The Dresden Files–What Went Wrong?

I am a big fan of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files books. I just finished the latest one, Skin Game, and my roommate, who has Amazon Prime, suggested checking out the television show that had run on the Sci Fy Channel.

I tried.  We watched the first two episodes, and while that may not seem like enough to judge an entire series, it was all that I could get through.  I try to accentuate the positive in this blog and avoid bashing any particular works, but I do want to take a moment to talk about what I felt went wrong, because I think there are some lessons there about genre and characters that can be applied to my own work.

One of the primary themes that I find so attractive in Jim Butcher’s series is the stark contrast between the role assigned to the character of Harry Dresden in an archetypal  sense and the voice of Harry Dresden as a narrator.

He is a wizard, a man of power.  He can throw fireballs, summon and bind mystical creatures, cast all manner of wondrous spells.

He is also a total jerk.  Throughout the entire series of books (I think the last one was number fifteen) Harry has a total of one romantic relationship, and it goes rather spectacularly bad.  He is a social outcast, a loner.  While he does develop some very important friendships during the course of the books, interpersonal relationships come very hard to him.   Even those closest to him him will admit that he is a very difficult person to be around most of the time.

That, in my opinion, is what makes the books so enjoyable.  All his power (and he is one of the more powerful wizards on the planet) can’t give him what he really wants–love.  He’s a very damaged person, emotionally, which makes him vulnerable.  It puts the pyrotechnics in perspective.  The reader can watch Harry call down fire from the heavens and still feel sorry for him.

I will freely admit that is a theme that I deliberately copied for James&Catskinner.  Being able to make everyone fear you is cold comfort when what you want is for them to like you. (Is that autobiographical?  To a certain extent.  I have a way of intimidating people that I approach for friendship.)

The TV series, on the other hand, gives us our first view of Harry as an adult (there is a brief pre-credits flashback) waking up in bed with a beautiful woman.   I saw that and I wondered who that was, because that is not the Harry Dresden that I know.

I can see why the producers made the changes in the character.  I can imagine the writer’s meeting in which the story was discussed and someone–with the best of intentions–saying, “You know, the wizard thing is kind of fun, but we need to make the character more attractive.  Let’s make him a stud with a cool jeep and a great apartment.  We need to lose the whole geek thing.”

In my opinion, in doing that they lost what made the character likable.  He became a shallow copy of Dean Winchester from Supernatural.

My point is that characters are defined not just by their strengths, but by their weaknesses.  Of the two, the weaknesses are probably more important.  Characters can grow and change over the course of a series (Harry has) but who they are shouldn’t change.  That’s something for writers to keep in mind.

A character can lose (at least temporarily) what makes us admire her or him, and we will still care.  When a characters lose what makes us pity them, it much harder to keep our interest.

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About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Dresden Files–What Went Wrong?

  1. Harliqueen says:

    I haven’t read the books (yet! I really want to), but I saw the tv show, and I have to admit I did enjoy it 😀 But that was probably because I had no preconceptions coming into it. If I ever get around to reading the books, I will probably avoid the tv show like the plague!

  2. njmagas says:

    I absolutely agree. Characters without weaknesses just aren’t relatable. (Don’t even get me started on fake flaws. If the character has a great life, is rich, well connected and loved by more friends and family than I see in a year, the ‘flaw’ of being oh, so socially awkward and geeky is eye-roll inducing). I’d like to think that we’re moving away from flawless, power-fantasy characters, and toward characters that actually represent the awkward, scared, uncomfortable, flawed majority of readers/viewers. You know, characters with depth. I guess visual media hasn’t changed much.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      It depends on the show. I think that shows with a solid ensemble cast–NCIS comes to mind–work because the different characters have corresponding strengths and weaknesses.

  3. KokkieH says:

    I watched the entire series and it simply does not compare well to the books. One of the episodes actually borrowed liberally from the plot of Storm Front and there the differences became glaringly obvious, not just in the portrayal of Dresden, but the entire system of magic, the Dresden-Murphy dynamic, everything. I didn’t like that he had a hockey stick instead of a blasting rod, a jeeb instead of the blue beetle or the fact that Bob wasn’t actually a talking skull 😉

    At one point I read something Jim Butcher wrote himself about the series. I think it was on his website, but I can’t find it now. Basically it came down to informing fans that they shouldn’t expect the books when they watch the series.

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