Why are Ayn Rand's novels publicly made ridiculous

The Face of Fantasy

When the American fantasy author Terry Goodkind died in autumn 2020, hardly anyone in Germany seemed to care. The controversial author had long since achieved world renown. About a genre and one of its polarizing representatives.

By Linus Lanfermann-Baumann

“This morning, Thursday, September 17th, we lost Terry Goodkind. It is a great loss. «That was what it said last fall on the Facebook page of American fantasy author Terry Goodkind, who died at the age of 72 for unknown reasons. Far beyond this post, however, hardly anything was known of his demise in this country. An extremely negative obituary in the Stuttgarter Zeitung, a minimalist piece of information in the Austrian daily Der Standard, that was it in the German-speaking media landscape, apart from smaller specialist portals. Isn't that surprising when someone has sold 25 million books that have been translated into over 20 languages?

It was only half a year later that I found out about his death by chance. The fact that he did not play a major role in "serious" literary criticism as a fantasy author was certainly one of the reasons for the lack of interest in the media. But this alone is not a sufficient reason, after all, Zeit, Süddeutsche, FAZ and Co took up the death of the British genre great Terry Pratchett, who was admittedly even more successful with his humorous Discworld novels, in 2015. Rather, it is probably about Goodkind's problematic political-philosophical views and his arrogant personality, which is almost diametrically opposed to the popular, shrewd British national hero Pratchett. As a longtime fan, I see myself challenged to reassess Goodkind after his death.

High fantasy at its finest

In 1994 Goodkind co-published Wizard’s First Rule ("The first law of magic") his first novel. More than thirty more were to follow, most of them in the series that he opened in his debut, called "The Sword of Truth," and expanded for decades. Goodkind wrote classic high fantasy with ancient motifs, which JRR Tolkien took from human mythology in the 1950s and established for the modern fantasy genre: A romantic hero of unexplained origin embarks on a long quest in the fight against evil and is on his way to answer the question of one's own identity. His

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genre

What exactly does »fantasy« mean? According to the literary scholar Johannes Rüster, the term arose out of a pragmatic need for categorization, which makes a clear distinction difficult to this day. The genre is characterized by "an other world in a mythical mode that recurs on the global treasure trove of legends." Since Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the subgenre of high fantasy, in which simplified characters from different peoples and cultures have to master a hero's journey together, has almost become a cliché. But especially the Anglo-American fantasy of the postmodern present is very broad: Anything goes!
Hero's journey takes him sword-fighting and magic to distant countries and cultures, where he has to face various challenges and dangers. Finally, he also masters the final apocalyptic conflict: the good emerges victorious from the fight against evil.

Now a genre like that of fantasy, which is increasingly diverse and broader and which has long since ceased to consist only of Tolkien's high fantasy, can hardly be reduced to these common basic features. (Even if there is still a tendency among publishers to extol every new book as "the best since Tolkien.") But what made Goodkind stand out was that he mastered the classic high-fantasy story, in a way he succeeded in making one epic story to be spun convincingly over decades and for a long time without significant loss of quality. At the age of 13 he cast a spell on me for the first time, thanks to my older sister, without whom I might never have discovered him. And it was only after books 16 to 18 could no longer convince me that I realized that my time with Goodkind might be over.

Competent people

What I was so enthusiastic about and what is ultimately just a matter of taste was initially Goodkind's protagonist Richard Cypher as the "competent man" - an old type who was significantly influenced by the science fiction legend Robert A. Henlein. Richard could apparently (at least learn) everything and opened up many things himself again and again based on reason. Probably for now I had had enough of adolescent Eragons, who seemed to create many problems with questionable decisions themselves instead of solving complex challenges carefully. Richard starts out as a simple forest guide. But it soon becomes clear that he is the »seeker«, that is, destined by fate to leave his peaceful homeland in order to defend himself against evil with his weapon, the eponymous sword of truth.

Extensive: the oeuvre of Terry Goodkind. Photo: Linus Lanfermann-Baumann

Kahlan Amnell, the heroine at Richard's side, is in no way inferior to him in terms of competence, rather complements his with a special magical and political power. Richard's grandfather, the experienced magician Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander (isn't that a great fantasy name?) Also contributes to the rest. Smart, powerful, beautiful people in the fight for good - of course that runs the risk of flattening figures into templates. The tendency towards more weakness in round hero: inside is certainly a good one, which has contributed a lot to the diversity and strength in the genre and in literature in general. But accompanying some particularly capable heroes: I still enjoy accompanying them on adventures of existential proportions instead of internally complaining about dubious decisions. (Maybe that's why I like Patrick Rothfuss ‘Kvothe and Tolkien's Gandalf so much?)

What I liked about the Sword of Truth cycle was the focus on the spoken word, whether in philosophical sermons or in the dialogue between the characters. I liked the literally fantastic worldbuilding with epic millennia-old wars that had created colossal magical boundaries between whole worlds and affected the narrative presence. I was particularly taken with the complex magic system and the interesting societies outside of Richard's woods. Not only Goodkind, but the fantasy reading as a whole did not mean escapist distance from reality to me - which does not necessarily have to be a negative function anyway, but is often expressed as a derogatory prejudice. Rather, they stimulated my imagination for years and offered me an almost inexhaustible potential for identification. I believe it is no coincidence that many people still come across fantasy literature to read.

disillusionment

Only years later, when Goodkind had long since assumed a god-like status in my head, did I begin to reflect critically on his work. First there is the philosophical-political stance of Goodkind himself, which is strongly based on the objectivism of Ayn Rand and which his characters repeatedly embody in problematic ways. Laissez-faire capitalism as the ideal system, radical individualism, egoism as a high value, specifically about the

Including refusal of development aid - I only realized late on the extent to which Rand's ideas, with which I could not and would not do anything at all, seeped into the speeches of Goodkind's characters that I had read so much as a teenager.

His antagonists: inside, as the author himself put it, are "as the real Dracula, as Pol Pot, as Saddam Hussein, as Mao Zedong. They all are dictators who preach that everyone must sacrifice themselves for the greater good. «Goodkind wrote in his novels against societies that somehow want to equalize all people and place the collective above the individual. His soon-to-be superhuman protagonists, on the other hand, defeat these dictatorial systems in their idealized individualism, making them strongly reminiscent of the heroes from Ayn Rand's novels, above all Howard Roark The Fountainhead (1943). Goodkind's problematic response to real communist and sectarian violence, one might say, is modern American neoconservatism.

This fits in with the violent nature of the novels, in which almost all bad guys are sadistic rapists, which Goodkind likes to describe. The sexism allegation - rather the allegations - are anything but implausible. (It would certainly be worthwhile to examine the entire genre in this regard. Who falls into an actively acting female figure Lord of the rings a?)

"My work has changed the face of fantasy"

Finally, there is the author's narcissism, which I find difficult to endure after having imagined it to be very different over the years. Perhaps most painful is the way he repeatedly dragged his own genre into the mud in factually false or misleading statements:

I don’t write fantasy. I write stories that have important human themes. They have elements of romance, history, adventure, mystery and philosophy. Most fantasy is one-dimensional. It's either about magic or a world-building. I don’t do either.

A: e reader asked him about the similarities between his books and the earlier work by Robert Jordan, which Goodkind obviously took inspiration from. The author's contemptuous answer: "If you notice a similarity, then you probably aren’t old enough to read my books." Why are there no dwarfs or elves with him? “My purpose is not weirdo cultural diversity. I repeat: I am writing stories about important human beings. «His status in the fantasy world? “What I have done with my work has irrevocably changed the face of fantasy. In so doing I've raised the standards. […] Agents and editors are screaming for more books like mine. «Goodkind did not receive a modesty award posthumously - it is nevertheless surprising that his arrogant self-presentation has received so much criticism. Because arrogance on the other hand does not protect against Nobel Prizes, at least if one is perceived as an intellectual writer and not as a fantasy author, the case of the genocide-belittler Peter Handke recently proved.

So it fits into the picture that Goodkind 2018 publicly ridiculed the cover artist of his new book on Facebook and called the cover “laughably bad”. Granted, Goodkind's heroine, who traveled far and wide under adverse (weather) conditions, wore a sleeveless top and boots with heels (no joke). But to publicly expose the talented artist, who only had to implement the strict, albeit idiotic, guidelines of the publisher - he can also remove the price for respectful treatment.

And yet I don't want to miss reading it. Despite all the problems, Goodkind's literature remains a reading pleasure for all those who can hide the neoconservative narcissist behind the work for a while and want to sink into the brilliantly epic story. The sword of truth is high fantasy at its best, even if many opponents want to deny it this quality despite all the justified criticism. The film adaptation as a television series by Sam Raimi, which largely abandons the existential narrative scope of the novels in favor of self-contained episodes and the competent one Richard Cypher with an incompetent Bubi, can be saved. (Unless the viewing values ​​of the New Zealand location are sufficient for the: r viewer: in for entertainment.)

Fantasy today

In the present, the fantasy genre is still faced with many prejudices that do not do justice to the increasing diversification through urban fantasy, dark fantasy or even magical realism (have you ever thought about Márquez as fantasy?). Goodkind himself noticed this again and again when he visited the airport bookstores during his tour: “Every other book on the New York Times List is there, but mine’s not - because it’s fantasy. "The largely non-discussion of his death, at least in German-speaking countries, certainly has similar reasons. But it may also be the case that at least some media simply did not want to offer the problematic author a platform.

Similar resentments towards the genre, which can represent a widespread fantasy skepticism, seemed to be harbored by Stefan Raab when he spoke to the successful German fantasy author Jenny-Mai Nuyen in an episode of TV total in 2012 (»Is ja so fantasy stuff, I'll just do it now to keep it neutral. «) He plays the part of the naive questioner with a penchant for an old man, who of course hadn't read Nuyen's current book in preparation. Nuyen, who was 24 at the time, gave him quick-witted and nuanced answers that create a TV-entertaining contrast. Particularly beautiful:

Raab: "Fantasy is such a genre, you can find it either way, right?"

Nuyen: "No, I think you can only really like it or you may not know it yet."

I would like to join this invitation to get to know each other. Probably also on the occasion of Goodkind's death, his entire first sword of truth cycle is currently being reissued in an appealing German-language paperback edition: A good time to start.