Harry Dresden is an instinctual hero, and he is so because he survives. He is a blockheaded, stubborn, self-absorbed, overpowering man guided by simple instincts - to protect the weak- who is beleagured by his burden and often overwhelmed. But he manages to triumph against all odds by being resigned to his mortal fate. He is not angry, nor vengeful. He is not often misunderstood. He is only awkward from having been orphaned and has come to love the people of the city of Chicago as his own without them acknowledging his gifts and many good deeds. He treads an arcane path having been born with a mystical talent and has nurtured this talent and stretched it to his limits through trial by fire, and he has saved the world. You see, Harry Dresden is a wizard, and his talent is magic.
I speak of the character Harry Dresden whose sixth file, Dead Beat, I have just completed to the narration of a cat named Marsters scripted by a dude named Butcher. Marsters *is* the voice of Harry Dresden and Butcher is the mind, and they have created a combination of fiction that is as emblematic as any in the literary sci-fi world.
Dresden started off as a sighing, beleaguered mystical gumshoe who stumbled around within the well marked boundaries of the hard boiled detective novel. But somewhere around the middle of the third book, he suddenly burst beyond those boundaries into a ragged but elegaic prince. He not only got the girl, he saved the city, then lost the girl. He not only resisted temptation, he faced his own deep psychological weakness and admitted his desire for the prize offered. Dresden has metaphorically died and been resurrected into the same tired bones and in each episode has reached new heights and depths. Surely there is a narrative type at work that keeps the drama ripe for human consumption, but there is an unremitting yet slowly twisting core that surprises us with its simultaneous ability and lack of depth. In almost every way, Dresden is on the verge of being anti-heroic, but he is unable to restrain his desire to do the right thing. He is the man who never had a woman or children, who never managed to be a father and consequentially he is inevitably and shamelessly drawn to save them at his own peril. He is the man shouting the loudest "Women and children first!", adopting them in their moment of terror against any foe.
Harry Dresden is an American urban gothic practitioner. He seems to take no great pleasure in eating or drinking, except in drinking in the curves and features of the odd number of beautiful women who plop into his world, but almost never into his arms. He's not excited by fast cars, deep contemplation of the universe, art appreciation or spectator sports. He's something of a loner. A guy with a cat who lives in a basement with no electric lights, computers or stereo equipment. He harbors suspicions about the people who protect him. He pisses off the few that understand him, and he of course always confounds and destroys his enemies, the nefarious characters of the Never Never and their minions who defy the Laws of Magic.
One could say that the Dresden series is like Harry Potter for grownups. The challenges facing Dresden have gotten exponentially more difficult and consequential each outing. There is more death and destruction with Dresden responsible for more and more each time, but Dresden has become more complex and faces greater internal perils each time. In Dead Beat, for the friendship of a woman who seems to be his last friend, Dresden makes a deal with a metaphorical devil - he delivers the equivalent of Dr. Mengele's research to a literal queen vampire. Unlike Potter, Dresden has no arch-rival he is fated to confront. In the end it may be himself. He finds himself offered no honor or official position in which he can see dignity bestowed. Instead, he merely survives the calamities he gets worked into either by his own hardheaded morality or conniving parties in conflict.
You see Dresden is a member of the White Council of Wizards but has been on something like a lifelong probation for having killed his own Jedi Master in his youth. It was self defense, for his master had gone over to the dark side. The White Council is now engaged in a global war with the three courts of vampires, the White Court of life draining seducers, the Red Court of bloodthirsty shape shifters and the Black Court of nightcrawling monsters. Dresden himself is partly responsible for escalating the millenial conflict and has all types of prices on his head from various factions. As he has survived, he has been exposed to the most extraordinary circumstances, even for a wizard, and events have consipred to have him in a position to have been offered eternal life. Literally strung up in a dungeon with a knife at his throat he was offered the choice between death or treachery in the form of one of the original thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas. He touched the coin and locked it away, but its spirit has been working away at him, giving him the unexpected dark power of Hellfire. Moreover, he has discovered that he has a brother and that brother is an expatriate of the White Court of Vampires. With each episode, Dresden is exposed to more and more dark knowledge and must find ways to use it in an ever escalating war between great powers with whom his relationship grows increasingly complex.
Dresden is the superman in the middle, and he knows too much. He can't win, he survives despite of himself and he cannot get out of the game.