Archetypes of “The Dresden Files”

Archetypes of “The Dresden Files”

By now I am sure everyone knows how much I adore The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. However, for those of you who just landed on this planet and are unaware… The Dresden Files are a series of books written by novelist extraordinaire Jim Butcher. The series is centered on the main character, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago’s only P.I. wizard.

When I refer to Jim Butcher as a “novelist extraordinaire” I do so in earnest. Jim (I call him “Jim” because his father is “Mr. Butcher” and ‘butcher’ is a noun, or verb, depending on how you use it) is without a doubt a class act. Personable and down to earth, he is without a doubt one of the nicest guys you’d ever get to meet. Adding to this, his wife, Shannon (who is also an author btw) is every bit as nice and as easy to get along with. I have had opportunity to meet them both and have no doubt that if we lived in the same time zone she and I would be friends.

From time to time you may hear folks refer to The Dresden Files as being “pop corn.” It’s simply not true. “Popcorn,” when used as an adjective is a word that is applied to define a type of book that is written to appeal to the masses. These books are said to possess high levels of marketability and typically sport covers of tight assed men and women looking hard and sexy and vulnerable at the same time. These books are known for being written with low levels of literary substance so that they can be read and appealed to the lowest common dominator readers out there, causing the novel to lack any true substance. These books, just like the snack food they are named after, are filling enough but not nutritious and will never amount to anything historical in the long run. I beg to differ; The Dresden Files is not popcorn. I respectfully offer a different opinion to any who believes otherwise.

Jim Butcher’s series The Dresden Files is perhaps one of the greatest novel series to be written in all time. When the books started Jim had a story arch in mind, a 25 book series that told a story from beginning to end. Most authors can only carry a series for three books before they start jumping the shark or have their characters turn into nymphos. The worst thing that can happen is when an author writes one awesome book, turns a standalone story into a series and the following dozen are never anywhere near as good as the first, getting exponentially worse as the series continues on. My personal pet-peeve is when an author writes about a subject matter they are unfamiliar with, and didn’t even bother to research. This is not the case with The Dresden Files; these books only get better as the series moves forward.

Karl Jung may have been the guy who defined what an archetype is, but let me be the one who teaches you how to pronounce the word – it’s said “arc” as in the Ark of the Covenant that Indiana Jones was all about and then the word “type” as in what you do with a key board. PLEASE for the love of Gosh do not let me catch you saying “arch-AH-type” because that is how the word is pronounced incorrectly. “Archetype” is a two syllable word. I already know that many an on-line dictionary has the pronunciation horn that lets you hear a male voice say the word with the three part syllabication. Please don’t bother me with the links to them because I can send you back just as many with the two syllables. I am right about this.

Back to Karl Jung (and his last name is pronounce “Young,” as in the opposite of “old,” please do not let me hear you say “Jung” or worse yet, “ya-UN-ga”)-he was the guy who noticed that humans tend to have a predisposition to act like humans. I know, brilliant, but back when he was alive there was not so much Science, so any little discovery made you famous. Jung kept a good thing going by continuing his research. Amazingly about the time that funding ran out he proclaimed that within the world of humans there are universal consistencies, things that our brains are hardwired to accept and look for. Every society of mankind has a “bad” or “evil” force that goes against the social grain weather it actively means to pursue it or not. And every society also has “the wise old person” who gives advice and counsel, whether you seek it or not.


Jim was not the first author to say “ah ha!” and use the idea of archetypes in his story line as the basis for characters. In fact, according to Jung, Jim could hardly stop himself. And even if he did manage to stop himself, you as a reader would have nevertheless sought them out yourself and inevitably found them whether they were meant to be there or not. Subsequently, if you disagree with anything I am about to say, be sure to go to Karl Jung’s Facebook page and re-post it there for him to read.

Let’s cover Archetypical Events first. Jung said that in the life cycle of all humans they will encounter these events, for the most part, in this order: birth, separation from parents, initiation, the union of opposites, marriage and death. Fair enough. In book one of The Dresden Files, when Storm Front opens we are told by the narrator, Harry Dresden, that he has already endured most of the afore mentioned events. We learn from Harry that after his birth, his mother died, leaving him in the sole custody of Dad, a humble stage magician. Around puberty, Harry’s dad died and he was then sent to live with an uncle he did not know. There he met his uncle’s other apprentice; a young girl named Elaine who he fell in love with, and together, after proving they were able to use magic, were taught how to wield it by the uncle. Harry then killed his uncle and Elaine. (There is more to the story, but that’s the short of it). In just this one book, by chapter 3 the character has covered a lot of ground as far as back-story goes, but all the things that the character has experienced we as the readers are able to associate with because Harry has an archetypical back-story. Although not every single reader of the Dresden-verse has had both parents die before their 12th birthday, we have all been forced to honestly imagine it at some point. We relate and empathize and therefore liken ourselves to Harry-his back-story is our back-story. And just like our life, Harry’s life moves on. He almost gets married and he almost dies. Events we too can imagine and relate to. Although Harry almost dies a lot more often than his reader-base probably does. I’d say about three times per book and once per short story, on average.

Next we have the Archetypical Trio of Events: the Creation, the Deluge, and the Apocalypse. In truth, these are essentially the planet’s equivalent of the Archetypical Events (birth, living and death). As you can easily imagine, every culture of mankind has a story about how the world was made. Likewise, every culture of man also has a flood story, in which it offers a reason for why the water came and washed all the bad away giving a fresh start for whatever lived. Most of the time this is a literal flood, as in “water, water everywhere”, as opposed to a metaphorical flood, such as “the Nazis are committing genocide and burning away everything that remains of a race of people.”

This happens in the Dresden-verse as well. Harry tells us about how the world of magic that he lives in is overlaid on the world that the rest of us live in. As you may expect, his world of magic has an origin story as well. Currently in the books, the Flood is taking place, and folks are begrudgingly just beginning to take notice. Harry has spent easily the last three books shoveling back against the tide. Finally folks are beginning to take notice and are deciding where they stand and if they will help or hinder. Moreover, Jim has said on numerous occasions that his story arch is to take place over the course of 22 books, with the 22nd book being a three book Apocalypse. Naturally, the Flood story-line will recede just long enough to give way to Apocalypse story-line. It’s not only been said by Jim himself as recently as last Dragon-Con, but Karl Jung predicted it back in the 1950s.

Finally we come to the meat of things-the Character Archetypes. As far as I can tell Jung never said anything like “there are a finite number of archetype characters and here is a list of them and what they represent.” His followers did that. What Jung said is that the Hero figure, the Mother figure, the Father figure et al. are ideas that we universally recognize and therefore understand as soon as we meet one. He also said that just about anything can be a universal symbol we call all relate to.

For instance, I have on many panels, in many conversations and in many blogs said time and again “Harry Dresden always does the right thing-that is what a true hero does.” We all have our definition of what being a hero means, and each of our own personal definitions (no matter how varied they may be) all cross over each others at some point. Therefore we all consider Harry Dresden to be a hero and we all understand what that means. It’s that simple.

In the books, no matter what is going on, who is in peril, what is on fire, I know this-no matter what I would do if I were in that situation, Harry Dresden will do the right thing. He may be broken and tired and beaten down, depressed, and sitting there wondering why the hell is he doing this to himself, he ought to just hang up his hat and call it quits and give into temptation and let the dice fall as they may. But he thinks these things to himself as he is gearing up and going forth to smite evil. There are times when I am reading the books that I say to myself “I would do this-this and this” and not a paragraph later does Harry explain why the very thing I said I said I would do, albeit a resolution, is not the best thing to do, not what a hero would do. He explains to me why the hero’s path is not for everyone because it is the harder and not necessarily more rewarding thing to do. Harry is indeed a Hero’s Hero. The world would be a far better place if more people were like the fictional Harry Dresden than the real life Bozo’s we have all around us.

The other archetypes that are popular are the Mother, Father, Wizened Old Person, God and Trickster. According to Jung, it would be foolish of me to try to explain to you what each one of these archetypes means and represents because your brain is already hardwired to have this information and therefore already “went there” before you ever finished reading this sentence. What you didn’t know is that I was going to try to label characters from the book with different archetype titles. See, didn’t see that coming, did ya?

Once upon a time, I would have said that Murphy would have been a good girlfriend for Harry, and thereby make all of those shippers happy. However now I see her as The Wizened Old Person. True, she is not old, not now, but time is passing and Murphy is ageing whereas Harry is not. Murphy is the font of police procedure and protocol. She has seen and done things that Harry has not and cannot. She is more than a friend, she is in a lot of ways his lighthouse, steering him clear of trouble and warning him of when he is about to get too close to the line. Murphy is not afraid of Harry’s dark side. I take that back. Murphy is terrified of Harry’s dark side, she’s just not afraid of telling Harry when he is getting a foot on that path. Murph is also fully prepared to do something about it, if need be.

The Mother is in a lot of ways Charity Carpenter. The quintessential mommy, she is no doubt fertile, off the top of my head I’d put her child count on par with Octo-Mom. Charity loves her family, is a protector and nurturer, and will fight tooth and nail for their safety-the angels will weep for you should you try to hurt any of her children. In every life form on this planet, the female of the species is always the more dangerous, and that is because she has to be able to protect her offspring. Even more symbolically, she is a damn good blacksmith, not only forging armor for her husband, but maintaining it as well. Charity is also a master seamstress, dressing her children in handmade clothing. Her meals are filling and nutritious and prepared daily from scratch. She is everything all moms should be.

So if Charity Carpenter is the Mother then does that make Michael Carpenter, her husband, the Father figure? No. It does not. I would place the title of Father on Ebenezer and Justin. The Father, in the archetype sense of the word, is the person who directs, protects, disciplines and gives conditional love to the child. This is the person who teaches the child how to react to the negative events in life. The Father encourages the child to keep his promises, be true to his word and to finish what he starts. The Father teaches the law of Cause and Effect, no matter how hard that lesson may be. Both Eb and Justin were this person to Harry, but in very different ways. Justin was a Dark Father (or Darth Vader, if you will) to Harry. Everything Justin taught hurt, both physically and mentally, and had an edge to it. Justine was molding Harry into the tool Justine needed him to be. I know that Jim Butcher said in his Buzzy Multimedia On-Line Interview that Justine was, and I quote, “dead, dead, dead.” I don’t believe it. He’ll be back. Eb, on the other hand, was the White Father to Harry, who did everything the archetype says he does, but in a kinder and gentler fashion, much the way that Harry’s birth father would have done it, had he lived.

Since we have already determined that the Hero archetype goes to Harry, it’s onto the God archetype. This is the character who is the epitome of Maleness and Masculinity, who is supernatural, with all the answers, and is a combination of the Father and Mother archetypes. Who do you think that sounds like? I’m thinking Bob the Skull. Crazy, I know, but he fits. It can’t be Ivy the Archive, because she is a nine year old little girl who enjoys making art with painted pieces of macaroni. Additionally, the idea of this archetype says that the God archetype is male, and Ivy is a little girl who will grow up to become a woman. (Please all you gyno-worshipers, do not letter bomb me, I am just reporting what an old Swiss guy said back in the 1950s. Again, I direct you to go to Jung’s Facebook account and take it up with him.) Bob the Skull is not only male, he is the goof-ball epitome of male, what with his collection of porn and being all grown up and still fascinated by nipples. Bob is who Harry goes to when Harry needs answers. Bob the Skull gives knowledge and dispenses wisdom in the form of options, but never answers. Bob provides what Harry needs, not what Harry asks for. Bob the Skull is a supernatural being, as he is a spirit of knowledge bound to an old human skull. He protects Harry, as much as a skull can because he has no physical body, but he guides and advises. He has a lot of attributes akin to a god, or at least, what Karl Jung described one as being. On the other hand, God could be the archetype of the god, seeing as how He is becoming something of a force in the books, what with all the angels and demonic subplots running about.

The Trickster – let’s face it, lots of folks in the Dresden-verse are quick witted and punny, Harry more so than others. Obviously being the life of the party and fast with the comebacks is not all the Trickster is cracked up to be. In fact, this is maybe the hardest of all the archetypes to define because culturally, the word “trickster” is not universally understood. “Divine Enabler” may be a better way of looking at it, as historically, the Trickster is the guy who knowingly or not, uses guile rather than brawn to achieve a goal. Like Thomas Wraith. The vampires of the White Court are not the biggest or the baddest of the vampire species. What they do have are good looks, an amazing sense of fashion and the total understanding of “cat paws,” the use of cunning, plotting and planning to achieve goals and objectives. A good example of a Trickster archetype is Prometheus, the guy who stole fire from the gods to give it to mankind. He was made to suffer eternally for it when he was caught. When applying the characters of the Dresden Files to Prometheus, Thomas is like a twin separated at birth.

So, sorry Jim, hate to break it to you, but The Dresden Files is about as far from simple, plain old pop corn as one can get. I’ll concede to the word since you use it, but add to the metaphor. The Dresden Files is better than chocolate coated popcorn, its aqua vite flavored popcorn. Whether you realize it or not, and according to Karl Jung it doesn’t even matter if you did or didn’t because somehow you always did, you have tapped into the very essence of the human psyche. You are catering to it by giving us exactly not only what we need and crave but are in the process of seeking-none other than Book 11 of The Dresden Files – Turn Coat. It is coming out this April and I am pre-ordering mine right now from this link so I can get my copy and lord it over my friends and family! Thank you Jim Butcher for The Dresden Files and for Harry Dresden. If anyone can restore my faith of mankind, he, and you, can!


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Theresa Bane

Theresa Bane

QrT – Theresa Bane Vampirologist and one of Jim Butcher’s Asylum Inmates.
Theresa Bane