Saving the World Twice Over - Seeking Truth in the World of the Seeker of Truth
By Hannah P.
God can be found in the darkest places, at the darkest times, and in the most mysterious ways. In the fantasy world of The Seeker, a hero who arises in times of great need to seek out the truth and right the wrongs, God is ever present but hidden from plain sight. In this world He is known as The Creator, the bringer of light and beauty, the giver of life itself. However, you wouldn’t know that by reading the back cover of any of the Sword of Truth books (there are currently thirteen), and a quick scan through the pages wouldn’t give you the impression that this series is a multifaceted work of philosophical and moral significance.
At first look The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind is a traditional fairy tale with a traditional cast of characters. Indeed, the basic story could form the backbone of many a fantasy story because it’s a recipe for adventure – a handsome hero, a beautiful heroine, a grandfatherly wizard, and a group of warrior protectors all battling together to save the world from evil. In this world, magic is highly valued and important. It can be learned from books or taught by word of mouth, but such magic is relatively common and isn’t very powerful. However, magic can also be ingrained into a person’s very soul and that kind of magic is truly potent. Such is the case with the three main leads of the series, Richard Cypher, the Seeker of Truth, Kahlan Amnell, Mother Confessor (a woman with the power to bring people under her control with one touch), and Zedicus Zul Zorander, or Zedd, a grandfatherly old wizard of the First Order (a most powerful master of magic, and the last First Order wizard still alive). This small band of heroes is brought together to hunt down and destroy evil, bringing balance and restoring peace to the world.
Throughout the course of the series Richard, Kahlan, Zedd, and a host of numerous side characters face new challenges and must overcome them. These challenges include outwitting and destroying Darken Rahl, the tyrannical Lord of D’Hara, routing the Keeper of the Underworld when he breaks through the veil between the world of the dead and the world of the living, and defeating the evil Imperial Order, a massive endeavor that spans most of the series and takes on many forms. During these battles the characters grow and mature as individuals, learning hard facts about life and themselves, and developing moral views that come to form the heart of the series.
When authors set out to fashion their own unique worlds, the result is a concoction of worldview, personal experiences, invention, and the desire to make sense of life, emotions, and beliefs. Some fantasy stories are admittedly allegorical, such as The Chronicles of Narnia . Some have evident religious influences, such as The Lord of the Rings . Others aren’t as explicit but still have spiritual undertones, such as Harry Potter . The Sword of Truth series contains distinct philosophical influences as well as the spiritual undertones that so often mark fantasy works. Undoubtedly, when a story is planted in the middle of a battle between absolute good and absolute evil, spiritual issues are sure to arise.
As mentioned previously, the Sword of Truth has obvious philosophical influences. These influences are admittedly Objectivistic, a philosophical system series author Terry Goodkind subscribes to. This worldview is marked by an emphasis on reason and individualism, a rejection of blind faith and a firm grounding in reality. In this worldview, the moral purpose of one’s life is to find individual happiness and fulfillment, a pursuit of “rational egoism.” One would be correct in assuming that Objectivism and Christianity have opposing views, the former focusing on the here and now, on reason, the latter focusing on the hereafter, and on faith. Taking this at face value and coupling it with the knowledge that the Sword of Truth is a brutal look at violence and warfare, the entire series could become wholly repulsive to a discerning Christian reader. But let’s take a deeper look beneath the surface at the spirituality of the series.
The idea embraced most vehemently by the series’ hero is the notion that life is sacred and beautiful, not something to be treated lightly or thrown away rashly. When Richard Cypher is introduced, he is an idealistic young woodsman accustomed to forthrightness and honesty. He loves the simple life of a trail guide, embracing nature and his simple reality. His life is forever altered by the intrusion of lies, secrets, barriers and artificiality. As Richard matures and learns to cope with these unfortunate realities, he longs to help others realize the beauty and sanctity of life. His nature isn’t one to conform to people’s expectations of him or to blindly accept the harsh realities of life. His desire is to change the world and fashion it into one in which every person can live life to the fullest and pursue their own dreams. Because of his personality, wherever he goes and whatever situation he finds himself in, Richard always finds a way to best the evils he has to contend with. His faith in goodness and his leadership earns him a strong following, including reformed former captors and tormentors.
Redemption is another very Christian idea that features prominently in the Sword of Truth series. The best example of this is the transformation of the Mord’sith, an elite group of women trained in the art of torture and domination. Before Richard, Kahlan and Zedd, these women were Darken Rahl’s right hand, performing his will and carrying out his orders with merciless brutality. After Rahl’s defeat, Richard becomes their master. Under his guidance and example many of them soften and morph into strong leaders capable of compassion. One example of this transformation is Cara Mason, a Mord’sith who changes so completely that she becomes one of Richard and Kahlan’s most trusted advisors and friends. Another example is Nicci, a sorceress who initially captures Richard and torments Kahlan in a blind search for meaning. After a long and difficult struggle, Nicci comes around and is transformed into a champion for peace.
Despite the preference for subtlety, The Sword of Truth doesn’t completely shy away from the unambiguously religious. Recognizable references are found through the battle against the Inquisition-reminiscent Imperial Order, and the nun-like Sisters of the Light. Like I mentioned in the beginning, God is found in these books through the likeness of the “Creator,” a deity that is worshipped by both Imperial Order and Sisters of the Light. However, the Order twists the Creator’s intentions, turning faith in a loving and gracious Almighty into a works-based cult that turns faith into a dark and forbidding power trip. This situation brings to mind the Catholic Church as it was right before Martin Luther began the Reformation, a power-hungry institution in need of revival. In contrast, the Sisters of the Light embrace the Creator as a merciful deity, a giver of light, life, power and magical talents.
The debate between determinism and free will is also addressed, brought into focus through the Sisters of the Light. The Sisters have a firm belief in prophecy, adhering to it strictly and acting on their own interpretations of it without recognizing the power of free will. Richard is the other side of the coin, a passionate believer in free will who fights the idea of a pre-determined fate. However, both free will and determinism are shown to be viable. What is prophesied through the Creator’s foretelling comes to pass, but only through the choices that characters make.
Probably the most prominent issue within these books is the battle of reason vs. faith. As Christians, we know that God has not kept Himself hidden from us, asking us to believe Him on “blind faith.” He has revealed Himself to us through specific revelation, the Bible, and through general revelation, His creation. Science, history, archeology, art, and every other pursuit give glimpses into the heart of mind of our Creator. Christians don’t need to view “reason” and “faith” as two rival doctrines; it is through reason that our faith can be strengthened. We need to have faith in our God, for we cannot see Him directly. But we can use reason to find motivation for our faith, the “proof” as it were, of God’s existence through his general revelation. Our minds aren’t designed to be sealed off from logical thought but are meant to be actively used in the pursuit of truth. We don’t need to be scared of using “reason,” our faith will be reinforced through a firm basis in reality, keeping our eyes on Him in the present, all while keeping our hearts and hope fixed on the hereafter.
So, despite the Objectivism found in the Sword of Truth , there is also an appreciation of life, beauty, nature, love, morals and honesty. Some aspects of the series are downright ugly, but the beauty found within the pages shines brightly when philosophical views are momentarily set aside and the Creator is allowed to reveal Himself, the light ever present despite the darkness.