It has taken me three books (plus some) in the Sword of Truth series to come up with the comparison that I have been trying to make since The Guy and I watched Legend of the Seeker, the short lived television series based on Terry Goodkind’s novel series.
Apart from my chief complaint being that I have had to watch the series with a heartsick fan who can’t let go the words “loosely based” and just simply enjoy in on it’s own merits, one of the biggest complaints that I routinely get is that the character of Kahlan, that of the Mother Confessor, is blasted down into a wimpering wisp of a weak woman in the show compared to what Goodkind originally created in the books.
Setting aside the fact that when I read the books, it is the lovely and talented Bridget Regan’s face that I see going on all of these astounding adventures, is that I personally find this description of Kahlan Amnell to be about as far from actual reality as possible. I can, however, see many things in the character that is the ultimate authority of the Midlands in both mediums that is favorable and otherwise.
In Legend of the Seeker, as I mentioned in my first post about the show, Kahlan is introduced to us right away as rare, powerful, and martial, right off the bat, as she stumbles into Richard’s life, chased by a Quad through the Boundary. Even to Richard’s own eyes this is not a woman with whom to be trifled, even when being hunted by four heavily armed, well-muscled men. Even though the show never goes into the specifics of Kahlan’s parentage, it is obvious that Kahlan is a gifted fighter beyond the bounds of her Confessor’s powers. She is as deadly with daggers as she is with the touch of her hand, and we see her getting about as much on-screen fighting time as Richard. The show, like the book, stresses that she is only to use her power in the extreme case of defending her (or the Seeker’s) life; a Confessor’s power should be saved as a last resort, since it will drain her of her life force or pretty much all of her energy for an amount of time and she will be nigh helpless. Legend of the Seeker does well to give Kahlan abilities of keeping herself alive without resorting to magic, since often times resorting to magic might just as easily put her life at risk if it is not used wisely.
Kahlan is also always, always, allowing Richard to take credit for saving her life when it seems to be the other way around. Especially when his ass wouldn’t have needed saving in the first place if he had listened to Kahlan, who has spent her whole life in the Midlands, learning every language and traveling all of its kingdoms and territories. Doubly so when it also gets Kahlan or Zedd (the wizard) in trouble as well. Richard is a little headstrong in the show (OK, in the books too, but he has a bit of a Superman complex going on that seems to be working for him or something in an *eyebrow* kind of way) and it tends to land others in hot water in an episodic “this would make a great 45 minutes of television” bit of excitement.
But I can’t find too much to complain about in the show’s presentation of Kahlan that I wouldn’t find in the books. In many aspects, I found the show more charitable in the short time it ran (considering it didn’t have eleven seasons to the eleven novels to develop characters). And Bridget Regan portrays her so well with all the nuance that every unique smile a Confessor bestows.
The Sword of Truth Series gives us a Kahlan who is unmatched by any other, in authority, in power, and in military strategist (she may have equals, but arguably, she is among the best in the Midlands thanks to her Confessor-touched father). The youngest-ever of Mother Confessors, she is the highest power in the Midlands, and this is emphasized greatly, where Legend of the Seeker presents us with a much softer, huggier Kahlan (she is well loved, rather than feared and revered) who comforts and nurtures people. In the books, no one would dare run up to and hug the Mother Confessor because they would be too busy bowing and hoping she wouldn’t touch them. Kahlan has spent her whole life being mistrusted and feared because of her magic. Even more so since she came of “mating” age (more on that later, I am sure) and not having yet chosen a mate. But it takes a book and a half until we see or find out that Kahlan is able to defend herself in a real fight, as in The Stone of Tears we find Kahlan leading a young and inexperienced army to a great victory over a force much greater in experience and size.
Age has no bearing on who is chosen as Mother Confessor, the highest among Confessors, only power, and Kahlan was chosen among her sister Confessors without argument or animosity. While some Confessors need days to recover their powers, Kahlan needs only a few hours, at most. Kahlan has shown herself to be the most powerful Confessor in many ages, and it earned her the right to be the highest authority. It also, however, won her the right to be the last remaining Confessor when all others were hunted and killed by Darken Rahl, the other Confessors giving their lives to save hers.
I have read that some feel Legend of the Seeker makes her to be a damsel in distress, and a fainting bloom of a woman… but I found no difference. A Confessor must recover her strength after expending her powers, and if anything, the show shows her gaining her strength sooner, sometimes able to be caught right away and move on, whereas Goodkind gave the impression that even walking or moving required great effort after releasing the hold on a Confessor’s powers. The show, however, did no justice to the power of the Con Dar, or the “Blood Rage” abilities, but I blame this more on budget rather than on writing. The first time Kahlan invokes the Con Dar on behalf of Richard in Wizard’s First Rule I did find it truly beyond anything the telly series could have put to the screen.
We also have a Kahlan who cries, all the time, and hides her powers and who she really is from Richard for as long as she can get away with it. And as much as I felt like the TV series hit me with the Cosmically Forbidden Romance between she and Richard as a cudgel, the books do likewise with Kahlan’s desire to get married. Or with her insecurities about how other women must surely be trying to steal Richard’s affections, or how she must not be as pretty as some random other woman… and I appreciate a well developed character. Except that a woman who is jealous, insecure in her relationship, and one-track-minded about her impending marriage is not anything new or exciting and not what I consider “development” so much as “stereotype I found in a women’s magazine at the doctor’s office one time”. I can forgive that Kahlan cries, because I am a crier. And knowing what it is like to have to wear the brave face, what she calls the “Confessor’s Face”, I can understand that a person needs to let out the emotions when the world isn’t expecting you to be the Biggest Bad Ass in the room all the time. But there are moments that I find the expression of Kahlan’s emotions (mostly regarding Richard) to be a little over-the-top…
I feel silly, thought, arguing whether or not a character who has been mostly well written, and in my opinion, is one of the best woman characters in a fantasy series I have encountered in a long time, is better represented in one medium or another. The truth is that Kahlan, in any medium, exceeded my expectations. She doesn’t get told what to do, even by a Seeker-turned-war wizard (even if I feel that at times she is unnecessarily shamed by Richard’s cleverness). There is a depth to Kahlan that goes beyond a love story, and it gives me a thrill of excitement whenever the story shifts to her point of view (doubly so when she is interacting with the trio of Mord-Sith, who amuse me to no end with their unique personalities, but they are for another post). Kahlan, for me, ranks up there with the Phédres and Mireis of my fantasy roundhouse (though, sadly, she can’t be added to my list).
There is a lot to dislike about Legend of the Seeker and The Sword of Truth books, which would fill many fifteen hundred word blog posts… but the manifestations of Kahlan Amnell, the Mother Confessor is not one of them. Truly, if you appreciate flawed characters, then you will appreciate the things about Kahlan that endear her to me. She isn’t your Strong Woman Character, but rather, a woman, in a fantasy series about a dude with a destiny, and she wields incredible power of her own, with grace, dignity, and such strength that the word doesn’t even make sense any more.