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I enjoyed the Dresden Files TV show and am considering the first book in the series.

I was wondering how much the TV show differed from the books, what are the main differences?

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    The books are far better. Be warned that Storm Front is Jim Butcher's first published book, the quality rises later in the serie, especially in book 4 and its sequels. – user8252 Jan 28 '13 at 11:43
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    The TV series is, approximately, "what someone would write based on a Cliff's Notes version of Storm Front"; its a pretty good sci-fi TV show and a horrible Dresden Files incarnation. – KutuluMike Jan 28 '13 at 17:12
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tl;dr The television series is based very roughly on the premise of the first few novels -- Harry is a "professional wizard" living and working in Chicago, primarily as a private investigator and police consultant.

Once you get past the third book in the series, though, the novels take on a far different and far more "epic" tone than the series ever did; the show is basically a buddy-cop drama where the buddy happens to be a wizard. The novels very quickly take on much broader, world- and universe- changing proportions.


If you read Storm Front the plot and many of the characters will seem familiar to you, because the original first episode for the TV show was based on Storm Front (though I think they aired them out-of-order). Beyond that, the show diverges quickly and dramatically from the novels. There are literally thousands of minor differences between the series and the novels (just Google "dresden files tv vs book" for pages upon pages of griping from fans of the novels) but the most glaring ones are:

Main Characters

  • TV Harry has a less traumatic backstory than book Harry; TV Justin Morningway was related to Harry and not a nice guy but not shown to be nearly as abusive. TV Harry killed TV Justin when he found out that Justin killed his father. Book Justin DuMorne was just some evil wizard guy that liked taking in orphan wizards and using them for his own ends, and used both Harry and his second apprentice Elayne in some very dark magic rituals. Book Harry kills book Justin in self defense using black magic, which leaves a permanent mark on his soul that comes back up repeatedly in the novels.

  • Present-day TV Harry "blends in" a lot better than book Harry -- in the novels he carries an actual carved wizard's staff, wand, and other magical implements and wears a leather trenchcoat (outside) or wool robe (inside) on a regular basis. He openly does wizard-y things a lot, unlike TV Harry that is much more subtle and secretive about what he does.

  • TV Murphy's past is also significantly different. In the novels, she heads up a Chicago PD department dedicated to solving (and covering up) supernatural crimes; she took that position over from her father who did it for many, many years. Her position basically paints her as the crazy, kooky daughter of the crazy, kooky old cop, something that causes extreme amounts of stress in the early part of the series. Plus, in the novels she's small, blonde, and a martial arts expert; you would not believe how many people were furious because TV Murphy was a brunette and not named Karrin. (Side-note: TV Murphy is Connie Murphy because, at the time of filming, the Chicago PD police had an actual "Karyn Murphy" on staff.)

  • Harry and Murphy in the TV show get emotionally attached pretty quickly; in the novels, it was a long time before they even begin to acknowledge that level of attachment, and it plays a big part in the later novels.

  • Bianca the vampire plays a way way way spoilerifically different role in novels; in the TV show there's only one kind of vampire and they are relatively cordial towards Harry. In the novels, there are multiple kinds of vampire and Bianca is... not so cordial.

  • Susan and Morgan are relatively similar in the TV show to the novels, but we don't see enough of them to really know. The other recurring characters in the show (Sid and that dragon lady, for example) are made up entirely for the show, though Murphy does have a police side-kick that plays approximately the Sid role in a few novels.

Magic and The World

The overall tone of magic in the TV series is also hugely different from the novels.

  • In the novels, Murphy is well aware that magic exists -- her department's entire job is to protect Chicago from magical bad guys while preventing the public from learning about it. Harry has no problems telling Murphy things about magic as facts, while in the TV show he's always very careful not to reveal too much and always couch it in "if magic were real which it's not wink wink" terms. The stuff Harry's not allowed to talk about is much higher level -- the existence of the White Council (the "High Council" in the TV show) and the Laws of Magic, for example, are off-limits.

  • The novels spend a lot of time talking about the ramifications of Harry killing Justin with magic. In the TV show, there's a general implication that using dark magic is evil, all the time, and that Harry's problem with Morgan stems from his one-time use of dark magic. In the novels, using black magic is accepted in a not-really-our-business way, as long as you don't harm a human with it. Harry's problem in the novels is that he killed a human being with magic, and he's basically "on parole" when the novels begin, with Morgan as his PO. The implication in the novels is that killing with any magic makes you an evil wizard and that's what the White Council is trying to avoid.

  • Harry in the novels actually acts like a wizard most of the time. The TV show shows him doing a smattering of sympathetic magic (tracking spells, etc) and potions; in the books, his specialty is super-flashy evocation magic like fireballs and explosions. He is very much a "bruiser" wizard in the novels.

  • The novels have a vastly more rich and diverse magical universe; there are multiple kinds of vampire (we've seen three, a fourth was referenced, and Butcher claims there also three beyond that), fae, angels, fallen angels, demons, werewolves and other shifters, parallel dimensions, and plenty of other stuff. The later novels in the series are very much a world-spanning epic good-vs-evil confrontation.

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  • 3 kinds of vampire: We see three. There is brief mention of a fourth. Although talking post-Changes, I suppose an argument could be made... – Darael Jan 28 '13 at 19:24
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    also, Harry didn't use dark magic to kill Justin in the books. He just used magic, which broke the rules. It wasn't like he was consorting with outsiders or demons. – sarge_smith Jan 29 '13 at 14:28
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    "that dragon lady" in the TV show is named Ancient Mai, which is the name of one of the wizards on the Senior Council in the novels. That said, in the novels, there is no indication that Ancient Mai is anything but human. (She's no fan of Harry in either incarnation, though.) – Brian S Jan 30 '14 at 15:29
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    nice answer, but I can't believe Bob was omitted from the character list. – YLearn Aug 14 '15 at 13:18
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    Your next-to-last point is entirely incorrect. While Harry does have a talent for Evocation, his specialty is in tracking spells and similar sympathetic magic. He only pulls out the evocation when he's in combat. The books tend to focus on the times when Harry is frequently in combat, so it's an easy mistake to make. 90+% of the time, Harry is doing magic with Play-Do and Ken dolls. – Jeff Aug 14 '15 at 14:33
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I think the transition from TV series to book's would be a lot easier than the reverse. I read the books first (series starts slow but improves greatly) and have just started to watch the TV series (just watched the first 2 episodes).

So many things are bugging me (where Dresden lives, where he works, Bob being the ghost of Dresden's ancestor and not an overly horny Spirit of Knowledge, no Blue Beetle, Murphy not being small, blond and in charge of Special Investigations, the whole story about Murphy's father, Justin being related to Harry, the weak sauce shield bracelet and probably a bunch of other stuff I just haven't seen yet. The only way I'm going to be able to enjoy the TV series is if I treat it as a story with no real connection to the books.

Force yourself to read through the first few books and you will be devouring the rest of the series in no time.

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  • While there's a brief mention of differences, the heart of this "answer" seems to entirely be commentary. – FuzzyBoots Aug 14 '15 at 12:57
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I loved these books. Read a few of them more than once. My biggest complaints with the show:

  • Harry carries a hockey stick, and no wand.
  • Harry's duster and hat were almost characters themselves.
  • BOB is so so wrong... I miss the talking skull.
  • Lack of Fae and everything else supernatural.
  • Morgan: Everything about her.
  • I miss "FUEGO!" and all the rest of his spells
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  • I'm not sure what this really adds that wasn't already covered more clearly six years ago. – T.J.L. Nov 8 '19 at 19:49

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