Jim Butcher’s latest installment of the Dresden series, Skin Game doesn’t disappoint. (I tried NOT to read it all in one day…EPIC FAIL! So much for getting anything done that day.) It’s classic Dresden like we’ve been craving since before Changes which threw all of us for a loop. Or loup garou, depending on who you’re talking about.
That’s all I’m going to say in the way of review for the book, because if you’re a fan and HAVE read the book, you don’t want a recap. If you’re a fan and HAVEN’T read the book, you don’t want any spoilers. If you’ve NEVER READ Jim Butcher’s Dresden series and enjoy urban fantasy, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? Go ye, therefore, and buy Dead Beat and get started on one of the best darkly funny fantasy/noir series ever!
My focus for this post, instead, is to dig a little deeper into the metaphors of Harry Dresden’s powers (which now include, among other things, being able to wield both fire and ice), as they reflect his psychological state and throw in a little philosophical Robert Frost for good measure.
Shall we dance?
Frost has a magnificent little poem that goes like this:
FIRE AND ICE
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
(p. 220, The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged, © 1969)
I’m not a poet. And I know it. However, I can recognize a metaphor when it thwaps me on the nose.
Basically, Frost is comparing fire with human desires and ice with human hate. When taken to extremes, both are equally destructive. Therefore, according to Frost, it doesn’t matter whether the world is destroyed by literal fire/ice or the passions/rancor of human behavior. Either way we’re dead. You can read this as a physical, metaphysical, spiritual, and/or psychological destruction. Whatever sinks your boat.
(Isn’t that so cool? Hot? Metaphors are awesome. Just wait. It gets better!)
To go one step further, if you are warm, you tend to move faster to get away from whatever is bothering you. (Think walking on hot pavement. Or hot coals.) If you’re cold, however, you’re slowed into moving carefully. Too much and you’re immobilized. Almost…apathetic. Sound familiar to some of today’s attitudes? We need a little fire to drive us, a little ice to cool us down. A balance. It’s the extreme of either that kills.
Hold on to those thoughts.
Throughout the Jim Butcher’s series, Harry Dresden must choose the lesser of two evils. He hates what his choices do to the people around him (gets them physically maimed, psychologically raped, killed, etc.,) but in his world, he has to make on the spot decisions. Or die. There is no contemplating the repercussions, only Fuego! and Infriga! and now Parkour! (But that’s merely flavor text. I digress. And giggle.) Each book he’s burdened with more guilt as the body count racks higher.
In the past, Harry’s power came from the focus of his emotional will into either force or fire or whatever effect he needed. Here’s a cool Wiki that documents all the facts from the books: http://dresdenfiles.wikia.com/wiki/Dresden_Files
Now that he has access to ice, this new power has, in some ways, immobilized his already stunted emotional growth. He’s withdrawing from his friends and family for fear his spiral into the depths of this new power will create an evil Harry that only hates, that only strikes out in self-preservation, that only serves the Id, instead of choosing to help as many as he can.
Now, even though Harry has a balance of power (fire and ice) he is unbalanced emotionally, fighting to keep his humanity vs succumbing to the overwhelming desires and hatreds his power tempts him with.
So will Harry's world end with fire or with ice? Desire or hatred? Only Jim Butcher knows for certain.
I do know one thing, though. Harry faces the same issue every one of us face daily: the fear of choosing wrong. Which type of publishing route do I use? Which job do I take? Which man/woman do I date or marry? Do I marry at all? And thousands of others.
But just as Harry is learning, we can’t live in fear of either the fire or the ice. The fire moves us when we need to be moved. The ice stops us when we need to be stopped. The key is to use each when we need them and not to be consumed by either desire or hate in the process. Balance is the key.
And THAT, my friends, is why speculative fiction is just as literary as Shakespeare, Goethe, Chaucer, and Ge Hong.
Revision. It’s not just for literary snobs. (Take THAT Ruth Graham!)
Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold:
We'll See What This Week Brings