Falling for The Dresden Files: The Lone Wizard in a Witches’ World
*First published in The Stake
So you think your roommate is a werewolf. The police aren’t interested, your friends doubt your sanity and even if you could find silver bullets, you don’t want your roommate’s blood on your hands.
Maybe that isn’t the problem. Maybe your boyfriend sold his soul to the devil for fun but now he needs his soul back. Or maybe you’ve been having a dream where you die every night for months and you’re terrified to fall sleep.
In a little office, on a quiet side street in Chicago, is someone who can help. “Harry Dresden, Wizard” is painted in yellow letters on the door and upon entering, the office is low lit and dark with red runes covering thresholds and wooden support beams. Brown cupboards with tiny drawers line the walls and old books and artifacts layer tables and chairs. Cheerful green plants grow in southern windows and oriental rugs sprawl over the bare floor. The space feels like a quirky antique or rare book shop rather than a working office.
Harry Dresden (Paul Blackthorne) emerges, looking like a regular guy in jeans and an oversized shirt. He is, however, the modern incarnation of a white witch; he prefers the term “wizard”. Like white witches Katrina Crane (Sleepy Hollow) and Bonnie Bennett (Vampire Diaries), he saves lives and mends true love with crystals, spells and potions. Unlike his ancient witch predecessors, he doesn’t sell potions to ashamed villagers in the dead of night; he keeps normal office hours. He doesn’t ride a broom; he drives an old jeep. He doesn’t fear of being burned at the stake, just parking tickets and the occasional boogie-man. To pay his bills, Dresden investigates possible werewolves, bargains with Satan for a soul, and finds fixes for recurring death dreams.
Chicago cop, Lt. Connie Murphy (Valerie Cruz), keeps Dresden on payroll as a police consultant. He’s brought in on cases where people perish from exploding hearts or from being skinned alive. When traditional methods like dusting for fingerprints or collecting DNA samples fail, Dresden steps in with crystals and potions, magical sunglasses and bees. Instead of a gun, he carries a hockey-stick-turned-wand for protection.
At one point Dresden tells his partner: “Murphy, I am not responsible for every single weird thing that happens in Chicago.” To which Murphy can only reply: “Just most of them.”
In quieter office moments, Dresden brews potions with Bob the Ghost (Terrance Mann, a white haired version of Hugh Laurie), a genius wizard, forever anchored to his former skull as punishment for necromancy.
But Dresden is more than an urban wizard with a sidekick ghost. His character is an interesting example of gender trope inversion, where a man plays a typically female role or a woman plays a traditionally male one. Another popular example of gender trope inversion is The Hunger Games, with Katniss as the brooding hero and Peeta as the gentle companion. While Dresden isn’t exactly a gentle companion like Peeta, he is a male in a female dominated profession: white witchcraft.
This theme is woven throughout the series. Instead of being the usual male team leader, Dresden consults and advises Murphy, a hard-nosed female cop. With her tough attitude and I’ve-seen-it-all stare, it’s Murphy rather than Dresden who conjures up images of hard-boiled detectives Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. It’s due to Murphy’s favor that Dresden is on the police payroll at all.
In fact, Dresden owes his continued existence to the benevolence of women. While Murphy provides him with employment, it’s Bianca (Joanne Kelly), a local vampire leader, who saves his life and keeps an eye on his back. She also doesn’t suck his body dry of blood during the act of lovemaking, which is more than can be said for most vampires.
These women protect him but only to an extent. Dresden’s life is still full of derisive comments and mockery. Due to his job title, he receives many crank phone calls, disgusted looks and plenty of antagonistic customers. A large part of his job is fielding disbelief and hostility, not unlike what women endure in male dominated work places.
In so many stories, women are sidelined to the role of enchanting companions, bringing color and life to the male’s world- see common “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope. Here, though, it’s Dresden who brings the magic, mystery and charm to Murphy’s prosaic life. There’s a reason she hired him, besides his dubious ability to help close cases.
Harry may fantasize about gorgeous leggy blondes coming to his office to help, but his real job is being the helper of scared children and frightened lovers. Following the ancient tradition of white witches, Harry aides the helpless and despairing. He relies on his wits and skills rather than physical strength or artillery. He’s not a leader but an excellent companion, bringing his own special magic to those around him.
SyFy cancelled The Dresden Files years ago due to cost; it’s currently on Amazon Prime and occasionally on Netflix Instant. If you need more, you can go to the source: Jim Butcher’s excellent series of Dresden Files novels. While it’s unlikely we’ll see more of this series on-screen, I’m ready to see more shows delve into the delight and nuance of gender trope