The World As Harry Knows It
Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril
As with anything, Urban Fantasy is interpreted in many different ways by many different authors. Some authors have cloaked the fantastical world in secrecy, and it is hugely difficult for the characters to find out anything. Other authors (like Kim Harrison) have humans and immortals living side-by-side, working together, and even procreating. Butcher chose to place the Dresden Files somewhere in between, as is elucidated in the following quote:
“Science, the largest religion of the twentieth century, had become somewhat tarnished by images of exploding space shuttles, crack babies, and a generation of complacent Americans who had allowed the television to raise their children. People were looking for something—I think they just didn’t know what. And even though they were once again starting to open their eyes to the world of magic and the arcane that had been with them all the while, they still thought I must be some kind of joke.”
The government is not wholly unaware of magical doings, as is evidenced by the existence of Special Investigations. Karrin Murphy heads the Department that handles any cases that seem particularly unusual, like vampire attacks, troll marauderings, and faerie abductions. Harry has worked with SI before, though he is their consultant on a murder case for the very first time in Storm Front. Moreover, even in the first three books, before Harry has truly begun his career as Chicago’s avenger, we have evidence that someone is working behind the scenes to create dangerous enemies out of mediocre people. In Fool Moon, we have the FBI infiltrated by four agents who have had enough contact with the magical world that they have belts that turn them into wolves—the better to hunt down their prey. This betrays the fact that someone in the know, and powerful enough in their own right, has infiltrated the upper echelons of government and is pulling strings.
The fringe of society, occupied by the misfits, has its own belief and suspicion of such things. The local equivalent of the Weekly World News, the Chicago Arcane, covers “all sorts of supernatural and paranormal events throughout the Midwest.” Harry thinks of the yellow magazine with plenty of derision, though he does acknowledge it gets some of stuff right. “But once in a great, great while, the Arcane covered something that was real. Like the Unseelie Incursion of 1994, when the entire city of Milwaukee had simply vanished for two hours. Gone. Government satellite photos showed the river valley covered with trees and empty of life or human habitation. All communications ceased. Then, a few hours later, there it was, back again, and no one in the city itself the wiser.” In Storm Front, the magazine is popular enough that little Jenny Sells—daughter of the prime antagonist—recognizes Dresden’s face from it. In Fool Moon, the Chicago Arcane has had an image update, and is now known as the Midwestern Arcane. By the end of Fool Moon, the Arcane’s star reporter, Susan Rodriguez, has a syndicated column with global news outlets.
The Larry King show (alternately known as the Larry Fowler show) is also a way in which those with belief in the supernatural disseminate information. It is only briefly mentioned in the first three books.
Other organizations unaffiliated with the government have at least a small inkling of what creatures lurk in the shadows. It is widely assumed that John Marcone discovered the hidden world of magic and terrible curses through the course of Storm Front—this is simply untrue, after a closer look. We first meet John Marcone in a limousine after Dresden has visited the crime scene. Not only does Marcone have at least a semblance of belief in magic, he deliberately initiated a soulgaze with Dresden in order to take his measure: “That was his purpose in getting me alone. He wanted to take a peek at my soul. He wanted to see what sort of man I was.” Prior to the events of Storm Front, Marcone has spoken to people—people who can distinguish true magic from bragging. One of the enduring mysteries of the series is John Marcone’s past, and it’s hinted at from the moment we meet him.
There is also the other side of the equation to consider. The White Council, first mentioned in chapter two, is Dresden’s governing authority. Most of the Laws of Magic that the Council enforces are directed at how wizards employ magic against them. Outwardly, this looks very altruistic, but by not drawing attention to themselves and magic, the Council Laws help to prevent mortals from declaring war on a threat they don’t understand. So despite all these various factions and departments that are in the know—or at least know a little, it remains to be seen what methods the Council uses to suppress the knowledge of the supernatural world from everyone everywhere.
Storm Front, Fool Moon, and Grave Peril show a slow progression of magic being revealed to the masses, despite the interference of the White Council and other parties. The loup-garou in the police station, the not-quite-humanoid corpses left over from the Velvet Room (which Waldo Butters later reveals to be his induction into the secret world), the video tape of Murphy firing inherited-silver bullets at the loup-garou, and a myriad other examples. Jim Butcher initially wrote about a society that is starting to believe, but still in denial. As the series progresses, mortal authorities and civilians alike are gaining more and more knowledge. It’s exciting to watch this unfold, and I am excited to revisit this topic once the focus has widened.