Saturday, January 06, 2007
In Search of Truth: The Works of Terry Goodkind
I’d like to introduce you to two people I’ve come to know and love over the past six months. Their names are Richard Cypher and Kahlan Amnell—and, yes, technically they don’t exist.
Richard and Kahlan are the main characters in author Terry Goodkind’s 11-novel Sword of Truth saga. I’ve just finished Book 6, “Faith of the Fallen,” one of the best pieces of modern fiction I have ever read.
You can find Goodkind’s novels in any bookstore; they typically occupy an entire shelf in the sci-fi/fantasy section. But that distinction is nominal. When I first heard Goodkind’s disclaimer about his work—he does not intentionally engage in the “world building” typically associated with the genre—I dismissed the notion as nearly insufferable pomposity.
After finishing “Faith of the Fallen” and its predecessor/companion novel, “Soul of the Fire,” I believe his statement without question.
Goodkind is a devotee of writer/philosopher Ayn Rand, founder of the objectivist movement, which, in part, celebrates the best qualities of individuals—namely truth, reason, and love—while eschewing a “collectivist” mentality found in an ideology such as socialism (or liberalism). Goodkind is not naïve; he knows no human being is perfect. But Richard and Kahlan are the summation and embodiment of his hopes for the potential of humanity. He simply uses the trappings of traditional fantasy—magic, swords and sorcery, horses and castles—to showcase his characters’ ideals, and the points he is making about modern society.
He writes Richard and Kahlan in vivid, intimate, oftentimes agonizing detail. No stones in their personalities or thoughts are left unturned (conversations can last 50 pages or more); they are two of the most fully realized characters I’ve ever encountered, and their hopes, fears, desires, flaws, and loves are laid bare before us. Goodkind describes it as capturing us in their souls.
It will sound trite to those unfamiliar with Goodkind’s work (or those simply too cynical to allow his novels to affect their own souls), but his writing is so visceral, Richard and Kahlan feel like real people to me. I think about them when not reading their stories. And when I am reading, I react physically to their successes and failures, their bliss and pain (and there is violent, graphic pain); my stomach tightens, sweat blossoms in my pores, my throat clenches, tears come to my eyes. There have been times when I’ve wanted to throw the book across the room and scream; other times, I smile as wide as I ever have. Goodkind says he experiences the same while writing. The emotions of the scenes are paramount to him, as they are his tools for conveying his ideas.
These books are not perfect from a technical perspective. The first entry in the series, 1995’s “Wizard’s First Rule,” was also Goodkind’s first novel. In the 15 years or so since he began this project, he has honed his craft and freely admits his desire to go back and improve that initial manuscript. But the purpose—and its intended impact on the reader—shines clearly from the outset. And it is simply this:
Richard inspires me to be a better writer, a better husband, a better man, a better human being. Kahlan, too, while also reminding me how blessed I am to be married to a wonderful green-eyed woman and experience real, true love on a daily basis.
I could go on at length about what the Sword of Truth novels have come to mean to me, but that would require divulging details about the books that could spoil the experience for others. By that reasoning, this may be the only time I write about them, I don’t know.
I can assure you this, though: If you like fantasy, you will find a home in Goodkind’s work. If you don’t like fantasy, you may enjoy them all the more. He is a rare author, indeed.