The fantasy genre was born from the essence of mythology, folklore and fairytales—from sources that were created to craft illustrations of existence and beliefs; as well as morals, fears and superstitions. These primary sources fed the imagination, and manifested in civilizations, taking the forms of art, literature, traditions and religions. From the ancient times to the modern world, myths, legends and tales, in the most part, were infused with messages and morals. Allegories like the epic poem, The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser, gave praise to Queen Elizabeth I and told tales of virtue; and the novel The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald gave a message of faith and hope.
In modern fantasy, as character-driven stories becomes the archetype, the story is no longer just a tale of good against evil, but illustrations of life with a fantasy setting. Now we are journeying into the human experience within the pages of today’s fantasy fiction. There’s no longer a blatant moral message or an unapproachable virtuous hero laying out an artificial image of honor. Today, when we open fantasy fiction, we are presented with a whole slew of underlined worldviews, philosophies and messages.
In an interview, sci-fi/fantasy author Michael A. Stackpole said, “Writers forget that, first and foremost, we’re entertainers. Anything that gets in the way of that, like a message poorly delivered, hurts our work and our credibility. Story must carry a work. If you can get information in or get readers to think about an issue, that’s a bonus. And there’s nothing wrong with going for the bonus, as long as it doesn’t overshadow the story.” I believe Stackpole speaks for many authors here. A writer should always aim to write a good book; but if they can convey a message in the process, then it could be beneficial. But if a writer goes into their story with the intent to push forth a message, then it’s more likely to harm the work.
I don’t think readers in general care too much about an author interlining a message in their work; however, no one wants to be beat over the head by a didactic story. We want to experience how such a lesson effected or changed the character(s). I think this is the only way that this could work.
For the readers of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, the main complaint of the latter books in the series is the heavy theme of Objectivism, a philosophy developed by Ayn Rand, which concludes that reason is man’s basic means of survival; and that one should pursue life for one’s self (“rational self-interest”). The philosophy also shuns faith of any kind, because religion is accepted only by emotion, or it’s something that one is born into—it was not chosen in a rational sense. Objectivism also teaches that morality is to follow reason to the best of one’s ability—so that rationality is the basic virtue from which all the others proceed. These beliefs are circulated throughout Goodkind’s series, with books like Faith of the Fallen and Naked Empire really pushing the Objectivist message. For example, in Faith of the Fallen the main character, Richard Cypher, says, “The only sovereign I can allow to rule me is reason. The first law of reason is this: what exists, exists; what is, is. From this irreducible, bedrock principle, all knowledge is built. This is the foundation from which life is embraced. Reason is a choice. Wishes and whims are not facts, nor are they a means to discovering them. Reason is our only way of grasping reality—it's our basic tool of survival. We are free to evade the effort of thinking, to reject reason, but we are not free to avoid the penalty of the abyss we refuse to see.” Later on in the book, Richard also says, “Reason is the very substance of truth itself. The glory that is life is wholly embraced through reason, through this rule. In rejecting it, in rejecting reason, one embraces death.”
It is obvious that Terry Goodkind strongly embraces Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. Those who know Ayn Rand’s novels, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, have caught the likenesses in Goodkind’s books (mostly Faith of the Fallen) compared to Rand’s work. Some go as far as saying that Goodkind is writing fan-fiction based on Rand’s novels. This takes away some of the originality of the story; and the maneuvering of the plot to give the characters opportunity to debate and give speeches to drive the Objectivist message slows the flow of the story.
In an interview, Terry Goodkind said, “Art is the way we express the things that are important to us. When you read a story, you’re seeing what’s important to the author. When you see a story about characters that inspire us, that artist—that author—is telling you that’s what inspires him.” Goodkind doesn’t hide the fact that he weaves the tenets of his beliefs into his story. I believe all authors have something to say in their stories, but like what Michael A. Stackpole stated, a message not delivered right could hurt the story—a message should never overshadow the story.
In my next post I will continue the discussion of messages in fantasy, taking a look at the works of other well-known authors in the genre.