The New Dresden Files Book — I Can’t Be the Only Person Who . . .

Trigger warning for discussion of rape.

Okay, full disclosure, I read The Dresden Files.  I know it’s got representation problems up to wazoo.  I mean, it takes place in Chicago for goodness sake, and I think there are like three (minor) Black characters in the entire series (among a cast of thousands).  And the male gaze is SO male gazey, and also racist (don’t get me started on Ancient Mai and Injun Joe—who by the way are the ONLY Asian person and the ONLY Native person in the entire series as far as I can recall, who also are minor characters in a cast of thousands, and have depictions just as bad as their names).

Anyway, I just read the newest book, Cold Days.  Our narrator Harry Dresden is trying to resist the EVIL EVIL EVIL of his new role as the Winter Knight, which is supposed to give him an inner demon of EVIL and EVIL THOUGHTS that he has to fight against all the time.

What form does this inner demon take?  Fantasizing about raping pretty much every woman he comes in contact with.

Yeah.

He thinks about raping, in graphic detail, almost every female character, from his main adversary to his former apprentice to his friends to his would-be love interest to his would-be allies.  And then he pushes those thoughts away as “NO EVIL BAD!  That’s the WINTER KNIGHT talking!” and Virtuous Harry triumphs by . . . not raping every woman in his life.

I mean, really?  The series already had terrible male gaze problems, and now the only way Harry can express how EVIL his thoughts are becoming is by thinking about raping everybody?  Can’t he be EVIL in other ways, like thinking about non-sexual violence or lying or being greedy or manipulating people or letting the Big Bad win the day?  (He does do these things, a little, but not nearly as frequently as the “I’M GOING TO THINK IN GREAT DETAIL ABOUT RAPING THIS INNOCENT WOMAN” thing.)

I just . . . man.  I really wanted it to stop.  It did not even work the way it was intended to on a literary level; it just made me feel like Harry Dresden was extremely uncreative about being evil and also a VERY CREEPY MAN if that’s the direction EVIL would push him to start thinking about.  I mean, wouldn’t most characters we’d want to root for have a shit-ton of temptations on the “if I were evil” list before rape???  And also, I don’t want to read about depiction after depiction of thought-rape in my brain candy; I really don’t.

I finished the book anyway, because there were things I liked about it (and I’m invested in the characters after 14 books), but if this was the first book I’d read, I’m betting it would have put me off like whoa.

(Oh, and also, we’re going to have a very odd conversation in the middle of the book about how Harry is SO OKAY with gay people . . . in the context of anonymous hookups in the park and isn’t-it-sad-sex-isn’t-about-love-anymore (WTF?  Why did that have to be coupled with a gay PSA?  WRONG MESSAGE), even if the book series has, to my recollection, no gay or lesbian characters (again in a cast of thousands), and the only bisexuals are women where it’s played for titillation so they can be SUPER HOT SEDUCTRESSES.  I mentioned this series is problematic, right?)

32 thoughts on “The New Dresden Files Book — I Can’t Be the Only Person Who . . .

  1. You’re not the only one, it’s something I hit in my review http://www.fangsforthefantasy.com/2012/12/review-cold-days-by-jim-butcher-book-14.html (and had commentators telling me how silly I was, of course)

    I love so much about the Dresden files but it’s treatment of women, POC and GBLT people is shamefully awful – and this endless rape obsession just makes no sense and adds a huge amount of fail. And it adds to the EXISTING fail of the book that harry can’t meet a woman without describing how much he wants to have sex with her. The fae queens, Molly, Murphy, so many more – Harry meets a woman, he wants to have sex with her. It’s hard not to see this rape obsession a continuation of that

    It’s unnecessary and not backed by any of the plot anyway – why would winter, the elemental force of cold and ice, really be all about rape? Why would winter be about anything sexual for that matter? Cruelty, callousness, killing, pain, bleakness – yes. If he had confiend his inner demon to power and death and cruelty it could also be universal

    ” even if the book series has, to my recollection, no gay or lesbian characters”

    It doesn’t. But straight Thomas can barely appear without a gay joke

    • And it adds to the EXISTING fail of the book that harry can’t meet a woman without describing how much he wants to have sex with her.

      YES. SO annoying. Plus it’s monotonous reading. Can we please have one woman who isn’t a sex object? (I think it says something that we did at one point have an older, kickass, tough-as-nails recurring woman whom Harry didn’t fetishize, and who happened to be his boss . . . and then she got body-swapped into a young hawt thing Harry could bang. Literally. Argh! Aaaand then it turned out she might have been mind-warped into letting him bang her, too — the fail, it just does not end.)

      God help me, I really do like the books, but they’re more and more becoming a series I’m embarrassed about enjoying.

      It doesn’t. But straight Thomas can barely appear without a gay joke

      Yeah. And I think it says something Very Not Good that in the Raith family, who are supposed to be about All Sex All the Time, all the women are bisexual . . . and all the men are straight. It’s like Butcher is saying, “Girl on girl, that’s seeeexy, so female Sex Vampires would OBVIOUSLY be bisexual because SEXY! But what? Men having sex with each other? Ew! Sex vampires wouldn’t do that! Because ew! That’s not SEXY!” ::rolls eyes::

      Enjoyed your review by the way. Clueless commenters are clueless. :-/

    • Rape isn’t about sex or attraction, it is about anger and control. Winter is the time of stagnation, bleakness, winter represents the cold remorseless aspects of nature. Uncaring, unforgiving, frozen (controlled?) wastelands, where you have to take what you want to survive, because nothing will grow there on its own.

  2. Read the first book in the Dresden series and it was decent enough, but after continuously hearing about shit like this……no….just……no.

    • You’re probably better off. I keep reading them because Butcher is capable of punching a lot of my “what I love in fantasy” buttons HARD in plot and character departments that aren’t related to representation. But he’s increasingly pushing all of my “do not want” buttons too, and it’s getting harder and harder to enjoy the books when I have to wade through more and more POC/gender/etc. ickiness to get to the enjoyment payoff I came for.

  3. Yeah, this might be the sort of thing I’d get very angry about.

    And of COURSE it woudl be rape! Why, rape is the number one evil thing to do to a woman and the surest, cheapest, easiest way to show how evil someone is!

    Unless you’re a man getting raped by a woman, because then you’re not getting raped, you’re getting lucky in a nonconsensual manner. After all, it’s what I learned from DC Comics!

    >_<

    Seriously though, this is disappointing, but not surprising. I read the first few books but lost interest because of Harry's sexism, and then I heard about Jim Butcher's asshatery regarding represenation of race and POC in his books, and all I could think was "Yeah, you're not getting anymore of my money."

    And isn't the thing about evil is how stuble it can be? As in…. the road to hell is paved with good intentions?

    • And of COURSE it woudl be rape! Why, rape is the number one evil thing to do to a woman and the surest, cheapest, easiest way to show how evil someone is!

      Right? It’s like Lazy Author shorthand or something.

      And isn’t the thing about evil is how stuble it can be? As in…. the road to hell is paved with good intentions?

      See, that would have been an interesting twist. That the inner demon sneaks up on you because you’ve convinced yourself you’re doing the right thing . . . I would read the hell out of that!

  4. The representation is certainly annoying. While Butcher is one of my favorite of the highly successful urban fantasy writers (which is not exactly a plethora of progressives to begin with), there’s no arguing that he is problematic in how he describes and treats women in particular. His Codex Alera series is just as full as the absurd sexualized descriptions of the female characters and that doesn’t even have the excuse of an unreliable narrator since it’s all third person from a variety of character perspectives.

    Personally I thought the change of Donald Morgan from white to black for the Dresden TV series was one of the few good changes made by that series. Morgan’s attitude absolutely makes sense from that perspective as Harry Dresden is really an embodiment of straight white, male privilege (like the majority of urban fantasy protagonists or nearly 100% if you drop the “male” from that previous sentence).

    If I thought Butcher used more nuance, I’d hope that Harry’s newfound rape obsession was a red herring and that the real corruption of the Winter Knight was all the things Harry doesn’t see. Harry makes rash decisions too quickly, he’s far too fast to kill, too quick to judge, and too controlling of his friends. Harry could be a perfect demonstration of just how horrid the “Nice Guy” mentality can be. Harry’s not a rapist so he must be the “good guy”. Meanwhile, Harry sees Thomas as a monster for the way he feeds using sex and manipulates emotions but it’s actually a bit questionable whether Thomas is actually even a rapist (there’s an incident where he seems to have been forced to feed on women and has killed several but it’s not outright stated whether he actually violated any of the victims. Certainly a mental violation but the White Court’s hunger seems much more powerful than the pull of the Winter Knight) and Thomas tends to treat both men and women the same (though there’s some evidence that he views homosexuality as a joke given the whole “Tomas” sub-plot).

    tl;dr, I think there’s a lot of fun in the plots of the Dresden Files but it would be so much better if Harry (and his author) would grow the fuck up with regards to the treatment of female and minority characters.

    • I realize my above post came off as a bit of apologia for Thomas’s violations of consent in his feeding. That wasn’t my intent. Thomas and the other White Courtiers violate the consent of their victims just as much as anyone drugging a victim.

    • You make a good point about Thomas. I’ve been reflecting lately on Thomas because I love his character, and, you know, trying to reconcile that with the consent issues &c. . . .

      I think, for me, what makes a big difference is that Thomas isn’t portrayed as a good guy. He’s portrayed as someone who is a monster. He’s hurt people, killed people . . . he is not supposed to be a good person. A huge part of his character arc after he left the White Court was about him trying to find some sort of redemption from what he’d done. And right after what the skinwalker did to him, he’s immediately shown as a threat again, and to one of the main characters (Molly). The narrative makes little to no attempt to whitewash his crimes, and I think that allows me to like him as a character. Same with Kincaid, incidentally, who’s some sort of half-hell demon / hired killer and yet I root for him, because in books I can suspend disbelief enough to root for a bad guy, as long as he’s not sanctimonious about how “good” he is!

      Whereas Harry . . . argh. The narrative continually sets up Harry as this Awesome McAwesome Good Moral Right Guy Yeah. And, in fact, he looks down on and judges all of his friends all the time for not being as Good as he is in the ways he thinks they should be. I know it’s first person and all, but it’s possible to write first-person without that level of self-righteousness (every so often Harry does realize he was a jerk to someone, but after 14 books I still think he should’ve learned a lot more than he has if he wants to be the Good Guy).

      And, of course, the representation problems don’t stem from narrative voice.

      Never saw the TV series — interesting about Morgan’s casting; I think I would have liked that.

  5. I was linked here from a topic talking about sexuality, and oddly enough, reading this has me more interested in these books than ever!

    Just for the record, saying Dresden being a healthy pervy person who thinks about sex a lot has anything to do with “rape”, honestly, you killed your whole point by going too far. Sexuality is not sexist, or offensive in and of itself. Anyways, long live sexuality.

    • Ha for the record, I’m talking about his usual pervy male-gazeness, not the evil possessed thing. I do agree the lack of minority characters in the setting is odd. But that said, I don’t see why being possessed by evil and having evil thoughts doesn’t work.

      • There’s nothing wrong with a straight man appreciating sex and enjoying the all of the attributes of the female gender, provided he treats said gender with respect and checks male privilege when it needs to be checked.

        The problem with Dresden is that he already doesn’t have a stellar track record in regard to how he has treated female characters. And in regards as to why using rape so frivolously is just bad form:

        http://arsmarginal.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/ouat-and-rape/

  6. Yes, I pretty much agree with all of this! It’s so frustrating, because these books hit my buttons SO HARD. I really adore most of the characters, and love so much about the worldbuilding — plus I’ve invested SO much time, mental/emotional energy, and money in this series now that I absolutely have to see how it ends. I always look forward to new books coming out …

    … And yet, and yet … I have an unpleasant suspicion that these are going to be one of those series that I’ll go back to 20 years from now and make horrified faces at myself and go “Why, self, WHY?!”

    (btw, have you read Ben Aaronovitch’s “Rivers of London” books? I am grooving so hard on those books right now … When it comes to urban fantasy, they’ve basically got everything I love about Dresden Files, and none of the things I hate.)

    • Whoops, just saw your comment, sorry!

      . . . yeah, I pretty much feel the *exact* same way. There’s so much I do like about the series — I find so many of the characters and situations incredibly id-satisfying — and I think in a way that makes it worse, because I really *want* it to live up to a higher standard.

      I have not read “Rivers of London,” but it’s going on my TBR list right now. That sounds awesome; thanks for the recommendation!

    • Heh. I’ve read RH’s reviews of some of the other DF books. I wonder what would happen if she tried to review this one . . . probably part of the Internet would catch on fire.

  7. Thank you. I chanced clicking on the results of a google search because I was hoping someone else had followed up the ellipsis in your topic with “Is it really disturbing that Harry is getting super-rapey?”. So many online resources just seem so relieved that Cold Days wasn’t as dull as Ghost Story, I have spent some time wondering if I was the only one thinking Jim Butcher really needs to stop taking exposition pointers from George Martin. Thank you.

    • Hmmm… Hang on, just have to get my bingo card out…

      She is a woman who sees nothing wrong, so it is not as bad as others make it out to be, check.

      Mention of being TOO PC with regards to asking for better, well-written diverse character… Check.

      Lecturing other less privileged people, check.

      I’ll just be over here to wait and see if I get bingo.

        • I mean no disrespect with this reply. I read the rules you posted and am not sure which I have overlooked. A response to me was mocking (bingo anyone?) which seems to go against #7. But that’s fine.
          It appears from your post that people should only post here if they agree with the original post.
          As I said, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I was trying to point out things that the OP had seemed to have forgotten about in the books (as far as the statement made that there’s pretty much only white people in the story).
          I don’t see how there were any “graphic descriptions” of rape in the book. If there was, please show me where I am wrong.
          These were factual errors that I was disputing.
          I apologize if I’ve overlooked something somewhere in the rules that says you can’t do that.

          • You know I can read, right?

            What you did was not merely pointing out facts. If you were merely pointing out facts, you would simply state them and not tag on commentary like:

            1. “I’m a bit baffled by your claims of overt racism & sexism throughout the series”
            2. “No thanks on ruining what I read by going out of my way to make sure everything fits neatly into a PC mould of what I find acceptable. Blah. You can keep it.”
            3. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, at least get your facts straight before you start bashing things, though.”

            This is not simply pointing out factual errors. You are flat-out denying that race and gender representations could possibly be problematic. That is not what Ars Marginal is for.

            Your attempts to force a debate by pretending it’s merely correcting factual errors is trolling. Stop.

            This is your final warning.

            If your next comment is like the first two, I’m going to delete ALL your comments and ban you.

          • Yeah, in your previous comment you stated that you didn’t see any overt racism. Whitewashing a diverse city like Chicago aside, the name Injun Joe didn’t set off any alarms.

            Because using a racial slur to name a minority character, not a good look. And the fact that you conveniently overlooked that, your credibility just got shot to hell…….moreso than it already was.

            Factual errors, you might wanna check your own.

    • I really hate it when people fail to do their basic homework and then come back in swinging with concern trolling and passive-aggressive counter-arguments.

      Look, your asshatery was pointed out to you twice now, and instead of taking a step back to ponder this, you’ve come back and decided to spray shit everywhere, starting with the biggest falsehood of all, that people can be racist against white people.

      You came in here looking, if not for a debate than to try and put the people who looked at what Jim Butcher had written and criticized it in their place starting off with the Almighty Stamp of Your Being A Woman And Thus I Find Nothing Is Wrong Here So You’re All Looking For Something To Be Angry About. You then said

      “No thanks on ruining what I read by going out of my way to make sure everything fits neatly into a PC mould of what I find acceptable. Blah. You can keep it.”

      And anytime someone mentions PC as a problem, then it’s code for their being racist, ignorant, bigoted jerks. You can still enjoy media AND point out its problems. The main problem comes along when you shut your eyes and cover your ears and go LAH LAH LAH I CAN’T HEAR YOU like a spoiled child when someone else points out the problems of a media saturated with white people where there are still few GOOD POC characters, to say nothing of people who are also LGBTQ, disabled, or who fit across several spectrums of humanity instead of just one or two colours.

      It’s not a matter of TRYING to find something to be angry about for most of the commentators here who actually have basic training or who are members of less privileged groups, they just have to go outside their home.

      So yes, please go. You’re doing nothing but spewing shit as a form of concern-trolling and trying to correct those who have read the books and have concerns about them. Your voice won’t be missed.

      • Can I just say I love this place? It’s just . . . so much less stressful to assume everyone’s got the 101 down.

        Yeah, the commenter did point out that I forgot Shiro. I’m sure she wasn’t the only person who noticed that; hell, I noticed I did it after I posted. But everyone else seemed to realize that “you forgot one counterexample” =/= “I’ve disproven your trend!” (Oh, and by the way, Shiro was a wise old Japanese mentor character who was a martial arts master, fought with a katana, and died to motivate the hero; do we *really* want to go there? Not that I don’t love Shiro, but come on…..)

        People disagree on Ars Marginal all the time, by the way. I can think of posts here I’ve disagreed with myself, and I commented saying so, and lo, there was intelligent discussion. If you get mocked here it doesn’t mean you need to agree, it means you need a better reason for disagreeing.

  8. Note to everyone who decides to comment:

    If your comment is going to simply deny that a work has a shitty pattern when it comes to race and gender, just don’t bother.

  9. Pingback: Visibility Matters: Why POC In Books Must Be *Described* As POC | SL Huang

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