China MiƩville & Cory Doctorow at Clerkenwell Tales, July 20

Underground Reading: Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind

Wizard's First RuleWizard's First Rule (1994) is the bestselling first book in "The Sword of Truth", a popular series that has spawned an indefinite number of sequels and a television show cancelled after two seasons. 

Although I've read this book before, years ago, I couldn't remember anything about it. I blamed jetlag for the memory loss, not realizing that it was actually self-defense...

Wizard's First Rule is the inspiring story of Richard Cypher, who, despite being mentally-challenged, manages to eke out a living as a rustic guide in the hills of fantasy Alabama. His evil older brother picks on him a lot, but, despite the teasing and the beatings, Richard knows that he is loved.

In fact, Richard's small world is so filled with special love, that his father's horrific murder comes as shock (less so to the reader, as it occurs on page 2, before we've ever met the character). To recover, he spends his days stumbling about the hills of fantasy Alabama, grieving for a character that is completely unimportant to the reader and described in a purely functional way. On one of these wandering journeys, something new enters Richard's life: breasts.

Kahlan is the first woman to ever appear in fantasy Alabama, so when she shows up in her clingy, white, figure-hugging, completely-impractical cocktail dress and 5-inch spike heels, Richard is overcome with strange new sensations. When he first spots her, Kahlan is under attack by no less than four assassins, but, since they're all walking single file, they trip over Richard's engorged member and fall off a cliff.

Kahlan and Richard do some falling of their own - in love. Troooo love. As true as only high fantasy love between two barely sentient beings can be. Richard is attracted to her musky odor and the occasional biscuit that she feeds him. Kahlan is impressed by his magical ability to eat apples with his mouth. The two are further united by their hobbies: long walks on the beach, fulfilling prophecies, communicating entirely in stilted, explanatory dialogue, and over-using the word "friend".

Friend? Friend! FRIEND FRIEND FRIEND FRIEND!

Kahlan, aware that only Richard's prodigious shlong stands between her and the next team of assassins, asks for him to hide her from sight. He responds by taking her to a cocktail party (she's dressed for it), and introducing her to the entire population of fantasy Alabama, including his evil brother, who takes a break from his plans of world domination to try and rape her. Richard, distracted by the buffet, takes the opportunity to fill his pockets with sausages. 

Richard and Kahlan (still seeking anonymity in her gleaming white dress and waist-length hair) head off to see the wizard, Zed Zeddicus Zickory Ztereotype. He's very old, very wise and has humorous-yet-distinctive character quirks, like "being hungry all the time" and "knowing everything". Wacky hijinks ensue as Zed distributes cryptic wisdom to everyone in attendance and then eats all the fried chicken. 

"The Wizard's First Rule," Zed Zeddicus Zickory Ztereotype explains at one indeterminable point in the book, "is that people are stupid." (This is an actual quote from the book, and therefore the author's painful, anachronistic twaddle, not mine.) Richard, as the stupidest man in the world, is therefore a born wizard. Indeed, it is revealed that he's descended down through two different lines of wizardry - the perfect exercise in reverse eugenics. He's capable of vast acts of magical power, just not tying his own shoes.

Richard also learns that, outside of fantasy Alabama, there's a whole world of gender-specific magical powers. Richard is a Seeker. Seekers are men, because only men can get angry. Kahlan is a Confessor. Only women can be Confessors because only women can love. Later we learn about the Torture Nymphs (women, as only women can be sensitive and wear leather), Wizards (men, as only men can do math and handle pain) and Sorceresses (women, as only women can be inferior to men). Richard's dim brain is pleased with the idea that he is a man, and therefore not doesn't have to wear leather.

It seems that the situation is the following: Unless the Big Bad has a) Kahlan, b) Richard, c) Zed and d) The Box of Prophecy all in his grasp by a certain date, the Big Bad will die painfully and the world will be restored to happy-joyness. Currently, Richard, Zed and Kahlan are all out of his reach and the Box of Prophecy has disappeared. Rather than, say, taking a nap for six months and waking up to find that the world is perfectly fine, the adventurers decide to gather everything that the Big Bad needs into a single pile, tie a ribbon around it, and deliver it to his front door. 

In their quest to fulfill the Big Bad's ambition for global conquest, the group run into a few problems. For one, nobody really knows what they're doing, or why they're doing it. Richard, however, wins over everyone's hearts and minds by saying really obvious things in short declarative sentences. This helps him through encounters with a little girl, a dragon, a bartender, two sorceresses and, inexplicably, Gollum.*

Kill me now, my precious.

On Kahlan's part, she responds to being hunted by the big bad by maintaining her strategy of "wearing distinctive clothing, not cutting her unique hair & announcing her presence as loudly as possible in crowded urban areas". It is a fitting testament to the intelligence of their enemy that she actually survives to the end of the book. As a group, Richard, Zed and Kahlan pass the time with long-winded arguments about how they'll never leave one another, generally followed by an occasion in which they split up to go off on their own.

The emotional highlight of the book is when Richard is kidnapped by the Torture Nymphs.** The Torture Nymphs are a group of women (only women have the sensitivity and the breasts to be Torture Nymphs) who are taken away as little girls and groomed to be S&M fetishists. Richard's personal Torture Nymph beats him a lot and then sexes him. This makes Richard very uncomfortable, as previously he's only used his man-parts to battle assassins and as someplace to hang laundry to dry. 

He survives the experience by learning the value of concentration. By aiming all six of his brain cells at a single thought (in this case, "Torture Nymph have soft hair, like bunny"), he can exclude all other sensory input - even pain. He can, in fact, become so dumb as to be invincible. 

 The author's sexual well rapidly runs dry, so Richard breaks free from the Torture Nymphs and carries on with his quest. Just in time (of course) to learn that the deadline is rapidly approaching. Unless the group scrambles dramatically to get to the Big Bad with the Missing Whatsit, they'll accidentally win! Fortunately, the evil brother (Wait? Captain Rapey was a bad guy?!) shows up to provide a personal courier service.  With his help, they manage to deliver the Big Bad everything he needs. That's real heroism.

The book ends conclusively, if not dramatically. Richard's new trick proves useful: he's actually too stupid for the Big Bad's magic to work on him. Due to this, he saves the day by a combination of attrition and the rare experience of being the second-dumbest person in the room. The universe of fantasy Alabama, sadly, survives.

In Wizard's First Rule, whenever anyone in the book exercises the barest bit of intelligence (dressing themselves, pointing out the blatantly obvious, varying their adjective selection between sentences), all the other characters applaud like they just invented spaghetti. And well they should: this may be the dumbest book ever written, featuring stupid people on an idiotic mission. If any single character, hero or villain, had the intelligence that God gave a turnip, Wizard's First Rule would've been two blissfully brief paragraphs long, rather than 9,000 endless, turgid pages.

Sexist and dull, filled with pedestrian masturbatory fantasies and shameless plagiarism, this may be the worst fantasy book ever written. Frighteningly, I suspect the sequels are probably even worse. I have no idea what the second rule is - but I swear that I will never, ever grow curious enough to find out. 

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*This is really shameful. Richard runs into a former Seeker, who has been corrupted by over-using the power of the Seeker. He is pale and pot-bellied, with huge eyes, and creeps around with oversized hands and feet. His name is "Samuel" (in no way "Smeagol") and his dialogue consists purely of "gimme" and "Mistress" (hissed under his breath, no less). Richard slings a rope around his neck and forces him to act as a guide, feeding him bits of bread as a reward. The entire scene is so embarrassing that, after the close of the chapter, it is never referenced again.

**Actual name, I kid you not, "Mord-Sith". It not only steals from Terry Brooks and George Lucas, but also manages to be goofier sounding than either would be on their own. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Richard's climactic battle was against the Decepticons of Mount Doom.

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