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.