I discovered the Harry Dresden books in about 2004. I was wandering the stacks of my local public library, feeling a little disaffected. A lifelong sci-fi and fantasy fan, over the previous decade I had largely fled the genre, diving into mysteries, police procedurals, and action thrillers.
But I still checked out the Sci-Fi section, in the hopes that something new and interesting might strike my fancy. On this particular day, I noticed four books in what was obviously a series, called the Dresden Files. Always a sucker for anything I could enjoy longer than the week it takes to finish most single novels, I read the back cover.
Hmm, I remember thinking, The only wizard listed in the Chicago phone book… Promising.
Laurel K. Hamilton and Kim Harrison had come up during my self-imposed exile from Fantasy, so this was my first exposure to what I would later learn was called Urban Fantasy. Grafting the supernatural world onto the private eye motif sounded like fun, so I grabbed all four books and was off to the races.
I still go back and re-read the series from the start every few years. I enjoy the stories, the narrative style, and even the fact that Jim Butcher is a way better writer today than he was when he started. While Traveler is not in any way an urban fantasy, more than one reviewer has commented that the narrative style reminds them of the Dresden books. I proudly wear all my influences on my sleeve. If Trav Becker sounds a little like Harry in your head, I am flattered.
In 2005, The Sci-Fi channel produced a Dresden Files TV series, and with the same kind of questionable parental judgment that led me to tell a ten-year-old, home sick from school, that we were going to watch my favorite Christmas movie to watch together (Die Hard), I encouraged him to check it out.
He took right to it, and when the series ended, marched over to my bookshelf and soon was burning his way through the books. But as time went on, and new books in the series came out, this presented some logistical problems. Early on, sharing the new Dresden was easy. Alex would read until his bedtime, then hand the tome off to me. But as he got older, he stayed up later, and I wasn’t going to give the book to him when it was MY bedtime. I may be old, but I do have some pride. So, to this day, The Dresden Files and Harry Potter are the two series I had to buy double copies of whenever a new came out.
Alex is in his twenties now, and living in Chicago. This past summer, I went to visit him, after he had moved to a new neighborhood. Normally, this would be a family outing, but his mom was traveling for work, and I had a free weekend.
“What do you want to do?” I asked him upon my arrival.
“Well,” he said thoughtfully, “Graceland Cemetery is only about a half mile away.”
For Dresden neophytes, The Graceland Cemetery in Lincoln Park, just a few blocks north of Wrigley Field, is an important setting in the Dresden-verse. It contains Harry’s empty grave, placed there by an enemy as a warning. Sometimes Harry goes there to think. And when he does, he is occasionally visited by the ghost of Inez, the spirit attached to the monument of a young girl who died in the 1800s. People bring small stuffed animals and toys to leave at her statue to this day.
The eerie statue called “Eternal Silence” is animated by another supernatural being for a conversation with the wizard detective.
So, Alex and I spent part of an afternoon searching the cemetery for these monuments. We found both, although if there is also an open grave with a headstone that reads Here Lies Harry Dresden – He Died Doing The Right Thing, we missed it.
Something else we discovered during our walk around Graceland cemetery, are that there are dozens, if not hundreds of gravestones that are the exact same design as the Washington Monument. It has something to do with Freemasonry (Insert your own Masonic Conspiracy Theory here).
Alex hit the Field Museum on his own a couple weeks later, and took a picture of Sue, the tyrannosaurus Harry animates in one of the all-time greatest battle scenes in all of literature.
We didn’t get to some of the other Chicago sites mentioned in the books that day. After all, you can go to The Shedd Aquarium anytime, but you have to be really devoted to search out St. Mary of The Angels church, home of Harry’s friend and confessor Father Forthill. I’m pretty sure the door in bottom right corner of the picture is the one Harry sneaks in after hours.
“I wonder what other dads and their sons do in their free time,” Alex mused as walked past the umpteenth Graceland obelisk memorializing a long-dead Freemason.
I thought of all the families wasting their time just a few thousand yards away at a Cubs game.
“Can’t imagine,” I replied.
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