Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Terrible Tuesday: Terry Goodkind, a betrayal

As I've gotten older I've noticed I experience less shitty movies, games, books, and music. This is not because art has improved drastically in the past half-a-decade, but because I've learned more about what I like, the types of intellectual properties that appeal to me, the recurring artists who I love, and when a trailer and advertising campaign is overselling a product. It also stands to reason that in High School I had a vast social circle, much larger than I do now. Back then I was all over the place trying to figure out where I fit in, and I was funny and unassuming enough that I fit into most social circles long enough to be exposed to some real utter garbage. I mean, I was subjugated to horrors untold over those four years. And we're not just talking about getting a group of people and having a drinking game to movies like The Room, either. I'm talking about die-hard fans who refer to movies like the Dark Knight Rises or Inception being, respectively, 'a religious experience' and 'changing their lives.'

So buckle-up, because every Tuesday, I'm going to throw-down with a gnarly monster from my past and see if its corpse still stinks. 

Since I haven't talked about a book in quite a while, I thought I'd take a moment to return to my roots. I am a wannabe fantasy author, and I work really hard to avoid cliches, create engaging characters, and still have fun with it. I started reading Tolkien in the 4th Grade and moved on to Donaldson in the 5th, with Pratchet and Brooks sprinkled here and there for levity and humor's sake. This spoiled me pretty badly, but I didn't know it yet.

No, that lesson was learned the hard way. When I was in 8th Grade my father's girlfriend invited me over to a Wine Tasting at the local golf-course where a local author was socializing. His name was Terry Goodkind, and he was very polite, friendly, and gracious to spend some time chatting with me about the craft, and I will always respect him as being personable and friendly, as well as giving me a signed copy of Naked Empire, which had just come out.

At a rapid-fire pace I blew through his series which, to anyone who knows, is freakin' long. I mean, holy crap is it long. As far as fantasy sagas are concerned, it does rank up there with Wheel of Time and Song of Fire and Ice. And honestly? It was the first time I felt betrayed by a series. It was too long. It fell apart in the middle (and the middle of this series was something like three to five books, depending on how forgiving you are of either Temple of the Wind (rapey) or Naked Empire (forced Randian Bullshit). The characters became caricatures of themselves after book three and ceased and progression, development, or growth. 

The reason I say betrayed and not insulted or offended, is ... Wizard's First Rule and Stone of Tears were damned fun. I had a great time and the characters did feel realistic, well defined, etc. All those things we associate with a good story. They might not have been game changing or revolutionary, but they were like ... Indiana Jones. A fun ride from start to finish, which, considering they were both just under a 1000 pages apiece was no small feat, and for a previously unknown author, I'd say I'm still pretty damned impressed.


Seriously, Richard and Kahlan became speechifying psuedo-philosophical mouthpieces, the plot took a left-turn to crazytown, and the violence, sexual assault, and mass-rape became so prevalent that the further into the books I read I started to feel legitimately ill. We're not just talking about Stephen King's penchant for showing his villains kill dogs or something, either, or Game of Throne's more honest depiction of the time period most fantasy series are set in, or even Donaldson's instance of his protagonist raping a sixteen year old girl within the first hundred pages of his first novel. All those cases usually feel justified in establishing the world or character (in Donaldson's case, the aforementioned rape is still a pivotal aspect of the series and the character 9 books later. The protagonist suffers the ramifications and responsibilities associated with his action for books and books and books where you honestly start to feel sorry for him. You kind of want the world to forgive him, or at least I did, which is not my stance on rapists, so kudos to the author for turning my own sense of ethics and morality on myself). 

Goodkind though? Somewhere around Temple of the Wind I started getting this voyeuristic feeling, much like the way Robert Patterson described reading the Twilight books in relation to Stephanie Myers. I started thinking Goodkind might have been embellishing less in order to drive some point across, like Donaldson or Martin ... and just kind of living out some really freaky fantasies. I'm probably wrong. I seriously hope I'm wrong, but that's a vibe that, eight years later, I still can't quite shake.

Then there's the damned philosophizing. Terry Goodkind is a fan of Ayn Rand, and I'm just going to make my stance perfectly clear. I think there's a reason her beliefs didn't take hold. I think there's a reason that Ken Levine modeled BioShock's Rapture after her beliefs in Objectivism, and it painted a horrifying portrait of what would likely become of such an economic model.

I feel like there's a danger to authors who try to paint why something works as opposed to why it doesn't. It's very hard to create something that's unassailable, and the harder you try, or at least the longer you try (as in a ten books series thousands upon thousands of pages long) the more holes you'll inevitably have and the more absurd lengths you'll have to go to sustain your position. So while I applaud him for being passionate about something ... he picked a hellova thing to be passionate about .

In short, I'd never accuse Mr. Goodkind being a philosopher. After some of the interviews I've read of him in my studies of fantasy (I particularly love Donaldson talking about the Modern Epic, but hey, I'm a fanboy).He's more of a dogmatic moralist at this point.. much like the Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Party and most kindergartners with an absolute good/evil right/wrong duality. He's more of a dogmatic moralist at this point.. much like the Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Party and most kindergartners with an absolute good/evil right/wrong duality. 

In other words, "Pot the kettle called, and said pitch wants his black back."

My belief is that Goodkind has a very limited understanding of Philosophy and even the one he claims to ascribe to he doesn't seem to reflect on using that lofty conciseness of his beyond constructing false premise moral absolutes by ignoring or over-emphasizing the available evidence to suit his interpretation of Rand.

TL;DR: He lives in his own little world.

And lastly, if only Inchoatus was still active. They had a perfect summation of Goodkind, but I'll do my best to reiterate some of their points here. 

Goodkind's Rant: a rebuttal of the more preposterous utterances of this prolific author

"To define me as a fantasy writer is to misunderstand the context of my books by misidentifying their fundamentals." -- Terry Goodkind

You write a series set in a pre-industrial world with magic, wizards, dragons, an actualized underworld, and prophecies, and you think we're the ones misunderstanding the context of your books? It's named after a magic sword for Christ's sake! It's not great literature you miserable, pretentious bastard.

You know what? I don't regret reading all ten of those damn books, because they taught me more than I'd have ever thought possible. I can only hope that paranoia of turning out so schizophrenically will help me avoid the same pitfalls that destroyed someone who was, once upon a time, one of my top three favorite writers.

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