I have been on Twitter yesterday and today (@gutrend) talking to Netflix and another person about the fact that "Legend Of The Seeker" got cancelled. The first tweet that drew my eye was a question being asked of Netflix, that of querying why the show got cancelled and stating that it shouldn't have been. I responded that the reason the show got pulled is simply the fact that it was an inferior product in comparison to the source material. This morning, upon going online for the first time, I was greeted by a message from someone who obviously has never read the books that provide the underlying reason for making the series, and he was stating that I should give the series another try. After about five tweets in response to this nonsense, I felt that a longer and more in-depth answer was called for, and thusly I am writing this post to address the differences that exist between book and screen for this particular title, and make comparisons to other book to screen conversions that worked and prove my point.
First of all, it would behoove me to discuss the source material for this television show. "The Sword Of Truth" is a series of books written by Terry Goodkind. I first encountered this series when the very first book, "Wizard's First Rule" was a selection through the Science Fiction Book Club back in the early 90s. Upon reading the book, I was impressed by quite a few things that had gone into it. First and foremost, Goodkind had instilled in the book the hook which brought me to the title in the first place, the notion of a list of Wizard's Rules that govern the ability to wield magic in the society within the pages. Next was the entire idea of The Seeker Of Truth, a character embodied by The Sword Of Truth, a tool of The Seeker but also arguably the reason The Seeker is who he is. Third came the main relationship between a man and woman that was, while not forbidden, certainly went against all things that had come before due to the ability she herself embodied within her. Lastly, the fact that the main protagonist happened to be fathered by the 'big bad' provided a great deal of drama when considered against the book's main quest.
If it seems that I am being purposefully vague here, it is for a good reason. I am not the author of these books, but I strongly urge you to go and read at least the first in the series. Especially if you have had the misfortune of watching the television show 'based' upon these novels. To that end, I don't want to give anything away until I have set the hook as deeply as the first book's title did for me, at which point you should literally go and buy the book, read it, and then come back and read the rest of this entry. I don't care if it takes a month for you to do so, go buy the book if you have any interest in either the point of this post or the title itself, because this blog isn't going anywhere and I am about to get into very heavy spoilers for those who don't read it for themselves. That warning being given, I again will stress that I am about to let multiple cats out of multiple bags here, and I don't want to hear that people read this post and opted not to read the book because I ruined it for them. Unless, of course, you intend to only compare my words to what you've watched when viewing the television show - those of you can feel free to stay put to allow me to show you why what you think is a great television show is actually a steaming pile of crap.
On with the spoilers. Richard, the main protagonist, gets found by Kahlan, the main female protagonist, as she attempts to find a person known as the First Wizard in order to stop the 'big bad' Darken Rahl from opening one of the three Boxes Of Orden. For Kahlan to find the First Wizard, she has had to cross the three parts of the known world: D'Hara, where resides the 'big bad,' The Midlands, separated from D'Hara by a magical boundary to keep them safe from Darken Rahl and where regular normal folk live, and Westland, a part of the world set away from the rest by another boundary that also keeps magic from entering that part of the world. Kahlan is being harmed, Richard rescues her, takes her to get helped by the wisest man he knows, his best friend Zedd, who turns out to be the First Wizard Kahlan is looking for. Kahlan turns out to be a Confessor, a woman who cannot be loved because her purpose in life is to make others tell the truth via her charming them to do her biding always and forever, effectively erasing any semblance of thought or character in the process. Richard himself turns out to be The Seeker Of Truth, and as a result comes to be the bearer of The Sword Of Truth, an incredible tool that cannot harm someone who tells the truth, and which gives the bearer the ability to find truths that are both hidden and dangerous.
Certainly I am skipping the intricacies that get us from one plot point to another, and also leaving out a few more minor characters, but suffice it to say that Kahlan and Richard set out to stop Darken Rahl from obtaining the third and final Box Of Orden, since opening those Boxes would give Rahl the power to destroy all life if he chooses that particular Box to open. While trying to obtain the last Box before him, Richard is ultimately captured by a Mord-Sith named Denna. Mord-Sith have no magic of their own, but when attacked by magic can then capture that ability from a person, shutting off their use of their abilities, and then use a small wand called an Agiel to inflict pain and suffering in order to break the will of the person so ensnared. Richard was captured specifically because he had knowledge of a book which would tell Rahl which Box was the correct one to open to give him insurmountable power. Instead, Denna falls in love with Richard and allows him to kill her to effect his escape. This also opens up another ability of the Sword Of Truth, the ability to use it not only in anger and rage, but also in mercy and forgiveness, which turns the blade white.
In the end, Richard is able to lie to Darken Rahl and gets him to open the wrong Box, which kills him. It is also revealed that Darken Rahl raped Zedd's daughter, thereby creating Richard, making him Darken Rahl's son and heir to the throne of D'Hara. It is also learned, through a plot point I'll leave to be read, that Richard is the one man who is immune to Kahlan's abilities, and therefore they can fall in love and marry. Zedd, Richard's grandfather, knows that things are not over yet, as the opening of the Boxes Of Orden has now set the world on an unavoidable path to darkness and horror, but that is for the rest of the series to tackle.
To this point, I'd be interested in knowing exactly how much of what I've put above, even leaving out enormous chunks of the storyline and plot, ever made it to the television screen. I am now going to go even deeper into a few areas, to make certain that the readers of this post understand why the true nature of these books could never have been put on television in the manner in which it was aired.
The books contain, for lack of better words, torture and sex. Not a little bit here and there, I'm talking full out torture sequences, enslavement, multiple rapes, violent and graphical sexual situations, torture of children, murder of children, and the sticking point is that none of it, absolutely none of it, is mindless pandering for a violent audience. The tempering of Deena, when she was a young girl, makes perfect sense when coupled with her role as a Mord-Sith. The slaughter and blooding of an innocent child in order to open the Boxes is a mainstay from many other fantasy novels, just not brought as clearly to the reader's attention as it is here. The total and utter degradation of a man in thrall to a woman plays a key role in the awakening of the Sword Of Truth's truer powers, and Goodkind does not shirk away from describing it to us to the point of squeamishness in order so that when the revelation comes with the death of Deena, the reader is thrilled with the emotion he wanted us to feel - triumph. All of this and more besides reside within the pages of all of the Sword Of Truth novels, and it makes them what they are: Adult Fantasy books. As such, there is no way they could have been properly portrayed on television without airing on HBO.
The television series on the other hand takes things in a humorous light. There are so many departures from the main storyline of the books that it is a wonder that Goodkind let the show be made in the first place. I love Sam Raimi as a director, but am uncertain as to why he has done this to such a strong and well thought out series of novels. The show resembles very much the likes of "Merlin," "Hercules" and "Xena," and suffers all the more for it. It comes across as hokey, which was fine as long as the source material was from writers doing their writing specifically for the show, but for the purposes of translating a wonderful series of books into a television series this is just unacceptable. I can understand how people who disliked the books or never read them might enjoy the show, but to put this into perspective...imagine "Lord Of The Rings" introducing a talking doll for amusement's sake. Preposterous you say? Season One of "Legend Of The Seeker" I say.
It isn't as if there have not been excellent book-to-television adaptations of popular titles in the past either. Anybody who has read either "The Stand" or "Desperation" by Stephen King, and had the opportunity to watch either of the mini-series done based on those books, will agree that minus some very extreme but tiny segments those books were put on the television screen in an almost perfect manner, and a lot of the reason for how good those mini-series are is due to the fact that the author was heavily involved in the process. While I have no idea how involved Terry Goodkind was in the making of "Legend Of The Seeker," I can't help but assume it was minimal, and as a result the show alienated lovers of the books right out of the gate.
Thusly, now that the show has been cancelled, I can't say that I am in the least bit surprised. In fact, I'm quite astounded that they even got a second season from it in the first place. These books need the Peter Jackson treatment if they are ever to shine visually as well as they do on paper, and all I can say beyond that is that I hope that ABC never gets the rights to the David Eddings books, because the last thing I need is to be watching Garion hanging out with a talking doll. Sorry, but even I have standards.
Until next time, keep the recliner warm for me.