Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why I am a purist

I love sci-fi and fantasy. I was raised in the era of movies like The Dark Crystal, Legend, Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, the Princess Bride, The Last Unicorn...My parents helped. We always had sci-fi books laying around the house (I still read the entire original Dune series once a year or so) and my mom would tape things like Red Sonya or Neverending Story for us to watch over and over again.

As I got older, I started getting a little pickier about my books. There were some tropes that seemed ever-present in fantasy specifically that bugged me to no end, the handsome hero swinging his phallus replacement around to protect the fragile but oh so beautiful princess from being touched. If I was lucky, the fragile princess would have power of her own, but it was almost inevitably magic of some kind, which allowed her to stay on the fringes of any battle and usually was the excuse for her weak constitution. Even female heroes would end up saved by the man yet again, regardless of her own strength.

Eventually, my mother (who can be seriously awesome) introduced me to Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. This series seems to fall victim to some of the usual tropes at first, but very quickly it is revealed that not all is as it seems in that regard. The series is full of strong female characters, and by that I don't mean "Strong Female" characters, but strong characters that happen to be female. Its not a perfect series, but it does amazingly well in the gender department. Goodkind displays an amazing depth of insight into female perspectives, experiences and realities.

Can you imagine my joy when I found out they were making a TV series?

Absolute. Pure. Bliss.

Then I watched it.

I've read Backlash, I should not have been surprised. I should have expected that the entertainment industry would sap all individual personality from the female characters and insert tired old tropes about how women "really are." It doesn't matter if the character is essentially in charge of an entire council of nations and is the highest authority in the land. Underneath it all shes just a weak little girl who needs men to save her. She still has her amazing power, but now using it ONCE makes her faint like a delicate fucking wilted flower!

Additionally, the racial characterization is unbelievable. Why, pray tell, is the one character which was written with a specific speech pattern ie "I am" becomes "I be" (meant to indicate her native language's grammatical structure conflicting with the language she currently speaks) cast as a woman of color? Especially when this character was not originally written so? To make it worse, shes a sorceress who lives in a hut full of bones, and uses bones to ward off the underworld. Cue the "mystical POC/ voodoo preistess" stereotype. Tia Dalma anyone?

Theres more, but frankly, it isn't even worth addressing in some ways, cause we have heard it all before.

In all honestly, I wish I could even be anything other than bored and disappointed.

In short, don't bother with "Legend of the Seeker" As usual, the Western entertainment industry took perfectly good source material that actually portrays a complex world and boiled it down to the things that make white guys feel most comfortable.


  1. I was similarly disappointed with the adaptation of Earthsea that SciFi ran a few years ago.

    And I'm right there with you about women in literature and cinema needing protection. I notice that no women Jedi (for instance) got any lines or significant screen time before The Clone Wars came out. I mean, yes, Leia is strong in the Force, but only in the third movie and she doesn't use it at all outside of the novels.

    And I won't even start about all the problems with the Wheel of Time.

  2. OMFG I totally agree with you.
    I watched several epps online and I was very upset at the way Kahlen was portrayed. I mean, in the first few chapters of Wizard's First Rule, she was straight-up SCARY. I mean, you DID NOT want to Frak with that gal. For fear of losing your mind, body, and soul. But they made her into a twiddling little princess Leia type in the show, SO dissapointing.

    In fact, as I recall (it's been a couple years since I read Wizard's First Rule), Richard was kind of a sissy during the first several scenes in the book. In the TV show, they make him look like this monolithic bad-ass who just doesn't quite understand himself.

    However, I LOVE the way they've portrayed Zeddicus. I have never before seen that actor, but that's the only Kudos that show gets.

  3. I completely agree..

    I saw some of the new series online and I was really annoyed.

    Kahlen is supposed to strike fear into the hearts of anyone who so much as catches a glimpse of her long hair and white gown (the marks of her immensely high rank in this society) and Richard is supposed to be a drooling idiot (albeit with a knack for outdoorsmanship) who gets roped into helping her.

    I DO however like their interperetation of Zeddicus. That guy hit it on the head.

    But I am affronted that one of my FAVORITE female sci-fi characters is dumbed down soooo much, all for the sake of hetero white guys everywhere.

    I'm sorta curious, however, as to how they will portray the Mord Sith.

  4. Just FYI, Nixie, I picked your second, more extensive comment to publish. Sorry if the moderation system is kinda confusing :D

  5. I was never too fond of 'Sword of Truth', to be honest. I find the writing style hard to cope with, and the double standards applied to the virginity/fidelity of the main male and female protagonists very sexist. Honestly felt that Jordan's 'Wheel of Time' series served women far more fairly.
    That said (and it's only my opinion, I'm not judging you or your right to indulge in whatever literature you desire) I know how you feel. I hate the big budget movie/tv propensity for assuming that video audiences need material to be dumbed down to nigh unintelligible in order to get across to them. Or that viewers will automatically have less tolerance for variation in gender roles/appearances than readers. It's true that movies tend to reach a larger audience than books, and tend to thus generate more controversy. But is that really worth sacrificing all merit and content for? Shake people up already!

    Have you read LeGuin's essay on the EarthSea tv series? Scathing. :) It made ME feel much better. I hope someone decent tries tackling that again eventually. I never got to see the tv adaption of 'Lathe of Heaven', but now I'm sort of afraid to.

  6. @The Magnetic Crow: hey, I'll never begrudge someone differing tastes in literature :D i personally did not find the treatment of women In the Sword of Truth to be overtly sexist. Thats not to say that there weren't issues in the portrayal, but it struck me as more of a bumbling male privilege issue on the part of Goodkind than any kind of attempt to dictate what he saw as a woman's role.

  7. Legend of the Seeker... Honestly, I have to watch it while drinking, and make fun of it between angry rants. They took out everything interesting - that is, what they didn't try to use it and just ruin it instead. I could spend an entire day talking and not adequately express my hatred for what they did to Kahlan. She was badass, a fierce leader - hell, she led some bumbling little group of boys to defeat a ruthless, well-trained army! But still, what I hated most is that they took away her position of leadership and made her some kind of traveling small claims court that talks about prophecy now and then. (That latter part alone inspires a rant that I will save you from.)

    In short, yes, and thank you.