Last time, a pub and misogyny.
Mister was nowhere to be seen when I got home, but I left the food in his dish anyway. He would eventually forgive me for getting home late.
I’m pretty sure we haven’t been told who “Mister” is yet. It’s his cat, who he apparently feeds people food. Aside from this being absurdly expensive, it’s not even healthy for the cat. They need to eat more than just steak, you know. Another point for Harry’s money problems being entirely his own fault.
Harry is just ducking in to grab some fairy bait:
fresh-baked bread with no preservatives, honey, milk, a fresh apple, a sharp silver penknife, and a tiny dinner set of a plate, bowl, and cup that I had carved myself from a block of teakwood.
He then tells us the blue beetle he drives is not blue because he’s had to have the doors and hood replaced, all in different colors since 1940s parts are rare, and also apparently he doesn’t understand that one can paint cars twice. Harry then gushes about how great it is his mechanic never asks questions, despite the fact I assume anyone dealing with Harry quickly learns it’s not worth it to try.
He drives toward the lake house, informing us of how exclusive and pricey the community is and how this guy must’ve been making a ton of money, because the fact they have a second house on lakefront property didn’t tip him off.
The house was not a large one, by the standards of the rest of the Lake Providence community. Built on two levels, it was a very modern dwelling-a lot of glass and wood that was made to look like something more synthetic than wood by the way it had been smoothed and cut and polished.
But…the whole point of making your house actual wood is to advertise you can afford actual wood. I mean, for outdoor stuff, synthetic is actually more expensive than the usual softwoods, but it’s still looked down upon, and pine also is, so you might as well use regular modern materials. If they’re trying that hard to fake it, it’d suggest their finances aren’t nearly as good as they’d like (and may in fact be in debt from spending money to look like they have it).
Also, I’m really struggling to picture a situation where wood, a thing traditionally cut into shapes, sanded, and polished, would look synthetic as a result of what we’ve been doing to wood for thousands of years.
First impressions are important, and I wanted to listen to what my instincts said about the house. I stopped for a long moment and just stared up at it.
My instincts must have been holding out for another bottle of Mac’s ale. They had little to say, other than that the place looked like a pricey little dwelling that had hosted a family through many a vacation weekend.
Later, he’s going to use his wizard sight on the exact same place and get smacked in the face with evil. Why doesn’t he do that now? Possibly because the author hadn’t even realized that would be a thing, it really does come out of nowhere when he finally turns it on and doesn’t have any impact on the plot.
On the grass beneath the deck something red gleamed, and I went beneath the deck to retrieve it. It was a plastic film canister, red with a grey cap, the kind you keep a roll of film in when you send it in to the processors.
You see, children, back in 2000, people used to use a primitive picture-taking apparatus that worked by exposing a segment of chemical-covered piece of plastic to light for a second, causing it to change color. These pieces of plastic would then be taken to a “darkroom” and treated in another chemical bath to “fix” the colors and prevent them from changing when they were next exposed to light. They were referred to as “negatives”, due to the fact their colors were reversed, and used to create copies of the actual correctly colored image by reversing the colors again. In previous eras people would have their own darkrooms, but by the year 2000, the ancients had developed a high degree of sophistication and would have commercial enterprises specializing in this process. The “plastic film canister” was commonly used to deliver a “roll of film” without exposure.
Nowadays, of course, the photographer would simply have used a digital camera and left behind no evidence.
Film canisters were good for holding various ingredients I used, sometimes.
Although the days of “film” are long past, you may have seen “film canisters” in your daily life. Once upon a time, they were extremely common due to their necessity in photography and the fact they were rarely recycled, leading to many people repurposing them for other projects. Some of these uses remained even after the extinction of the primitive chemical photography that first created “film canisters”, and even today you can cheaply buy “film canisters” for various uses.
(This is way more complicated than you need, just making the film canister explode over and over is fine.)
The place didn’t look much like a family dwelling, really. It looked like a rich man’s love nest
He’s repeatedly mentioned there’s a basketball court area, which is the most family-thing I can think of.
He checks the doors to find them locked, and explains that It’s bad juju to go tromping into people’s houses uninvited. One of the reasons vampires, as a rule, don’t do it-they have enough trouble just holding themselves together, outside of the Nevernever. It isn’t harmful to a human wizard, like me, but it can really impair anything you try to do with magic.
This is a really good magic rule, although I’m pretty sure it doesn’t come to anything.
Harry then does some legit detectiving, noting that the trash cans are empty and they’re by the house, suggesting someone put them out to be collected and then retrieved them, since otherwise they’d be left out. The problem with this reasoning is I can’t see why this couldn’t have happened last month or whenever – seeing recent drag marks seems like it’d be much more relevant.
Anyway, he now decides to catch a fairy.
I swept an area of dirt not far from the lakeshore clear of leaves and sticks, and took the silver knife from the backpack. Using the handle, I drew a circle in the earth, then covered it up with leaves and sticks again, marking the location of the circle’s perimeter in my head. I was careful to focus in concentration on the circle, without actually letting any power slip into it and spoil the trap. Then, working carefully, I prepared the bait by setting out the little cup and bowl. I poured a thimbleful of milk into the cup and daubed the bowl full of honey from the little plastic bear in my backpack.
Then I tore a piece of bread from the loaf I had brought with me and pricked my thumb with the knife.
In the silver light of the moon, a bit of dark blood welled up against the skin, and I touched it daintily to the underside of the coarse bread, letting it absorb the blood. Then I set the bread, bloody side down, on the tiny plate.
There’s far too little ritual magic in fantasy stories.
Harry then goes on to talk about the power of names again, and how the specific issue of letting a wizard know your name is that it gives similar power as having a part of their body to strengthen the spell. (Which in turn suggests letting a wizard know your name isn’t a big deal given how easy it is to get hair these days, but let’s just assume the name is a supercharged version of that.) Then he explains that magic involves lots of circles.
Drawing a circle sets a local limit on what a wizard is trying to do. It helps him refine his magic, focus and direct it more clearly. It does this by creating a sort of screen, defined by the perimeter of the circle, that keeps random magical energy from going past it, containing it within the circle so that it can be used. To make a circle, you draw it out on the ground, or close hands with a bunch of people, or walk about spreading incense, or any of a number of other methods, while focusing on your purpose in drawing it. Then, you invest it with a little spark of energy to close the circuit, and it’s ready.
One other thing such a circle does: It keeps magical creatures, like faeries, or even demons, from getting past it. Neat, huh? Usually, this is used to keep them out. It’s a bit trickier to set up a circle to keep them in. That’s where the blood comes into play. With blood comes power. If you take in some of someone else’s blood, there is a metaphysical significance to it, a sort of energy. It’s minuscule if you aren’t really trying to get energy that way (the way vampires do), but it’s enough to close a circle.
This is reasonable but…well, just lackluster, and fails to tie into the bit about not going uninvited into homes.
The power of circles is the power of thresholds and boundaries and divisions. You can see this all across humanity – the idea of vampires not being allowed to enter is the same as the Jewish beliefs about temple boundaries is the same as Shinto shrines having torii that function as entrances even though they’re erected in the middle of an open area. Why do fairies live under hills? Because caves are a powerful division – from air to earth, light to dark, up to down, and where is that more obvious than to go under a hill rather than over it? (This may even be tied into an underlying glitch in how we think – if you’ve ever walked out of a room and forgotten why, it’s because our brains do a quick reset whenever we enter a new area, like a videogame loading. Modern life is full of travel between various tiny areas, so we’ve become relatively used to it, but for most of our existence, areas were enormous and the divisions were more along the lines of “inside hut” and “flat plain under the sky”.)
The magician’s circle is the creation and imposition of your own boundaries rather than being bound by existing ones, and what could be more magic than that?
So, to construct a modern magic out of an instinctive sense boundaries are a meaningful and downright mystical concept, I’d say that the circle is about ownership. You can define an area as yours and, as it’s much smaller than an area like a house and far more distinctly marked, you can exert significantly more control. Tie it into runes and say that also you can write rules of how things work into the circle itself to channel the energy in a particular direction.
The circle Harry makes, then, would be a circular area that functions under slightly different rules than the world outside. As a mushroom fairy ring is “basically our world, but a weak point into the fairy dimension”, so a fairy-catching circle would get defined as “basically our world, but a fairy can’t exit”. In this particular situation it’s actually trapped to only trigger after the fairy enters, so his appears to be “basically our world, but a fairy can’t cross the boundary”. That seems fitting for a trap that doesn’t seem to require much energy – circles that just rely on defining entrance/exit take no real energy, while circles that want to change major laws of physics (“basically our world, but I can move up and down by thinking about it”) would take a lot of energy and need to be very precisely constructed).
Harry then calls a fairy’s name to lure him in, saying he’s only using a bit of power something that would be subtle enough to make him wander this way of his own accord. I think the idea is that he’s not abusing his power because it’s just a nudge, but what’s actually written is he’s being delicate to better manipulate the fairy.
Toot loved bread and milk and honey-a common vice of the lesser fae. They aren’t usually willing to take on a nest of bees to get to the honey, and there’s been a real dearth of milk in the Nevernever since hi-tech dairy farms took over most of the industry. Needless to say, they don’t grow their own wheat, harvest it, thresh it, and then mill it into flour to make bread, either.
I tried googling, but I can’t find any research on the reasoning for fairy foods, so we’ll just have go to go on what obvious associations I’ve worked out. Fairy food factors seem to be along the lines of what food disappears (a bowl of milk “disappears overnight” an awful lot when you have barn cats) and what seems like an obvious treat to us (humans have been getting stung for honey since about when we figured out there was honey in there). Bread, I think, is mostly to be a substrate for the two liquids, plus it’s a common food and often tied to kinship or hospitality.
But! If real fairies, why would they like these three things? Well, it’s interesting that all three of them are marks of civilization. While we tend to think of honey as a wild food, it’s really not – if you’re a hunter/gatherer, your access to honey is about on par on your access to milk. Bees are farmed too, and that’s why we have honey to spare. Plus, an integral part of bee farming is calming them with smoke, and the ability to create, control and manipulate fire is second only in importance to walking upright in human history.
We’ll find out shortly that fairies are also super into pizza, which doesn’t exactly contradict this reasoning but is presented as a huge shock, as if pizza dough and bread dough have any meaningful differences, or cheese and milk. Fairies should like caramels more than honey, too, and they probably would appreciate tiny plastic bowls over wood ones.
He catches the fairy, who’s really unhappy, and Harry keeps trying to get the fairy to hurry through the rant and threats because he’s in a rush.
“Time, time,” Toot complained. “Is that all you mortals can ever think about? Everyone’s complaining about time! The whole city rushes left and right screaming about being late and honking horns! You people used to have it right, you know.”
I bore the lecture with good nature. Toot could never keep his mind on the same subject long enough to be really trying, in any case.
“Why, I remember the folk who lived here before you pale, wheezy guys came in. And they never complained about ulcers or-” Toot’s eyes wandered to the bread and milk and honey again, and glinted.
I would suspect the “people who lived here before” complained an awful lot during the transition, what with the smallpox and the starvation and the rape. I also think they probably complained a lot in the years before about ordinary things like stomach pain (including from ulcers), because that’s a thing humans do.
One of the things it’s really important to do with your nonhumans is research what the actual situation is, not what “everyone knows” it is. If this was a modern human, their flippant assumption that back in the day Native Americans obviously had no ulcers which are all caused by our modern stressful lifestyle would still be bullshit, but you could argue that it’s also exactly what a character in their position would say. (I would then argue back that this is still contributing to the “everyone knows” problem.) Here, an immortal fairy is confirming that yes, white writer man, your assumptions are 100% right. This has the same root cause as Harry’s lovable scamp sexism – if you’re an author, you have to do more than take your first guess as absolute fact, or it produces a closed-in echo chamber of a universe that only reflects a single narrow viewpoint.
Having accepted he can’t get loose, our historically ignorant fairy finishes up the food.
“Very well,” he said, his tone lofty. “I have deigned to grant you a single request of some small nature, for the generous gift of your cuisine.”
I worked to keep a straight face. “That’s very kind of you.”
Toot sniffed and somehow managed to look down his little pug nose at me. “It is my nature to be both benevolent and wise.”
I nodded, as though this were a very great wisdom. “Uh-huh. Look, Toot. I need to know if you were around this place for the past few nights, or know someone who was. I’m looking for someone, and maybe he came here.”
“And if I tell you,” Toot said, “I take it you will disassemble this circle which has, by some odd coincidence no doubt, made its way around me?”
“It would be only reasonable,” I said, all seriousness.
Toot seemed to consider it, as though he might be inclined not to cooperate, then nodded. “Very well. You will have the information you wish. Release me.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Are you sure? Do you promise?”
I think the author thinks that the fairy’s “agreement” here means this isn’t coerced and Harry’s paid for the info fairly, despite the fact it’s obviously the fairy trying to save face rather than actually feeling this way, and the rest of the conversation follows in that pattern. Harry then hangs out and waits, saying that falling asleep would be a bad idea because nothing in the agreement said not to fuck Harry up after whispering the info in the general vicinity of his unconscious body.
And why doesn’t Harry just offer the milk and honey, things that are apparently of high value to fairies? Why not make a circle to keep fairies out, and say he’ll dispel it in return for info?
Because power. Offering someone something in return for doing your request isn’t good enough. Instead, Harry shows off how he’s smarter and strong than a fairy by forcing it to do what he wants.
The fairy returns to say that one of his fairy friends hanging out in a pizza truck saw it bring food to a collection of busily fucking mortals at the house yesterday.
I was beginning to think that Monica Sells was in denial.
Harry is just endlessly condescending. She gave good reasons to be anxious: a husband who’s lost his job, gotten into magic, and disappeared without a word. If it turned out her husband was actually just busy with a mistress, this would be a surprise – it’s certainly surprised Harry. But he insists on characterizing it as denial on her part.
Her husband wasn’t wandering around learning to be a sorcerer, spooky scorpion talismans notwithstanding. He was lurking about his love nest with a girlfriend, like any other husband bored with a timid and domestic wife might do under pressure. It wasn’t admirable, but I guess I could understand the motivations that could cause it.
Incidentally, to all the male writers out there: stop writing this sentence.
A) It’s not universal, it’s that you’re both jackasses and that’s why it seems so understandable to you, why does no one ever #notallmen about this shit?
B) Your readers can fill in that your character will “understand” just fine on their own. We’re read this enough before.
The only problem was going to be telling Monica. I had a feeling that she wasn’t going to want to listen to what I had found out.
Hm. Why, perhaps you should head there with a camera. You know, that thing actual private detectives actually use because they know wives would prefer proof they caught the husband cheating over “Uh, yeah, I totally followed him for three days straight and he’s cheating on you, now pay me two thousand dollars, okay?”
The man with the naked sword in his hands appeared out of the darkness without a warning rustle of sound or whiff of magic to announce his presence. He was tall, like me, but broad and heavy-chested, and he carried his weight with a ponderous sort of dignity.
Perhaps fifty years old, his listless brown hair going grey in uneven patches, he wore a long, black coat, a lot like mine but without the mantle, and his jacket and pants, too, were done in dark colors – charcoal and a deep blue. His shirt was crisp, pure white, the color that you usually only see with tuxedos. His eyes were grey, touched with crow’s-feet at the corners, and dangerous. Moonlight glinted off those eyes in the same shade it did from the brighter silver of the sword’s blade. He began to walk deliberately toward me, speaking in a quiet voice as he did.
Now that was a much better description than Johnny-boy’s. Why don’t I hear about how they’re fucking? Is it because he’s too old to be a big contender in the slash wars? Because come on, Harry is a ninety-year-old man.
“Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Irresponsible use of true names for summoning and binding others to your will violates the Fourth Law of Magic,” the man intoned. “I remind you that you are under the Doom of Damocles. No further violations of the Laws will be tolerated. The sentence for further violation is death, by the sword, to be carried out at once.”
Look, they’ve even got better foe-yay going on than Mr. Empty Refrigerator Tiger. On the other hand, this guy is apparently anti-coercion and clearly has a decent grasp of what consent actually means, while I assume Marcone’s all for dubconning everyone he can, which in many worlds would be a further point in the pairing’s favor but I suspect is a point against.