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Bridge over troubled waters

So I finally, finally finished the latest Dresden Files novel, Ghost Story. I think I am the last one on my flist to do so. Some folks gave it enthusiastic reviews, others were less than impressed. I have to admit to slogging through some tedium at times, which is part of the reason I took so long to finish it. The other part is, I only read non-interweb stuff for a short while before bed each night.

But see, there is a reason this book wasn't the Best!DresdenFilesNovel!Ever! It was a bridge story. And bridge stories are traditionally kind of mediocre. A bridge story is a chapter in a book, a book/film in a series, or an episode in a TV series that transitions between two plot heavyweights. Writers use bridge stories for a lot of reasons: because the second heavyweight needs more set-up that would slow down the pace of the second heavyweight were the set-up placed within it, or to give viewers/readers (and themselves!) an emotional break before plunging them into more rising action. The second of those reasons is why bridge stories are often a little silly.

Examples of bridge stories? I'll borrow from the Buffyverse: Bad Eggs. Go Fish. The Girl in Question. Among other things, Bad Eggs sets up Surprise/Innocence by dealing in a light, silly way with the topic of the consequences of sexual activity, and pours on the Buffy/Angel UST so you are not in the least surprised when they end up crossing the line one episode later. Go Fish allows the writers to feature a Snyder-Buffy showdown that makes it more believable when he expels her from school in Becoming. And The Girl in Question is how the writers deal with the one piece of baggage both Spike and Angel need to resolve before heading into the alley in Not Fade Away: their lingering belief that each of them will somehow end up with Buffy some day.

I became aware of the value of bridge stories when I was writing my virtual series, The Destroyer. You're thinking, "Okay, I have 22 episodes here and I want to get to point B in the character journey, but not in next episode, that's too soon. How do I stretch it out a little without the readers forgetting the basic conflict and themes I'm building?"

Ghost Story is the bridge story between Harry accepting the offer to becoming the Winter Knight and Harry actually becoming the Winter Knight. Among the things it sets up for us is the reassurance that his willingness to make a deal like that with Mab was not what it seemed: Harry never intended to go through with it, and his plan for avoiding it was to commit suicide-by-assassin.

But of course we know after how many odd novels in the series that Butcher isn't going spare Harry that fate. And it seems pretty likely to plunge Harry into Darkness, given how much he was willing to compromise his principles to save his daughter in Changes, a darkness that would be unpalatable to his avid fans (us)*.

So Ghost!Harry is a story bridge plot device to rinse the gray out Harry before he winds up literally in Mab's clutches**. Which may seem like a bit of a cop-out to those of us weened on the Buffyverse. We've gotten used to sitting on the edge of our seats, wondering if our hero really has gone too far to the Dark Side, and then being kind of skeptical when in the end, they emerge all shiny and pure (think of white-washed Angel or Willow, especially).

And maybe it is a bit of a dodge on Butcher's part. I'll reserve judgement on whether Butcher's bridge story did Harry's journey more harm than good after I read the next book. I'm not entirely convinced the resolution of Ghost Story was all it appears to be, either.

* There is, of course, a viewpoint that argues the ends justify the means, and those with good ends do not corrupt themselves by merely stooping to any means necessary to achieve those ends. Reminds me of an old ATPOer named Max who used to use the OS Star Trek episode "The Savage Curtain" as an argument why Season 2 Angel was justified in his choice of making "Total War" against Wolfram and Hart. Jim Butcher doesn't seem to hold this view.

** One that reminds me a bit of AtS' Awakening, a classic exemplar of an effective bridge story.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 18th, 2011 06:45 pm (UTC)
Good points, it was also for me a rather mediocre. I think we have heard a lot about Harry getting darker. And I don't see it really. He has been stressed out and made some desperate and stupid mistake. But there is very little arrogance or cruelty in his actions, and his motive seems often to protect others than control them.

He even sort of turned the virtual fallen angel Lash, so she gave up trying to take control over him and instead saved his life. Is that something even saints, in the Catholic faith can't do?

He even seemed to me to be more grounded, in the last couple of books. By his many friends and even family, than he was in the first books, where he was much more of an outsider

My favorite fantasy serie is the Vlad Taltos books by Steven Brust. Here the main character start out as mid level mob boss and part time assassin (a nicer word than murder for hire), part of a oppressed minority and a racist in many ways himself, and with very little connection to his own people. This can perhaps sound a little heavy?, but the first books are rather straight action, with Vlad as a sort of roguish James Bond. So the series start with him on the top, and then later he will lose most of it, and his journey begins to become a of a decent man (in his own way, thou still somewhat arrogant).
Aug. 19th, 2011 01:21 am (UTC)
He even seemed to me to be more grounded, in the last couple of books. By his many friends and even family, than he was in the first books, where he was much more of an outsider.

Gradually, as the novels have gone on, he's become more and more connected than he was in the beginning. Which I personally like. But it does make him more vulnerable to bad guys in a way he was not before.
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Aug. 19th, 2011 01:30 am (UTC)
Yeah, Harry made that quite clear, that he was going into the deal with Mab with both eyes open and his wits in tact, and was not prepared to become her toady in any sense. So what we will see should (hopefully be) all Harry.

And frankly, I would be bored of Evil!Harry "because something took him over". Jeesh. How many times did Joss pull that one?
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Aug. 19th, 2011 05:16 pm (UTC)
I think with Whedon the "I was possessed! That made me Ev0l!!" was less about the character who went through the experience than the character being tormented by their friend/lover/family member being evol&possessed.

It's about Buffy having to deal with Angelus or DarkWillow, and *Buffy's* growth or not from that experience, it's about the L.A. gang having to deal with the torment of Ange/lus or CorJasmendelia, it's about Angel et al being tormented by Illyria. It's not about Angel/us, Willow, Cordelia, or Fred themselves. What they went through was completely incidental.
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Aug. 19th, 2011 11:49 pm (UTC)

Sigh. Reading the comics unfortunately made me somewhat negative/cynical on Whedon and the Buffyverse. (Biggest mistake I made, should never have read the things, should have just stuck with Brian Lynch.)

I waited to see what other people's reactions were, and was avoiding the comics while I finished my Angel continuation fan fics, and in the end I was glad I did because so few people on my flist liked the Buffy comic.
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Aug. 20th, 2011 01:46 am (UTC)
I am still in that state of grace where despite some things that *really* pissed me off towards the end of the show(s), I am not going to throw the baby out with the bath water and reject everything in both shows. I can go back and revisit them again in the future when I'm not burned out on them.

Still glad I never read those comics! Everything people described sounded like a wasted opportunity to me.
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Aug. 20th, 2011 01:26 pm (UTC)
Well, I can still honestly say that what I was hearing of the story just sounded lame with a side of lame.

I thought, "Jeesh, you don't have budget or actor availability constraints, you could raise the bar on the plot possibilities far and above the TV show!"

But apparently not.
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Aug. 20th, 2011 08:40 pm (UTC)
He had it, once upon a time. But we all burn out, I suppose.
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Aug. 21st, 2011 03:32 pm (UTC)
I can believe that.
Aug. 19th, 2011 01:25 am (UTC)
Not last on flist to finish, because I've just put it on my list of books to read. So I'll probably post about this one in a couple of years...And not reading any posts related to the series until I start reading.3
Aug. 19th, 2011 01:31 am (UTC)
Have you read the other ones?
Sep. 1st, 2011 02:13 am (UTC)
ha, not the last to finish it. I just did. I guess I didn't see it in terms of a bridge story but seeing this argument, I can't disagree. I was more put out by a) the lack of Karrin doing much of anything b) the lame excuse for why Thomas was all but forgotten but mostly c) him going on and on and ON about what he did to the Red Court and what happened afterwards. I think we got it on the first three whines
Sep. 1st, 2011 03:27 am (UTC)
It was rather long and protracted for the kind of story it was. One of the dangers of not editing a successful writer's novels enough. Anne Rice and JK Rowling got too wordy in their later novels as well.

Not that I'm one to talk. ; )
Sep. 1st, 2011 03:36 am (UTC)
i'm not arguing this either. the novels do get longer and longer and you could have probably cut 50 pages out of just him whining over the Red Court issue
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )