Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Legend of the Seeker: Terry Goodkind's 'The Sword of Truth' on TV

Well, we've watched most of Season 1 of Legend of the Seeker by now, with only a couple more episodes to go. I'm also, quite coincidentally, listening to the audio-books for the last three books in the Sword of Truth series. (It's a good way to spend driving time, especially if you travel 350km, return, from the north side of Brisbane to the Gold Coast once a week.)

Anyway, to Legend of the Seeker, which is, I would like to say up-front, very good fun; very enjoyable and—as far as it goes in that genre in the TV-series context—even kind-of true to the original source of the story; which ultimately is Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule, together with, or so I think I detect, elements of the subsequent books.

In the context of such a TV-serialized novel, which is a difficult thing to implement anyway, someone who has read the books inevitably will struggle with the issue of suddenly having something presented visually that previously was always essentially 'imaginary'; in the sense that one had to, following the descriptions in the books, 'imagine' what everything looked like. That goes especially for the central figures of the tale: Richard Cypher, the Seeker; Kahlan Amnell, the Mother Confessor; Zeddicus ("Zedd") Zu'l Zorander, First Wizard and Richard's grandfather; and Darken Rahl, the evil ruler set on universal conquest and enslavment, who is also... ahh, no, that would be spoiling things. I wonder if they're going to throw this little snippet of what would be a major SPOILER here for people who don't know the books, at viewers in the last episode of Season 1.

Plus there's a cast of supporting characters, including Shota, the powerful witch; Denna, the Mord Sith; and so on. Lots of New Zealand (where it was filmed) actors, and another bucketload of Aussie ones. They are hard to tell apart anyway. Migration tends to be free and copious; forth and back across what's known as 'The Ditch'.

Having read the books—well, most of them, up to the last trilogy—I have always had fairly concrete images of, especially, the three main protagonists. Richard: tall, strong country boy turned into the ultimate good-guy hero. Kahlan: green eyed beauty with long brown hair; almost as tall as Richard. Zedd: wiry, unruly white hair, powerful personality, not particularly tall, but physically quite powerful.

I have no issues with Bridget Regan as Kahlan. Insofar as one has to put a real person where once there was just a mental image, she's just about as close as you can get.

The wizard, Zedd, is played by Bruce Spence, possibly one of the tallest actors working in Australia and New Zealand. Oddly enough, the switch from imagining to seeing a real person that's no in-line with the imagined one there doesn't faze me with Zedd. Indeed, as I listen to the audio-books, I'm already substituting the new TV Zedd for the one that used to be there.

Richard Cypher, however, does give me trouble. Craig Horner is a very athletic young man, but he's small and somehow wielding the massive 'Sword of Truth' really doesn't work for me. The damn thing is huge compared to its wielder, and sometimes I'm wondering how he can swing it. The Richard of the books is just so different in so many ways.

Well, I still rather enjoy the series, despite the liberties taken with characters and plot. But, as one might expect, it is the Sword of Truth series mostly in spirit and some plot elements, plus the names. Some Goodkind fans may find that hard to stomach, of course. Well, life's hard and then you die.

Also, I noticed, with my current audio-book reading, that Goodkind has progressively drifted into polemics, uttered through the mouths of his protagonists and occasionally also with what amounts to author-commentary; though he usually disguises it. The dialogue is also...well, interesting from another point of view: when his characters hold forth, they use language and verbiage that just doesn't come out of the mouths of people, even if they are practitioners of magic. Many, even in moderately casual speech, sound like Obama holding forth in that pretentious way of his.

And Goodkind explains things. Again and again and again. And again. Sometimes in extended paragraphs, sometimes in clauses added to what otherwise would have been perfectly good and snappy sentences. Admittedly, the series has become so complicated, with so much having happened and so many elements being in play, that some explanation/exposition is appropriate. But the way it's done, it does interrupt the nice flow of the story.

Also, it fills books! By that I mean that in Chainfire, which I've just finished listening to and which is a fairly fat book, not that much really happens. Richard wakes up after being revived by the sorceress Nicci from a terrible injury. He finds that nobody remembers Kahlan, and that other things are also going oddly wrong. There's also a 'beast' chasing after him, sent by that ingrate and degenerate, Emperor Jagang. The book's taken up with picking up on old threads and explaining what's what and who's who and who did what and when. Plus there's Richard trying to convince everybody that Kahlan is real, and that something is terribly wrong in the world.

A few trips, a gazillion overlong conversations, and that's about it for Chainfire.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did, but as an author—and one brought up steeped in the work of the likes of Jack Vance, and especially Vance—I notice extra fat. This fat extends to repetitions of matters that had been expositioned just a few chapters earlier; and one would think that with moderately intelligent and retentive readers, repetition of this kind should be unnecessary. Vance once said that he assumes just such intelligence in his readers. Goodkind, on the other hand, says and explains things and background and reasons and causes and effect and intentions again and again, just to make sure even the Dummies aren't left behind.

And what's wrong with leaving them behind? Most readers will be intelligent enough not to require this. That's partly the reason why they're still reading. Do any Dummies actually go back to such a complicated tale after a while, or is this just the author's and/or publisher's assumption? I know they might, just because it's something familiar that goes on and on, and it's in a league way above the liked of Jordan and, as of the latter works, of David Eddings—who used to be fun, but now is just boring.

But do they really? Should what otherwise are novels of unusual character be aimed at... Ahh, never mind.

Reason why I end up enjoying Goodkind's fiction despite all these objections is that, when he preaches, he basically preaches lots of stuff that I wholeheartedly agree with. Occasionally it borders on loony Ayn-Randism, but it might just look that way to my jaundiced eye because I've seen similar philosophies coming from other authors, who in turn do defer to that silly woman. But I have hopes that Goodkind isn't fooled by Objectivist nonsense. The vast majority of what he says is solid Heinleinianism, with a Goodkind twist. Go, Terry.

One more thing. I have a notion that Goodkind, in the process of wrapping up the series and wrapping up the strands of mystery and all that, is doing some serious post facto rationalizing and connecting. Nothing wrong with that. It's the privilege of any author who has built a complex world; and then you have all these oddities and somehow they've got to belong together, and so you weave the remainder of your narrative so that they do. It's a lot like life, which can also be puzzling and mysterious and WTF.

The author will, of course, claim that somehow he had it all planned, but that's bullshit, as I've pointed out before. Until I decided to write Aslam, now imminent in terms of being started (once I've tidied up the detritus associated with moving house), I really had no idea what the rea' 'secret of Tethys' actually is. You know, the thing that, once uncovered, will change humanity's history forever and get rid of all the tyrants and injustice and blahblahblah.

Kidding! That's not going to happen, but something momentous will. The discovery of the 'secret' will return the series right back to a place not too far away, in genre terms, from where it began. And it's all about the Sareen's. Of course it is. What else could it be about? They are at the core of this; always have been.

I understand that now, but not because I designed it that way, but because that's the world I built, and it's kind-of taking over. I sense the same phenomenon spreading throughout the last three SoT books.

As I said: nothing wrong with it. Makes story telling more interesting actually.

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