll be the first to admit I read too fast. My first pass on a book is truly “to see what happens,” I have to go back a second time to savor details. I didn’t reread “Storm Front.”

    My mom was always a big supporter of equality for women. Growing up, I didn’t have “Barbie” dolls–I had a Princess Leia doll, a Wonder Woman doll, and a Bionic Woman doll. My mom made it a point to know how to operate all the machinary on the farm and when hunting season began, she was out there with her gun or bow too.
    In college, it didn’t seem that big of a deal to me to go into engineering. Then one day, sitting around with my physics group, I get told how lucky I was, that I’d automatically have a job after graduation. I think I did respond with something profound like, “Huh?” And when my lab partner explained himself further, I was offended. Could it happen that as the not-best qualified for a job, I would still get it simply to boost a percentage? And how, in this advanced day and age, could what was between my legs be of more interest than what was between my ears?
    I didn’t get an engineering degree (long story), so I couldn’t witness that particular prophecy first hand. But I do know some female engineers. After a recent job change, one was told by a company higher-up, “Oh, you must be the new ME in HVAC. And you’re a girl!”

    I’ll get to the point. To me it felt like Dresden was looking down on Murphy for two lofty reasons: she was non-wizard and female.

  33. “Anyway, I don’t expect characters to be perfect, because otherwise, I wouldn’t need my imagination.”

    Science Fiction has had a problem with unrealistically perfect characters, but Fantasy never has. From the 20’s to 50’s, SF was Flash Gordan and 1000 copies of him, perfect physical specimens, intelligent, conscientious, heroic, unfailing. It was such a fault that the SF editors had to seek out good writers, like Asimov, Heinlein, Niven, et al. and ask them to bring humanity back into the genre because it was dying off.

    But fantasy bases much of its work off Arthurian legend, and with that comes flaw. While the knightly ideal was perfect, all of the characters in Arthurian legend have some flaw — narcissism, greed, gluttony, selfishness, etc. Only one is perfect enough to actually see the Grail, which is the judgement of the author that every character in the story was imperfect, including Arthur.

    SF was a hope for a brilliant future. Fantasy was and is a look to our flawed past. Flaws in the past are acceptable, inevitable. We want our future to be better, because we want hope. SF now is less well defined, and often just serves as a backdrop for character interaction. The Battlestar Gallactica redux could have taken place on a WW2 carrier: the SF in it was essentially irrelevant. (Perhaps they did too good a job humanizing SF to where the science became irrelevant. Cyberpunk resurrected the genre for a little while, but it is Fantasy that dominates the SF&F shelves today, with SF mostly relegated to TV series.)

    So readers declare that it is okay to have conscienceless Elric, cynical rapist Thomas Covenant, or the far more common naive hero arch-type, such as Garion and Frodo. These are in the past, and we can think them irrelevant to ourselves because we have already overcome such flaws, have we not? Or that’s what we can tell ourselves. Flaws in our past do not cause us to despair over our future.

  34. “In college, it didn’t seem that big of a deal to me to go into engineering. ”

    Depends on the type. Chemical runs 50% female. Civ and Mech 25%. Electrical and Computer, 5%. And it’s not favoritism by admission, but by application. Girls accounted for only 1 in 20 applications to my Electrical Engineering class, and got that many seats. The few females that started all failed out very early on, despite a 5% failure rate overall. We had one girl fall back from the previous year to ours, but she failed again and fell into the next year. She did graduate with them.

    Engineering societies have tried to figure out why girls don’t apply, but they have been totally unable to get answers. It doesn’t matter if the girl has an engineer father or a single mom. They just aren’t interested, regardless of environmental influence. The decision seems to be made sometime during puberty. Active advertising efforts to promote girls to try engineering have completely failed.

    Feminist groups actually succeeded in forcing the British Eng society to run a study to try to figure it out, and they stumbled onto something that seems to have been completely suppressed. Rumour is that it hit on something the feminists did not want to see the light of day, ever. I have tried to find it, but been completely stonewalled. The one thing it did do was get the feminists off the Engineers’ backs: they don’t want the study repeated.

  35. Kreistor @33-
    Arthur C. Clarke wrote for a foreword: “… science fiction is something that could happen–but usually you wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn’t happen–though often you wish it would.” I thought that was an interesting way to define them, especially since there are lots of books from both genres with deeply flawed characters.

    @34
    I was recently told by an ELP teacher that many bright students are so used to “being right” that they will avoid offering answers when presented with harder problems/new material for fear of “being wrong.” And if they are wrong, some take it very badly. I wonder if that sentiment lingers on for career choice. “Do I want to be an engineer? Can I be good at it?” If (after doing a bit of research to see what a degree entails) both answers aren’t “yes” then they simply, and quietly, choose something else.
    And now I don’t feel so bad because honestly, engineering wasn’t my first choice. At that age I’m certain I still wanted to be Wonder Woman.

  36. And everyone was okay with Dresden and Susan’s relationship?
    I kept thinking how incompetent she proved and how anyone could actually respect her. In fact, she’d fallen off my radar as “love interest” for Dresden, so I was surprised when they got together at the end. I know the intention was to close the story properly: order was restored, the hero had triumphed and got the girl. But it felt strange, if not creepy.

  37. I kinda want him to hook up with his apprentice.

  38. Sharon C. @36 – I was never big on the Susan thing, either, even before Butcher began nudging her toward a sex-with-dead-things plot thread. At that point, she just got tiresome.

    skzb @37 – Okay–eww. I hope this is you addressing your “need to work harder on communicating irony.”

  39. Not sure what the problem is, knob. In the book I’m reading now, she’s in her mid 20’s.

  40. skz – Right. Important information, and thanks for clarifying. That takes care of one of my issues.

    The other still stands: she’s *family* in every way that matters. If you’re into the latest book, I can’t rule out the possibility that time and events have conspired to erase the emotional context of all that shared family history, but I’m not there yet. All I can go on is, I can’t imagine ever wanting to hook up with any of my siblings’ children, adult or not. It isn’t the genetics, it’s the whole family dynamic. Unless that has undergone a pretty drastic change by book 13 as well.

  41. Spoilers for the last two books. Don’t read if you haven’t finished GS:

    I half way suspect that Dresden is off the romance kick for a long while, considering:

    1. The bad luck that has dogged him with Murphy;
    2. The disaster that was Susan, inclusive of his murdering her, the mother of his child;
    3. The mental/emotional mess he’s created for Molly.

  42. Skzb, first off, thank you very much for the works you’ve published. I practically grew up reading about Vlad, and have enjoyed all of your novels immensely.

    I’ve been a fan of Butcher’s novels for around a decade now. I don’t agree with all of your thoughts on the characters – I suspect that while Dresden is sexist, his early interactions with Murphy were overblown on purpose to mess with her. Probably in reaction to being read the riot act for such behavior ‘offscreen’. That said, your thoughts on the subject have definitely been food for thought, so thank you for sharing them.

    In a similar vein, have you tried reading any of Brandon Sanderson’s work? I’d be very interested in your thoughts on his works, or on either Butcher’s or Sanderson’s instructions/advice on how to write for publishing.

    Links to said advice –

    Butcher’s livejournal blog, scroll down for posts about writing –
    http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/

    Writing Excuses, a series of podcasts by Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells, and assorted guests –
    http://www.writingexcuses.com/

  43. Wow, glad I dropped in for the first time in ages. So interesting to hear a conversation about the Dresden Files that’s not among my few friends who actually read it. Everyone has so many thoughts, it makes me think I don’t think about what I read enough, I’m too distracted by the action and burning buildings. But I have to admit, I never really saw Dresden as being sexist – sometimes annoying and often misguided in the early books in the way he tried to protect everyone around him by not telling them anything, yes, but not sexist. Maybe that’s just because sexism is not something that has ever been a problem or issue for me. And could it be that he tries to protect Murphy all the time simply because he likes her and doesn’t want to see her get hurt? He’s doing simply it because they are friends, and he cares about her, not because she’s a woman. Okay, that probably made me sound like a teenage girl, but that’s how I saw it.

    Anyway, thanks everyone for giving me a chance to think harder about a series I love. And Steve, hope you enjoy the last few books in the series, and don’t suffer the mixed feelings I have for Changes!

  44. The concept behind the Dresden Files was interesting, but I gave up after book #4. It’s quite tiresome to figure out the story arc, who the main antagonist is, and most of the plot points by the end of the second (or third) chapter. That plus the dismissive attitude toward women in nearly every situation was more than I could take. Murphy is a ranking officer – she wouldn’t be one if she couldn’t handle doing her job, so treating her like she can’t do her job because she’s a girl is pretty ridiculous.

    That’s sort of leads to why I love the Dragaera books so much – I can’t figure out in advance everything that’s going to happen, and I find neat little surprises every time I re-read them. That is full of win.

    And so are Tazendra and Lady Teldra.

  45. Name me a author and I will tell you he/she is a sexist. Well, not tell they really are but I could give you random facts that support it.

    Harry is a cross genre character, Sci fi/detective. Calling Jim’s early books in to question seems odd to me. The Dresden Files evolved threw the story telling. Harry get’s more and more powerful as does the enemy. Which makes sense as Jim’s world evolved in to so much more.

    I like #1-13.# 14 was good but it is more of a stand alone, stand alone book IMO.

    can’t wait til his new one comes out!

  46. Hmmm. I should have mentioned that I have never read you works Steven, but I plan to get one ASAP. What book should i start with?

  47. Beau: I don’t believe I ever said *Butcher* is a sexist. I said Dresden is. And it’s clearly deliberate, as a character trait, which is perfectly reasonable. It is also perfectly reasonable that, in the first few books, it bugged me (exactly the way it bugged CCR above). Later, he chills out enough that it doesn’t. Meanwhile, he kept me reading anyway.

    As for where to start, I dunno. Probably Jhereg, because it’s my first novel, and if you don’t like it, I can say, “Hey, it’s just a first novel.” Thanks kindly for asking.

  48. Hmm. I think I worded that wrong. As I used Jim and Harry as the same. I simple meant, name a character written by a Author.

    And I agree that Jim made Harry that way on purpose. But I don’t see the over the top Sexism, that you and others seem to see.

    I have found “The book of Jhereg” at the local Library. I look forward to reading it.

    I hope you didn’t think I was being snide with my comment about the fact I have never read your books. I was looking for Jim’s newest release date, and found this page. I then Looked your info up ( only thanks to some poster that mentioned one of you’re books) Don’t think for a minute that I would like or dislike your books simple because you thought Harry was a sexist.

    I have enjoyed everything from long winded Steven King to silly Terry Pratchett. And I hope that just as I fell ass backwards into reading Pratchett and Butcher, I will come to love your works as well.

  49. No, no! I did NOT think you were being snide. Don’t sweat it. I hope you enjoy the books. (If you don’t, just don’t tell me).

  50. Interesting discussion, as I have always grouped SKZB and Butcher together in my mind as creating similarly enjoyable characters, who seem to grow and improve themselves with each book.
    My favorite authors are probably Brust, Zelazny, and Butcher when I want a protagonist I can enjoy and empathize with. I like a character that has some flaws in his character to start, and I like to see them grow and battle those flaws, overcome them maybe someday. Vlad is a lot more gung-ho about killing and lacking in moral compass in the first books than the later ones, it seems to me, and I’ve enjoyed his journey. If a character is Mr. Perfect in chapter 1, there’s no where for him to go and I’ll probably be a bit bored.

    In my mind, when I find a new author, I ask myself, “Can this author stand with Brust and Zelazny?” There aren’t very many that I let into that club in my mind. I guess I should round out some of the others so SKZB knows what company I’ve assigned him to keep in the sitting room of my mind 😉

    Heinlein for a more sci-fi book. L.E. Modesitt. Lois McMaster Bujold. Tim Powers for unbelievable ideas. Gene Wolfe for somehow pulling beauty beyond belief out of flawed characters. Neal Stephenson for being the smartest guy writing while at the same time doing action and history and excitement in a weave no one else attempts. Neil Gaiman writes a concise story, but I certainly never empathize with his characters like I do with Vlad. I always am left thinking “That was good, but I don’t see what the hubbub is, he’s no where near as good as Brust!” George RR Martin, a new-comer to my club, because finally someone is writing a realistic epic fantasy, maybe a Tolkien whose world I can imagine COULD have been. Brent Weeks, a newer author, whose Night Angel trilogy hit the right paces and left me thinking, “Hey, this guy could be a fill-in for when SKZB or Butcher aren’t publishing.

    And I have to agree with SKZB, I kinda want Dresden to hook up with his apprentice too! Tons of opportunity for conflict, moral dilemma, examination of social mores vs. what might apply to long-lived small-gene-pool magic users. Discussion on finding a partner based on shared interests, abilities, and equality of power rather than someone without those traits, and how that helps or hurts a relationship. TONS of material there that would keep a series rolling along interestingly.

    I too just can’t really believe or get behind the Susan romance. The Murphy romance would kill a character if it bloomed. Come on, Dresden is going to live a long time, he’s involved in crazy stuff no one but another Wizard can understand, he has power that would make any relationship so unequal (in someone’s mind for sure) it would be doomed to failure. Plus, the apprentice sounds hot 😉

  51. I could barely get through the first of the Dresden books and that left such a bad taste in my mouth that I have no desire to continue. I don’t feel the man fully understands either of the genres he’s trying to mash together and leaves Harry Dresden coming off as a bad pastiche of various hard boiled detectives and Harry Potter.

    At the risk of sounding like a brown-noser the Taltos are a delight to read. I work in a book store and I’ve sold quite a few copies of The Book of Jhereg usually after explaining that 1) the characters actually undergo meaningful change, 2) the books can be read in any order and 3) if you were to quit writing tomorrow, the last book in the series would be a perfectly satisfying ending.

  52. I think Dresden is more like Spenser. With magic.

  53. JW-

    Honestly his early books are pretty rough from a literary standpoint. The fact that each book gets better is why they’re worth sticking with. Once he has his world defined (Each of the early books defines a portion of it), he hits his stride.

    I’m not exactly salivating over the next Dresden book the same way I do a Taltos novel, but it’s a fun way to pass the time inbetween.

  54. Okay, so via the local library, I’ve been able to read about 1/2 of Dresden, and not in order. (Someone’s got Book 3 and not giving it back.) I’ve read the first 2, latest 2, and a bunch randomly in between. So, I think I’ve got enough to understand the “sexism” claim.

    Dresden analyzes himself, calling himself both “chauvenistic” and “chivalrous.” So I’ll discuss both. There are three aspects to a statement that might come aross as “tedious.” The first is length: how much space in the book is devoted to the subject. The second is frequency: how often the subject is mentioned in a single book. The last is accuracy: how accurate is the claim. Chauvenism first.

    How long are the statements? Less than 2 sentences per mention, except in three cases where Dresden actually performs acts in accordance with his claims (helps “women” into chairs). How frequent? Once per book, except those three which add a second event. How accurate? Totally inaccurate: it does not meet the definition of chavenism, which requires that someone think another sex is inferior. Dresden defines his chavenistic behaviors as “holding the door, giving flowers, and helping ladies into their chairs.” Feminists have called this “chauvenism”, but Steven has it right: it’s sexism, at best. Chauvenism requires thinking another race, sex, etc. inferior to another. Dresden does these things out of tradition, politeness, or respect, not a belief that women are less capable at shuffling their own chairs in. (Cripes, he hands the equivalent of supernatural nuclear weapons to women, he trusts them so much.) The interesting thing is that Butcher knows this analysis is false: he knows Dresden has the definition wrong, and gave him the false analysis on purpose. Look out for the discussions where other characters discuss Dresden’s self-analysis, and you’ll find they don’t interpret things the way Dresden does. Butcher intentionally gave Dresden a false belief that he is chavenistic.

    Is any of this tedious? No, but I think I know what might be. Most authors reveal this type of behavior through incidents, not first person “I’m an unrepentant chauvenist” self-analytical statements. That might be what is tedious about this, to Steven. Instead of writing in encounters where Dresden’s tendency to hold doors winds up wiht him holding it for a party of 12 as well as his date, or mentioning sending flowers to someone, Dresden says it in first person. We only see a few chairs being held in 8 books — two for vampires wearing female skins, and one for a human female. Normally, an author allows the reader to draw these conclusions, and since this involves the hardboiled genre, self-analysis is the last thing you normally have the tough guy do. You actually have to look up the definition to know Dresden has not, and instead bought into the feminist line on chauvenism.

    Chivalry: How long are the statements? Quick one offs, like Chauvenism, but also seen in nearly every single fight scene or planning session. How often? Including the actual incidents, vast stretches of the book. How accurate? Up to you. I call it “Martyrdom” and “self-destructive behavior”. Like the above, it is Dresden’s first person analysis that claims his tendency to protect others is “chivalry”. Quite often, he tries it, fails, and the person he was trying to protect saves his butt. Not every time, but often enough to make the point: Dresden underestimates the people he cares for regularly, and far too regularly for this to be chivalry. Chivalry is “protecting the weak”, but he’s protecting everyone.

    Is this tedious? It could be seen that way by some, I think, but I see it as a character flaw, and a fairly acceptable one, at that. Hardly as cruel as (Moorcock’s) Elric’s amorality, or (Brust’s) Taltos’ immorality towards murder-for-hire, running gambling houses, bordellos, etc, or Taltos’ own prejudices against every Dragaeran sub-species, or (Cook’s) Garrett’s womanizing. I personally think it has to do with his original judgement of self-defense, in that he suspects he may ultimately become the evil he loathes and would rather die for others before he breaks.

    There is one other way the original sexism may have appeared tedious: Steven read the books in order, quickly. Even though it is only one statement per book, if you read them fast, the statements are separated by very short periods of time, regardless of the number of pages between them. And that could explain the tedium. If read one per year as they release, I doubt anyone would find the sexism tedious in any way.

  55. so now I have read ( at least some ) of your Books! and I truly enjoyed them. the time line from one to another is a bit trouble some. But each book is very enjoyable. Well done!

  56. The whole “sexism” thing is one that I’m a little shaky on.
    I mean I went up to a little over halfway through book 3 before I finally had to really complain about it.
    I always chalked it up as Butcher trying a little too hard to emphasize that Harry is an old fashioned guy. He also always came off as more of a gentlemen with a sort of well intentioned sexism which is easier to overlook and harder to be annoyed with. As for Bob with his rape potions and the fact he gets kicks from violating people, that was fine because it was heavily implied and later outright stated that he’s sort of unsure about this whole morality thing.
    Butcher is also able to do something I’ve noticed a lot of people can’t and that is write good female characters. Most writers either make all women weak and vulnerable or turn them all into men with feminine features. Butcher can write sexy and strong characters.
    But around Book 3 it started to get grating. Every few pages there’s a little slap to the face of female readers before the sucker punch where Harry implies all women are overly emotional and overly dependent.
    Because I still enjoy the books and don’t want to stop reading because of this I try to chalk it up to just being how he writes his characters, but you write what you know and he sure knows his sexism.

  57. Old_King_Doran,
    A Harry’s First love?
    B where is his Mother?
    C Baby’s Mommy?
    D Murphy?

    dude has issues. which is the point I believe.

  58. While this post is a critique of The Dresden Files I don’t think it’s a bad critique. In the beginning Harry was sexiest and a bit rough around the edges but mostly it was the persona it was trying to portray, Harry not Jim. He was a bit stiff and had not found his place in the world. What I love about the series is that he grows as a person from a solitary lone gunman of the Chicago to the leader of the world wide anti-old order establishment who if you look at it, sort of has the same political beliefs as you. Takes what he needs to survive and is instantly rubbed raw by the people in power who control everything.

    By the way totally off subject, looking forward to see how audible handles Vlad, you blew up over there.

  59. I’ve heard so many praise on these books that I decided to get the first two in the series. So far, I’m really struggling on the first book…I have to force myself to go on and try to finish it.

    First, I find the prose to be really bland and unsophisticated. It feels like a short story that a high school senior or a 1st year college student authored. The way he describes the characters physically, locations… it’s all very simplistic and dull.

    There are so many cliches and cheese in the characters. The tough as nails woman detective etc. The main character himself is just another private investigator loner with a heart of gold stereotype. I just don’t like him because he comes off as a cheesy hero character.

    Yes, the sexism is there– and it adds to the super cheese. “I’m just an old fashioned guy” “I believe in opening doors for women because it’s the good, old fashioned thing to do.” Oh my God…..did he actually write that? It’s okay to have a cheesy hero character with ‘old fashioned views’, but don’t spell it out to us as readers. Had the author been better with his prose, perhaps I’d swallow it better.

    Also, I just cannot wrap my head around the fact that Harry is so open with this Wizardry and magic. ‘WIZARD FOR HIRE!!.’ Really? All the supernatural stuff is just out there in the open….werewolves, vampires, trolls etc. Had the character concealed his true nature, I think it would more to the story. I think the entire story and setting would benefit more if the supernatural was kept as something secret and awe-inspiring as opposed to being obvious and visible all the time.

    I don’t think I have the stamina to keep reading on to see if these get better. I don’t understand all the hype.

  60. The first Dresden book was, according to Butcher, written to show his writing teacher that it wouldn’t work and she fooled him and said it could be sold.

    Basically you can skip the first three. The fourth was the first one written after the first book was published. I read them out of order and the first would not have been a good place to start.

    Of course that does not mean you will ever like them. They are comic books to a large extent.

  61. Forgot about this. Finally finished the series.

    My above analysis stands. Unless someone can point at another type of sexism my politcally incorrect brain overlooked, there is nothing unacceptable in Dresden having a character flaw that is, at best, a traditional mindset. The character flaws in Taltos, Elric, et al. are far more severe to the point of criminal or serial murderer levels, and so there is no reasonable comparison. Certainly, there’s no reason to skip the series because Dresden doesn’t toe the socialist line on male chauvenism.

    Clean up Taltos’ antisocial behavior before whining about someone else’s far less severe character.

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