RIP, Terry Goodkind, who taught great subjects through fantasy
Last month, the world lost one of its great fiction writers in Terry Goodkind. Known for his expansive Sword of Truth series, which has sold over 25 million copies, with its supplemental spin-offs and standalone novels, Goodkind created a universe that, as with the worlds of JRR Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, was designed to do more than merely entertain an audience. It was meant to instruct them — in philosophy, in morality, in mental fortitude, and many other facets of living.
It was in Tolkien's Middle Earth that he taught us how even the smallest among us could make the greatest difference; of the value of a faithful fellowship; and that while we do not get to choose the times in which we live, we do get to choose what to do with the time given to us. C.S. Lewis, in his Narnia and Space Trilogy stories, demonstrated the power of mercy and forgiveness, the insidious temptation of unearned power, and the dichotomy between corruption and redemption. In Goodkind's universe, we learned an entirely different set of lessons.
Centered on the main protagonist, Richard Cypher, the Sword of Truth universe sets the stage for a battle of ethics, politics, and ultimately the nature of Truth itself for the reader to partake in. Through the thought processes and subsequent lessons, Goodkind often finds ways to teach lessons that can be summarized in the "Wizard's Rules." The first, and most oft seen, rule is that people often believe things because they either want them to be true or fear them to be so. No matter how intelligent, how powerful, or how consequential for good or evil a person is within Goodkind's novel, he would repeatedly fall into this trap.
And it's true. It's a deep, uncomfortable lesson for all people to take in: what we desire or fear often leads us to having a lack of information or a faulty interpretation of that information, and the results can become disastrous. If we don't have enough information to make a genuinely formed conclusion, we may consider another of the Rules: ignoring Truth is betraying yourself.
The psychologist Carl Jung opined that the Truth is often found where we want to look the least. Goodkind reflects this in his writing — just because we don't know what the Truth is about any particular thing, that does not give us absolution to wallow willingly in ignorance. The main protagonist, Richard, often repeats his motto, to "Focus on the solution, not the problem," throughout the series. In other words, we must attempt to recognize and find, to the best of our human ability, what information we need, how to decipher its accuracy, and how to use it most effectively. To do anything else allows the opposite of Truth — falsity — to slither its way in to cause corruption, pain, and even death. Hence, it becomes a betrayal to the self in the most literal way.
While there are several more, perhaps the one Rule that deserves another look is that "there is magic in Forgiveness; in the forgiveness you give, but more so in the forgiveness you receive." Forgiveness can be exceptionally difficult, especially in politically hostile climates or in environments where there are active attempts to demonize history, claim an entire group of people are inherently racist, or sacrifice individual rights in favor of a collective. Yet, perhaps, Goodkind may have perceived something subtle: we are all in error at some point, and it is the kindness and goodwill of others to correct us, to instruct us, or even forgive us for our trespasses that bring true unity and enlightenment. More so than logic, reason, or evidence, there is a true power in forgiveness in that it makes us want to pursue the Truth and, furthermore, to attempt to filter our desires or fears in order to move closer and closer to that Truth. It is the combination of forgiveness and Truth that makes us both good and wise.
There are more Rules in the Sword of Truth saga that the reader would thoroughly enjoy exploring. For those who are of the more creative bent, a deep study of Tolkien, Lewis, and Goodkind's work of fiction may do much to teach them about philosophy, human nature, political theory and in perhaps a more entertaining way than more traditional non-fiction works may do. Certainly, courses at the high school or college level that explored the works of Goodkind with other fantasy authors like Tolkien and Lewis would be not only immensely popular, but immensely beneficial.
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