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The Dresden Files

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve gone through the whole series of Jim Butcher‘s The Dresden Files novels courtesy of the library (though I have yet to read the related work Backup, the comic book, and the short stories).  What got me interested was, first, the short-lived TV series (produced by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who’s an online friend from the old Andromeda bulletin boards), and second, Butcher’s Spider-Man novel which preceded my own in Pocket Star’s novel series.  (His was called The Darkest Hours; mine is Drowned in Thunder.  The first Spidey novel from Pocket Star was Keith R. A. DeCandido’s Down These Mean Streets.)

I enjoyed the books.  They’re a lot of fun, and there are moments of really terrific writing, sometimes really clever, sometimes really moving (especially in the later ones).  The writing style is much like that in The Darkest Hours, and fittingly so, since Harry Dresden is a lot like Peter Parker — a perpetually wisecracking, irreverent hard-luck hero trying to atone for past mistakes.  I’m generally not a fan of horror-type stuff; I think vampires in particular have been done to undeath.  But as with Buffy/Angel, I’m able to enjoy the humorous approach of these books more than I would if it were straight-up horror.  And it’s as much fantasy (a mix of the urban and high varieties) as horror.  There’s even a science-fictional quality to it, the “logical fantasy” school practiced by such writers as Larry Niven and Diane Duane.  In Dresden’s world, magic can do all sorts of amazing things, but is still constrained by physical laws like conservation of energy.  I like seeing magic handled like a coherent, disciplined science rather than just a deus ex machina for doing whatever the plot requires at the moment.

The books are profoundly different from the TV series, but that’s okay.  Some people think that if an adaptation isn’t exactly like the thing it’s based on, it’s a failure or betrayal.  But “adaptation” means change to suit a new set of requirements.  An adaptation isn’t supposed to be the same as its original.  A TV show based on a book series should be its own entity, a separate creation inspired by the books but establishing its own approach and identity so as to optimize its effectiveness as a TV series.  The Dresden series toned down the magic to suit a tighter budget and a general audience less comfortable with wild fantasy than the books’ fanbase, changed the characters to suit the best available actors, and so forth.  The show worked well for what it was, which was a separate world, an independent creation with some names and concepts in common.  It’s not like the books, and that isn’t and shouldn’t be a value judgment.  Everything deserves to be judged for what it is, not merely for what it isn’t.

Which brings me to casting.  Like many people, I enjoy visualizing what I read as a kind of mental movie, and often cast actors I know in the roles.  Since the books are so different from the show, I couldn’t use most of the show’s casting choices.  I did go with the show’s Paul Blackthorne as Harry.  I’ve heard Nathan Fillion suggested, and he’d be terrific, probably better as far as his voice and delivery are concerned.  But he’s a bit too pretty for someone as hardscrabble as Harry Dresden.  Blackthorne had more of a run-down, noir-detective look to him, and that’s right for the part.  As for Lt. Murphy, her description in the books is an almost perfect match for Kristin Chenoweth, who proved in Pushing Daisies that she can play it tough enough for the role.  For Morgan, I go with Clancy Brown, always a great heavy and a good match for the description.  For Harry’s friend Michael, the Knight of the Cross, I go with the Middleman himself, Matt Keeslar.  Okay, he’s significantly younger than Michael, but it’s easy to imagine him with grey hair, and in The Middleman he proved he’s the ideal casting choice for anyone as square-jawed, heroic, clean-cut, and Boy-Scoutly as Michael.  (I would love to see him play Superman.  He’d also be a terrific Captain America.)

For Thomas Raith, I briefly considered James Marsters (who narrates the Dresden audiobooks and has played a similar character), but the description called for someone younger-looking with darker hair and lighter eyes.  I didn’t have anyone particular in mind, but I’ve just discovered USA’s new crime series White Collar and I think its lead Matt Bomer would make an excellent Thomas.  (As it happens, the other Middleman lead, Natalie Morales, has a supporting role on that show.)  I don’t have any other solid casting choices in mind, not that I can recall offhand.  I wish I had a good idea for Molly Carpenter; I find her hard to visualize, partly since she keeps changing her hair color.

Let’s see, anything more to say?  Yeah, one thing about the cover art bugs me.  The current cover artist renders Harry’s staff covered in what are supposed to be magical runes, but are actually backward Japanese katakana that don’t seem to spell anything meaningful.  What’s the deal there?

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  1. Rich G
    November 30, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    I believe Butcher said in a podcast (The Butcher Block) that the Japanese character were added by the artist to simply look like runes, as you said, with no direction as to their ‘real’ meaning.

    Glad you are enjoying the series. I have been fortunate enough to attend signings for the last two releases. Jim is a great guy.

    Rich

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