The “Gifted” — Who Needs Assistance When You Just Work Hard Enough?

Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, recommended to me by The Guy, my partner of several years now, whom I thought loved me, seemed innocuous enough. I thought it a simple fantasy series woven with a love story (“woven” here should read more like a nice cudgel to the head), which I was looking for. I thought it would be a nice epic fantasy, like Kushiel’s Dart, or something to sate my need for a good run of fantasy novels.

I however, didn’t heed Anna’s warning, when she asked me whywhyWHY would someone who loves me recommend a book series to me where a chicken is written in as EVIL personified (this is actually a simplification of the storyline, but it is true, nonetheless…), and as it turns out I think Anna may love me more. Who knows. Maybe I was hooked by the way the first two books ended with just the most convenient and precious heterocentric endings ever (there is one brief nod in the fourth book to homosexuality that seems it could be positive, but then it ends sadly, and seven books later there is no happy ending for this character).

The Sword of Truth series, however, does have many good qualities. It has several well written female characters whom I fell in love with, but, as I will write more about at my home blog, all seem to be written to be smitten with and to be in the service of the central protagonist, Richard Cypher/Rahl. They simply fall all over themselves to serve him, to love him, and to swear their lives to protect him with everything they have. Even if they were once evil or if they have tendencies to be evil (it’s just their way, you see, some women can’t help it), they somehow over come it because his presence is enough to ignite a spark to make them want to fight for their own lives him. I mean his cause.

But the Sword of Truth series isn’t just an innocent fantasy series. It isn’t even a series filled with tropes about women characters that I love that happens to beat me upside the head with forbidden romance and a love forbidden to procreate. It is a cautionary tale that warns of the evils of allowing communism to take over your life. This strange story of caring for your fellow man is bent into a monolithic monster of a machination that kills everything it touches. It simply asserts that you must live in misery for that is the only way that everyone can possibly meet the needs of every human evil, and makes the horrible and incorrect logical leap that religion is somehow tied to it, that this life is meaningless and that goodness can only be obtained in the hereafter. I can’t say I disagree with the atheistic themes, but really, a horse can only be beaten so many times before I glaze over and gloss over entire pages of exposition and soliloquy.

To be righteous in this world that Mr. Goodkind has created you must be willing and — key word alert here — able to fight for your own life and protect it with everything you have, up to and including killing those who would take it from you. With sword, with your bare hands, with magic if you are … gifted.

Yes, “gifted”. Being born with the ability to use and be touched by magic is considered a gift, which is not an uncommon theme in fantasy fiction and pop culture, but Goodkind takes it a step further, it seems to me. It is almost as though magic is another sense, an ability above and beyond that makes up for any other sense you may lack. Because if there is one thing that is all but lacking from this world that Mr. Goodkind has created, it is disability on the side of the bringers of good.

Even Adie, the “bone woman” (who oddly enough, having the speech pattern “I be” in the books*, is depicted as a non-white woman in the television series equivalent Legend of the Seeker even though that is now how she is described, but she is All Exotic! with Bones!), who had her vision stripped from her in her youth by a group of anti-magic zealots known as The Blood of the Fold by pouring bleach in her eyes, has learned to see. Her “gift” has enabled her to see. In fact, her vision, as is noted many times in the books, is often better than those who must rely on their ‘non-gifted’ vision.

I am going to drop the quotes from here on out, because it is getting tedious, and I think you get the point.

Adie never had to learn how to access the world around her. She never had to learn how to stumble around and feel with her other senses. She did, however, have to learn how to see with her magic, which made up for the vision which wasn’t there. This gave her the ability to be worthy, in the world that Goodkind created, to be able to fight for her life, and be allowed to live. People should just try harder, as Adie did. If you can’t get by in life, it is your own fault, and you are not contributing properly to the artwork that is the nobility of man!

You can understand why I was having a problem here.

Normally with pop-culture and fiction, there aren’t really absolutes, and I admit that there are multiple ways of interpreting things, but Goodkind has done a unique thing here: he has created a world of moral absolutes. This is right and this other things is wrong. What Richard Rahl (the protagonist) believes is right, and what he is against is wrong. There is clear good and evil, and the lines are rarely blurred. This use of a gift of magic allows people who otherwise have flaws to remain on the correct side of Richards moral compass. Richard, and Goodkind himself, could be described as Objectivists, which I think would clear up my frustrations. It should have set off alarms as soon as the philosophy lessons started to seep into my fantasy novel. Except OOPS! Mr. Goodkind says he is not a fantasy writer, merely a fiction writer he says (fuck you, fans!), so I have been wrong all along…

But Adie couldn’t be useful to the story, she couldn’t be the powerful and badass sorceress that she is depicted as being if she was indeed blind, amirite? Because if she was wasting all of her time trying to adapt to a world that was refusing to make accommodations for her she wouldn’t be able to fight for her individual life, or for Richard’s noble cause of laissez faire Capitalism freedom for all mankind (and I guess some of those womenfolk too).

The only time that her magical eyesight didn’t work was when she was faced with a woman, Jennsen, who was born without even a spark of the gift, called a “pristinely ungifted” person. She can not be touched by or interact with magic. Turns out, that Jennsen is Richard’s half sister, and her being ungifted is the bi-product of Richard’s gift. There can be only one! She has to be ungifted so that he can be gifted. It is very complicated, and there is an entire race of people on whom Adie’s magical eyesight doesn’t work! And Jennsen had to help Richard rally them up, because they were blind (oh the tropes and ableist language abound!) to evil, and their pacifist asses wouldn’t raise a finger to fight for their artwork of individual self interest.

I was just frustrated beyond all belief.

So if you want a nice stew of -ism and fuckery passed off as philosophy and disguised with characters that you will certainly love, I recommend Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. All eleven (soon to be twelve!) books of it!

EDIT: 01 Sept: I forgot a couple of links when I finished this post. Apologies!

12 Comments

  1. Good gods, it sounds like someone poured the Wheel Of Time books into a blender with pure libertarianism.

  2. Makes me want to work a condemnation of capitalism and an exaltation of a classless society in the fantasy novel I’m working on.

    Since it’s already condemning capitalism, shouldn’t be too hard.

  3. Also, the giftedness is sooo busted, like we’re all supposed to bootstrap ourselves into coping with everything as well as TAB and NT people can and do, even if it takes more effort or exceptional talents that TAB and NT people do not need in order to function. And don’t even talk about adapting or coping skills or assistive methods or technologies, right? Just do it!

    That’s really annoying. 🙁

  4. BUT! He’s NOT A FANTASY WRITER! Didn’t you KNOW? (F-You, Fans!)

    And, that’s right, Lisa. Because you only get this ONE LIFE, and you shouldn’t waste it loafing about waiting for people to do things for you (read: give you assistive methods). You need to fight for this with every thing you have! If you want it bad enough then you will just DO IT!

    Seriously, ask me how I finished (OK, I am only on the last book). It’s a thing with sequences and sets…

  5. How did you finish?

    He can say he’s not a fantasy writer all day, but dude went and wrote a fantasy series.

    And wow, I mean, I get enough of that in real life. I’m sure I could have avoided over two decades of being called lazy and stupid if I’d just done it, right? Maybe I could’ve used my ~giftedness~ to cancel all that out if I’d only wanted it badly enough.

  6. Lisa: How do you describe something you love and something you hate all at the same time?

    He somehow managed to write characters that I love so very much (Kahlan, Cara, Nicci, Berdine, Rachel, Jennsen, Nathan) and whom I want to see to the end, especially since the last three books feature Kahlan and Nicci. But then he went and based his “not a fantasy series” around a horrible pendant that I just can’t stand (Richard) who loves to talk to everyone as if they are all beneath him on every level. Then, he stops the Not A Fantasy Series to write Long Philosophy Novels based on these same characters ever three books… A great subtitle for all of the books would be “Richard is Always Right”. Fill it up with lots of rape-y scenes to demonstrate just how bad the Bad Guys really are, and be sure to go into graphic detail whenever you describe just how gruesome a woman’s sexually violent death is…

    How the hell did I get this far?

    Ya know, the TV show is so much better. At least it is actually a fantasy series!

    But the evil chicken. That was some win.

    See why I am confused?

  7. Also, a load of good my *giftedness* is doing me now, eh?

    Perhaps the idea to strip the entire world of magic, er…the Gift, wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Then we would all have to use our bootstraps to… uhh… Capitalism! The Artform of Man!

    BIAB! Brain just overloaded.

  8. Rugged individualism?

    I just know that supposedly I was destined for great things because I tested really high in the first grade. And then of course it didn’t really materialize as promised because no one bothered to figure out why I couldn’t manage to get anything done. Just all my fault for not applying myself.

    Yeah, I do get loving the characters in an otherwise busted work. That happens with nearly every bit of media I enjoy to varying degrees. It’s not a question of “if” but “can I tolerate the bustedness in this particular story?”

    I actually watched about a season of the TV series, which seemed to be a lot of fun, although a bit cheesy at times.

  9. Yes! Cheesy! That’s how I would put it! It might also be part of its charm for me!

  10. Yeah, nothing wrong with cheesy fun.

  11. Yeah, I actually TOLD OFF the person that recommended the series to me, because he didn’t give me the necessary trigger warnings. I didn’t even KNOW what a trigger warning was when I read the series, but I felt physically sick after one point in the first book, and couldn’t wipe it from my mind for days after. I’m used to violence, torture, and even occasional rape in fantasy novels, but it isn’t usually so graphic *gag*.

    Some good points you make, though I didn’t notice most of them what with all the graphic violence etc. I’m not sure I’ll be able to read the series again to check them out though.

  12. *hugs if you want them* Katherine. I can really appreciate that. My partner warned me way ahead of time about some stuff, such as the horrible scene where a child is brutally tortured by Darken Rahl. It is things like this — things meant to demonstrate how bad a Bad Guy is — that I just don’t care to read. And I don’t know about some people, but I can’t just “skip over” things because I am afraid it will contain something important.

    I am sorry that happened to you. I always try to warn people about things like that first, even with books I enjoy.