The Dresden Files

Both Raymond Chandler and Tim Powers rank high on my list of favorite authors, so it’s no surprise that I love Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series as well. The hero of all the novels, Harry Dresden, is a hard-boiled detective who also happens to be a wizard as well. As a new job inevitably turns out to encompass more than the client mentioned, the plot twists, and the dead bodies pile up, Dresden uses magic spells to solve the mystery and get him out of tight spots, and conspires or fights with vampires, witches, and demons.

So when the Sci-Fi channel started airing a new television show based on the series, I naturally tuned in. Sadly, the show is only a pale echo of the novels. For one thing, besides the adventure, the novels have a motif of absurdist humor. Dresden’s innate magic causes technology to go haywire, so, for instance, in his basement apartment, he has to use candles for illumination and an icebox for refrigeration, and he can’t use a cell phone, or watch television, and has to drive a battered 1960s pre-computerized Volkwagen bug. He’s also chivalrous, sometimes in self-destructive ways, but that’s part of his charm. None of that comes across in the series.

Some of the magic has taken physical form on the television, which I suppose was neccessary, or else the characters would have to jabber on about what just happened. For instance, Dresden keeps the magical equivalent of locks, wards, around his doors. In the series, they look like curtains on the edges of the door, all the better to see them ripped down when a particularly nasty demon gets past them in an episde. Bob, the incorporeal all-knowing spirit who, in the novels, is simply an orange light inside a skull, shows up as an actual man (albeit one that can’t touch or move anything) in the television series. That would be ok, except that physical Bob looks servile and sad; in the books, he’s kind of a whiny lech, but in a funny way. For instance, in the novels, when Dresden places Bob into the body of a cat (so he can move and go outside), instead of looking for vampires, Bob spends the night “looking” in strip clubs.

But most of all, I was bugged by the casting. Delivering their lines, the actors in the series are perfectly adequate. But the Harry Dresden of the novels is awkwardly tall, while in the television series, the actor is merely on the tallish end of the scale. His friend, Murphy (who shows up more regularly on TV than she did in the series), is small, tough, and spunky in the novel. The actress who plays Murphy on TV comes right out of central Hollywood casting: she’s tall, sexy, and rather deferential. She would have been perfect as Dresden’s ex-girlfriend-turned-vampire and occassional ally, Susan Rodriguez. For all I know, she was originally cast in that role, until it was decided there wasn’t enough money or time to keep Susan in the series.

That said, I’m still watching the television show. I still like the juxtaposition of mystery and magic. But the television show is something different than the books.

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