Fantasy Round 22.3: Even More Dresden Files
There are even more books in this series, so let’s keep at it!
This time, we have Dead Beat, Proven Guilty, and White Night. As ever, spoilers follow — right from the very beginning.
Best Scene Ever
In Dead Beat, we get a zombie T-Rex charging down the streets of Chicago on Halloween, being ridden by a wizard and a guy in a one-man-polka-band outfit.
Yes, this is epically cool all by itself.
What’s really fun is the setup. Early in the story, we learn about how zombies work. It require remains, obviously. To maintain your magic zombies, they must be supplied with a constant beat, to replace the non-existent heartbeat of the zombie — which is why necromancers often work with a partner called a drummer. (Magic will fry your stereo, unless you take countermeasures.) The bad guys, obviously, are all using zombies. Older zombies are more powerful, so they’ve been doing things like stealing Native American remains from a museum.
But, raising humans from the dead is forbidden by the laws of magic. So, good guys like Harry Dresden won’t do it.
Solution? Raise a 67-million-year-old T. Rex from the Field Museum in Chicago, and have your friend with the polka outfit (including drum) help you out.
But what happened to the Masquerade? I mean, in addition to the little zombies and the T. Rex, there was a tornado. That mix of things is weird enough that it’s really, really impressive that nobody got even a little suspicious about those silly prankster college students leaving the bones of Sue the T. Rex in the park…
Waldo Butters is Awesome
Waldo Butters is the polka guy I mentioned in the last section.
He is, in essence, a representation of how the scientific establishment should (and probably would) respond to the revelation of magic.
His first problem is that he’s honest. He works as a medical examiner — and claiming that remains from a fire he was examining were humanoid but “clearly non-human” got him thrown in a psychiatric hospital for a few months. He barely kept his job, and somebody made off with the evidence. (The Masquerade is annoying like that.)
But, critically, he’s always asking about how things work. While traumatized by the fighting, he helps out with his medical expertise (with appropriate complaints about not being a real doctor). During the series, he X-rays Dresden, and realizes that wizards heal more completely than normal humans do, and theorizes about how magic works. He happily discusses magic with Bob, the spirit of intellect, and is very interested in the theory.
If magic were real, this is one of the reasons why it wouldn’t stay secret or mysterious for very long — there are a lot of well-trained and very curious people out there who would want to know how it works.
The Trouble With Mind Magic
Oh, Molly. In Proven Guilty, in amongst all the fear-munching monsters, we also have Molly Carpenter, who is the kid of one of Dresden’s friends (Michael Carpenter. He killed a dragon once). She’s gone a bit down the wild I’m-a-teenager path, though, with serious consequences given that she actually has the talent to be a wizard.
She has a particular talent for delicate, precise magic that Dresden has trouble with — including mind magic. There’s a Law of Magic about that. Specifically, “Thou shalt not invade the mind of another.” Molly broke this law.
This is, in a sense, an interesting ethical conundrum. Molly was trying to help her friends who had problems with drug addiction, by making them feel afraid of the drugs. The one friend was likely to be fine in the long run. But Molly was mad at the other one, who had been her boyfriend, but was cheating on her. I don’t think his final status was detailed, but it looked like he might have been driven into a very bad place, mentally speaking. Constant paranoia.
And thus, we get a discussion of when mind magic could be okay. Does it require consent? (That alone, Molly violated.) What if the person has, say, a serious mental disorder, like depression? Does making them feel more cheerful (even if they don’t consent) count as a good thing? (No, it doesn’t. Depression isn’t just “not being cheerful” – MWB). Merely sensing someone’s feelings doesn’t require probing their brains, and is considered acceptable practice; where do you draw the line? Is running through the brains of recently dead people okay? What about prisoners, criminals, terrorists?
On the other hand, the ethical conundrum is blunted. The White Council is very draconian about its Laws of Magic. If you violate one, it’s off with your head, unless somebody talks them into giving you a closely monitored probation instead. (And if you violate it, off with your head and the head of your parole officer.) This prevents further exploration of the morality of messing with someone else’s mind.
There’s some intrigue things that aren’t well explained in these particular novels, which make more sense later. One of the big ones is the series of events at the end of Proven Guilty, particularly in Arctis Tor, when Dresden and company rescue Molly from the Winter Court.
At the end of Proven Guilty, Dresden and his mentor Ebenezar McCoy discuss the possibility of a traitor on the White Council of wizards — someone who is feeding information to the Red Court of vampires, and generally helping to cause mayhem. In White Night, the villain Cowl from Dead Beat reappears, isn’t dead, and is apparently busily encouraging the White Court of vampires to continue fighting against the White Council… to precisely what end, we do not yet know. More of this mysterious plot is unraveled as the series progresses, bit by bit. It’s one of the parts that starts making the later books better — the long term plot that slowly unfolds, linking together what would otherwise seem to be strange, unrelated disasters.
One of the biggest hints is given at the end of White Night. Specifically, one of the Fallen informs Harry that his birth was specifically orchestrated to give him power over Outsiders. Outsiders, the epically evil entities who are not native to our reality, which can only be summoned by normal humans… and which have been aiding the Red Court… dun dun DUN…