Harry Dresden and The Fool’s Journey

Yes, I usually write about LGBTQ+ issues, but I’ve been concentrating that writing on a project that I’m not ready to share on Medium quite yet. (That’s why I haven’t been posting much for a while.) Therefore, I’m going to share a bit of fan theory with you all.

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher is a book series that follows the life of Harry Dresden, a Chicago P.I. who just happens also to be a wizard. Books 16 and 17 of the series — Peace Talks and Battle Ground — were released earlier this year, but they are one story that split into two books due to its length giving us 16 novels and a slew of short stories, graphic novels, roleplaying games, and a TV series.

Prepping to read Peace Talks, I reread the entire series, including some of the short stories that occur between the novels, and this time through (yes, I’ve done that for the last several books), I noticed a similarity between the Dresden novels and another mystic interest of mine, the Tarot.

To be clear, I’m not a believer in any sort of divination, but I do find the systems used for it to be fascinating. Years ago, I read a book about the Tarot, in which I learned about the Major Arcana and the story it tells. The Major Arcana are the 21 cards that don’t belong to any of the suits. Instead of the “Four of Cups” or the “King of Swords,” the cards of the Major Arcana are named for a character or concept like “The Fool,” “Judgement,” or “Death.” When considered in order, the cards tell a story of a hero who starts in ignorance and develops into a fully realized person. This is called “The Fool’s Journey.”

Slowly, the connection between The Fool’s Journey and the progress of Harry Dresden in the novels became clear to me. There are 21 cards in the Major Arcana. Butcher has stated that he plans 20 or 21 books in the series, with an apocalyptic trilogy to finish the tale. The Fool meets new characters or learns new lessons on each card, just as Harry does in each novel. The Fools Journey starts with the personal and becomes more cosmic as it goes. The Dresden Files begin with smaller supernatural threats that grow to threaten the structure of reality itself.

Drawing these parallels led me to consider this connection more in-depth. After some research and reading more of Butcher’s stories, I believe I can make the case that Jim Butcher is telling The Fool’s Journey through his creation, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Call it Harry’s Journey.

I’m going to try to do this very briefly with a minimum of spoilers, but there are some for each book, so if you haven’t read the books, consider if you wish to continue. I could write much more than what I will here, but this isn’t the format. Maybe I’ll write a book on it one day and explore the themes in more detail.

The first realization that helped me make these connections is that Harry’s Journey doesn’t start with the first book. Instead, the tale begins in the short story “Restoration of Faith.” This story is the earliest story published about Harry and another major character, Karin Murphey, who appears in every Dresden Files book though sometimes it’s just a cameo. Restoration of Faith is set in a time before Harry is exposed to the broader supernatural world and the events that drive the series in the future. He is essentially ignorant of the forces that he will encounter in the books, and he is looking forward to taking the first step in establishing his own detective agency.

Card 0 in the Major Arcana is The Fool. It is the card of beginnings and faith. The Fool, ignorant of the future, is just beginning on his journey. The fact that one of the keywords for the card is faith and the story is “Restoration of Faith” all but hangs a lantern on this connection.

On Card 1, the Fool meets The Magician, who represents active masculine power, which with concentration allows one to impact the world. In book one, Storm Front, Harry’s antagonist is Victor Sells, who uses rituals to create a new drug and kill his enemies.

The High Priestess appears on Card 2. She is the mysterious unconscious in which creativity and potential reside. In Fool Moon, book 2, Harry meets Tera West, a mysterious woman who teaches a group of college students a form of magic.

Harry’s fairy godmother makes her first appearance in Grave Peril, book 3. The Leanansidhe, or just Lea, is a bit dark and twisted, but she does take her role as Harry’s protector quite seriously. As one of the Sidhe, she is tied to nature and lives for sensation. Card 3 is The Empress, a mother figure who represents the world of nature and sensation.

Ebenezar McCoy, the wizard who took Harry in and raised him since he was a teenager, appears in the events of Summer Knight, book 4. McCoy is an authority figure who gives Harry structure and teaches him the rules of being a wizard. The Emperor appears on Card 4, representing the father figure, structure, authority, and rules.

One could also argue that Queen Mab, who first appears in this book, could also be represented by The Emperor since she is less mothering and much more about following the rules, such as the Unseelie Accords.

Book 5, Death Masks, is an interesting case because two characters appear that could equally be represented by Card 5, The Hierophant. This card represents education and belief systems, learning to be part of a group and conforming to their customs. Shiro is a Knight of the Cross who teaches Harry about faith and rescues him from his opposite, Nicodemus Archelone. Shiro entrusts his sword to Harry, making him part of the legacy of the Knights. Nicodemus also instructs Harry about belief in his way and what it means to be part of his group when he gifts him with a cursed coin.

Card 6 and Book 6 are pretty easily linked. The Lovers represent sexual union, relationships, and values, while Blood Rites features Harry working on a porn set to protect some of the actresses, introduces Lara Raith, a vampire that feeds on sexual energy who might mean more to Harry soon, and reveals that Thomas Raith is Harry’s half-brother. Of course, this means that their mother was a lover of the King of the White Court of vampires. Yeah, that one is a little soap opera-ry if you think about it.

Card 7 is The Chariot, which is about discipline and will-power represented by driving a chariot. In Dead Beat, Harry uses his will-power to reanimate a T. Rex and rides her through Chicago’s streets.

In Book 8, Proven Guilty, Harry takes on an apprentice, Molly, after rescuing her from dark fairies who take the shape of horror movie monsters. All of this can be found in Card 8, Strength, which is about courage, patience, and tolerance.

Book and Card 9 were a little harder to connect. The card is The Hermit standing for searching inward in solitude or seeking out the Hermit as a guide. In the book, we have more images of a hermit than thematic ties — the villain living in an abandoned basement, Harry spending a lot of time alone or looking inward to talk to Lash, being a guide to or guided by Lash and his subconscious self. In the end, Lash sacrifices herself, leaving Harry alone with his thoughts.

In Small Favor, we see the Wheel of Fortune manifest as Harry starts to see more connections between the various entities and organizations and catches a glimpse of his destiny.

Turn Coat shows us Justice (card/book 11) in the trial of Donald Morgan and outing of the real culprit.

Card 12, The Hanged Man, is all about one’s world turning upside down, letting go of things and attitudes you never thought you would, and accepting that sometimes you have to give up to move forward. One feels that they have sacrificed everything, but from that, something new can emerge. This is basically the entire plot of book 12, Changes.

Death is Card 13, and book 13 is Ghost Story in which Harry believes he is dead and roams Chicago as a spirit.

In Cold Days, book 14, Harry is nursed back to health from his coma, learns to live with temperance while in the Winter Court, and learns to balance himself with the mantle of the Winter Knight. All of these are themes of Card 14, Temperance.

Card 15 is The Devil, and in book 15, Skin Game, Harry goes to hell and meets Hades himself.

Finally, we come to the last two books of the series so far, Peace Talks and Battle Ground. Released separately, they are actually one story split into two books, so this will be book 16 corresponding to Card 16, The Tower. This card shows a bolt of lightning striking a castle tower, destroying it, and throwing the royals tumbling to the ground. In the book, we literally see . . . well, fictionally see royals struck with an energy blast and sent tumbling out of a tower. We see the towers of Chicago’s skyline struck and collapsing to the ground. The card is said to portend sudden, often catastrophic change, and in the book(s), Harry’s life changes in a single night. Every relationship Harry has built up in the previous stories is drastically changed, mostly for the worse.

If this trend holds up, book 17 will reflect The Star, book 18 The Moon, book 19 the Sun, and book 20 will take its cues from Judgement. The apocalyptic trilogy will be Butcher’s interpretation of The World.

Please don’t misunderstand. This article is not a criticism. I think Butcher’s use of the Fool’s Journey to create Harry’s Journey is brilliant. While he takes the archetypical events from the cards’ story, the details are all his own. How he interprets the Fool’s life events into the modern urban fiction setting of The Dresden Files is, I dare say, masterful.

My realization that he uses the Tarot’s story to structure a series of 24 books only makes me want to read the future entries even more. It is an ambitious and audacious undertaking. Many kudos to Mr. Butcher.

Now, if it weren’t quietly anti-LGBTQ+, it’d be even better. Where did that come from? Come back for my next bit of fan criticism of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.

I’m an LGBTQ+ DEI educator, activist, and writer living in the Midwest with my cat. Call me Addi. They/She. Booking and more info at https://addisonsagenda.com

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