Dresden Files Summer Knight Ch5 Part One

So, last time, we meet members of the White Council and good news, they’re not all white but bad news, that doesn’t mean diversity, it means ~diversity~.

The oh god why of diversity continues this chapter, as we learn that Simon the Russian is slated to be replaced by one of the Germans.” and Harry’s own mentor-dad, despite his seniority, isn’t allowed in because “There are too many Americans on the Senior Council already for the Merlin’s tastes.” and this is the problem with trying to have an international group, there are continents other than North America and Europe.

(Admittedly, this is another damned if you do and damned if you don’t thing – it’s hard to write an international group that’s largely informed by groups with little connection to your own so you’ll probably end up with one that’s all about America even if you try otherwise, but if you acknowledge that and say this is just the one with power in America and Europe, then you’re sidelining everyone else even more. That said, given how little sense the WC makes and how they work better as a distant and inscrutable force, it wouldn’t have been that hard to have the actual ruling body be diverse while off-camera – maybe this meeting is only for the American branch. That’s admittedly not a solution to actually writing diversity on-camera, but it is a solution to avoiding yet another story with the unconscious bias that of course the world revolves around America and their friend Europe. And putting it off-camera would also help with gender balance. It’s pretty clear who the author’s capable of viewing as multifaceted individuals and who he isn’t, but if none of them were going to show up, it wouldn’t be an issue to say a whole bunch of the highest council was female.)

Injun Joe scratched Little Brother’s chest and said, “Typical. Only real American on the Senior Council is me. Not like the rest of you Johnny-come-latelies.”

I’m sure somewhere there’s people who can take this kind of flippant tone about it. People who integrated three generations ago, maybe. But we don’t need to get into the argument of “okay, but should someone like that really be the face of the issue, especially when they’re also getting written as a hideous stereotype in every other way” because SENIOR COUNCIL. Of ancient wizards.

Even if he’s one of the youngest of the council, he lived through multiple genocides of his people. They’re not Johnny-come-latelies – they’re people who are here because they specifically exterminated the other people. Even cute references to how white people are relative newcomers is still part of America’s larger attempt to say absolutely anything so long as it means we don’t bring up how the transition happened.

Ebenezar goes on to ask if Harry needs help with the Latin that everyone’s required to speak in. Latin makes sense, especially if we’re to assume this body originates in Europe and is only international due to colonialism, buuuuuuuuuut in some ways it’s too reasonable. I brought this up back in the first book, about how there are some very, very old languages. Latin continued to be used as a common language for (wealthy and classically educated) people until quite recently, and given wizard ages, demanding everyone chat in Latin seems closer to expecting people to read and write cursive, where the older generation just hasn’t noticed it’s stopped being taught in schools. (…and given wizards educate their own, it should still be being taught. If Harry doesn’t know, it’s because Ebenezar didn’t bother teaching him. And that’s particularly odd when combined with the fact he wasn’t learning magic either. Ebenezar appears to have done fuck-all to actually teach Harry what’s needed to be part of the wizard community.)

Now, ancient Greek? That would get across these guys are hidebound. Greece had way more impressive magic than fucking Merlin (seriously, name one actually impressive magical thing Merlin did. When the most magic in your story is your supposed apprentice upstaging you in a seemingly effortless betrayal, you suck.) and it’s not in actual use these days, while still being kept somewhat in people’s minds by the fact science occasionally pillages it for words.

Anyway Harry claims he’s totally got this, so that’ll explode in his face, BUT ALSO, even if he had a grasp of Latin, it seems pretty easy to guess that there’s also all sorts of additional protocol and expected polite phrasing that someone could potentially screw up. Having Ebenezar translate whatever comes out of his mouth would protect him from more than just looking stupid. And even if Harry’s presumably better at understanding than he is speaking, it’s still another thing that could go wrong and wouldn’t if he was getting it in English.

Now, it does give Ebenezar a chance to screw him over if Ebenezar is secretly evil, or, well, secretly evil in a Harry-specific way because the guy is already shaping up to be pretty unsecretly evil, but it doesn’t seem like that’s much of a concern. Harry’s definitely 100% fucked without Ebenezar’s support so Ebenezar doesn’t need any secret plot and for another, since Harry has some grasp of the language Ebenezar doing so has a good chance of being noticed by Harry. (Also, given it’s not like English is some great secret, so anyone close enough to hear them talking will notice – so now Ebenezar would have to be whispering and risking anyone overhearing it.)

In short, there are so many upsides and the only possible downside is hugely unlikely and has a good chance of being noticed and thus benefiting Harry with the discovery if it does happen.

Now, obviously people don’t need to make great decisions, and certainly Harry in particular has made plenty of bad choices, but I don’t buy he has this much of a bug up his ass over accepting any form of help. The last two books involved plenty of teaming up with others and the first book had him on his own because he didn’t have any allies (and he sure seemed bitter about that when talking about the bar full of have-nots who wouldn’t/couldn’t do anything, and it didn’t stop him for asking for help in the car borrowing sense and he was happy to use fairies to do his job). He did just throw a tantrum at the idea of doing anything to make the council hate him less, but that fits into Harry’s far more established hatred of doing anything anyone asks him for than a desire to generally lone-wolf this.

There is another reason, and Harry gives it:

“I don’t want to go in with you,” I said. “If this goes bad, maybe it’s better if you have some distance from me.”

But it’s dumb.

Ebenezar is one of the oldest wizards – not only does he have a very strong political position from that, but also, these are wizards, social clout and personally being able to murder someone for fucking with you go hand in hand. And his disinterest in politics means there’s nothing really gained from messing with him – he isn’t in the way of any non-Harry initiatives because he doesn’t give a fuck, and all hassling him would accomplish is making an enemy of him.

“But but Susan!!!” No. Even PTSD sleep deprived idiot Harry cannot possibly think there’s points of comparison here. For this to work, we can’t have Ebenezar, longstanding WC member who’s only not on the Senior Council itself because he never wanted to be who was handed baby Harry because he was so well-regarded and able to straighten out the kid. We need Ebenezar to be someone on the bottom, maybe even someone who’s only nominally a WC member at all (which would also justify the idea he didn’t teach Harry much, and could explain why Harry seems to so easily grasp Mort’s perspective when we haven’t seen Harry have much to do with other magic users during his time in Chicago), and they threw Harry at him because if Harry was a wizard-killer, they wanted to find out without losing anyone who mattered. That’d also be a much more interesting reason for Harry to be shocked Ebenezar has shown up at all instead of “as an 800 pound gorilla who does what I want when I want, I don’t give a fuck normally” and it much better fits Harry’s supposed underdog status if Ebenezar is half here just for moral support, can’t offer much help, and is legitimately risking what little he has to support Harry. (AND it’d better justify Ebenezar’s shotgun. What looks to an ordinary Chicagoan as massively and unnecessarily threatening is, by wizard standards, a cat putting its ears back and hissing before a pack of wolves.)

So why Ebenezar the bigwig instead? Because Harry’s a goddamn sue is why.

Seriously.

This decision wasn’t made because it served the overall plot, it was made because as a sue, Harry needs to be told he’s awesome and by people whose opinions matter, which is to say, demisues. Therefore Harry just so happened to be apprenticed to one of the oldest wizards in the entire WC, who is also way too cool to take the WC seriously, but who is also totally buddies with the some Senior Council members who also think Harry’s kinda cool now that they meet him. See also how Billy’s got abs now because otherwise his hero worship wouldn’t be enough of an ego boost.

The building had the look of an old-time theater—high, arched ceilings, floors of polished stone laid with strips of carpet, and several sets of double doors leading into the theater itself. The air conditioning had probably been running full blast earlier, but now there was no sound of fan or vent and the building inside felt warmer than it probably should have. None of the lights were on. You couldn’t really expect even basic things like lights and air conditioning to keep running in a building full of wizards.

Okay, so this addresses part of my complaint about them using the building, but not the part where why did they bother knowing the stuff wouldn’t work and the part where all those things are powered by massive numbers of wires through the building’s walls. What are the odds really that they’ve blown out every piece of electronics in the building without starting one single electrical fire?

And now it’s Morgan!!!

Morgan stood nearly as tall as I did, only with maybe another hundred pounds of solid, working-man muscle. He had a short beard, patchy with brown and grey, and he wore his hair in a long ponytail. His face was still narrow, sour, and he had a voice to match it.

Who Harry no longer seems to be into. I wonder why? Perhaps the answer can be found in the exchange that follows.

“Finally,” he muttered upon seeing me. “I’ve been waiting for this, Dresden. Finally, you’re going to face justice.”
“I see someone had a nice big bowl of Fanatic-Os this morning,” I said. “I know you don’t like it, Morgan, but I was cleared of all those charges. Thanks to you, actually.”
His sour face screwed up even more. “I only reported your actions to the Council. I did not think they would be so”—he spat the word like a curse—”lenient.”

Now, it’s obviously not the fact Morgan is hoping he gets beheaded, because Harry was super, super into that. So what’s wrong?

One option could be a straight up retcon. Morgan ended the first book grudgingly admitting that actually Harry was kind of halfway decent he guessed and didn’t deserve Morgan’s naked sword after all. Now, Harry went on to be decidedly not even a quarter decent in the next two books and I could absolutely see Morgan, who cared about Harry willbinding fairies, reconsidering his stance after seeing Harry shouting HAHA I CAN MAGIC MURDER IF IT’S WEREWOLVES BURN BITCHES AHAHAHAHAHAHA as well as his various abuses of ghosts and the shit he pulled with Mort in the third book, but the books are clear the surveillance is lifted so Morgan wasn’t around for any of that. And again – he cared about Harry willbinding fairies when the WC thinks that’s totally acceptable, because he was acting based on an actual moral compass. There’s no way his position on Harry would reverse just because Harry got into a fight with vampires that involved him being technically in the wrong while trying to stop them from murdering innocent people. So, if we’re retconning Morgan’s opinion of Harry, it makes sense to retcon Harry’s opinion of Morgan – they’re now both strangers to each other, after all.

The other option, and I find this hilarious, is that the fact Morgan is abiding by the WC’s judgment is a massive turnoff to Harry. Previously when Morgan was growling that it was only the law of the WC that kept him from murdering Harry where he stood, Morgan was visibly straining at the leash as he did everything short of straight up planting evidence on Harry to get an excuse. And it’s excusable even from the most alpha male of viewpoints that Morgan held himself in check when the penalty for unsanctioned murder is presumably getting yourself murdered in turn. To expect Morgan to outright defy the council would mean suggesting Harry himself is insufficiently alpha for obeying them as well. But now! Now, Morgan was told okay, back off and leave him be, and Morgan obeyed. Sure, he’s claiming he still hates Harry’s guts and maybe it’s even true, but turns out Morgan isn’t willing to stalk him in a non-professional capacity the way a REAL MAN who REALLY HATED would. It’s like the romance trope of being so overwhelmed by the victim’s beauty that the love interest just had to assault/rape them – yeah, it’s objectively bad, sure, but like, it means he cares so much he’s willing to break the rules over you! And Harry THOUGHT that’s what Morgan meant when he repeatedly waved his long, hard sword in Harry’s face, but APPARENTLY NOT. APPARENTLY IT WAS JUST A JOB TO MORGAN. WELL THAT’S FINE I DON’T HATE YOU EITHER THANKS SO MUCH FOR ALL YOUR HELP!!!!

The Wardens are Magic TSA and they wave a crystal around.

The crystal pulsed with a gentle glow of light as it passed over each chakra point.

I think magic systems should shut up about chakra points unless chakra points actually do anything. And before you say that hey, I can’t be sure, I damn well can because it’s clear from this sentence that there’s no distinction between the different points and also if these did anything, Harry’s various injuries would’ve affected the flow of magic depending on which point got fucked up.

The other guy finds this acceptable but Morgan demands the anti-wizard dogs.

These aren’t dogs, incidentally.

They weren’t actual dogs.

See?

They were statues made of some kind of dark grey-green stone, their shoulders as high as my own belt. They had the gaping mouth and too-big eyes of Chinese temple dogs, complete with curling beards and manes. Though they weren’t flesh, they moved with a kind of ponderous liquid grace, stone “muscles” shifting beneath the surface of their skins as if they had been living beings.

Here’s the thing – the fact Westerners call these guys “dogs” is so baffling that the Wikipedia section on it is just a series of shrugs on how the hell wires got so badly crossed. If you were actually getting magic jade guardian lion statues from China, I think at some point in the buying or gifting process someone would mention they’re not fucking dogs. Like the nonspecific chakra points, this smacks of throwing things in because you just heard of the concept.

Now, this was written in 2002, on the one hand, and the idea these guys were “foo dogs” or whatever was all over the place on the English side of the web. It’s entirely possible that research was done here and the real fault lies in the sources the author found. On the other…well, we’re back to the problems of diversity. I’m not sure where the balance lies between “write what you know” and “stop writing the most over-represented and homogenized stuff” but if your only access to this kind of information is from friend of a cousin of a friend’s hairdresser’s mother-in-law’s friend, maybe it’s time to take a couple dozen steps back toward writing what you have half a clue about instead.

This does all serve to illustrate another aspect of diversity. If you’re going to use elements from another culture, it’s definitely safest to go with somewhere like China, where there was never much risk that people here thinking they were dogs would end up migrating back and overwriting their own concepts of the statues. At the same time, those are the people who are perfectly capable of representing themselves and telling their own stories. The less represented a culture is, the more being included in the stories other people are telling is important, but the greater the risk that a mistake will serve to overwrite the original version with something more in line with the dominant culture. You can even somewhat see this in the lions/dogs distinction – some of it undoubtedly comes down to the fact Christianity views the natural world particularly negatively and the fact America’s development only encouraged that kind of antagonistic relationship, so presented with something that is a guard animal, the only conceivable creature it can be narrows down to a guard dog, a domesticated animal bred for the very task. Lions aren’t guards, they’re what you guard against.

19 Comments

  1. SpoonyViking says:

    Huh. That seemed like an abrupt point on which to end the post, Farla. Did Blogger mess anything up?

    (seriously, name one actually impressive magical thing Merlin did. When the most magic in your story is your supposed apprentice upstaging you in a seemingly effortless betrayal, you suck.)

    His shapechanging is actually quite impressive for his literary context (which tends to be relatively low magic when compared to, say, the Matter of France and related works, like Ariosto’s poems); consider how even evil enchanter Morgan Le Fay couldn’t do the same thing and had to work through proxies, while Merlin could not only change his own shape but that of others (and it’s implied that at least in his case it’s an actual transmutation of the body, not just illusions).

    Depending on the version you’re reading, he could also make a dragon banner breathe actual fire, raise castles out of the ground complete with troops to defend it, and create rivers. Plus, to a medieval audience, him having a direct line to God and knowing both the past and the future was a Really Big Deal, even if he was seemingly restricted from fighting Fate too hard. The whole reason Nimue can even imprison him is because she stole his magic to do it in the first place (though other authors show him appearing in visions to guide future knights, even those outside the Round Table, such as Bradamante).

    1
  2. illhousen says:

    I’ve also heard that Greek magic was this secretive thing you did out of sight of gods because they would be affronted at it, which I imagine would translate better to secret asshole society than fucking Merlin who’s literally famous for getting super-involved in mundane politics.

  3. GeniusLemur says:
    “Ebenezar appears to have done fuck-all to actually teach Harry what’s needed to be part of the wizard community.”

    I guess that means that it’s totally not poor, persecuted Harry’s fault when he breaks protocol by being a rude, tactless asshole to the all-powerful white council.

    1
  4. Socordya says:

    Injun Joe

    I thought this was just a one time gag, but I guess we’re really going to call him that?

    1. Farla says:

      Yeah, don’t be fooled by Harry’s split second of willingness to use another name, that’s what the narration decided he’s called.

  5. Act says:

    TIL that people think lion statues are dogs…. wtf.

    also, you know, literally everything else about this

    1. illhousen says:

      Later on (in the next book, I think), Harry will get a dog that’s literally called a “foo dog”, which looks like a very large but otherwise ordinary dog. Not sure he’s related to “dogs” here, but either way Butcher just doubles down on “foo dogs” apparently being actual dogs rather than lions. And also called that by everyone.

      1. Actislazyandwontlogin says:
        I wonder if this is an issue if exposure. I grew up just outside NYC, so the first time I saw a Chinese lion statue I was very little — I passed by them every day — and it obviously looked like a lion guarding the building, so I didn’t need to turn to pop culture for an explanation. But Butcher is from the Midwest, and if your only exposure to them is hearing white people talk about “foo dogs” before ever encountering one or encountering like, Chinese culture, I can see how you’d see one for the first time and project all over it.

        That doesn’t change that any fucking editor should have caught this and that the most ignorant people shouldn’t be spreading cultural information, but I guess on like an individual level I can see how you’d end up misinformed.

        Anyway I’m sure the instant he was corrected he apologized and fixed it because that’s 100% the impression he gives.

        1. Roarke says:

          I mean, we care about things like that being right, but I’m 100% sure the vast majority of creators and viewers don’t. I still remember, what was it, Disney’s American Dragon Jake Long? The sidekick was a talking dog named Foo. So even a series that uses the right surname for a dragon kid (I think Lung might be more exact but Long works) still has the Americanized perception of foo dogs.

          Incidentally, I think it’s funny that the wish-granting dragon in DBZ is still named Shenron in English looooong after it turned out he was being called Shen Long.

          1. Nerem says:
            This is probably because in Japanese he’s called Shenron, because that’s how they pronounce/spell his name.
            1. Act says:

              Another example of weird Chinese > Japanese: Lee Xiao Lang to Li Shaoran. Languages are weird.

              Reply
            2. Hyatt says:
              That one’s even weirder, because the official romanization is Li Syaoran. Because CLAMP loves their unusual spellings.
              Reply
  6. Roarke says:

    And so, we reach the end of the Morgan Route. No True End or Good End, just a gross anticlimax. What a waste of good hatefic.

    I like the idea that Harry loses interest when he realizes that Morgan’s animosity wasn’t important enough to risk his status, but I feel it doesn’t jive with the way Harry would get even more incensed and angry that someone else’s world doesn’t revolve around him. And it’s not like Harry doesn’t reciprocate fully when someone is mean to him. So his flippant attitude towards Morgan bespeaks something else, I think.

    The way Harry acts, Morgan has been downgraded to the level of Marcone’s goons, people who are personally threatening and malicious to him that he just brushes off and annoys. They’re far down the list of side characters, barely getting name tags. I think this is because the Senior Council has been introduced – Morgan is just an Enforcer, and no longer important enough to personally antagonize. If we’re looking at Harry’s romances as an alpha contest, then he has to go for the biggest dog in the room.

    My personal headcanon, though, is that Morgan is now just like those women Harry loves to turn down. Morgan makes all the right hateful overtures and Harry just brushes it off, because don’t you get it? He has Susan now! He doesn’t need your sword; he’s got a spicy vampire chick to stalk!

    1. Farla says:

      I like the idea that Harry loses interest when he realizes that Morgan’s animosity wasn’t important enough to risk his status, but I feel it doesn’t jive with the way Harry would get even more incensed and angry that someone else’s world doesn’t revolve around him. 

      I think the distinction is that Harry is still the center of Morgan’s world, Morgan’s just too cowardly to act on it. If Morgan was all “well I hope you die but whatever, WC says you’re not my problem, move along” Harry would probably have had a tantrum that’d put the dragon one to shame.

      Though the connection to Harry turning down women is probably similar – impure women and cowardly men likely occupy similar spaces in Harry’s consciousness.

  7. guest says:
    The less represented a culture is, the more being included in the stories other people are telling is important, but the greater the risk that a mistake will serve to overwrite the original version with something more in line with the dominant culture.

    i can’t say i agree with this point. indigenous people are not dead, indigenous cultures are not dead, and indigenous stories are not totally lost forever. it’s condescending to act as though an author in the modern day like jim butcher can do any kind of job at overwriting native stories because…why?

    could a sufficiently popular modern day author change the way a culture is perceived by outsiders to it, especially if there’s few other places said culture is represented? certainly. take twilight – a lot of people have a lot of very strange ideas about the quileute tribe because of it, and this is exacerbated by the fact that many people have never heard of the quileute tribe outside of twilight. but just because stephenie meyer decided to bastardize quileute legends for her book doesn’t mean that quileute people have suddenly lost them or that they have been overwritten in any capacity. why would they treat her, or any other author like her, as an authority on their own culture? there’s certainly been many quileute people who’ve tried to talk about what meyer got wrong and what their actual stories are, because they are not children and they don’t need some random white woman to be an authority on their heritage.

    native people are no more likely to have their own sources overwritten by badly researched media than chinese people are.

    certainly there are cases in the past of colonizers slaughtering people, disrupting communities, and destroying records, and as a result, few accounts remain except for the inaccurate and insulting retellings written by said colonizers. but this process does not happen without said slaughter and destruction; jim butcher’s portrayal of an illini man is insulting, but it will not make actual illini people scratch their heads and wonder if maybe they got their own stories wrong and this random book that doesn’t even have the respect not to call them “injuns” is an authority they should trust over their own sources.

    1. Spoony Viking says:
      Overwritten in the public consciousness, not for the peoples themselves.
      2
    2. Farla says:

      All indigenous people are not dead, but all indigenous people do not share a single culture, and there’s no surety the ones that are alive will still be so in the future.

      I learned about wendigos decades ago, so when a horned thing people called a wendigo started popping up, I knew enough to know that was weird. Google it now and the art establishes a wendigo is a stag-skulled undead monster. At the moment, the people who the wendigo story was taken from still know their own original stories – but anyone outside of that knows stag-skull-undead. Anyone who attempts to learn about another culture, anyone taken out of the culture trying to reconnect, is going to hit stag-skull-undead first, and they’re going to keep hitting it over and over as if that’s the consensus for what wendigo means, and even when people do dig deep enough to find the original, many will have decided they like the version they found first and keep that.

      Existing history is littered with fragments of stories that are otherwise lost. We’ve lost entire languages. We don’t know what Loki’s name means, or what role he took in the original myths. We don’t know what Tiamat looked like, though we know it wasn’t a multi-headed creature that’s the main association we have today, and probably wasn’t draconic at all. We know the “canon” of Greek mythology taught in schools went through various revisions but there’s little to no evidence of what the earlier versions were, and similarly it’s an open secret that supposed folklore collections like Grimm’s Fairy Tales were heavily revised to fit the author’s sensibilities of how stories should go.

      2
  8. Keleri says:

    and this is the problem with trying to have an international group, there are continents other than North America and Europe.

    4
  9. CrazyEd says:

     Latin makes sense, especially if we’re to assume this body originates in Europe and is only international due to colonialism, buuuuuuuuuut in some ways it’s too reasonable.

    On the other hand, they all clearly speak English, so… this just seems kinda pointless. Imagine having to speak Latin because *~*WIZARDS*~* but forgetting the Latin word for shoes so you just say “oh, you know, shoes” in English, and everyone has to realize how silly they’re being because they all know what you just said.

    he cared about Harry willbinding fairies when the WC thinks that’s totally acceptable, because he was acting based on an actual moral compass

    I thought he was just enforcing rules not even the government cared about for literally any excuse to kill Harry?

    it’s clear from this sentence that there’s no distinction between the different points and also if these did anything, Harry’s various injuries would’ve affected the flow of magic depending on which point got fucked up.

    Maybe it’s like field drug kits? The crystal doesn’t do anything special for anything other than turning black when it detects black magic or whatever, and the glowing is just its way of saying “yep I’ve detected it, you didn’t just wave it over the wrong place”?

    1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar