Working for Bigfoot: Stories From the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Most DRESDEN FILES fans probably didn’t know that one of Harry’s occasional clients is a Bigfoot named Strength of a River in His Shoulders. River has a half-human son named Irwin Pounder whom he has never met. Whenever River senses that Irwin needs help, he calls Harry Dresden, wizard for hire. So, in Working for Bigfoot, Jim Butcher gives us three novellas about three cases that Harry has worked for River. This is a welcome addition to the DRESDEN FILES, as fans wait for the next novel-length installment. It would also be a great introduction to Harry for those who aren’t familiar with Chicago’s greatest wizard.
In the first story, “B is for Bigfoot,” we witness the first meeting between Harry and River and learn that Irwin, an abnormally tall and geeky kid, is being bullied by a couple of football players at his middle school. When Harry goes undercover as a janitor to find out what’s going on, he discovers that a dangerous supernatural baddie is responsible. He wants to stop this guy from hurting Irwin, but he also wants to teach Irwin how to protect himself in the future. Geeks will love the pop culture allusions in “B is for Bigfoot.” There’s an anti-bullying message, and an important theme in this story and throughout Working for Bigfoot is the importance of a father’s role in a child’s development. Tonally, it’s cute and funny and a little cheesy (much like the early DRESDEN FILES — one thing we noted is that Butcher has in one way or another reproduced the styles of the different parts of the series very well). Hearts are worn on sleeves, the gym teacher is gruff and irascible (and more than he appears), and Harry honest-to-goodness dresses up as a janitor to bestow avuncular wisdom on a troubled youngster. In many ways it’s a children’s story — suiting the setting — and indeed if Butcher ever runs short of ideas he could make a quite adorable elementary school novel by rewriting it from Irwin’s perspective.
A few years have passed by the time River calls on Harry again in “I Was a Teenage Bigfoot.” This time Irwin is sick in the infirmary at his boarding school. The administration claims it’s mono, but River suspects foul play. Sure enough, when Harry arrives, he discovers that someone is syphoning power from Irwin. Butcher is a master at using humor to balance the darkness of his stories. For example, it’s hilarious that the school administrator’s name is Dr. Fabio. This is definitely a more comedic than serious work, which could be a turn-off for some readers — there’s a point, perhaps, at which even a story about a wizard private eye can get a little too absurd — but this is a story that, like Irwin, has moved on to the teenage zone. It has that spark of romance that nonetheless feels safely chaste, the story is more about sensation than about reason, and authority figures are not to be trusted. For teen fiction, the tone is suitable. Granted, the theory falls apart a little in that Harry saves the day — typically adults in teen fiction don’t offer useful help to the teenager — but it is still Harry’s story and perspective, just perhaps flavored by Irwin’s time of life. Overall, it’s a fun little episode, though certainly the lightest and most uneventful of the three.
In the last novella, “Bigfoot on Campus,” we join Irwin at the University of Oklahoma where he is a freshman football player who’s dating a gorgeous flirty girl who’s even more than she seems. Hired by River again, Harry arrives on campus and ends up in police custody after being involved in a dormitory orgy with vampires. (Yes, you read that right.) The reader hears the story as Harry is explaining it to the cop. We loved Harry even more after he tells the cop that he tried to find Irwin in his physics class. Irwin wasn’t there, but Harry stayed anyway because the class was so interesting. In fact, Harry’s role here becomes rather interesting, thematically, as where he appeared as something like a fairy godfather in the first two stories, we see him here as a quasi-peer to Irwin, attending lectures at his college and even flirting with his girlfriend. There’s still a certain division between them, but it has palpably lessened. It’s a clever piece of work: Irwin’s place in the awkward period between technical and actual adulthood (and the necessarily altered relationships to his parental figures) drives a lot of the story’s action from behind the scenes, making it clear that we’re reaching the end of a maturation arc. Of course, it’s still a story about sasquatches, vampires, and wizards beating each other up, but it’s a more adult portrayal than we would have seen earlier in the collection. It’s nice to see the care Butcher’s put into his tone in each instance.
These stories definitely add up to more than the sum of their parts, and we think Butcher and his publishers made the right choice in releasing them as they did. Taken like this, it speaks to the changes in Harry and the series in addition to giving readers an amusing Bigfoot Bildungsroman. The collection isn’t really up to par with a new DRESDEN novel — Butcher is still first and foremost a novelist — but it’s still very enjoyable and should help tide fans over until Peace Talks.
We tried Working for Bigfoot in two formats. The print version was compiled by Subterranean Press and features some interior art (including an illustration of the orgy) by Vincent Chong. The stories were originally published in these anthologies, respectively: Under My Hat: Tales From the Cauldron (2012) edited by Jonathan Strahan, Blood Lite III: Aftertaste (2011) edited by Kevin J. Anderson, and Hex Appeal (2012) edited by P.N. Elrod.
Penguin Audio has released an audio version narrated by James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) who so brilliantly narrated the DRESDEN FILES novels. We love Marsters in the role of Harry Dresden and the actor’s familiarity with the character results in his usual flawless breezy performance here. The audio version is just under four hours long.