Sunday, March 25, 2012

Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth series: my reaction

I have to say that Terry Goodkind is a good writer.  I haven't really read fantasy novels in a while, but several weeks ago while with my kids at the library, I had a couple of minutes, and there are a number of series that I never finished, because the author wasn't done writing them.

I picked up book 9 or 10 in the Sword of Truth series, got re-addicted, and have finished the series.  Richard Rahl is a convincing character overall, and I recommend the books to anyone that enjoys fantasy.

There were a number of issues that I didn't like however.  Terry puts a lot of his own beliefs into the words of his primary characters, and at times it did seem a little bit preachy.  Actually, really preachy.  For example, there is this idea that the bad guys are really just attacking the good guys because they are jealous of their freedom and happiness.  It so reminds me of what President Bush said about radical Islam.  "They hate us because of our freedom!"  That seems to me to be way to easy and simple.  If we ask these bad guys why they are fighting, they aren't going to say that.  I have no real idea what they would say, but it wouldn't be that.

Mr. Goodkind also talks a lot about sexual violence towards females.  All the bad guys do it.  And there's more detail than I'm really comfortable with.  From what I read about real world conflicts, there are certain types of conflicts where sexual violence is used, and this is a sad and terrible thing.  I think that in some ways it is good to paint a more realistic picture, but I also think that not all conflicts have that element as blatantly open or as universal.  In the Sword of Truth, all the bad men want to rape, and it's socially acceptable among the peers of the bad guys of each group, and none of them think twice, or show remorse, etc.  While ignoring this element of what happens in the real world may be a bit cowardly, there are other ways of including it.  Many authors use it without pages of detailing the specifics, and I think that works well enough.  I could almost see editors censoring in the book, because there are certain things that are completely explicit, usually involving actions and anatomy from the waist up, and certain things that were less so, like from the waist down, even if the circumlocuting for waist down actions and anatomy didn't hinder understanding of what was happening.

The author also shows a great disdain for selflessness and sacrifice, indicating that that is what the bad guys teach their people to do.  He uses only a narrowed connotation of these ideas, presenting only how they can be abused.  The women and wizards of the bad guys must offer themselves to the service of evil because of what they have and are.

The bad guys, for most of the books "The Imperial Order," teach that all people should be equal all the time no matter what, although, hypocritically, their leader Jagang considers himself better than the rest.  The good business people, the rich, and those with the "gift" (magic), should enslave themselves and give it all up for the order.  Mr. Goodkind states that this is a perversion of the right idea that all people are born equal.  I think this is kind of an anti-communism idea, and it works fairly well for him.  He does present it as black and white though, generally implying and showing that everything in the communal group is bad, and almost everything in the "free" group is good.  This may be fine for politics, but it lacks any real balance and seems a bit cartoonish to me. 

The people living under communism may not have many of the blessings that we have under capitalism, but I have seen some of them smile once or twice on the programs that I watch (history, news, cultural programs, etc.) and I don't believe that the entirety of their existence is sad drudgery as they wait to die.  Call me crazy.
Terry Goodkind also has a real dislike for religion.  The Good guys don't have religion, although the main character, Richard Rahl, gets worshipped by his entire nation who kneels down and puts their faces on the ground facing him and says "Lord Rahl protect us..."  and this whole litany about how Richard Rahl is their savior and lord.  This is finally stopped at the end of the series by Richard, because its usefulness in protecting the good guys has passed.  The bad guys who don't really worship anything per se, have religion, and that's bad, because they can't think for themselves.

I'm kindof tire of this whole tirade against religion in these fantasy and science fiction works.  Religion is either not present at all, or it is a tool of the bad guys in a lot of these works.  Among many in my age group, religion seems to be worthy of all the negative press that it gets.  The good that it does is not often appreciated.  On balance, in my view, any objective person that has a full grasp of the facts and history will say that religion has had a positive impact on society. 

One thing that I really do appreciate from Terry Goodkind is his planning from beginning to end of the books.  You're still learning about things that happened in the first book near the end of the 12th book.  Things that (I think) he had to put there in part so that they could be used in story resolution at the end of the series.

There was a TV show called Legend of the Seeker based on this series.  I didn't include many pictures from it though because I don't know much about copyright rules.  I have included links to all sources for pictures, and will remove them if asked by owners.


Anonymous said...

He doesn't make religion look bad, the people who are "religious" in the imperial order are bad just like any "extremist" in religion. Mindless people being told what to do for the better good of all people.. including one's who do not deserve it. It is a fantasy world so it is fantasy and extreme. I love the way he made the good seem as if to do what they wanted in life and what made them happy. To live and strive. Yet help one another as well. I loved faith of the fallen and how he portrayed virtue.

Big A said...

Good review mate. Some spoilers though, which you should warn of......

I agree wholeheartedly about his anticommunist sentiment and in "Faith of the fallen" it got ridiculous..... But then it is his series and I like to remind myself that the evil empire, being evil, may have applied any system to evil ends. Evil first, commies second. If in future books he suggests that they are evil due to the system, I may throw up..... I didn't get the anti-religion stuff though.

I'm about to read naked empire and will stick with the series, I am most impressed at how Richard manages to be written as saintly, but also believable. Other peoples plans often seem plausable to me, only for the seeker to demostrate the "truth"...... Rather than playing everyone else as bufoons.