Stranger than Fiction: An Apology to Terry Goodkind

Though I’ve never written about him before, I have expressed a number of negative opinions regarding the Sword of Truth author from time to time. Not that his epic fantasy series is without its merits—the first three books are quite good. After that, however, it gets very uneven. Temple of the Winds and Soul of the Fire were so bad I just stopped reading the series. Years later, I picked up the sixth book, Faith of the Fallen, in an airport on a whim, and was pleasantly surprised. In a way, it’s probably the high point of the series (at least through the 11th book which I had thought wrapped it all up, but apparently he’s written more since then that I have not read.)

In this sixth book, our hero Richard Rahl is captured by his foes—the evil Imperial Order—and taken to their capital to be forced to live as a common man. The Order is a Soviet-style leftist dictatorship with a weird anti-human religion tacked on that gives heart to their ideology. The thought of Richard’s captor is that once he sees the plight of the poor and the downtrodden, he’ll see the value of the Order’s ideology of “compassion.” Instead, Richard thrives as an entrepreneur making his way through a dismal world of poverty & oppression and improves not only his own lot, but that of almost everyone he meets. The climax of the book is not the revolution that Richard ends of sparking—it’s the statue he carves that embodies and explains the spirit of human nobility to a culture that (in a bad misrepresentation of the doctrine of original sin) considered humanity to be fundamentally and exclusively wretched. Richard’s work of art reminds them of something which had long been driven out of them by their priests, their petty bureaucrats, and their tyrannical overlords. It has its flaws, but the book succeeds as a work of art because Goodkind managed to do what his protagonist does—powerfully communicate an abstract concept by crystallizing it in a tangible form.

Though arguably the best of the lot, Faith of the Fallen also begins what ultimately drags the series down so far: the substitution of exciting stories and interesting characters with soap boxes and mouth-pieces for the philosophy of objectivism to which Goodkind is devoutly committed. Even if I were a fan of Ayn Rand’s ideals, which I mostly am not, a successful novel needs to be an interesting story first and foremost. It can serve to express an ideology, but it can never do so well if it ever ceases to be a good story. As the series goes on, the ideology takes over to such an extent that Goodkind ends up weirdly retconning his own series and flattening its world. For example, though Goodkind crafted a dualistic world with a good Creator and an evil Keeper of the Underworld, because objectivism is atheistic, Goodkind goes to great and convoluted lengths to actually write the Creator out of his story. Likewise, early on, Richard becomes physically unable to eat meat because he has to balance all the killing that he does whilst being the hero; but later on he has to start eating meat again because he realizes that all his killing is so completely and utterly justified that it requires no balance whatsoever (he figures this out after massacring a mob of peace protestors who were protecting that book’s villain.) Accordingly, most of the latter books fail at being stories because of the extent to which ideology swallows absolutely everything (though the part towards the end where Richard escapes his enemy’s clutches by starting what is essentially a soccer riot was admittedly very entertaining.)

So why do I owe Goodkind an apology? Well, I felt that one of the greatest flaws in Faith of the Fallen was all the straw men. The villains, as I’ve already mentioned, are deeply ideological, but often in a stilted and unrealistic way (though not as bad as in later books.) I felt they showed a lack of insight into the mentality of those who hold leftist and authoritarian views. Richard’s captor, Nicci, for example, has a long history of super-generous but mindless charity that frequently results in her being mugged by those she’s trying to help and enabling them in all sorts of self-destructive behavior.  All that is fairly realistic, but the self-perception of her beliefs  sometimes stretched the bounds of credulity.   When she is called on her foolishness, she often goes on and on about how thugs should never be judged because nobody knows what circumstances conspired to made them that way. She diatribes about how responsibility to the unfortunate negates any & all sense of ownership and how people therefore have every right to literally rob her. For all intents and purposes, she thinks it’s a crime against humanity to hold thieves accountable and a mark of selfishness to actually stop someone from robbing you. And she acts accordingly. Having never encountered anyone who actually thought this way, I considered it to be a pretty over-the-top criticism of socialism that was both ineffective and detrimental to the story.

Then I found out that people like this actually exist.

Jordan Sargent comments about a New York woman who was mugged for her cell phone by a 13-year-old boy, but chased the thief down, caught him, and turned him over to police. Though most people would consider this an appropriate response and even applaud her determination in fulfilling her civic duty, Sargent has a different perspective.

Now, granted, it’s not entirely Clara Vondrich’s fault that this 13-year-old boy was arrested by police for stealing her phone. But, she did, by her own admission, willingly cause the commotion that led up to police being summoned, and she did—as the photos show—keep the kid pinned to a car until police arrived despite already knowing that he didn’t posses her phone.

Vondrich says that she “felt sorry” for the kid, but not enough to not have him arrested and charged with grand larceny. The boy will now enter New York’s vaunted juvenile justice system, which will likely [****] up his life even further, simply because he snatched a white lady’s iPhone in Williamsburg.

If you are nonviolently mugged by a child, continue to let him run along with his friends. The world will be a better place.

Yes… it’s not “entirely” the victim’s fault that the one who victimized her was arrested for doing so. Just mostly. After all, she admittedly made a fuss about being robbed! How dare a white woman take offense as such a thing? Doesn’t she know she owes her smart phone to any passing underprivileged minority who non-verbally requests it?

Sargent tries to backpedal in the comments by saying:

Since people seem confused: I’m not saying that Clara Vondrich shouldn’t have chased the kid down and gotten her phone back. That’s totally normal. I just think she shouldn’t have pinned him down so that he would be charged with grand larceny and then posed for photos in the New York Post. I think this is pretty agreeable.

Now, it’s fair enough to criticize posing for pictures as a form of gloating, but this is a function of the media rather than the robbery victim he calls out. It’s fair enough to criticize the justice system for either being too strict or too inept, but neither is this the victim’s doing (indeed, this problem has much more to do with leftist attempts to divert the justice system from retribution to systematic rehabilitation—a quick proportional punishment wouldn’t ruin the boy’s life the way being entered into the system apparently will.) In any case, it’s quite clear that Sargent’s readers came to their “confused” understanding of what he’s saying because they actually read what he said. After all, he specifically told victims of vibrant child muggers to let them run along to their friends.

Here we have a man who apparently believes that the property of whites is fair game to any young minority who wants to take it. Here we have a man who apparently believes that accountability and consequences for doing evil are too horrible to be inflicted on minority criminals—that our response to a mugging should essentially be “boys will be boys.” Thus, what I wrongly presumed to be a caricature has now been made flesh. And to one Mr. Terry Goodkind, I must apologize for thinking you too unrealistic in your characters and criticisms.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
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4 Responses to Stranger than Fiction: An Apology to Terry Goodkind

  1. Brandon M. says:

    It’s funny how you enjoyed Faith of the Fallen, THEE book notoriously known as the worst in the Sword of Truth series, lol

  2. Penelope Asuras says:

    Terry Goodkind borrows and that is a nice way of saying basically stealing Jordan and other fantasy author’s works for his own political agenda. He just basically smashes them altogether and changed names, put in his ideals and claims to have a story that isn’t fantasy, but clearly steals from it. He is an epic douche.

    • Matt says:

      Well, you’re not wrong. There’s a lot of cross-pollination in contemporary fantasy, but… yeah. I enjoyed the first three books, but even at it’s best, Sword of Truth was always a poor man’s Wheel of Time for me back in the day.

      I thought it was instructive when they adapted it for network television with “Legend of the Seeker.” They really softened the Objectivism, the brutality, and the technobabble. What was left after that was unspeakably generic–as though those were the only things that distinguished it from other works.

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