Lessons from the Dresden Files: All alone

January 6, 2015

First of all, sorry for the radio silence lately, all. Between the book launch, the holidays, and the RandomC Best of Anime post—which takes a phenomenal amount of time, especially since I had to write most of it in the last week—I’ve been too swamped to blog.

But no more! I’m back to work on the followup to Wage Slave Rebellion and Action Politics, and I’ll be blogging at you too. I know, you’re excited. Hold your applause.

Today I’d like to indulge once again in some critical analysis. This time it won’t be about anime, though. This time it will be about a book series.

In my interview with Little Red Reviewer, I mentioned that I’ve been reading the Dresden Files, and I’ve learned several things from the series. I’m currently on the eleventh book, Turn Coat, which I think it pretty good, considering I almost stopped reading after the second. But the reason for that has far more to do with me than it does with Jim Butcher’s writing.

The Dresden Files begin with the titular Harry Dresden almost completely alone. Nearly everyone holds him in suspicion or outright contempt. Unlike later books, where he has a rotating crop of allies helping (and sometimes hindering) him, in the first two he has to deal with everything by himself. And I didn’t like that as much.

I remember the point that it bothered me to the point I almost stopped reading. In the second book, Fool Moon, there comes a point when (spoilers ahead) Harry’s friend and occasional employer with the Chicago police, Karrin Murphy, suspects that he may be the killer, and proceeds to knock him the fuck out and arrest him. She leaves him handcuffed in a squad car, ready to haul him off to jail.

It hurt to read. The betrayal was so sharp, and he was so alone, that I almost dropped the series right there. Not because it wasn’t well written—if it hadn’t been done so well, it wouldn’t have had such an effect. It just drew forth such feelings of betrayal and despair, feelings I didn’t want to feel. I wanted to stop.

I kept reading for two reasons. First, I had to know how it ended. Burying my head in the sand or spoiling the ending wouldn’t have done the trick; I had to feel it myself. Second, I realized that if this turn got such a reaction out of me, not only was it written well—which means I ought to read more, to try to figure out how to do that myself—but it probably said more about me than it did about the story.

Fiction is a mirror into our souls. It was teaching me about myself.

What I learned is that the support of others, their trust, and their good faith is important to me, as it is to all people. In later books, there’s always at least one person who will trust Harry more or less unconditionally, or at least is going to give him the heavy benefit of the doubt. And that matters because, no matter how dark things get—and Jim Butcher is good at piling long odds on his protagonist—they’re easier to bear when you’re not alone.

Even if the danger is ten times as bad, and there’s only two of you. It’s still easier.

Even if you’re the only one who can do anything, and the others can only wish they could. It’s still easier.

Even if you’re completely doomed, with no chance of escape, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s still easier, so long as you know someone cares.

I knew all of this; it just hadn’t been demonstrated so clearly before. I’ve been lucky—I’ve had no major betrayals in my life, only the minor ones of forgotten promises and honest mistakes. But through the adventures of Harry Dresden, I got to experience a major one, and gained a greater appreciation for the faith my friends and family place in me.

Good fiction holds up a mirror to our souls, and teaches us how to be human. What I learned is that I don’t like it when someone is utterly alone, without anyone to help them or suffer beside them. I also learned that creating that situation is really powerful.

I wouldn’t expect to see that too often in my fiction. Though then again, you can’t trust me; maybe I’m just saying that to make the punch hit harder. Or I could change my mind.

We’re tricky ones, authors. That’s another thing I’ve learned from those who went before me.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

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