TV/Book Review: Legend of the Seeker and Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind
Legend of the Seeker (2008)
A while back, I had myself a Legend of the Seeker marathon. The show was tastefully cheesy, fantasy fun and I enjoyed it enough to finally read its source material. Consequently, this will be as much a review of The Wizard’s First Rule, as it is a comparison to Legend of the Seeker.
Both book and show begin in much the same way, with a beautiful woman escaping the clutches of nasty soldiers. Woodsman Richard Cipher witnesses this and comes to her rescue, only to learn that she really isn’t a mere damsel in distress. Though he doesn’t know her true nature, when she touches one of her attackers and he turns on his companions, Richard realizes that Kahlan Amnell is no ordinary woman. From there, Richard takes her to see his old friend Zed, whom Richard believes can help Kahlan find the wizard she seeks. Low and behold, Zed has been that wizard all along, and as identities and destinies are partially unravelled, Richard accepts the Sword of Truth and becomes the Seeker, destined to join Kahlan and Zed to stop the evil Darken Rahl from taking over the world.
The TV interpretation of these three main characters is more or less the same, save for Richard, who is a little larger and prone to anger in the book, something the Sword feeds off of. The show didn’t go very deeply into the magic of the Sword of Truth and its connection to Richard, so this became a very interesting topic for me as I read on. The book, unsurprisingly, delves much deeper into the magic of Goodkind’s world, with each form, each type of user, and each use of the particular forms having very specific details.
One thing that I really loved about the show was the romance between Kahlan and Richard. Richard is the perfect gentleman who respects the fact that Kahlan cannot be with him in a full romantic capacity due to the nature of her powers. In the show, I appreciated that they didn’t drag out the reason behind her shying away from him, and when she does confess that she is a Confessor and why she can’t be with him physically, he simply accepts it and lets her know that simply being with her is enough. The bond they form along their journey becomes very real, and, while the final result is super lovey-dovey, gag-me-with-a-spoon, it makes sense.
The show lifted this aspect of their relationship straight from the book, with the only differences being that Goodkind did drag out the secret keeping, with Kahlan not telling Richard about her abilities until somewhere near the end.
When I first mentioned that I wanted to read this series, a fellow book blogger commented on the role women play in Goodkind’s world. Initially, I thought his negative assessment was wrong. Kahlan is a great character and stands as Richard’s equal. She’s more than just a love interest and she’s no damsel in distress, though I appreciate that the show places more emphasis on her fighting ability, showing that she can hold her own as a human being, and not just a person endowed with magic. Kahlan’s significant role in the story and her place as Richard’s apparent equal lulled me into a sense of acceptance over the role of women in general. But toward the end, I realized the error of my ways. When Kahlan goes full Mother Confessor, the evil queen and her spoiled kid are confronted, and the man-hating Mord Sith appear to work their dominatrix goodness over Richard. I realized that the females in Goodkind’s story, while seeming to be empowered, are really just an exercise in misogyny disguised as misandry.
The Confessor’s power can be used on anyone, yet the examples of its use are most often males, with emphasis on how it subjugates them, turning them into mindless slaves to the Confessor’s will. While Kahlan is at least developed as a character beyond her power, the only female whose purpose isn’t to dominate males is Rachel, who, with a little encouragement, proves herself to be the bravest and strongest of all of them. But Rachel is only a little girl when we meet her. By the precedent set, she’ll grow up to rule over men too. If she’s really lucky, she’ll be tortured and raped and made into a Mord Sith.
Kahlan’s return to full on Mother Confessor status seemed to be a major turning point in the book, not only in terms of plot, but in terms of where my rating started to fall and my feminist rage started to rise. It’s good that I watched the show first because the creators clearly found the better aspects of the book and did a much better job of tempering the far more disgusting ones. The female aspect in particular was handled much better in the show, with Confessors shown to deal with both males and females equally. The Mord Sith still exist and are still a source of man-hating torture, but the show’s decision with the characters of Denna and the introduction of Cara softened the blow and made for much more interesting and justifiable reasons for Richard’s subsequent actions after meeting them. The show did continue on to introduce a group of witches and there were a few other dangerous sorceresses along the way, but at least it did a better job of leveling the playing field and making some of the women a bit more than just angry archetypes.
In the book, the Mord Sith and then a dragon and finally, the attempted rape of Kahlan were jarring additions to what had otherwise been a pretty good story. But these elements were kind of crammed into the end in a manner that made them feel like they were last minute decisions in order to get the characters to their final conflict through literal torture and pain.
Thankfully, Kahlan’s assault is not needed in the show for the purpose it serves in the book, and the show could take the time and liberty to make the introduction of other elements, such as the Mord Sith, much more organic and much less…ugh.
I’m not sure how much more story Goodkind tells of Kahlan and Richard in the Sword of Truth series, but I went from wanting to know more, to quickly shelving the rest. I’ll stick to my much more enjoyable TV memories.