Harry Dresden In Hot Water: Physics In The Dresden Files Universe

Harry In Hot Water:
or why is my shower cold and my ice cream warm?

Physics in The Dresden Files and how a wizards’ life might be made more comfortable.

Having read sci-fi and fantasy all of my life, I am always fascinated when the author goes to such trouble as to try make the work believable rather than just depend upon the suspension of disbelief by the reader. Jim Butcher has woven a most cohesive Dresdenverse out of what has always been such diverse lore of the supernatural, occult, and fantasy realms. Most of the authors who do put forth the effort to make their worlds work, don’t discuss it openly within the work, but just let it be there humming in the background of the story. Jim Butcher is different that way and he let’s us in on how things tick. Butcher’s characters are constantly acknowledging the harmonies and conflicts between the laws of physics and the laws of magic. It set my mind to wondering how and why certain things work and at times do not work within the carefully crafted structure of Harry Dresden’s world.

Here are a couple of my wonderings to date.

Butters tells Harry that wizards have what would be described as a “murphyonic field” around them that is what effects technology. We are all quite familiar with this. We are equally familiar with the fact that wizards live a very, very long time by their nature. Bowing to the wild haired sage, it would seem to me that there must be a connection between the two. Wizards are basically human and normal in all known aspects until they come into their power. Once a wizard starts working the forces of magic he or she changes. Their bodies heal and regenerate more fully than human norm, thus increasing their lifespan to untold lengths, while technology, which has never been a problem before, suddenly begins to fail them. Molly was an average child until she came into her talent, and now she has the same tech issues as any other wizard. Charity who once practiced wizardry walked away from her power and now has no tech issues that we are aware of. If she did have such problems we would have heard about it in the kitchen of the Carpenter house in Small Favor. Does this mean that Charity will have a normal human lifespan while Molly lives a wizard’s span of years? What possible theory could the sage offer to explain this? Would you if it were possible trade your normal lifespan and use of technology in order to have a wizard’s lifespan and the ability to use magic? Don’t jump too quickly. It is one thing to just react to the question, but really consider what living a couple of centuries without technology would be like. Sure you can watch the rest of the world lay back and enjoy the fruits of technological discovery, but you can’t partake. The most you could hope for is to be able to almost have it until your talent smoke checks whatever convenience you tried to possess. Could you live happily like that? I have been working with historical re-enactment for about 25 years, and all of us there cheat in some way or another. We are only going out for the weekend or maybe two weeks tops. Make a list of all the things in your life that a wizard could not keep functioning, and could you really really live without them for a few centuries. I have a hard enough time wrapping my mind around living for a couple of hundred years. I have nearly finished my first half of a century, and boggle at the concept of living another 4 or 5 times that long. To live that mind numbing amount of time without the modern comforts of life that tech offers would be sorely trying. It is little wonder that wizards are so noted for being perpetually brooding and moody.

Okay, so you chose the life of a wizard anyway. I probably would too. So now you have lots and lots of time. So read and learn and study, all good wizardly pursuits. If you can merge the mage and the sage, then here is where I think life could be made a bit more comfortable for wizard kind. Magic allows you to manipulate the forces of nature but they must still obey natural law. Harry’s most typical tech issues deal with the simple things in life like storing food and taking a shower. So why can’t these problems solve each other. A bit of magical research should be able to devise a spell or charmed object that would allow the water tank of a hot water heater to absorb the heat from the refrigerator to heat the water, thus making the water hot and thereby the refrigerator cold. If this makes no sense it is time to learn how your A/C functions. It truly is a fascinating bit of technological cleverness. The short version is that a decompressing gas absorbs heat and compressing the gas sheds it again. Your air conditioner does not make it colder. It gathers and removes the heat from the air, and THAT makes it colder. If you think that is splitting hairs, well then as a wizard you’ll appreciate that magic often splits hairs in both theory and practice, so what would make you think that science would be any different. A geothermal heat pump seems like magic and the technology is simplicity itself. It differs from a conventional furnace or boiler by its ability to transfer heat versus the method of producing heat through combustion. All a wizard really needs for those comforts of a hot shower and a cold beer is a large parcel of land and a fair amount of copper tubing. However, he might not be able to keep the light inside the fridge from blowing out. I am certain that there are many ways that magic, properly thought out and practiced, could solve some of the comfort and convenience issues of the modern wizard

By Martin Lambert – visiting Dresdenphile writer
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