JOHN OSTRANDER: Fire-bombing Dresden
I’m a big fan of The Dresden Files. Which is why I can’t take The Dresden Files.
Maybe I should explain.
About a year ago or so I picked up a novel by Jim Butcher about a wizard-for-hire working out of modern day Chicago. It meshes the hard-boiled detective genre with the wizard and fantasy genre. If you know me, then you know I’m already into what I’ve called narrative alloys – the blending of genres. And I’m still a Chicago boy at heart so of course I was drawn to the book series. Butcher, not a Chicago native, sometimes gets his Chicago geography wrong – one book refers to what is obviously Hyde Park as Lincoln Park which is a very different neighborhood – but he generally gets the feel right.
As the series has progressed, the world of his hero – Harry Dresden – gets richer. He has an army of wonderful supporting characters and an overall interlocking story has emerged. While each book can be read on its own (I read them way out of order); they’re all connected and events in one book have ramifications in later books. Butcher has thought out his magic pretty well, its consistent and believable. In short, he’s created not only a wonderfully interesting main character but his own world that just happens to intersect the real world in a city that I love a lot.
In short, I’ve become a fan and I was really excited when I learned that it was going to be made into a series on the SciFi network. I remained excited – up until I started watching it.
Let me state upfront – I’m not trashing SciFi. They’ve had a lot of shows hat I’ve enjoyed a lot. The new episodes of Doctor Who have found a home here, the revamp of Battlestar Galactica is shown here, Farscape was here and the new series, Eureka, was one of my fave new shows last season. I’ve spent as much or more time on SciFi as I have some of the network channels so I have no beef with the channel per se. But I’ve given up watching the adaptation of The Dresden Files as it appears on SciFi.
The details of the series on SciFi have made wholesale changes in the details in the books. If you haven’t read the books, it’s hard to explain. I could make a laundry list and it would be as almost as interesting to read as an actual laundry list. However, two items stand out that may summarize my whole point.
In the books, Harry has a blasting rod – a wand specifically made for channeling energy and will into potentially devastating blasts – and his wizard’s staff, which is thick wood and carved and has many properties. On the TV show, the blasting rod is a drumstick (not a turkey’s drumstick; a drummer’s drumstick) and the wizard’s staff is a converted hockey stick.
Why make the change? Why dumb it down? Oh, it’s cute; it makes use of common every day items we all see. It’s what kids might do if they’re playing wizard. And that’s the problem; it’s playing wizard. In the books, Harry Dresden is a potentially very dangerous fellow; on TV, he’s more of a likeable mope. It’s Harry Dresden Lite.
I can guess (and its only a guess) at another reason. If you did it the way it is in the books, if you used the pentagram the way it’s used in the books, you’re going to alienate the Right Wing Christian Bunch. Not that they would watch the show in any case but, if you’re too much like the books, you’re going to get denounced by these folks who wouldn’t be caught dead watching the show because Satan would claim their souls. And they would start writing sponsors and threatening boycotts. SciFi, like most channels, makes its money from commercials. They don’t want letter writing campaigns or boycotts that might spread to their other shows.
If that is the case, then one wonders why SciFi would want to do something like The Dresden Files in the first place. Perhaps they see how its grown, how its acquired its own following and see the potential. Hell, there may be those there who are genuine fans. They just feel the need to water it down in order to put it on the air. What you get, however, is not really The Dresden Files. Not in my opinion.
I understand that TV is a different medium from books and that there will always have to be changes made in transferring the books to any visual medium. I knew that going in. A TV season is 22 episodes; there aren’t that many books in The Dresden Files. There’s budget to consider. I get all that. I’m not looking for a one-to-one translation of the books to TV.
But look at other things that have been adapted. The X-Men movies don’t adapt any one comic book story; nor do the Spider-Man movies, nor did Hellboy. However, they all took elements from the sources and tried to keep as close to the general characterizations and feel of the comics. Likewise, the Harry Potter movies also have to pick what to use and what to lave out. They feel right, though.
Maybe it’s the medium. I was never a fan of the Little House novels or the TV series so I can’t speak to that. Mike Hammer wasn’t Mickey Spillane’s books but maybe not even HBO could do the books. Spenser for Hire was a pale version of Robert E. Parker’s Spenser series. Offhand, I can’t think of one TV series adapted from books that was even remotely the equal of the books.
Comics may be more forgiving because the power is really in the concept and it’s a matter of translating the concept to the demands of episodic TV.
Writer / actor / playwright John Ostrander is man behind the typewriter at such vaunted comics as GrimJack, Suicide Squad, Star Wars: Legacy, Munden’s Bar and Batman. His own personal blog is at https://web.archive.org/web/20160318163624/http://www.comicscommunity.com:80/boards/ostrander/