When I read the first book of the Sword of Truth series, over twenty years ago, I thought it was great. Over time my opinion changed, a lot. I mentioned the books last week, and elsewhere, so about time for an analysis.
What is the story about
3,000 years before the Sword of Truth series, a terrible war between wizards ravaged the world. The wizards controlled mighty magics, warred, then died out. Only a remnant of their ancient bloodlines remains. Thee millennia later, one of the remaining wizards, Darken Rahl, tries to take over the world. The First Wizard, Zeddicus, uses magic to cut parts of the world off from each other to prevent Darken Rahl from taken over.
The story follows Richard Cypher, who has lived a sheltered life in one such part of the world. He learns that he is the destined wielder of the Sword of Truth when he meets Kahlan Amnell. The Sword is a mighty weapon, allowing the wielder the power to cleave through anything, as long as the wielder is fully convinced the target is an enemy. Kahlan Amnell is the Mother Confessor. The Mother Confessor has the power to make anybody she touches worship her completely, leaving them an empty shell devoted only to her.
I liked the first book, at the time. Of course, I read it in the late nineties, when I was still a teenager. It was fantasy, but a bit more edgy, with more sex and violence. What I didn’t pick up on at the time — you know twenty years back when there was no #MeToo or BLM and I still lived in white-privilege bliss — is that the series promotes some very bad things.
Quick aside here: what follows ain’t gonna be pretty and somewhat gory at points. You have been warned.
In the Sword of Truth, violence is the domain of the men — as demonstrated by the page-long descriptions of Richard decapitating folk. Love is the domain of women — look at the beautiful Kahlan, the love interest. With a catch. The women are ‘strong’, as exemplified by Kahlan able to destroy people’s mind. And by the Mord-Sith, a group of women in red leather who torture men to enslave them.
Yeah, that last is for real. Kind of a skewed view of women, in hindsight. Worse, Kahlan will turn any man into a mindless husk if she has an orgasm while having sex with them, which is like the author throwing in a chastity belt. As for the Mord Sith, they are sworn to serve Darken Rahl, because, you know, can’t have women managing themselves without a man in charge. Oh, and did I mention one of them tortures Richard and makes him her sex-slave?
In general, there’s a lot of raping going around in the Sword of Truth, in various forms. That and torture, which of course, the male protagonist alone can survive unscathed. Also, for example, Goodkind doesn’t shy away from in-depth descriptions of menstruation and rape — and for anybody who says the scene in question isn’t rape: Kahlan is forced by events to have sex with a man while on her period. So, yeah, rape; even if she isn’t physically forced.
From bad to worse
Now, I’m no prude, and I didn’t notice at the time, but looking back, the Sword of Truth isn’t edgy, it’s sick. There’s the time Kahlan is with child and thinking of abortion when she’s beaten nearly to death and loses her child. You know as a good motivator for Richard and maybe a veiled pro-life statement. There’s cannibalism, eating of genitals, and other messed up stuff. And the liberal and callous use of rape I already mentioned, as both a plot tool and a weapon.
And that brings me to politics: Goodkind used the initials of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton for a husband and wife who scheme their country into destruction. Apparently, that was his idea of subtle layering of politics into his works. That the two die from a venereal disease at the end of the book while their country is pillaged — more rape, of course — really drives home the political point, apparently.
The Clinton thing is from book five. Book six — Faith of the Fallen — really started to go off the political rails. This sixth book paints the tale of Richard going deep into enemy territory and living among the evil enemy empire that threatens his own little autocracy. And lo and behold: the enemy are communists. Because of course they are.
Now, when I read it, I thought: this is a really terrible portrayal of communism, the author really doesn’t get it. The whole book felt like a straw man argument against communism. At the end of the book, Richard uses a statue he created to convince everybody to become capitalist. From a writing perspective it was actually one of the better installments, the communist-bashing aside.
It was a little later that I heard the book is basically ‘The Fountainhead‘ by Ayn Rand, in fantasy form. Now, I’ve spoken about my disdain of Libertarianism before, but Faith of the Fallen was actually my first direct encounter with it. I still haven’t read the Fountainhead, though.
Okay, so Goodkind was a libertarian. I wasn’t put off by a different look on life. I still wanted to know how the series ended.
On to racism and fascism
Although I was barely picking up on the women-unfriendly parts of the series, I had already noticed something else disconcerting. You see, Richard quickly became the leader of a great empire, populated by blond and blue-eyed people like himself.
These blue-eyed blondes are led by the great youthful attractive warrior, Richard, who has proven his right to lead by a combination of his genetic heritage, embracing of violence, and mental hardness. He mobilizes his new empire to seize its destiny, a romantic battle against a great enemy. Luckily, his people are only magically protected from evil if they swear fealty to the great dictator Richard. Magic in general is passed through genes, and Richard has the very best of them.
Of course, the great evil enemy has evil powers also genetically passed down through evil genes. And said enemy leads a people living in squalor because they are conservative communists.
Ok… that rings a bell. Look at the Wikipedia definition of fascism:
One common definition of the term […] focuses on three concepts:
– the “fascist negations”: anti-liberalism, anti-communism, and anti-conservatism;
– “fascist goals”: the creation of a nationalist dictatorship to regulate economic structure and to transform social relations within a modern, self-determined culture, and the expansion of the nation into an empire; and
– “fascist style”: a political aesthetic of romantic symbolism, mass mobilization, a positive view of violence, and promotion of masculinity, youth, and charismatic authoritarian leadership.
Check, check, and check. Well, fuck.
But there’s more.
In 2003, Naked Empire came out, book eight of the Sword of Truth. If you thought the above part was bad, guess again. In book eight the wheels really came off.
You see, in this book, Richard’s battle brings him to an encounter with a peaceful community of a splinter group of his own people. They are pacifists, and have hidden themselves from the wars. As a result, their culture has stagnated, they’re starving, and they are ripe for dominating — Because of course they are. If you don’t embrace violence you’re worthless, apparently. Richard quickly brings the war to their doorstep.
The evil enemy empire annexes the pacifists. Richard comes to the rescue. Well, sort of… A fringe group of these pacifists forces him to fight the evil empire, because they can’t save themselves. Throughout the book Richard spurts out page-long lectures on how great war and violence are.
The climax of the book has Richard facing off against peaceful protesters, who want Richard to just fuck off. Richard, making the brilliant argument that if you protest peace you’re helping the enemy, charges them with his Sword of Truth and gorily murders the whole unarmed lot of them. This is not an exaggeration, the good guy murders a group of unarmed protesters in a page-long gore-fest. Remember: the Sword of Truth will only work if Richard has not a shred of doubt about the target’s evil.
It’s another unsubtle political statement by Terry Goodkind against those protesting the US War in Iraq going on at the time — And I feel it’s good to mention that said war was in fact both unsanctioned by the international community and based on US lies about Iraq’s nuclear abilities. Worse, it killed around half a million Iraqi citizens and led to the rise of IS and the war in Syria, killing another half a million people and displacing millions more.
So, yeah, fuck that argument, Terry.
In short, Naked Empire is a fascist-glorifying piece of crap, and also boring as hell with its endless monologues. Looking back, the whole series is a long-winded fantasy story pushing a libertarian/fascist agenda with racist and misogynistic undertones. And really, only the first book was actually captivating.
The only other positive thing I can say is that the past two decades have changed me from an oblivious teenager to somebody who can actually see how damaging this shit is.