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Posts tagged ‘Kahlan Amnell’

How To Dress Up Misogyny In Fantasy Fiction

Something that was marked in the “loved” side of the Love-Hate  relationship I have with Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth Series (which, I don’t care what he says, is a fantasy fiction series, so there. If you didn’t want to write fantasy, you should have picked a different genre, setting, concept, whatever, for your pedantic preaching… I mean, you had a dragon who could speak, and a chicken which was an incarnation of evil) was the variety of characters that showed up throughout the course of the twelve books. Incidentally, it is the longest series I have ever read, and I almost quit in the middle of Faith of the Fallen, regardless of the fact that my favorite character was developed in that particular book.

One strike in the “hate” column, were it possible for me to keep up with the number of things I hated, is the way that Goodkind took incredibly interesting women characters and wrote them into incredible tropes whose sole purpose was to serve the whims of the principle protagonist, who might be the most annoying man I have ever read written into (fantasy) fiction, ever. And I have read some Star Wars fiction, and all of the Twilight books.

I am not sure if it annoyed me more or less that these women characters were from most perspectives, well, awesome. I fell in love with them on most fronts. The first of many, Kahlan, was undoubtedly one of the most unusual characters I’ve ever met in fiction. She was a matriarch of sorts over all of the Midlands with a rare and incredible power.

As a Confessor she commanded respect from everyone who crossed her path, or that was how things were intended to be. Until, that is, she met and fell in love with Richard Cypher, who turned out to be *spoilerspoilerspoiler* the heir to the Rahl line. A woman who is used to having kings and queens bow to her ultimate and unquestionable authority suddenly has her reign usurped by her fiancée and doesn’t seem to mind because she can still rule by his side. Once they are married.

In my mind it was fun to have this woman placed in a position of ultimate power only to have her toppled by the parties of men. Another Queen, who happens to be Kahlan’s sister by a coincidence, is also dethroned, then brutally raped and beaten until she literally goes insane by a group of misogynistic marauding men working for the Ultimate Evil Socialist Baddie (I am not kidding). The women who run the Palace of the Prophets, a group of powerful sorceresses who train young wizards, have their palace usurped and destroyed out from under them. This theme did not go unnoticed. /digression

Kahlan’s father taught her everything he knew about war and survival, and as a result she knew how to train young soldiers who were outnumbered greatly and spent more time leading armies than Richard — who was prophesied to lead the final battle against the great Socialist Evil. But love conquers all, right? When Richard decides that he must throw out the laws of the old Midlands and unite them under D’Hara (even though it doesn’t work), Kahlan, flinching momentarily, does anything she can to support Richard. Goodkind even goes to great pains to show her failing when she goes against Richard’s advice — even though it doesn’t make sense given her educational background, her personality, or the strength of her character and her power. One of the most absurd aspects of the story is that some of the greatest power she wields can only be invoked on behalf of Richard. And that particular point is never fully explained. I will never be able to fully explain all the ways that I loved Kahlan so much, and was so disappointed and frustrated at the same time with how her character was written.

I don’t know, though, if it measures up to the way that I became righteously indignant in behalf of Nicci. When Nicci was first introduced, I wasn’t aware that I would ever see Nicci again since she seemed to be an aside character, one of those cardboard cutouts who serve as a momentary evil tool of the devil Keeper of the Underworld. Then I was remotely aware that she would turn up again — the whole “I’m going to kill Richard” thing gave it away — but didn’t imagine that she would develop to the point that I would find her the most amazing person in the series. Hands down.

But.

Nicci spent the last third of the series being a martyr for Richard’s needs. Worrying about Richard’s health. What was best for Richard. Sleepless weeks studying ancient tomes because Richard doesn’t know squat about his own abilities, and Nicci has more than enough for three wizards and five sorceresses. In spite of Richard knowing exactly jack about being a wizard he magically is able to pull miraculous theory out of his arse so he can save Nicci’s life. Save. Her. Life. Because the most contrived plot points meant to show that Richard can do anything no matter how many times these incredibly educated women attempt to teach him anything, he instantly proves them wrong in the most amazing ways.

During the last third of the series, Nicci is constantly being shoved to Richard as a love interest, with whom she has fallen in love but is trying to keep that feeling buried, and she goes to great pains to help him in whatever way he needs because of this. She makes herself a sacrifice to Richard, and in the end, she is fulfilled because Richard is happy, even if it almost kills her in the process. She takes on heroic acts of selflessness because it doesn’t matter if she dies so long as the thing that makes Richard happy and successful comes to fruition. These things just don’t add up to her character development.

The Mord-Sith, Cara, who is sworn to Richard’s side is one of the most feared women in all the Midlands, known for the legendary torture that turns her into a weapon for the Lord Rahl. After Richard becomes the great hero who sets all Mord-Sith free, Cara chooses to be his personal guard. Now, Cara is badass, even as the lore created by Goodkind — who has no problem describing the torture and abuse of women as a plot device to show how horrible a bad guy can be — is as fascinating to me as it is triggering and problematic. Tougher than iron spikes and determined to show you that no man can scare her let alone better her at anything, the thanks Cara gets for throwing her life in front of danger for Richard’s protection is Richard’s insistence that she needs to be “more feminine”. Somehow her lack of desire to swaddle babies and feed squirrels makes her less feminine, because there is obviously only one definition. Cara is the stereotype of “strong female character” in that she is supposed to be the “anti-female” or something, but she is witty and clever and endearing, but there is a never-ending side-story to make her into a better, softer woman.

The series is rife with graphic descriptions of violence against women. Rape and gory death drawn out in great detail. A serial killer who rapes and strangles prostitutes to ensure that everyone knows that they are less than human. A man who cuts off the nipples of women to control them with magic. Rape scene after rape scene described to ensure you know just how evil someone is. Women reduced to sex slaves by the “bad guy”. Combined with subtle message after little detail that ensures you know that gender roles are expected not only in the Midlands, D’Hara, and all of the New World, but in the heart of the philosophy that is being pounded by the beaten horse in this Randian-lite crap, the utter contempt that Terry Goodkind has for women shines through in what would have been an incredibly enjoyable series.

And I’ve only scratched the surface. I’d have to go, book by book, to get more in-depth.

It baffles me the way that someone can write incredible women with depth and amazing attributes and still demonstrate a full-on hatred for them with the stories and plots written out for them. The way their lives unfold and the arcs stretch on, at times, made me weep with anger. To this day I can’t figure out how I can hate a series so much and enjoy it at the same time.

Kahlan

Bridget Regan, a pale woman with a mass of thick, dark hair, dresses as Kahlan Amnell, the Mother Confessor from <em>Legend of the Seeker</em> and <em>The Sword of Truth Series</em> by Terry Goodkind. She wears a long, white, flowing dress, and weilds two daggers, standing at the edge of a cliff against a stormy looking sky.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.

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