Good morning! I’ve caught up with another writer friend of mine and asked him to write us an entry based on a series of conversations and observations we’ve had on Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. Jeremy McNabb is a steampunk author, youth director, and speaker. His latest e-novella, Gravesight, is available on Amazon Kindle. Hope you enjoy the read!
Solid or Static?
Typically, good characters change and evolve over the course of a novel. They change even more drastically over the course of the series. The author presents them with new challenges, new weaknesses, they take unexpected turns. In their core, they remain the same person usually, but the way they interact with other characters, their environment, even their own doubts and fears may change. And these changes are the very thing many readers are looking forward to. Ask any long-time fan of a series what they hope to see in the future, and you’ll get a wish-list of storylines that contain all sorts of variations on otherwise well-known characters.
- What if Hermoine Granger was romantically involved with Draco Malfoy, instead of Ron Weasley?
- What if Leverage’s character Eliot suddenly became addicted to performance enhancing drugs?
- What if Jesus had a wife?
Fan-fiction websites are full of such speculative stories. And really, bookstores are starting to see their fair share, as well. That leaves us with a few questions: What do we do with an unchanging character? Do we have any use, whatsoever, for a person who has found their equilibrium with the world in which they reside?
One of the most effectively enacted, unchanging characters of the modern age is a man named Michael Carpenter, who appears in Jim Butcher’s urban fantasy series The Dresden Files. Here is a character who drips with Christian symbolism. He shares his first name with the leader of Heaven’s armies. His last name, which also happens to be his profession, is also the earthly profession of Jesus and Joseph. He carries a not-so-symbolic sword. A brief biography looks something like this: Carpenter, devoted husband and father of seven kids, is a descendent of Charlemagne, a Knight of the Cross, and his prayers succeed where Wizard Dresden’s magic fails. We read that God repeatedly calls upon him to take up his sword Amoraccius to vanquish the Denarians, thirty rogue arch-demons each possessing one of Judas’ silver coins. Butcher does a terrific job of making Carpenter into the very definition of holiness without employing even a hint of self-righteousness. When Michael isn’t battling demons and dragons, he’s politely reminding Harry not to take the Lord’s name in vain, and that black magic is of the devil. If ever there was a successfully executed character who had attained entire sanctification, Michael Carpenter is the one.
But therein lies the catch. The man never changes. Ever. From every angle, Carpenter should be a failure of a character. He never loses his cool. He never breaks down. He never falters and rarely hesitates. In every way, he is static in his perfection. Or would be, if that was the whole story.
Rather than presenting us with a character who fails to interact with reality—the problem behind most static characters—Jim Butcher has provided us with an excellent example of a character who is rooted in something beyond reality. Michael doesn’t ignore temptations and trials as much as he seems to rise above them. It isn’t that he doesn’t react to his environment, but that he sees his environment for what it really is. It isn’t that he’s static.
It’s that he’s incredibly solid.
Jim Butcher has created a character who has built his house upon the Rock, and because of his mastery of the written word, he has made Michael’s surety in Christ as realistic as that of any believer we could meet on the street. And that’s what makes for good writing. Jim Butcher seems to understand the folly of a static character, and writes in such a way that Michael Carpenter sidesteps all the pitfalls into which even seasoned Christian writers stumble. And in doing so, he sets a standard for the rest of us.