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Hell’s Bells: The Winsome Wizardry of the Dresden Files

The Dresden Files is a series of fantasy/crime novels written by Jim Butcher. It’s “urban fantasy.” Set in modern day Chicago, the main character is a private investigator named Harry Dresden.

Harry Dresden is also a wizard, so there’s that.

“I’ve done smarter things in my life. Once, for example, I threw myself out of a moving car in order to take on a truckload of lycanthropes singlehandedly.”

Harry Dresden

In the world of The Dresden Files, magic is real, as are demons, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and probably the chupacabra, although I can’t recall if that has ever appeared in a Dresden Files book.

Harry works as the world’s only “consulting wizard,” accepting supernatural cases from the Chicago Police Department’s Special Investigation Unit. But there is an obvious skepticism toward the supernatural among the general population in Harry’s world, so Harry tries to solve crimes and mysteries on the sly, attempting (but almost always failing) to not bring too much attention to himself, since the fate of the world is often on the line.

“I’d made the vampire cry. Great. I felt like a real superhero. Harry Dresden, breaker of monsters’ hearts.”

Harry Dresden

The Dresden Files is pure fun. Here are some highlights:

  • Wizarding short-circuits electronics, so Harry shuttles around in the most beat up Volkswagon Beetle imaginable.
  • He’s know for wearing a duster. He’s also pictured in a fedora on the cover of the first novel, although when I pointed that out for a survey of wizard hats, I was forcefully reminds by a legion of nerds on Reddit that the fedora doesn’t appear in the book, it’s just on the cover.
  • Electronics don’t work in his apartment either, so he works by candle light. But he also has trouble with the ladies, so since his hot water heater short-circuits, he can thankfully take a cold shower whenever he likes.
  • The familiar trope of good-hearted wizard battling against dark magic is classic for a reason, yet the modern setting gives it a nice twist.
  • As one would expect, this creates all sorts of adventures and mysteries, giving The Dresden Files a pretty cool “freak of the week” type vibe.

Tell me more about The Dresden Files!

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The Dresden Files have turned into a big ‘ole thing at this point, having branched into a variety of media types. I’ll sum up:

  1. Currently Jim Butcher has written 15+ novels in the Dresden universe. The first Dresden Files book is called Storm Front and it is an excellent first entry that launches the series well. You can get Storm Front from Amazon.
  2. Dresden Files novels are available in audiobook format as well, most of which are narrated by James Marsters, famous for having played Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
  3. For the deep nerd there is a Dresden Files roleplaying game available from Evil Hat productions and it is available via Amazon as well.
  4. Book 16 is coming out soon to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Storm Front. Pre-order it here.
  5. Finally, the SyFy network produced a Dresden Files television show that lasted one season. I binged it via Hulu.

Books or Television Show: Where should I start with The Dresden Files?!?

The Dresden Files is certainly one of those cases where the books are better than the movie, but I don’t want to fully discount the television show, as it’s obvious strength is no reading.

As for the books, Harry as a first-person narrator is distracting at times, but that’s the only quibble. The characterization is excellent, the plots zip along, the stories are full of interesting and amazing things, and Jim Butcher’s skill as a writer increases as the series goes on.

In addition to the above credentials, the private eye investigations being mashed up with the world of the supernatural is great fun. Not only are the cases and Harry’s relationship with the Chicago PD engaging, but Jim Butcher’s written examinations of magic and wizardry are well done.

In other words, there is a good reason that the series has lasted 15+ novels.

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But we all want even more wizardry in our lives, so I recommend the television show as well. Lasting just one season, the TV show stars Paul Blackthorne, who is excellent as the title character. Ghostly Bob, Warden Morgan, and Lt. Connie Murphy are also excellent.

Make no mistake, this is a SyFy show and SyFy has rightly earned the reputation for poor production and mismanagement of their series and this shows in The Dresden Files. An example being that the episodes aired out of order, with the pilot (Storm Front) airing as episode 8. Firefly fans can empathize.

But despite the cheesy SyFy production values and their mismanagement of the franchise, the same great characters are there. The show also does some fun things like make his wizard staff be a hockey stick, with his wand being a drum stick.

And for a show that features a crime solving wizard, I’m not seeking high art. It’s entertainment I’m after. The Dresden Files television show is entertaining and with only one season, it’s an easy binge.

“HARRY DRESDEN—WIZARD Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment”

Harry Dresden

Regardless of if you are a book or TV person, I do highly recommend you give The Dresden Files a try. It’s filled with great characters, fun stories, and imaginative situations. If you are curious about the books, you can start here. The TV show can be found via streaming services. It’s currently on Amazon Prime.

And if you personally have a problem that needs solving? Well, look up Harry in the Yellow pages. He’s the only entry under “wizard.”

“You rush a miracle worker, you get lousy miracles!”

Harry Dresden

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