The beginning of the author chat delves into his origin story as a writer: how he grew interested in writing in the first place, how he was mentored in graduate school, and how the Dresden Files came out of trying to prove his instructor wrong by doing everything she told him to do. He discusses how he never set out to write urban fantasy, he didn’t want to write urban fantasy.
EASTERCON: “I’m seeing new subseries in the Dresden Files develop over the years. You’ve got the continuing subplot with the Black Council, the White Court and Black Court – though the Red Court has been thoroughly resolved – and you have the Denarians, and then you’ve got Mab’s scheming. And – it’s really coming into view the cross-cultural, cross-mythological, and then there’s sort of Cthulhu lurking in the shadows. Was this deliberate, did you set out to design it this way, all these interlocking playgrounds as it were, or is this sort of an emerging property of the thing?”
JIM BUTCHER: “Oh, pretty much the emerging property, except one thing I had planned, I knew that every fifth book I wanted to have the Denarians show up. So they were scheduled for books 5, 10, 15, and 20. Yeah, it’s really that simple.”
EASTERCON: “Do you often have major new factions appearing?”
JB: “Well, yeah, to a degree. Kind of – the most popular bad guys of the series are only just now starting to show up. The Fomor, we’ve been seeing bits and pieces of those in the last few novels, and even more closely followed in the short stories that have been out lately. You get the closest glimpse of them in John Marcone’s story, which is called Even Hand, which is one of my favorite short stories because God, that is a scary guy. A lot of what I’ve been doing, a lot of the writing I did in the early series, I was very good about trying to set up for the end of the series. I remember wondering to myself – am I ever going to be able to write the end of the series? I’m having fun. I love getting to pay off things that I’ve been laying out for a long time. The one I’m working on now, this one is Peace Talks. Basically all the member nations of the Unseelie Accords are gathering together. I’m sure everything will go smoothly, then afterwards they’ll all go down to the bar together and sing some songs.”
They spoke a lot of the Codex Alera, and how it sprung out of a bet Butcher made with someone who was wrong on the internet. An interesting thing to not: If he returns to Alera, it would be to cover the adventures of the first Cursor class after Tavi becomes First Lord.
EASTERCON: “You talk about the twenty book arc for the world – what about the character arc? Do you have an outline of what those characters are learning through that journey?”
JB: “The character arcs that I had in mind are – were – for very objective stuff. This character is going to have to grow this much in order to face this amount of danger or risk. That was mostly centered around Harry. But how they got to that point was not scripted very closely. Personality wise, I didn’t script it very well at all because at that point I wasn’t capable of keeping track of that as a writer. That’s something I’ve been learning as I’m going on. One other thing I specifically did not do, was I did not script Harry’s love life. I wanted that to be something that was organic and part of the books. As it turns out, the people you love can have some minor effects on the rest of your life. I don’t know if Harry will get a happy ending in that sense. That’s something I’m telling myself.”
EASTERCON: “After you complete Dresden Files, do you see yourself writing more stories within that sort of setting, some of the other characters, slightly spinning off and expanding?”
JB: “I’ve got one spin-off series in mind at the moment. It stars a character we’ve already met. I’m not gonna tell you who. Then I’ve got a young adult series my sister and I are sketching out now, it’s gonna be Maggie going to St. Mark’s Academy for the Gifted and Talented with Mouse. It showed up in one of the Bigfoot series. It’s a school where a bunch of supernatural beings send their kids to school together.”
The FAQs right off the top. The next book of the Dresden Files is I’m working on it.and I was supposed to turn it in this Christmas and if that happens on time, then I’ll reckon you’ll see sometime early next spring. So there, now you know that. Cuz everybody always asks me that like first thing. I just thought I was gonna beat you to the punch to that tonight.
Q: Are you still planning on doing a kids book with Maggie and Mouse?
A: Am I still planning on doing the young adult book with Maggie and Mouse when Maggie goes off to school? Yeah.
Q: Is there an HBO show still in the works?
A: No there is a possible show in the works. It doesn’t necessarily belong to HBO or anybody else. In my dream world, it goes to Netflix but we’ll see what happens or if it happens.
Q: When are we going to get some mermaids? And how is Nemesis spread from person to person?
A: Probably not until the big trilogy at the end because wizards don’t like to go in the ocean and they don’t do unless they’re desperate. How is Nemesis spread from person to person? ::sing song voice: I’m not going to tell you. That would make it way too easy But I will tell you that it go to Lea through the dagger.
Q: Any Cider Spires short stories?
A: No, I still have too way much world build before I can start spinning off little stories about the place. And much more to do on this book, which I’m very much looking forward to. I’m almost like Hey Dresden, c’mon get out of the way, I want to go to this new place that I haven’t seen before. And you know, Dresden is over here going “But we still have to do awesome”. yeah you’re right – we do have to do awesome. I’m so sorry about the city, but you know Just stay out of town on Midsummer and you’ll be fine.
Q: Do you work on multiple projects at once or one thing at a time?
A: I work on one thing at a time. I’m writing the short story which is Butters’ first mission as a knight. It’s kind of awesome; he’s out training with Michael and they’re doing cardio training and he pulls up and stops. Michael’s like “what’s wrong?” Butter’s’ is like “that guy”. Michael says “what guy?” Butters’ is like “the bum asleep on the bench. There’s a giant yellow exclamation point floating over his head. What? You don’t see that?”It kind of starts from there. Butters- Knight of WoW. I’ve gotta finish that up and send outlines for a couple graphic novels to Dynamite. One of those will be Harry Dresden vs the Joker, pretty much. Although in this case, he’s called Puck. Cuz Puck is an awful person – he really is, in the Dresden Files. He doesn’t run around being cool; he’s terrible. And fun. And there’s another one where we’re gonna go catch up with the all folks who went off to form their Feng Shui out in California after Blood Rites. There’s a problem and so Lara is hiring Harry to resolve her problem for her so she doesn’t lose her grip on the White Court and that’s the other graphic novel. After I get those two projects knocked off, then the rest of the year, it’s back to Peace Talks. It’s Peace Talks, Peace Talks, Peace Talks. Which is really winding up looking like a royal rumble of who would win this fight.
Q: Is Harry going to allow Bob any role in raising the new spirit baby?
A: No, Harry is going have that “Dad with shotgun” talk with Bob. Is what it amounts to. You’ll see more of that with the book. We start off early with Bonnie.
Q: In Proven Guilty, Harry is run off the road by a car and it never goes back to who ran him off the road Are you ever going to tell what happened?
A: Yeah, that’s weird right? Yeah.
Q: I heard once that you had a conspiracy theory about the show. I can’t find it anywhere. Mind telling us about it?
A: You gotta understand that I have no proof behind this. Because if you have proof, it’s not a conspiracy theory. And in fact, it makes it a worse conspiracy theory if there’s proof. What you need for a conspiracy theory is pictures and yarn and thumbtacks. That’s what you need for a conspiracy theory!
So this is my conspiracy theory. Set the wayback machine for 2007. Bonnie Hammer is the president of the Science Fiction channel Bonnie Hammer, who does not like science fiction. They put her in charge of it. I can only assume that it was corporate Siberia. I assume she made enemies and that was the result. So she’s in charge of the Science Fiction channel and she’s giving them GhostHunters and Extreme Wrestling. Which don’t get me wrong – I like wrestling. I watch it for the writing. But maybe not on the Science Fiction channel?
Meanwhile, her vice president comes along, a guy named David Howe, and he was the one who was behind bringing the SciFi channel’s Battlestar Galactica to immediate and popular acclaim. So when you’re the president of a company who works for somebody else and your subordinate comes up and does something awesome, that does not necessarily reflect well on you. And certainly not in Hollywood, where the motto is “it’s not good enough to succeed; you also have to make sure your friends fail.”
He gets behind the next project and his next project is the Dresden Files It was coming together pretty well. Just about two weeks before the show started shooting, all of a sudden all these changes got made to the internal structure of the show. I suspect it was Bonnie Hammer that was behind it, but I don’t know. That’s why it’s a conspiracy theory.
Originally the show was going to be a serial. It was going to cover the events of Storm Front and Fool Moon in the first season, and kind of interweave the plots. And the big showdown would have been extremely crazy because it would have been wizard-Loup Garou- Shadowman all at once. It would have been insane. But, two weeks before, they said we’re going to get this producer from Charmed on and he’s gonna be in charge now. And the guy from Charmed came on and said, “we’re not going to do a serial. We’re going to do episodes – nobody likes a serial.” And everybody was like, “Wait? Are you using the same word? Are you talking about breakfast cereal maybe? Because people dig serials.” We told him that we didn’t have time to re-write all these episodes. They were built to be one right after the other, which was where they get their punch from. And the Charmed guy is lke, “oh it’s not a big deal. We’ll just change the names of characters and disconnect all the episodes and do them out of order and it’ll be fine.” (At this point, Jim gives us all the eyebrow.) And that’s what happened. Plus he was the boss from Los Angeles, when they were filming in Toronto. You imagine how well that worked out.
Lots of little things would happen that would sandbag the show. For example, by the time the guy in California would write changes to a script, he’d turn them in by 9. But 9 in California is midnight in Toronto. So by the time changes came, and scripts got printed out and taken around by exhausted production assistants, it would be two in the morning.
Q: With Harry being a nerd who loves movies and sci-fi, how has he managed to go this far without making some sort of Zuul or Vinz Clortho reference to Rashid the Gatekeeper?
A: Uh, partly it’s the Gatekeeper and the Gatekeeper is really scary. Also, I haven’t gotten there yet. It hasn’t been right. I gotta feel it. I gotta feel the nerd come on or it doesn’t work. You must feel the nerd come around you…
Q: Are we going to revisit the inmates in Demonreach and see who some on those people are?
A: Those people are there to be locked up there forever and ever. The only way you would ever see who any of them were is if something horrible went wrong. So no, cuz that would be awfu!
Q: Would you write any more short stories for anthologies or with other people?
A: I actually edited a book this year. I wanted to try something new. so I tried on my editor hat and I edited a series called Shadowed Souls. Which actually has the short story of Molly on her first mission as the Winter Lady and so you get to see what her job is and what her position is within Winter Court and why it’s so important that she does what she does And it’s also her team up with Ramirez, so those shippers.. Toot Toot!
Writing with other people, not so much. I agreed to write a short story for Correia, in his Monster Hunter International universe, because I think the janitor at MHI would have a really interesting job. So I want to write that story. And there are also several of us who are putting together a story about a bad guy that goes through multiple realities, so everyone’s characters are interacting with him for a bit. Basically, each of the author’s get like ten thousand words of the story that we’re supposed to handle. So Harry Dresden will be involved with part of it and then wash his hands of it and walk away shaking his head.
Q: What is the difference between wizards and muggles in the Dresden Files?
A: First of all, you have to be born with a certain amount of talent to be able to touch magic at all. Sometimes that talent is greater and sometimes it’s lesser. But you’ve got to have one particular gene that flips the switch and says, “Yes. Weird.” Once you’ve got that, then you’ve got to be in a position where you can develop that talent and be in a position where you have the intelligence and the drive and the focus to make something of it. It’s just like any other talent, actually. Some people are born with a really great genetic setup to play basketball. That doesn’t necessarily make them Michael Jordan, because not only do they have to have the gift, but they also have to be in the situation to express it. If you were born with the awesome basketball gene spread and you were also born Inuit, probably you aren’t going to get a chance to express that. I always built magic in the Dresden Files as something was a talent like any other. You’re born with it, but that doesn’t make you a wizard without a lot of hard work as well.
Conversely, you could be born without a really awesome spread of talent and yet if you work hard enough, you can really make something of yourself. Most people can probably use a little magic. Most people could probably be dangerous in the Dresden Files world if they had enough training and worked on it for years and year and years. But there’s only a few who are really born ready to go to the NBA draft. And of those people, that’s who you see on the White Council. Those people who are born with that and who then developed it as well.
Q: How do thorn manacles work?
A: Do I explain that to you? Yeah, it won’t hurt anything. Why not? Essentially, what it does is when a wizard is drawing magic in, the thorn manacles divert it to somewhere else. Wizards have to give a little bit of energy from inside themselves, but mostly they have to pull it in from the outside. Mostly, the thorn manacles take the magic and shunt it out into the NeverNever and you don’t get to use it. The pain is the result of the energy that’s going by and going elsewhere. It’s inefficiency of transfer, if you want to put it in engineering terms. That’s really nerdy, so I won’t do that.
Q: Why did you base the Dresden Files in Chicago?
A: Because my writing teacher would not allow me to set them in Kansas City. They started off as a school project and were originally set in Kansas City. She read them and said, “You’ll sell this. I don’t know if this will be the first thing you’ll sell, but this is of professional quality and you’ll eventually sell it. But one thing: You can’t set it in Kansas City.” I asked why not. She said, “You’re already walking close enough to Laurell Hamilton’s toes that you don’t need to set this book in Missouri. So set it somewhere else.” There’s a globe in her office. On the globe, in America, there are four cities. One of them is New York City, which I don’t want to use because superheroes have that place all sewn up. And my editors lives there and would catch every city mistake I made. And sneer at me. D.C. was one of the other cities. And I didn’t want to write D.C. because then you have to write politics and you’re gonna piss off somebody. That’s how it works. LA was there and I didn’t want to use LA because it’s Los Angeles. And that left Chicago.
Q: Mac’s Ale. I’m a homebrewer and I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of beer this is. And I really need to know what you based this on.
A: Mac’s Ale is based off of my imagination and my brain. I’m not actually a beer drinker. I don’t like beer a whole lot. I”m more of a cider guy. It mostly came from my imagination and my beer drinking friends and from their descriptions.
Q: Are we going to see Mac actually do something other than what he’s done so far? Like actually pull some things off?
A: Maaaaaaaaaaybe. You’ll get to find out more about him, at any rate, Whether you’ll actually get to see him doing stuff is still a really serious question. I don’t know. I’ll figure that out as we go.
Q: How do I come up my names for people, places, things?
A: Mostly I look at the meaning of the name. I’ve got a giant book of names and their meanings and I generally try and find something that is either appropriate to the character for the name or completely inappropriate to the character for the name. One of the two.
Q: How did Harry get anywhere in Chicago in 20 minutes during Dead Beat?
A: Hey, when you’re on a T-rex, you don’t have to wait for lights!! As we all know, we clocked the T-rex at 35 miles per hour.
Q: When are we going to see dragons again?
A: Dude, I can’t possibly do a dragon thing unless it’s a whole book. So that would be book 20 or 21. Something like that. Probably 21. I think 21. That seems about right.
Q: Speaking of Molly and Ramirez, at least going into the short story you reference earlier about Molly’s first job as Winter Lady, what’s the status of their technical or non-technical virginities?
A: That’s awfully personal, don’t you think? Molly’s is still technically intact. Ramirez, we don’t really know. And I don’t think it becomes clear during the course of the story. Well, it kind of does, but you’ll have to read it.
Q: Will we ever find out who keeps letting the coins loose?
A: Kind of, yeah. But at the same time, it’s sort of necessary for them to be out in the world. They’re not designed to be kept in a vault somewhere and locked up. So it’s very very difficult for anyone to guard them, for example. Because the coins just do the One Ring thing to them until they get loose But yeah, they’ve been spread out in in all kinds of different place. And the best you can do is to pick a guy who you hope is as close to incorruptible as humanly possible and then leave him in charge.
Q: How much of Hannah Ascher’s precision magic was hers and how much was Lasciel’s?
A: Much of it was Lasciel. Hannah was basically just providing the muscle and Lasciel was providing the direction. So she was way better than she would have been otherwise without Lasciel there advising her.
Q: How much will Bonnie know?
A: You’ll have to see. The problem with Bonnie is not that she knows a lot; it’s that she doesn’t know how to apply anything. LIke she can tell you all about green and how many nanometers the wave of lenght of light that the color green is and so on, but she doesn’t understand that grass is green yet. Because she hasn’t seen it. When we first join Peace Talks, Harry comes home and Maggie and Bonnie are in the kitchen making pancakes. Bonnie has informed Maggie that she knows 317 recipes for pancakes and the ingredients that they have make 17 of them possible. And so they’re trying to make pancakes. But they don’t know how to tell when it’s time to fip the pancake over. Well, you wait until it’s golden brown. Well, what’s golden brown? It’s on the pan. It looks white from here. Harry gets to walk in and Bonnie turns to him and says, “Pancakes are inanimate!” excitedly because she just figured out that they’re inanimate objects. Bonnie has a long way to go before she’ll be anything. But she’s where Bob started.
Q: When are we going to see more of Ivy and Kincaid? Does Ivy know that Kincaid is the one who technically shot Harry?
A: We’ll see more of them next book and I won’t tell you that.
Q: Why do Justine and Murphy both smell like strawberries?
A: They use the same shampoo. They use that green Suave. And that’s why. It’s really good shampoo if you want to grow your hair long. It’s got no silicates in, so it doesn’t abrade the hair. Don’t ask me how I know that.
Q: One of the things I love about the series is when I recognize Chicago landmarks. How are you able to be so accurate with that?
A: These days I can actually afford to come to Chicago and look. So I do that to a degree. Originally, I had a couple guidebooks of Chicago and that was all I had to go on. After a couple of the books came out, I had some readers who lived here. So I could ask them. And now I have Google Maps. And more importantly, Google Street View. That’s useful to the point that I actually had a member of CPD SWAT approach me and say, “Listen, this scene that you set up in the short story ‘The Warrior,’ where you have the guy on the roof and you said specifically which lights were out in order to have the approach and so on. So that the sniper would have the best point of view. I checked that out and you were right. And I need to know who you consulted about that kind of information. Because we sort of like to keep track of people with that kind of knowledge.” And I said, “I just played Call of Duty and looked at Google Maps. And Google Street View. I’m sorry.” And the CPD SWAT guy is like, “Oh God.”
Q: Any more info on the young adult series with Maggie and Mouse?
A: No. I’ve got to have enough time to write it. I’m still trying to get caught up this year. It’ll be hopefully not before too much longer because that’ll be fun. Plus I’ve been planning on writing that one with my sister, so I would only have to do half of it. Maggie is a great character because she’s been through alot and she has a lot of social anxiety issues. She genuinely needs Mouse as a service dog next to her to help her stay cool and deal with people. So she has trouble in close spaces, in open spaces. She’s got a lot on her mind. Except when everything is totally going to hell and is on fire. At which point, she is completely normal. Because she’s Harry Dresden’s daughter
Q: Are we ever going to find out which of the Fallen said those seven words to Harry?
A: You’ve probably gotten all the answers you’re gonna get as far as that goes, as far as which Fallen said that. I mean, I’m not saying that Lasciel lied about everything but she could’ve. Or it could have been one of the others. But Lasciel was the one with the axe to grind.
Jeremy Zimmerman’s Kensei is a tightly-plotted, dramatic-comedic YA superhero tale about a kick-ass bi-racial, teen, lesbian crime fighter named Jamie Hattori, who targets baddies in Cobalt City through her ability to communicate with the spirits of places and inanimate objects in the city. As if dealing with her own family, school, and relationship drama wasn’t enough, she has a massive deity problem to handle. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a shot. It’s a fun YA title with a nice crossover appeal.
The Kickstarted sequel, The Love of Danger, continues the adventures of Jamie Hattori. And now we’ve got undead, fascist villains and their robots, plenty of relationship (family, professional, and romance) drama, and Jamie’s new set of skills.
I love the backdrop, with Jamie working in a world already populated by well-known Cobalt City superheroes. Her experience is a bit like being a minor superhero in The Incredibles, but with less family togetherness and more getting smacked around by her racist grandfather. The shared world Zimmerman accesses gives him some interesting characters and events pre-fabricated, a history of conflicts and resolutions, of biases and trust issues that already populate the landscape. We also learn a great deal more about the conflicts and motivations of some of the awesome characters from the first go-round.
The first book gripped me more than the second, but The Love of Danger is an excellent follow-up and I am looking forward to where the series goes next.
Jeremy Zimmerman is a teller of tales who dislikes cute euphemisms for writing like “teller of tales.” His fiction has most recently appeared in 10Flash Quarterly, Arcane and anthologies from Timid Pirate Publishing. He is also the editor for Mad Scientist Journal. He lives in Seattle with five cats and his lovely wife (and fellow author) Dawn Vogel.
Janelle and I met through a mutual friend on FB (whom neither of us are friends with anymore, natch) and discovered a mutual love of the Dresden Files. We talked. We conjectured. We bonded. When Skin Games came out, we conceived a plan to go to Redondo Beach for a book signing on opening day. I would drive to Pismo to her place, she would drive us down south, we would get a hotel the night before so we could get the books on our Kindle Apps the second it was released (9:00 Pacific Standard Time!), then we would buy copies and get them signed and basically have a Dresden geek fest for two days.
All was well until we climbed into the car and she told me that she didn’t like the character of Lieutenant Karrin Murphy.
What. WHAT?? That was almost the end right there, I have to tell you. How could she hate someone so beloved, someone so important, someone so faithful and true. We argued, debated, muttered, and passionately orated on the subject for the entire drive between Pismo and Redondo. As we hit the naturally hideous traffic in Southern CA, this took maybe 7 hours, thoroughly enjoying ourselves the whole time.
It is incumbent on me to give credit where it is due, Janelle is smart and knows Dresden better than most anyone, she is erudite, and she lays out a good argument. But she she isn’t correct this time. I’ll tell you why.
First…she is basing this on the evidence of the first three Books—Storm Front, Fool Moon, and Grave Peril. And if it were just those three books, I might agree with her. But character development matters, and Jim Butcher has certainly developed her character through the series. More cogent to this argument, he has developed Harry’s character.
I am not going to rehash Janelle’s arguments as you can and should read them for yourselves. Instead, I am going to lay out the defense.
Murphy is at the core, a cop. And a cop who knows very little of the Supernatural world. She knows it exists, that is why she is smart enough to ask Harry for help. But her primary drive is the protection of the people of Chicago and taking down the perpetrators. So in Storm Front when people are killed by gruesome magic, and Harry is the only Wizard around, what is she to think? Especially when she is being stonewalled, as I will discuss shortly.
And yet, she still cared for Harry. Remember the scene in Storm Front when she took him home, tucked him into bed, left him money? All the times she brought him coffee? There are many tiny scenes where she shows her care. In fact, once you move beyond the first three, those scenes come up with regularity and in more profound ways. Remember how Murphy willingly helped Harry in Proven Guilty, KNOWING she was going to face serious consequences at work, and did it anyway? We see more of that, and it will come up again in future posts as we move through the series.
Harry didn’t, or couldn’t, tell her enough of what was going on. She didn’t know about the White Council. Or the laws of Magic. She didn’t know about the Doom of Damocles over his head. Harry might have had reasons he couldn’t tell her, but it means that the information she was working from and basing decisions on was very limited. And because of that, because he lied to her (and admitted as such, not hiding it from her), what was she to do? You can only make the best decisions you have based on the information you have, and Murphy was being left in the dark. And when someone lies to you…why should you trust that person? I sure wouldn’t. It is especially difficult because she considered Harry to be an ally and a friend, so this betrayal cut even deeper. And it WAS a betrayal. Dresden made his choices with the best of intentions, but he absolutely betrayed their friendship. I don’t know about you, but I don’t react well when a friend lies to my face and betrays our confidence.
This is actually a major factor in the early books, and not just with Murphy. You see it with Butters and Billy Borden as well. Harry is forever conflicted between not wanting to lie to his friends, but not wanting to tell them the big, scary information that could get them killed. And it never turns out well. Things run much smoother when he just tells people everything. This is another area where Harry’s character develops through the series.
She had very good reasons for not being in a romantic relationship with Harry. I think of that elevator conversation in Proven Guilty. The fact that she will age normally and he will not? Very good reason not to get involved. Life isn’t as simple as I want this guy, let’s go for it. And Murphy is practical. We also get to see this slowly develop and change over the books, where both of them start to be willing to take the risk of getting romantically involved, even knowing the cost. I find it sweet, really, in my deep dark secret romantic heart.
Notice how Murphy appears to Dresden when he is using his sight
“The door burst open. Murphy came through it, her eyes living flames of azure blue, her hair a golden coronet around her. She held a blazing sword in her hand and she shone so bright and beautiful and terrifying in her anger that it was hard to see. The Sight, I realized, dimly. I was seeing her for who she was.”
Grave Peril by Jim Butcher. Page number varies by format.
Does that seem like someone who has ill intent or is going to betray him? The sight reveals truth. And Murphy is a warrior, an Avenging Angel, a protector. If she had ill intent towards Harry, the sight would have shown that.
I am going to stop here because so far, we are focused on the first three books of the series. I have much to say (Arctis Tor, Chichen Itza, AHEM), about their relationship and connections in future posts, but all in good time.
In the Dresdenverse short story “Bombshells,” the only story told in first-person POV by Harry’s apprentice Molly Carpenter, she describes a way to incorporate math (!) into her version of the first spell she learned from him- the tracking spell- and uses it to estimate the distance to her target (Thomas Raith, using a few of his hairs) without having to actually go all the way there. This occurred to me as pretty significant because it’s not something Harry ever showed her how to do (or even figured out for himself) and it’s a vivid demonstration of Molly’s own strengths and intelligence.
Here’s how she did it.
The basic idea is that if the target of your tracking spell is close to you, and you’re moving, it will appear to shift a lot relative to your position. If it’s really far away, it won’t appear to move much at all when you move- it stays pretty much the same direction from you. Compare looking at faraway things as you drive past them to the things right at the side of the road that whoosh by your window. You may have even used some form of this trick in video games like Call of Duty, Skyrim, Arkham City, or anything else that lets you see a pinned location relative to which way you’re facing. For many years (before electronics got decently sophisticated) airplane pilots used bearing changes and a mechanical calculator to fudge estimates of their distance from radio navigation aids.
Jim Butcher didn’t stick an actual equation into the story, and rightly so, because it would have dragged the pace down to nothing and alienated the readership. But for those of us who are obsessive nerds who enjoy that level of detail, it’s surprisingly easy math to do. Despite the implication that Molly’s technique would involve high-school-level trigonometry, you can do it in your head, using only an ordinary magnetic compass and a tracking spell (or its equivalent).
Step 1: Go ahead and put that blood or hair or whatever in your mouth and follow the tingle of your lips (like Molly does) or dangle it from a string or a chain (like Harry Does, if you don’t relish the idea of putting such things in your mouth) and determine the direction of your target. Use the compass to determine the exact number of degrees that is relative to magnetic north. For now, let’s say that the target happens to be directly (0°) north of us.
Step 2: Turn so you’re facing perpendicular to the way the tracking spell points, so the target is directly to your right or to your left. For example, with our hair donor directly north of us, we’d need to face directly east or west. Now, walk a reasonable distance to measure (Molly uses the convenient unit known as a “Molly-pace”) keeping the target exactly off your shoulder. Make sure to go at least far enough to register a slight change in the direction you’re facing according to the compass.
Step 3: Measure the change in your compass bearing. Continuing our example, let’s say we started with our target directly north of us, and walked fifteen paces west. Checking the tracking spell against the compass, our target is now four degrees east (004°) of dead north, and we’re not facing directly west anymore- we’re facing four degrees north of that (274°). We’re now ready to plug in some numbers. Do not fear trigonometry- that’s not what we’re doing. Instead, do this:
Step 4: (Molly-paces x 60) ÷ degrees changed = Molly-paces to the target
To finish our example, we took fifteen paces to travel four degrees. Fifteen times sixty is nine hundred. Divide that by four degrees, and we’ve got a result of two hundred and twenty-five paces to the target… however far that is. If you’re not as tall as Molly, your results may vary.
I’m certain that the math nerds in the crowd started mumbling about cosines and reached for their scientific calculators before this last step. The reason this trick works, however, is not because it’s a 30-60-90 triangle, nor because it approximates an isosceles triangle. What we’ve done is approximate an arc-length of a circle.
As we already know, a circle (a) contains 360 degrees, and (b) has a constant ratio between its circumference and diameter, known as pi, or 3.1415926blahblahblah, which, for the sake of rough simplicity, we will approximate as 3. What Molly’s trying to figure out is the distance (in Molly-paces) from the center of the circle (the target) to the perimeter, a portion of which she’s just paced off. That distance (the radius ) is half of the diameter, so we’re going to use (in rough simplicity, 6) as the total number of Molly-paces it would take to walk around the entire circle, and then solve for
Since we know how much of the circle we’ve walked around (“degrees changed” out of 360), we also know what portion of the circumference we’ve paced off (“Molly-paces” out of 6). Since these are equal portions, all we need to do is simplify:
degrees changed = Molly-paces 360 6r
degrees changed * 6r = Molly-paces * 360
degrees changed * r = Molly-paces * 60
r = Molly-paces * 60/degrees changed
It’s not terrifically precise, but it doesn’t have to be. It was close enough for Molly to locate Thomas in Svartalheim, and now you’re just that much cooler (and/or more dorky) for knowing it. Now, for your homework, go find Mouse. Ten paces off your shoulder gives you two degrees of bearing change.
Forgive me for getting all academic here, but I’m going to put on my graduate school hat for a moment. As a fan, I just read stories and revel in their flow and fun. But occasionally, I like to admit that I do indeed have a Master’s degree in Communication Studies and dust off the passive voice, complex sentences and gobbledygook that makes it sound like I am a Deep Thinker. So here we go…
Mantles of power, varying aspects or incarnations of gods, and the masks they can wear are a mainstay of fantasy literature and represent the need and ability of characters, and humanity, to change.
As an example, take Odin. The All-Father. Far seeing, wise, powerful, the leader of the Norse Pantheon. He is also frequently mentioned in modern fantasy. Jim Butcher references him in The Dresden Files. Kevin Hearne has him as fairly central figure in The Iron Druid Chronicles. Rick Riordan features Norse gods in his new series featuring Magnus Chase. And of course, Odin is also an important figure in Marvel’s Thor movies.
Physically, Odin is represented in all of these worlds as a male older figure with one eye. The one eye is a notable trait – indeed a symbol — derived from the original Norse myths, representing Odin’s sacrifice for wisdom.
In Butcher’s Dresden Files, Odin is only one aspect of a multi-faced character. Vadderung is the contemporary Odin, who lives in a modern day version of Midgard with a company front company front called Monoc Securities. Monoc is yet another ode to the one eye of Odin, as monocle in Latin literally means one eye. Sometimes Odin appears in another aspect, as in Cold Days, when he appears as Kringle, or as we may know him, Santa Claus.
The concept of a god wearing multiple mantles or aspects is not singular to Butcher. Lucienne Diver, who has not yet used Norse mythology in her Latter-Day Olympian series, uses the concept of varying aspects and incarnations as well. In her latest book, Blood Hunt, coming out at the end of October, she plays on this theme heavily. Apollo, for example, literally morphs physically into a member of the Egyptian pantheon. By using this technique both authors present the idea that gods represent concepts and that belief systems have universal needs, met and realized by similar aspects of what is essentially the same god.
Kevin Hearne uses Odin as an individual figure, but plays with the concept of multiple aspects with other characters. For example, he asks a devout Christian woman to imagine the Mother Mary, and when Mary appears, she looks as the woman imagined. Even Jesus changes looks/aspects/mantles depending on the belief system of His believers (read the sharply written Hammered).
One subtle but important difference does exist between the aspects of a god and the mantles. Previously, I have discussed them as if they were exactly the same thing, and they are not. A mantle can have a far deeper meaning as not just one face of a godlike incarnation, but a cloak of power that one can sluff off and hand to someone else. Or, more accurately, a cloak that transfers to another person once you die. Butcher does this beautifully in the ending scenes of Cold Days, as the Ladies’ mantles transfer to other vessels. They actually take a type of physical form and fly into the new vessels’ chests.
Confusing matters more, only a few pages later, in the same exact book, Butcher alludes to mantles as masks. “Masks, mantles,” Kringle said, “What’s the difference?” (Cold Days)
For readers, the difference is subtle yet instructive. While many of us wear masks, displaying different aspects of who we are or hiding part of ourselves, the masks can be removed and our true selves revealed. Humans can wear masks and it simply hides parts of who we are. Mantles, on the other hand, are components of godhood or at least fantastic power. Harry Dresden is handed the Winter Knight’s mantle, not the Winter Knight’s mask.
Another key difference is that Mantles typically bring responsibilities and burdens, and the very real possibility that the bearer will lose who he or she is and become what the Mantle wants them to be. This is Harry’s continued battle as he feels the power of the Winter Knight try to change who he personality and values. Even Molly, who now carries the Mantle of the Winter Lady, is changing in front Harry’s eyes, becoming less wizard and more Fae. She is absorbing and changing due to power given through the Mantle.
But, it should be noted that Molly wears a mask as well, displaying different aspects to different people, playing a challenging game that will inevitably fail. Winter Lady to the Fae, dutiful daughter to her mother and father, wizard and friend to Harry. The problem with masks, unlike mantles, is that they can slip. Mantles overpower. Masks hide. And tiny differences can signal the slipping of a mask and the revelation of the mantle’s changes, such as when Molly successfully uses a cell phone.
Whether an aspect, mantle or mask, the writer’s ultimate goal is give his or her character a reason to change. The changes can represent different incarnations of the same things such as when Diver’s gods morph from one pantheon to another, or challenging and terrible powers such as Dresden’s Winter Mantle, or even the power of individual belief, as in Hearne’s Jesus.