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Male Submission and Female Domination In Fine Literature

October 6, 2008

I was thinking last night after I wrote the post about Carol Berg, about a list my friend had me write up of the 12 to 14 most influential books we had ever read (we kept adding slots). Near the end of writing that list, I was mortified to realize that Wizard’s First Rule had to be on it (spoilers ahead, kiss my ass, I’m writing an exegesis).

Mortified, not only because I consider that book and all others spewed forth from the pen of Terry Goodkind to be singularly bad, but because of the specific parts that had influenced me, at the tender ages of 10 to 15. Namely, the torture parts. The Mord Sith. And their agiels. I don’t think any single thing has influenced my perception of the infliction of pain as much as Terry Goodkind, loathe as I am to admit it.

I mean, the Mord Sith could torture people by touching them with sticks. They could draw blood, break bone, raise welts, or not cause any damage at all with an equal amount of pain by the lightest application of their agiels. Or, they could just hurt their victims with their minds. That idea, of being able to cause the most excruciating pain with minimal devices and no damage, has been burned into my brain. I chalk up my preference to cause immense pain but cause minimal or no damage up to this. Damage beyond marks squicks me. It makes my innards squirm. Unless, of course, the damage is already there and I just get to play with it. I mean, I don’t think I’d ever actually break someone’s ribs, but I’d sure as hell take advantage of it if they were already broken.

In my search for things to fill the gaping maw of my libido, I went back to Wizard’s First Rule, the only book of the Sword of Truth series that I do not believe sucks entirely, and reread just the parts where Richard (main character savior person) is broken (sort of) by Denna (main Mord Sith character). My childhood memories of this segment of the book make it seem way longer and more intense than it seems to me today. Rereading it, however, opened my eyes to something I wouldn’t have been able to recognize at 10. I realized that the entire romantic paradigm of the novel is based on female domination.

There’s Denna, Mord Sith, tortured since a child in cruel stages to make her the perfect torturing machine, who torments Richard but comes to love him through her bat-shit-crazyness because of his heroic male submissiveness. Then there’s Kahlan, Mother Confessor (how Catholic is that?), born with the terrible power of being able to simply touch someone and make them love her so much that they beg to tell her their crimes or drop dead at her word.

Kahlan is Richard’s love interest, but he can’t get with her because in the throes of gentle lovemaking, she might lose control of her power and make him her slave, erasing his will and self, the very things that she loves. Denna, however, after torturing Richard for a while, takes him as her mate, which just means that he gets tortured more and he gets tortured while being raped by bat-shit-crazy-Mord-Sith-woman. Plottery happens, and Richard is no longer within her thrall, and forgives Denna for what she’s done, because, really, after what she’s been through, she can’t help it. Then he murders her, very gently, and very sweetly. Honestly, despite the general crappiness of the book, that scene is incredibly beautiful and poignant.

As the conclusion/climax of the story rolls around, Richard finally realizes that he can get with Kahlan, because he already loves her so much that he would rather be destroyed as an individual and be her slave than live without her. Thus her power has no hold over him, because he already loves her that much. Eye roll.

So here we have Denna and Kahlan, two extremes on the spectrum of dominant women. One with the power of ultimate pain, the other with the power of ultimate love. Denna overcomes her conditioning to find love, and love is what allows Richard to get with Kahlan.

Though Denna sticking her agiel in Richard’s ear is way hotter than Richard and Kahlan having gentle-love-sex any day.

So, maybe Terry Goodkind is a submissive. A self-aggrandizing one who keeps giving talents and skills to his characters with no justification or explanation as the series progresses, and whose main character resembles him suspiciously. Maybe, along with Carol Berg, he will also try to sue me for libel.

Another fantasy genre series that very obviously revolves around female domination and male submission is the Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop. I adore this trilogy. Anything else in the series sucks. The Invisible Ring is blah, Dreams Made Flesh makes me squirm with disgust (it would almost be worth it for the Lucivar/Marian romance if the whole thing wasn’t so stupid and cliche), and I refuse to even look at Tangled Webs because the “plot” that is suggested is so ludicrously stupid it makes my blood steam. Way to ruin a good thing, Anne.

The Black Jewels is a caste world, which makes our bleeding modern hearts bleed, but in the fantasy genre ensures slavery (yes!) and the feeling that everyone has their own niche and place in society, and complexifies things. I think it’s very nicely done here.

The culture of the series is super matriarchal in a good way, except where it gets perverted. In the good way male submission is based on protection, service, and love of the females, and female domination is based on protection, nurturing, and respect of the males. In the places where the culture is perverted, male submission is living in terror of being castrated, whipped, or forced to wear a Ring of Obedience, a cock ring that can hurt your entire body, and taking out your frustration at your oppression by raping and breaking weaker females, just like the ruling women want you to to protect their power base. The entire point of the trilogy is the battle to eliminate the perversion of the matriarchal dynamic, so men can submit like they really want to in their souls without fear of being tortured because the women are afraid of their power, and women can make the land healthy again and have super good sex with their submissive consorts.

Admittedly Anne limits the S&M to the bad guys, and the true D/s to the good guys. But you get to read both either way.

Basically what recommends the original trilogy is that is has decent, if archetyped male characters, who are so powerful they can make you die in agonizing pain by breathing, and all they really want to do is drop at a nice lady’s feet and make her have lots of orgasms and maybe kill anyone who looks at her wrong. God, I’m making this sound so bad. It’s actually pretty good. Be warned of somewhat traditional gender roles, sap, and angst. For me, at least, it was worth it.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2008 12:52 pm

    Holy crap, Wizard’s First Rule. YES. It was one of my most formative experiences as a young reader, dominant woman, and sadist.

    I’m going to utterly cheat on this comment, and excerpt from the post I wrote about it a few months back, since I feel silly linking to a password-protected post:

    Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind, came out in 1995. I read it in hardcover because the softcover wasn’t out yet, so probably within a year of the release date. That means I was twelve, maybe thirteen.

    It’s a good book, in my mind. It starts out quick, it gets meaty. It has death and magic and wizards. The story skips merrily along for two hundred-odd pages, fast paced heavy fantasy with exciting twists, daring turns, sword fights, perky heroes, and is in the middle of the grand plan to beat the bad guy when it falls smack dab into the middle of a perfect femdom fantasy.

    You know how heroes often get threatened with torture, but are always inconveniently rescued right before we get to see the torture? Yea. Drives me crazy too.

    But no. Goodkind does not rescue his hero in the nick of time. Instead, he tortures, degrades, and eventually breaks his hero, Richard. Richard begs – repeatedly – for mercy. He says “Mistress” a lot, screams a lot, cries a lot.

    I can’t decide if Goodkind is a submissive, or a sadist, or perhaps both. Because although the books go rapidly downhill after that, there’s plenty of torture, D/s and trauma to be had. It’s getting so ridiculous I’ve given up reading. For once I want to read a nice happy story about how Richard and Khalan buy a farm and grow organic vegetables, or something.

    Thank you for The Black Jewels tip. And, thanks to you and the conversations with my boy regarding Carol Berg, I am now reading and enjoying Son of Avonar.

  2. ranat permalink
    October 9, 2008 4:11 am

    Wow, I feel like this is the first time I’ve recommended books and someone’s actually taken my word for it. Enjoy! (I hope).

    The thought of Richard and Kahlan growing organic vegetables manges to throw my *other* fetish into the mix. Low-tech sustainability AND agiels.

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