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Posts tagged ‘Legend of the Seeker’

Pop Culture Good Idea/Bad Idea: Denna, Violent Portrayals of Sex and the Mord-Sith in Terry Goodkind’s Universe Part I

Jessica Marais as "Denna" the Mord-Sith, and Craig Horner as Richard Cypher, the Seeker in <em>Legend of the Seeker</em>. Richard is shackled and hanging from the ceiling with no shirt, sweat and blood all over him, as Denna, clad in blood-red leather and a single blonde braid holds a thin rod up against him as she leans close with a threatening look on her face. She is torturing him.Buckle on your roller skates, peeps, because this post has been a long time coming. I have watched lots of clips. I have found lots of pictures. I have been talking to people more informed than me. I have been WAITING to write this post.

I preface it with a strong trigger warning for descriptions of violence, sexually hinted violence, spoilers, and very wordy rants.

The Mord-Sith in the Sword of Truth series are some of my favorite characters. They are at the same time antithetical and thematic of the philosophical bullshit that gets caked on to the poor horse that Mr. Goodkind can’t leave alone, but I can’t help but love several of them.

From gruesome beginnings that have me asking some serious questions about why someone has fantasies about torturing children (because this is NOT the only example I can come up with of him describing the torture of children) come the Mord-Sith. Stolen from villages as young D’Haran children, the soldiers of D’Hara choose the sweetest, most lovely and wonderful girls with the kindest hearts and pluck them from their families. Many of them, such as Cara, a woman who you, should you venture into either the books or the television show, become intimately familiar with, learn young the importance of not hesitating when faced with life and death decisions. Failing to thrown a knife as a young girl cost Cara her life. Literally. These girls are beaten and tortured with a weapon called an Agiel — a thin leather rod imbued with magic that makes it feel as if thunder and lightning are charging through you — until they are “broken”. They watch, helpless, as their mothers are tortured to death before them, to break them a second time. Then, they are tortured until they choose to torture and kill their own fathers; they are broken the third and final time. They are trained to endure great pain, possibly at the hands of the Lord Rahl if he chooses, by hand, Agiel, or in his bed if he chooses. The Agiel, the weapon they use causes that same pain to whomever wields it, so long as it was used to train them. They must learn to tolerate the same pain they inflict in order to use it. The Mord-Sith will finally claim their Agiel by killing their trainer. Or at least that is how Denna got hers. She was the best of them all. The most cruel. The most talented.

Tabrett Bethell as Cara, a Mord-Sith, a blonde, pale woman, administering the "breath of life" to an obscured person. The breath is depicted her as a bright spark. In the book series it is actually mouth to mouth.The Mord-Sith were created as a weapon against magic by ancient Wizards. They are non-“gifted” people (gifted being those born with magic. See my post on “giftedness” here at FWD/forward) who are able to trap magic if it used against them, then turn the user’s own magic against them, bringing great pain. They control the person and their magic until they choose to release that person. In the mean time, the Mord-Sith can make the person whom they control beg for death while inflicting upon them the most incredible horrors of pain imaginable. They are able to beat, brutalize a person, with their fists, the Agiel, or by depriving them of sleep. But death can not even claim them, because the Mord-Sith know how to give “the breath of life”, which seems to be mouth to mouth, in order to draw out the torture.

But if that wasn’t enough, Goodkind seems to have added an element of sexual edge. The Mord-Sith, first of all being the most beautiful girls in D’Hara (most of them being perfectly blonde and blue-eyed, because “pure” D’Harans are always blonde with blue eyes), many of them are repeatedly raped by Darken Rahl, or anyone whom he chooses to lend them out to as a favor. In turn, they are depicted as lashing out their torture in a way that makes it a sex act for them. Their charges are pets, and they engage in what seems to be what Goodkind imagines is the relationship in a BDSM setting.

I am no expert on such things. But I am told, thanks to lovely friends that I have, that this type of depiction is so far from the truth of what an actual BDSM setting is that it is almost laughable. Almost, if it wasn’t damaging to the trusting, caring setting that a positive BDSM relationship can be. I strongly object to the way these portrayals seem to be laid out in pop-culture. The relationship between Mord-Sith and her charge doesn’t seem to do anything to change that.

In the Sword of Truth series, as well as Legend of the Seeker, Richard Cypher is captured by Denna because he tries to use the Sword against her. She, of course, captures the magic and takes him away to be trained. In the show, we see a very tense and Made for TV sexually titillating episode where we are subjected to the beating of, the jabbing with the Agiel, the slow licking of blood off of Richard’s bruised and sweaty face. I’ve spent years watching fantasy television, such Buffy, Angel, Charmed, and my dad watch Xena back before I was extremely interested. I found the episode “Denna” extremely difficult to watch. Denna even killed Richard once just to bring him back to life and beat him more.

Denna, wiping blood from Richard's chin with a red-leather clad glove.One-third of Wizard’s First Rule is a detailed description of the torture that Richard endured for a length of time. The descriptions were graphic, like watching some kind of torture porn that I wasn’t used to, only it wasn’t like reading Kushiel’s Dart, where the protagonist is usually willing, or even if she isn’t, Jacqueline Carey has an idea of what Sadism and Masochism are about — about the trust and the safety involved. Here, it is exploited for the sake of demonstrating the evil intent of the Rahl’s who inflicted the sexual torture upon these women, driving them to be what they are, and in turn driving them to actually enjoy inflicting it upon Richard.

Of course, Denna comes to love Richard, because he is a rare person, so special that the women in the world that is constructed fall around him. But we will visit that shortly. He rose above all of that, compartmentalized his mind and eventually loved Denna enough to kill her, enabling his escape. But before this, she took him as her mate. She enjoyed the fruits of that decision at her demand with her Agiel in her teeth, and in whatever ways she saw fit. Richard never had any idea what was going to happen to him. There was no way to form trust.

I find it interesting, the creation of these characters, these women, whose lives were stolen from the, and destroyed by angry abuse, violent and sexually based at times. It turned them into brutal fighters who are not to be underestimated, which we will see in part two, when I talk about how they are awesome. It is only scratching the surface of what I believe demonstrates Goodkind’s raging contempt for women in general. All of this stuff he beats into is Not A Fantasy Series about how everyone has a right to their life, but it is definitely obvious that some lives are definitely meant to be in the service of others. (We’ll get to that in the future too!) The Mord-Sith gives me great internal conflict, giving me some of my favorite characters (I’m Lord Rahl’s favorite…) who are reasonably developed, but who are simultaneously exemplifying everything that is wrong with depictions of sexual violence, violence against women, and the way women are portrayed in pop-culture mediums.

Denna’s death, was violent, tragically sad if considered in context, and reminiscent of the way women would be scattered around Richard Cypher/Rahl in the remainder of the series: Fiercely strong because of their well-developed past. Fighters who have overcome many things that have shaped them into who they are. Flawed women who have been “awakened” by Richard and how awesomely fabulous he is, and now they throw themselves at his feel to serve and love him, or in Denna’s case, to wait patiently and nakedly while he comes to run her through with a white-hot sword. But he kisses her good-bye as well. Because only he can grant her forgiveness and compassion for what she was beaten into doing.

The complex situation surrounding the Mord-Sith is such an interesting thing to look at, and I know that there have been people champing to talk about it. I decided to break this into two parts, otherwise it was going to unwieldy. In the Part II I am going to talk about all the things I loved about the characters, how well they were developed, but also the flaws that were in how they were developed, and the obvious way they were handed off as attempts at female empowerment.

There is a ton to unpack, even in this one topic alone.

In the mean time, discuss away!

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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.

The Cosmically Forbidden Romance…

a pale woman with dark hair in a white robe and a pale man with dark hair in a blue shirt and tan vest, the man is kissing the woman on the forehead.This is one of my favorite (and by favorite, I mean, really, I love a good romance story or sub-story, but do they ALL have to have apocalyptic consequences?) TV Tropes. The forbidden fruit.

Angel stalks into Buffy’s life in S1 Ep. 01 “Welcome to the Hellmouth”, and I don’t know how initial viewers reacted to him, because while I probably would have liked a show like Buffy if it had been on my radar it just really wasn’t at the time. I don’t know if anyone else was as creeped as I was by Angel, and given that I knew who he was, because I came into the Buffyverse via Angel the Series, that is saying something.

I am just saying that skulking around in shadows and giving cryptic warnings to a scared 16 year-old girl might not be the best way to warm her to your affections, even if you know that harboring those affections might be a bad idea. Other things to remember might include getting the words “hey, cupcake, I used to be an evil bloodsucking hellbeast, but now I’m a cuddly bloodsucking hellbeast thanks to a really old, sucky, curse”, (and I might be able to get “suck” into this sentence one more time if I try!) before you get your tonsil-hockey on. Just sayin’.

But still, Forbidden Romance or no, Buffy still managed to have what that Other Vampire Romance Story about a teenage girl and her vampire sweetheart had in it (OK, more than “a” thing): conflict. Real conflict. Beyond the “I shouldn’t like you but I can’t help it” thing.

But I am digressing again…

What is it about what we can’t/shouldn’t have that makes it instantly the Most SEXXAY Thing Evah?

Moving ahead in my Buffy Blogging a bit, those of us who have seen Buffy before (I know there are some of you who haven’t seen it yet, and it’s OK, I don’t judge you, I haven’t seen a single episode of Dr. Who and I am not ashamed…), eventually Buffy and Angel get it on and Hell On Earth breaks out. OK, well, Buffy has to kill her boyfriend in the World’s Worst Teenage Sex Metaphor Evah. But some of us want it. I am willing to bet if I Google it, there is a world of Fandom out there devoted to it. So, why are we drawn to it? Why is it that something that shouldn’t be makes for incredible storytelling, or at least makes fans scream for more of it?

But this is bigger than Buffy. (BIGGER THAN BUFFY!!??!?!?!11!?)

There is the (I really don’t want to spoil it for you peeps) Angel/Cordelia arch…which had all the makings of destroying the world again, when the need arose to tear out Angel’s soul in order to defeat The Beast…and that was just a dream (it’s a damned good thing it is only Perfect Happiness, huh?). Because the idea of having Cordelia, after the near miss of everything he wanted when she was, as s.e. put it, fucking RAPTURED when he was kidnapped by his son, we get the suspense of the forbidden love that we found ourselves cheering for. But there was something strangely enticing and perhaps even erotic about the thought of Angel achieving that moment of bliss, that thing that he had tormented himself without for years (and perhaps the things that finally got him to stop fucking brooding over Buffy…but I was anti-Angel/Buffy *ducks*)…that he could have it even if it meant unleashing evil in the world… To hell with the World, thinks the viewer, because we need to see this!

In Legend of the Seeker, we have Richard and Kahlan, the Seeker and Mother Confessor, who despite all the Warnings! that they can no possibly be together have gone and fallen in love w/ each other, and the writers of the TV series could not bludgeon us upside the head w/ this theme any more. But the setup was transparent: Man Seeker, Woman Confessor whose power is to touch people and make them fall in love with her, and who can conjure the truth out of everything. She is seriously badass, and despite the stiff acting (by other actors) at times, she is one of the best written female characters on a TV show I have seen in a while. But she and Richard can never be, because it would A) distract from his Mission to Save the World, and B) ’cause Kahlan to lose control of her powers and strip him of his soul, which would cause Richard to be useless for his Mission to Save the World. (This is resolved later, but for the point where I am now, it fits). But for some reason, in spite of this, or maybe partly because of this, Richard and Kahlan can not seem to stay out of situations where they find themselves falling more and more in love with each other. And even w/ the cudgel of bad writing* hitting me episode after episode, I know that there are people who find this shit hot. (OK, it’s a little hot). People obviously want it, because people keep writing it into their television series.

Anakin and Padme were doomed from the beginning, and while I have some WAY creepy feelings about the way that relationship was framed from the beginning, what with her being practically an adult and him being a child and it just being awkward and all…I still feel that you got the feeling (even if you were not familiar with the decades-old lore that was Darth Vader’s fall) that shit was Not Right here and that they were not going to be OK even though you were supposed to pull for them. That love was not going to conquer all or whatever the Power Ballads told us. It was against Jedi teaching. It was probably against good form for the Senate. But yet, in a secret way you have to admit that part of you cheered them on and hoped it would happen. We wanted it, evil outcome and all. And all the “Imperial March” strands woven into the score couldn’t keep us from holding our collective breath whenever they got close enough to touch.

Leo and Piper on Charmed. The White Lighter and his witch were forbidden by the Elders from being romantically involved, and doubly so when the prophecy told of the child that would be Wyatt. The Elders even tried to stop them from getting married in secret. In fact, one could argue that every relationship that happened on Charmed was in some way Cosmically Forbidden, as there was this running theme of Powerful Women charged with Protecting the World (AKA San Francisco) weren’t allowed to have any kind of regular lives a la Buffy. Cole (played by Julian McMahon) , the half demon, Jason (played by Eric Dane) the really powerful newspaper mogul, Richard, the Magic Addict…all of these were doomed relationships that seemed meant to tell them that they just should not be able to balance work and life…but Piper’s story was the special one, as she moved into the Mother stage of life on top of being the Elder sister. Her Extra Special Doomed Relationship was always the Cautionary Tale, taken away for disobeying, taken away so as not to be a distraction…you get the idea.

There are others that come to mind, though not all of them TV/Movie related. Joscelin and Phèdre, the Casseline Brother and the anguissette, who aren’t really cosmically forbidden, but are really just so oddly paired that it frustrates the story…in a really good way, and Imri and Sidonie for that matter.

Any others that you can think of, dearest readers?

Discuss away!

*Um, it is a really good show. I feel like the writing is kind of shoddy at times, but the story is really great, and I really love this show. I plan to write more about it in depth later. But I love this show, bad writing and all.

Legend of the Seeker

Three presumably white actors: a young man in a loose blue shirt and vest with a sword, a woman with long dark hair in a flowing white robe, and a very tall old man in a tan/orange shirt stand in the woods.In my utter disappointment that I can not have the instant gratification to continue on to the next season of whatever U.S. series with which I am trying to catch up, The Guy and I stumbled across the complete first season of Legend of the Seeker. Since I am such a sucker for a good fantasy series, and since I had heard somewhere (can not for the life of me remember where) that Charisma Carpenter was in at least one episode, I decided it was relevant to my interests. When I pointed it out to The Guy I thought he was going to give birth to kittens in the DVD aisle over the fact that this is apparently (loosely) based on a book series he has read by Terry Goodkind’s the Sword of Truth, or at least the first book, Wizard’s First Rule.

So, the vote was unanimous and we picked it up. Honestly I can’t believe I didn’t know about this sooner, because it seems like it would be the kind of thing I would have watched.

The pilot episode “Prophecy” gave me enough to whet my whistle and enough to know that this show will deliver a lot and fall short in a lot of areas that I could have predicted it would before cracking the shrink wrap.

The lore of the universe breaks it into three provinces, Westland, Midland and D’hara. Westland has been separated from the rest of them by a magical barrier meant to keep magic out for hundreds of years. The people in Westland live in fear of magic, both having been separated from it for so long and for having been told so many stories of what it could do to them.

[SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS]

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