My whole life I’ve liked magic. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, fairies…they are all fairly awesome, but few things draw me in like magic and its practitioners. For me, that goes as far back as Mary Poppins and The Sword in the Stone. Forget Arthur and Guinevere’s love triangle, give me a version of the ancient tale where Merlin steals all of the screen time.
Since my entertainment radar is always searching for magic, it’s not much of a surprise that I eventually discovered Jim Butcher and his wise-cracking wizard Harry Dresden. Not only does this grown up wizard named Harry tick all my boxes, the author has appealed to the story hoarder in me by writing 15 novels and a number of short stories in Dresden’s universe.
Harry is a wizard for hire in modern Chicago — a kind of supernatural private investigator. This translates to a low income and great risk of death with every installment. Harry’s investigations bring him in contact with vampires, werewolves, ghosts, ghouls, fairies, demons, witches, mobsters, other wizards, plus a mixed bag of monsters of myth working in conjunction with any of the above. Have you ever heard of a Grendelkin? I didn’t think so, but Harry does in the short story “Heorot”.
Being a connoisseur of supernatural stories I can tell you that, in deeds and opponents, Jim Butcher’s wizard is not that much different from the various leading roles of modern druids and paranormal investigators written by other authors. What sets Harry Dresden apart for me is his sense of humor.
All of the tales in the Dresden Files are told in the first person by Harry himself (with the exception of one short story called, “Backup”). So not only are you treated to his witty and ofttimes snarky interactions with others, you also get to hear what’s going on in his head. It is more intimate than standard narration, Harry draws you into his confidence and never holds back for the sake of ego or privacy.
According to his brother, Harry is “Gandalf on crack and an IV of Red Bull, with a big leather coat and a .44 revolver in his pocket.”
If you want to check out Jim Butcher’s best wizard, the first book in the series is called Storm Front and there is a compilation of Harry Dresden short stories that pops around Harry’s timeline between inception and the 12th novel. The collection is called Side Jobs, I’ve been listening to it this week in preparation for this article so I can share with you a few examples of his brand of funny. Side Jobs is a great read for writers like us, regardless of your preferred genres because Butcher shares insight before each story of where the inspiration came from to write it.
From the story “Something Borrowed” –
“Without warning, the water erupted to a boiling froth at my feet and a claw – a freaking pincer as big as a couple of basketballs shot out of the water and clamped down on my ankle.
I let out a battle cry. Sure, a lot of people might have mistaken it for a sudden yelp of unmanly fear, but trust me, it was a battle cry.”
Harry’s humor is often interjected during very dark moments. I find this enhances the funny because it is bracketed by so much tension.
From the story “The Warrior” –
Harry is badly hurt by an assailant and calls a friend to help patch him up.
“Holy Hannah, Harry! What happened to you?”
“Hi Butters. I fell down.”
“We’ve got to get you to a hospital,” he said, turning to reach for my phone. I slapped my hand weakly down on it.
“Can’t. No hospitals.”
“Harry, you know I’m not a doctor.”
“Yes you are. I saw your business card.”
“I’m a medical examiner. I cut up dead people and tell you about them. I don’t do live patients.”
“Hang around,” I said. “It’s early yet.”
From the story “Last Call” –
Harry’s police contact and friend Karen Murphy is bewitched by a goddess and is trying to help kill Harry. She is a martial arts expert.
“Murphy blindsided me with a kick that lit up my whole rib cage with pain, and she had seized an arm before I could fight through it. If it had been my right arm, I’m not sure what might have happened, but she grabbed my left and I activated my shield bracelet – sheathing it in sheer kinetic power – and forcing her hands away. I don’t care how many Akido lessons you’ve had, they don’t train you for forcefields.”
Then there is the story “Harry’s Day Off” which is so much fun I plan to listen to it for the third time as soon as I’m done typing. It starts with Harry playing a D&D style game with his werewolf friends and arguing the physics of a firebolt. He wants a day free of mishaps so he can spend it with his girlfriend, but everything goes wrong – from psychophagic mites, to psychotic teens playing at being warlocks, to his apprentice blowing stuff up in his basement laboratory. And for some reason everyone keeps taking off their clothes. You can almost hear Jim Butcher cackling to the sound of his own typing as mess after mess falls into Harry’s lap.
Harry’s humor works because it is juxtaposed with scary things and dark things and being alone in the abyss. It also works because it is a consistent, natural extension of his personality. Jim Butcher may have imbued Harry with magic and set him free among angels and demons, but the best weapon he gave him was his voice. It’s what keeps me coming back time and again. There’s magic in humor, too.
Do I need to remind you that you should be writing? If you signed up for the June contest, you have until Monday, the 29th to get those stories submitted.
Keep an eye out this weekend for a sprint or two. If you need a beta reader to help make some tough decisions to stick to the word count, drop us a line and we’ll get you some help. Did you know you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org?