"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

Posts tagged ‘Thomas Covenant’

Day 7: An underrated book

Everyone who’s read Lord Foul’s Bane has a strong opinion about it.  Sometimes the opinion is negative; sometimes it’s positive.  At least on the internet it seems that negatives outnumber positives.  As for me, my opinion is positive.

Lord Foul’s Bane is about a main character, Thomas Covenant, who is unique in all of fiction.  Covenant is a leper, abandoned by his wife and outcast by society, living alone.  (In Pennsylvania, if I recall correctly.)  Then he is whisked away to a fantasy land known simply as “the Land”.  There he encounters a variety of fantasy archetypes: wizards, warriors, soldiers, giants, and the villainous Lord Foul, whose hoard of malicious creatures threatens to overwhelm all else and destroy the land’s beauty.

So far so ordinary, in high fantasy terms.  The what differentiates this book from all others in the field is Covenant’s establishment as a living, breathing, in-depth character.  Covenant’s entire life revolves around his disease and his need for constant vigilance regarding his health.  Hence, when he arrives in the Land he first suspects that his own sanity has deserted him.  All future events are shaped by his own need to not succumb to the supposed hallucination.  However, the natural goodness and beauty of the Land eventually act on him, breaking through the psychological barriers that he has set up for his own defense.  The ending of this book leaves the character arc still unfinished, and two sequels are needed before the triumphant conclusion.

With that said, Lord Foul’s Bane is not only about the character.  It is a big, messy novel, filled with traveling, exotic buildings and locations, fights, battles, and massive actin sequences.  In the fantasy genre, few can compete with Donaldson’s action scenes or his sense of scale.  Indeed, one of the things that the naysayers tend to dislike about the series is that everything is larger than life, from the landscapes to the fights to the personalities.  Even the names are more style than realism: Lord Foul, Drool Rockworm, Mount Thunder, Black River, and so forth.  What makes it okay, in my view, is that the whole set-up and sweep of the novel is such fulfillment of everything that fantasy can be, that only archetypes would fit properly within it.

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