The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

Stephen Donaldson was the writer that spoiled it for me. I picked up Lord Foul’s Bane when I was a teenager. A friend recommended it to me when I happen to mention that I was interested in reading fantasy fiction. I expected to be pointed in the direction of Tolkien; instead I was shoved in Donaldson’s direction. And what a world I was shown.

In this book there are no hobbits, orcs, elves or Gollums. In their place are  Bloodguards, Cavewights, Ravers, Giants and Elohim. Its hero, Thomas Covenant, is a writer, cast out from our society because he has leprosy. He isn’t, by all accounts, a nice guy. He is brought to The Land by The Despiser, Lord Foul (in my estimation, a better name for the ultimate in evil than Sauron). Foul has a plan for our (anti) hero, but Covenant doesn’t give a shit. He thinks it’s all a hallucination brought on by his condition, and so gains the name of Unbeliever. The Land’s magical properties cure him and he shows his gratitude by raping the first woman he sees. I was shocked when I first read this. Heroes are not supposed to commit such atrocities, I thought. I do not like this person at all. But that didn’t stop me from turning the page. Or buying the remaining two books in the trilogy. Or buying The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant for that matter.

Here was a main character who couldn’t care less about his “quest.” If it was all a dream, what did it matter that he was the reincarnation of The Land’s saviour, Berek Halfhand? The thrust of this series is the journey from Unbelief to Belief. It’s a realistic journey, too. Donaldson’s writing is evocative and challenging. It would help to have a good dictionary by your side while you’re reading, though; his use of language and the extent of his vocabulary had me concentrating at all times. But when you get past all that and begin to savour the beauty of his descriptive prose, the power of his battle scenes and the depth of his characters, The Land and all it contains will stay with you for a long time.

He’s not everyone’s cup of tea; I accept that. But it’s because I read Donaldson first, before any other fantasy fiction, that The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is the yardstick I measure others by. And that includes Tolkien (sorry, J.R.R.) and, perhaps, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

Though I have to say, I’m getting into King’s epic in a big way now. Maybe it’s time to buy myself another yardstick. Don’t ask me to read The Lord of the Rings, however: I’ve seen the movie and I know how it ends.

4 responses to “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

  1. I read “Lord Foul’s Bane” and had to wait a year for “The Illearth War” to become available. I bought it and placed it on a shelf, where it rested, unread, until “The Power That Preserves” was released. Then I read all three in a marathon of reading, much to the chagrin of my wife and small children. When I heard Donaldson was writing another trilogy about Covenant, I waited until all three were available before I read them.

  2. Cassie Rowantree

    Going to read the last four. I loved the ending in book six so can’t see how the seventh book gets written

  3. I can only say that Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series has stayed with me my entire life and have read the first three of the last four. I am not looking forward to reading the final book of the Last Chronicles simply because it will truly be the last (all good things must come to an end). I can’t add to your post simply because you have described it a lot better then I ever could.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. While I had relished the Tolkien books in middle school (1980 I think it was) I was in high school when I discovered SRD’s novels at a yard sale and was instantly smitten. While I hated Covenant most of the time, I fell in love with the Land itself. The ageless, aching duty of the Haruchai, the quiet majesty of the giant, the anguish of Saltheart Foamfollower, the beauty of gravelling, such richness! The Land was filled with profound beauty — and more fulfilling than Middle-Earth. Which made reading the second Chronicles that much harder to bear! Fine, fine reading indeed. Now I need to find the time to take in the final four books!

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