Friday, October 27, 2006

Sword of Truth

That was the phrase that Jonathan Aitken used when attacking the press when he was found out in a lie about his hotel bill. It is also the title of a series of Tolkienesque novels by Terry Goodkind. I confess to being an addict of the genre. The best series of this type that I have read was by Stephen Donaldson, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever. They can be read as straight adventure stories, but like science fiction stories, they often have an underlying philosphical or political theme.

Soul of Fire, the fifth book in the Terry Goodkind series, is on one level about that American ideal, Freedom, and on another about the battle between Good and Evil. So many American ideals are related to freedom and date back to the 1776 revolution. The French Revolution, which was almost contemporaneous with the American one cried "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!" the Americans concentrated on the first of these. Freedom from Empire, freeing the slaves in the Civil War, freeing Europe from Nazi domination in World War 2, freeing Europe from Communist domination in the Cold War, freeing Iraqis from the evil Saddam (perhaps a pseudonym for Satan?); Americans tend to see politics in terms of a war of liberation. The very federal arrangement for government in America is all about freedom from government, or at least freedom from Washington. (Of course freedom is something of a watchword for we Brits; freeing the slaves was a British idea. We tend to be a little less precipitate in our reaction to the word, though.) I am sometimes amused to hear the war cry "Freedom!" in American movies where it is clearly anachronistic.

Anyway, freedom in the story means a nation gives up its own culture and voluntarily enters into another more correct type of culture run on Utopian lines (everybody equal, the rule of law, free trade, you know the sort of thing). The leader of this Federation is an aristocrat by birth, but really one of the people because he was brought up away from the palace by a simple woodsman. The rulers of the nation have already (sort of) committed the nation into the hands of the opposing forces on promises of greater wealth for themselves (oil concessions etc, you know the sort of thing). This opposing Empire (there's that word again) is led by an Evil Emperor who has access to unnatural powers; he is not a nice chap. Why should both factions want this nation? Obviously because it is a tremendous source of agricultural produce (cynics can read 'oil' here if you like). Both sides have huge armies and are backing up their offers with threats of force.

The solution that the autocratic rulers of this agricultural nation hit upon is to have a referendum. Although originally a delaying tactic, a ruthless politician (interestingly a man of high moral standards on sexual matters, but none at all when it comes to politics, resorting to thuggery and murder to get his way) sees a way of getting the 'right' result. There are two races living alongside each other in this country, the red-haired race are downtrodden by the dark-haired race, who won't even allow them to learn to read. However, all are to be given a vote in the referendum. This politician is a brilliant spin doctor and by playing on the cultural identity of the poor he spins the election in favor of the Evil Empire.

An interesting insight into his methods sees his recruitment of young people to sit on the ground between opposing armies shouting out, "Give peace a chance."

A further twist is that the agricultural nation is defended by a super-weapon of mass destruction. So powerful and comprehensive is this that they have allowed their conventional forces to decay to a ceremonial army of no consequence.

How it all works out is that the country-boy/aristocrat being defeated by the referendum by his own ingenuity and creativity renders the WMD useless, and sets in train a way of making the crops poisonous. He then leaves the country to the 'mercies' of the evil Empire. Meantime, the internal corruption of country's rulers rebounds on itself. The ruthless politician seeing his wife seduced by the Sovereign, exercising his 'droit de seigneur', deliberately infects himself with a fatal sexually transmitted disease (AIDS reference?), infects his wife and thus the sovereign and thus all the fine ladies of the court and thus their husbands and thus the ruling elite.

Thus individual brilliance triumphs over evil government. But that's the American way, isn't it?

Book 6 awaits.

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