Monday, July 18, 2011

Pulp Fantasy Library: Lord Foul's Bane

Along with The Sword of Shannara, another book I first encountered because of my friend's mother's membership in the Science Fiction Book Club was Stephen R. Donaldson's Lord Foul's Bane, the first novel in "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever." Both books were first published in 1977 but could not be more unlike one another in my opinion. Whereas Brooks's book inaugurated the tendency of many contemporary fantasy authors to ape Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings to varying degrees, Donaldson's inaugurated an opposite tendency: to reject Tolkien's world, or at least the worldview communicated through it.

Interestingly, Lord Foul's Bane takes much from older approaches to fantasy. Its focus character, Thomas Covenant, is a man from "the real world" who, by means of a car accident that leaves him in a coma, finds himself inexplicably transported to another reality known only as "the Land." In our world, Covenant is a writer who contracted leprosy, which costs him not only two fingers on his right hand, but also his family, his career and indeed his connection to other human beings, as he becomes increasingly bitter and reclusive. Covenant's mysterious journey to the Land is reminiscent in many ways of other dreaming heroes, such as Burroughs's John Carter and Lovecraft's Randolph Carter, among others, which leads one to wonder, as Covenant himself does, whether the Land is a real place or merely a figment of his imagination.

Once in the Land, Covenant discovers that he has been summoned by means of a potent magical artifact called the Staff of Law by a being known as Drool Rockworm. Drool is a "cavewight," a pathetic evil creature who intends to use the Staff to bring doom to the Land. However, another evil being, who calls himself Lord Foul the Despiser, tells Covenant that, if Drool is stopped, the Land can be saved -- for a time. Ultimately, Foul explains, nothing can stop him from destroying the Land, but that destruction is some decades hence. He then tasks Covenant with delivering this information to the Council of Lords located in a place called Revelstone and sends him elsewhere in the Land to begin his journey.

After being transported, Covenant encounters a young woman named Lena, who, upon seeing his loss of two fingers, believes him to be the second coming of an ancient hero called Berek Halfhand. This notion is reinforced by the fact that Covenant where's a wedding band of white gold, that metal being seen as mystically significant in the Land. Lena heals Covenant of his injuries through the use of a magical earth called hurtloam, which cures his leprosy. This turn of events only further convinces Covenant that the Land is not real but rather a delusion of some sort.

It's at this point in the book where Lord Foul's Bane takes a turn that many readers, quite understandably, find too difficult to bear. As a consequence of the curing of his leprosy and of his growing certainty that the Land cannot be real, Covenant rapes Lena. This act firmly cements Covenant's status as an antihero unlike most in mainstream fantasy and has spelled the end of untold readers' attempts to make it through this book. Before the rape, Covenant was already a miserable, self-centered, and unlikeable character. His violence against Lena, who not only had helped him but also trusted him, turns him into a nigh-villain and it is difficult to see him in a heroic light. That was clearly Donaldson's intention, but I can't say that makes it an easier to take.

The remainder of Lord Foul's Bane is, in my opinion, a fairly mediocre book set in a very interesting world. The Land is a fascinating place, full of intriguing people and places, even if it does suffer a bit in the nomenclature department. Donaldson seems overly fond of either obvious names (the aforementioned Drool and Lord Foul) or goofy compounds (like Foamfollower) that don't really do a service to the setting he's constructed. Likewise, Thomas Covenant is so relentlessly off-putting that it makes it difficult to keep reading the book. Even when he's not being a jerk, he's self-pitying and self-absorbed, to the point where it's almost impossible to care about him as a protagonist, a situation that does improve somewhat in later books in the series, but I can hardly blame anyone who never made it that far. Even given its limited virtues, I'm not sure I can honestly say that someone who hasn't read this book has missed out on anything, except perhaps one of the wellsprings of contemporary "edgy" fantasy.

91 comments:

  1. Weirdly, it was precisely because the Darrell K. Sweet cover looked so much like Gandalf & Co. at the bridge of Khazad-Dum that I didn't read it for several years, figuring it to be a Tolkien ripoff.

    When I finally did, I found Little Tommy irritating and insufferable.

    Adam

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  2. Covenant's anti-hero status, as well as his firm refusal to believe any of this is "real", is what made me really enjoy the series. This is NOT another Tolkien rip-off; it's a full-on original, a fantasy spit-take that tosses everything you know about "how" a fantasy trilogy should go out the window. Even if you detest Covenant, you have to admire Donaldson for what he tried to accomplish here. And his world really is a fascinating creation.

    Also, part of what I enjoyed about this series was the gradual changing of Covenant's attitude towards the land and the people who reside there. Basically, his attitude becomes that it all might be a "dream", but that doesn't mean he still shouldn't stop acting like an A-hole and help these "imaginary" people and their home. I think by the final book he's gained a margin of redemption in the reader's eyes, both by "saving" the land and saving the little girl with the snake bite (in the real world). It might not be enough but it's a step in the right direction.

    Interestingly, IMO Covenant becomes a much less compelling character in the 2nd trilogy when he fully embraces the "reality" of the land and becomes a more heroic figure as a result.

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  3. The Ill-Earth War, which is the sequel, remains the most horrible slog of a read that I have ever subjected myself to in my fantasy-reading life.

    With that said, I really liked Power that Preserves.

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  4. Interestingly, IMO Covenant becomes a much less compelling character in the 2nd trilogy when he fully embraces the "reality" of the land and becomes a more heroic figure as a result.

    This would be the second series were he is unconscious for the almost the span of an entire book (The One Tree). The second series is less compelling because he does not do anything but mope for his dead friends.

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  5. I would have liked this trilogy if Thomas Covenant hadn't been both a rapist and an asshole. Other than the main character it was a well written if depressing series. Some great gaming ideas within it.

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  6. "The Ill-Earth War, which is the sequel, remains the most horrible slog of a read that I have ever subjected myself to in my fantasy-reading life."

    Then stay away from most Robert Jordan.... :)

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  7. My wife's assessment of the book is precisely the same as yours James. She was happy to hear about your review.

    My assessment is close but a little different. I think Donaldson was relying on a specific strategy so heavily that it overshadows the characters and plot and thereby warps the story.

    There is a kind of exaltation that can be created when people have gone through intense suffering and it is lifted, a kind of emotional healing quite different from simple catharsis. Donaldson's protagonist thinks he has sunk as low as he can go - leper, outcast, unclean. Donaldson wants him to experience healing, exaltation, and redemption and wants us to experience it with him.

    The problem is, we are not despondent lepers, so we cannot rise from the depths of despair and shame into joy with the character. Therefore, Donaldson tries to take us down by debasing his protagonist further, by having him shift from an unfortunate to someone who has actively done a terrible wrong he thought imaginary only to discover it was real.

    Unfortunately, Covenant's act is so bad that instead of drawing us down into shame with the character in preparation for the eventual exaltation, it repels us, breaks our suspension of disbelief, and makes it impossible for us ever to empathize fully with him again. Those of us able to finish the book end up viewing him with suspicion and distaste instead of empathy destroying everything Donaldson was trying to accomplish with the plot structure.

    It was a strategic miscalculation by an inexperienced author trying something hugely audacious and ultimately beyond his reach. There were probably a few readers who for whatever reason were able to make that journey with Covenant to experience the effect Donaldson tried to create. No doubt for them the series was a completely different experience than it was for the rest of us.

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  8. For some reason, I could never stand the "man from our world transported to a fantasy realm" and this prevented me from reading much of the White Gold Wielder books.

    I read 3 Hearts and 3 Lions in spite of it (I think that's the one where our WWI hero gets transported).

    I never thought of John Carter as being part of that literary device either btw.

    I mean, in Carter's case, he's clearly some odd immortal trapped between two worlds, who has died many times on each world.

    I dunno, that works for me in a way Thomas Covenant never did.

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  9. Rick, your point about this being a miscalculation of an inexperienced author is a great point. I think a better or more experienced author could have made Covenant a less detestable character and improved his story arc. For example, the Will Munny character in "Unforgiven" is by any definition a more loathsome, evil and detestable character than Covenant, yet we are all cheering for him to shoot Little Billy at the end. David Peoples' screenplay (and Eastwood's acting) does for Munny what Donaldson cannot seem to do for Covenant.

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  10. There's a missed theme here; I thought the author was being a bit heavy handed when he had Covenant write a novel, "Will I Sell My Soul for Guilt?", but it's clear the author needed to be even more obvious what the core concept of the series was about...Covenant pays, and pays, and pays for that rape which echoes in the Land, literally for millenia; in book after book, he takes beatdown for it. He finds incredible strength in seeking redemption for his one evil act, his sense of guilt over it being the muse for his ultimate power.

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  11. @Badmike: A point in the second trilogy's favour is that Linden Avery is a much more likely candidate for 'healer of the world' than Covenant is. There's a semi-interesting consideration of male vs. female power/spirituality/archetypes in there somewhere, but it's lost in the mix because, for reasons best left to herself, Linden fancies the arse off the miserable bugger.

    A further point against the second trilogy is that... well, second trilogy? Donaldson is apparently driving for nine or ten books out of this thing, each a doorstop tract full of penitent and increasingly fevered apocalyptic frothing about the transcendent Covenant. He's rapidly approaching Robert Jordan's levels of literary inflation...

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  12. As a kid I really liked this series probably for the same reasons that most people were abhorred. I tended to enjoy stories that turned archetypes on their heads with antiheroes as the main character. (Elric was way more fascinating to me than Conan.)

    I recently (say, 5 years ago) reread the series and found the writing and story to be quite sophisticated and mature... miles beyond anything along the lines of the Shannara series. Donaldson's characters are multi-layered with believable emotions and weaknesses. Having the protagonist be a leper is indeed a chancy move, something practically none of his readers are going to be able to identify with, but it is something he himself apparently was familiar with. (I remember reading somewhere that as a child Donaldson had lived with his family at a leper colony for a while... although I can't corroborate that.)

    Doom has a point... Covenant gets put through the wringer over and over again in the series. In fact, it may be one of the bleakest and harrowing "epic fantasy" tales I have ever read. There are really no completely pure and good characters in the novels. Ultimately, though, I think Donaldson was trying to show that anybody, through cruel twists of fate, is capable of evil, and that even after such lows, a type of redemption is possible.

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  13. I'm one of the folks who made it just past the rape scene before deciding "ugh, enough of this crap".

    Honestly, though, I had barely been interested even before that. It seemed too Generic Fantasy to me.

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  14. I quite enjoyed the second trilogy -- or at least the first book in it -- because of the description of a hostile world where even the sun itself was trying to kill you. The characters and plots didn't do much for me, and I don't think I ever finished the trilogy, but I found the titular Wounded Land quite compelling.

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  15. People who had a tough time with this first book would be very challenged by his Into the Gap series. The first half of that 5 book series is tragic assholes unleashing on each other. And then when you hate every single one of them you realize they all have a choice to become prey to their weaknesses or to redeem themselves. And the last couple of books were fairly epic in the fall of a mortal's domain over all space. I really like parts of the first two series about Thomas. As a recall the virtue of his unbelieving and callouse nature was the reason the creator gave him the job of facing Lord Foul. But, it wasn't exactly handled well in many parts. But, the germ of the ideas hold their shape through the series. And how can you not like the Bloodguard?

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  16. James, I think what Donaldson was going for with the rape was a bit more nuanced than simple edginess or turning Covenant into almost a villainous figure before redeeming him, though I agree that was part of it.

    As you point out, part of the reason Covenant behaves so despicably in the first place is that he's convinced the Land is an enormous hallucination, and therefore nothing he does has any consequences - so why not enjoy himself? The fact that Covenant ends up feeling racked with guilt over what he has done and comes to regret it is supposed to be a sign that he is gradually beginning to accept the Land as real, despite his protestations to the contrary - after all, why would you feel guilty about such a crime unless, on some level, you believe it really did happen?

    But - and this is a big but - just because Donaldson is doing something mildly clever with it doesn't stop the rape being startling enough to make many people stop reading the book. Nor can I really blame them for doing so - everyone's got their own limits of what's acceptable when it comes to this sort of content, and that should be respected.

    For my part, whilst I see what Donaldson was trying to do there, I have very little sympathy with the way he chose to do it. The fact is that Donaldson could have achieved a very, very similar effect with a whole world of actions of Covenant's part which wouldn't have been quite so alienating to so many readers.

    Plus Donaldson seems to resort to rapist protagonists as a feature of his fiction with extraordinarily readiness - I seem to recall he does something similar in the Gap series. Not only is it rather lazy - when you get right down to it, it's not exactly hard to get readers upset or angry about rape - it also shows a willingness to casually toss into the mix a subject which, due to its extreme nature and the powerful emotional reactions it provokes from people, demands to be treated with more care than I think Donaldson shows.

    Ultimately, what Donaldson seems to forget is that his book is not just going to be read by people like him, but by people who have been subject to (or at least been threatened with) rape. (I admit that I am assuming Donaldson has not here, though I've seen nothing in his handling of the subject to make me think that is the case.) What to Donaldson - and many readers - might be an intriguing character flaw which makes Covenant even more of a conflicted and edgy character may to other readers be a sickening reminder of very real things that have actually happened to them or to loved ones. It may even be enough to trigger post-traumatic stress symptoms in victims.

    And to still others, like me, it just comes across as incredibly, horribly crass.

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  17. I think that MMORPGs have shown that Covenant's reaction to a pretty woman in a virtual world is not exceptional or remarkable, even if it's rather pathetic. Judging it as if it were a real rape of a real person in a real world is what throws people off, naturally enough. But at that point the reader has invested the world of the book with a reality that the character hasn't. Who here does penance for their dreams?

    The rest of the first two series is largely concerned with Covenant's realization that this might not be a virtual world and the consequent struggle he has with the tide of guilt, mirrored in the rising levels of destructiveness his actions have to the world around him.

    Ultimately, I don't actually think the world of the book is supposed to be real. It responds to Covenant's mental state too closely and the fact that "real" people seem to join him there in later books is an ambiguous endorsement of its reality. Certainly, "The Land" is not an objective reality for the characters and perhaps what Donaldson's intent is will be made clear in the final book, due out in 2014 I think. I'm looking forward to it; but then I've grown to like Convenant a lot over the years.

    On a slightly different note: those American covers are terrible. I'm glad we got the Peter Goodfellow art in the UK instead.

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  18. I first encountered Donaldson age ca 11 when I read a used copy of "White Gold Wielder", the last book of the double trilogy, where Covenant is clearly the tragic world-saving hero. By the time I read Lord Foul's Bane then my take on the character was completely different from someone coming to the story fresh.

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  19. I am glad to see that most people had the same reaction to this book as I did. When the rape scene came around I closed the book never to read it again.

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  20. The "A Game of Thrones" of its time... I had friends who loved it because of "gritty, edgy, nontraditional fantasy", blah, blah, etc.

    Hated it, for precisely the reasons you laid out so well. Like so many commentators above, closed the book during the rape scene and never went back to it.

    I think I went back and re-read "The Sword of Shannarra" afterwards to feel good about humanity again.

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  21. I guess Fzoul, cleric of Bane in Forgotten realsm, found his name in this book's title.

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  22. Another point to the rape scene is that Covenant had, by that point, so totally invested himself in despair, that his reaction to Lena's (correct name?) healing him, and restoring his ability to experience physical love, is one of despite.

    Covenant/Lord Foul/the Creator are all the same character.

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  23. Once I learned the protagonist is a rapist, I lost any desire to read Donaldson's work. An anti-hero is one thing, but Covenant is just a wretch.

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  24. @Nagora and James: All good points, and there's almost certainly something to be gained from the interpretation that the book really is an allegory for Covenant's internal strife.

    On the other hand, that's not enormously helpful for readers who find Covenant so unappealing as a character that they end up rejecting him and the book as a consequence. The internal strife of a character can be excellent fodder for a novel, but it needs to be the internal strife of a character the reader actually cares about and wants to explore.

    I really can't blame anyone who gets to the rape scene and decides that they just don't want to spend more time in Covenant's psyche. It's an ugly place.

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  25. @Arthur - It is an allegory for Covenant's internal strife, though within the reality of the novels, this doesn't preclude The Land having "objective reality," at all. The author is exploring the topic of strife within the divine, as well as the mortal.

    I wouldn't blame anyone for not wanting to read the novels, at all. But, I believe Mr. Donaldson's choice in writing the rape scene wasn't casually, or thoughtlessly done. The symbolism is integral to the ideas he was trying to express.

    I might also point out for those who've never read the book, that as far as I recall, the scene was certainly disturbing, but not graphic. It's easy to imagine the worse in such cases.

    The author is going for a very, very big fish in these books and, whether or not he succeeded, he wasn't just trying to be "edgy."

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  26. Yeah, I am one of those that tried to read through the books and just couldn't get through them.

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  27. I think he was trying to be edgy James, but I think he may have been trying to do other stuff as well. The former doesn't really excuse the latter, imo. I feel the same way about GRRM.

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  28. "Donaldson seems overly fond of either obvious names (the aforementioned Drool and Lord Foul) or goofy compounds (like Foamfollower) that don't really do a service to the setting he's constructed."

    I couldn't disagree more. I haven't read the book, but the examples you've put forward are perfectly in keeping with the Dickensian style (also used by Mervyn Peake to wonderful effect), which I MUCH prefer to the fantasy-nonsense convention of "Elandealeorela, Queen of the Elven Ladyes of Farieye and sovereign of the Septuafestoon Isles".

    Look, names that sound "foreign" and "exotic" to an English speaker actually mean something in their native tongue. Some pseudo-Celtic Elven name (Eowen et al) or some pseudo-Central-Asian Dwarven name (Khazad-Dun et al) would presumably have an actual meaning in the Elven or Dwarven language, just as English names mean something in English (or German, or French, or Latin, or Greek, or Hebrew, or any of the other languages from which English was built). So if an Elven character has a name "Oriandolen" that means "Doom" in Elvish, and the novel is set in an Elven land where everybody speaks Elvish, then why not just call the character "Lord Doom"?

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  29. I feel the same way about GRRM.

    Me too.

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  30. As a side note to the strong emotions evoked by the actions of his main character, I think Donaldson's writing style deserves mention as well. Many have claimed his style as laborious and overwrought, but personally I found his descriptive acumen to be very detailed and nuanced... if you are willing to go along for the ride. His use of cryptic and archaic vocabulary has the ability to lend a mysterious and alluring sheen to the Land, but can also be somewhat irritating if the reader is too bothered to be reaching for the dictionary every other page.

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  31. I had a lot of problems with this book.

    The characters other than Covenant were boring and two dimensional to the point where I suspect this was a conscious choice, mean to emphasize why Covenant thought the world was a delusion. If I'm right, it was a clever idea that was poorly executed, because making characters boring on purpose doesn't change the fact that they're boring.

    As to Covenant himself, I believe Donaldson's goals outstripped his ability as a writer. It's a big risk to make your main character someone I want to reach into the book and strangle. Very few authors can do that and make me want to keep reading about him. Donaldson isn't one of those writers.

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  32. For anyone that wants to read a deft handling of the redemption of despicable characters, allow me to suggest Fritz Leiber's short novel The Night of the Long Knives. I actually read it last night for the first time. It's excellent and free on Project Gutenberg.

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  33. There is another thing Donaldson was trying to do with this plot structure as well.

    The Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote two and a half thousand years ago that one of the biggest problems with human beings is that we sleepwalk our way through life, reacting to the world as though it were not real, as though our own feelings and ideas were more important than the real world. As a result, we do a lot of terrible things we would never do if we fully accepted the world's reality and took responsibility for our actions.

    Donaldson is clearly trying to work this theme hard by having a character do something terrible because he thinks it isn't real and doesn't matter, only to begin to suspect that he got it wrong, that maybe his belief in the unreality of the setting contributed to his committing a terrible crime for which he must now somehow make amends. Donaldson's trying to show us the slightest taste of the massive injustices we regularly do one another and the world around us because we are doing precisely what Covenant is doing, whether we recognize it or not, sleepwalking through life and not taking responsibility for our actions.

    He was up to a lot of interesting things in these books, but I don't think he managed to pull them off for most people. Other stories by other authors have handled this material much better.

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  34. "Donaldson's trying to show us the slightest taste of the massive injustices we regularly do one another and the world around us because we are doing precisely what Covenant is doing, whether we recognize it or not, sleepwalking through life and not taking responsibility for our actions."

    Yes.

    @Duglas - I generally agree, but think his prose was rather rough around the edges during the first trilogy. I've found his latest efforts to be rather enjoyable.

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  35. I wasn't offended by what Donaldson was trying to do with Covenant but I just found it tiresome.

    The combination of a whiny, unsympathetic protagonist and a world (and its denizens) that, to me, seemed bland and 2 dimensional made this a series that I couldn't be bothered to read (right along with the Shannara series, Anne McCaffery's books, and, later, all the David Eddings stuff).

    I appreciate what he was trying to do but the final execution wasn't to my tastes.

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  36. Donaldson's trying to show us the slightest taste of the massive injustices we regularly do one another and the world around us because we are doing precisely what Covenant is doing, whether we recognize it or not, sleepwalking through life and not taking responsibility for our actions.

    I don't necessarily disagree with the premise, but outside of adolescents and graduate students, not all all humans are deserving of such harsh condemnation. Yes, lots of people do sleep walk through life, but not everyone. As I am unable to read minds, I think it would be incredibly presumptuous of me to assume that everyone around me was oblivious to the ramifications of their actions. Really, the entire premise strikes me as extremely sanctimonious. Not only that, but the ham fisted use of rape in the book, makes it an example of exactly the sort of behavior is is supposedly condemning

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  37. @aos - umm... I think that last sentence is more than a little unfair.

    And history has shown that enough people are having a problem in this area, that it's not surprising that Mr. Donaldson might choose to explore the topic.

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  38. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  39. Allow me to rephrase that.
    James, I respectfully disagree.

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  40. I can see what Donaldson was going for with Covenant, but I think he does the reader a disservice by drawing out the main character's development over way to many pages, which leaves the reader wallowing in Covenant's filth and self-pity far longer than is necessary to make the point. It became tiresome and off-putting.

    I think it's a pity, because the basic theme is sound, and there were good ideas in the books, and The Land has some cool and interesting elements. But Donaldson's approach to Covenant and his journey (as a human being) just didn't work, IMO.

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  41. The Thomas Covenant trilogy is a bizarre combination of brilliant imagination and truly horrible prose. There are some really great ideas in these books, and one of the most original fantasy worlds of the late 70s/early 80s.

    But God, the writing is just awful. Really, really bad. You have to force yourself through these books like a dog team running the Iditarod. The fact that the protagonist is a nihilstic rapist is least of the novel's problems.

    Still, it's sort of a 'must read' if you want to understand the modern fantasy genre. This series was a really big deal back in the day. While that's probably more due to lack of competition than excellence, there are some important themes and ideas explored in a unique way.

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  42. Philotomy expresses my own opinion most closely.

    I did enjoy the conflict and loathsomeness of Covenant. Coming fresh off Shannara, which I found trivial and unimaginative, the difficult nature of the main character drew me into the series. Then the second book came around, and the third (which was a good read even though the series was getting long), fourth, .... Enough!

    You may not be surprised that I found Jordan extremely tiresome and boring about half-way through the first book. I couldn't make it through ten pages of Harry Potter.

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  43. >>But God, the writing is just awful. Really, really bad. You have to force yourself through these books like a dog team running the Iditarod. The fact that the protagonist is a nihilstic rapist is least of the novel's problems.<<
    Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner.

    Stephen Donaldson is a laughably bad writer. Just plain awful. Slogging through this trilogy (an act of self-loathing worthy of Thomas Covenant) put me off fantasy for over a decade.

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  44. >>Stephen Donaldson is a laughably bad writer.<<

    It's true! Lots of soaring overblown purple prose and tortured inner monologues, but almost no concrete description whatsoever. You can read for dozens of pages and have no idea what any of the people or locations look like. It's almost impressive how bland it all is.

    And the names! I swear I bet half of us were writing stuff like this in 8th grade after finishing Return of the King for the first time:

    === THE ILLEARTH WAR EXCERPT ===

    He faced her with a bruised expression; the memories she called up were sore in him. After another moment, she raised her hands until her palms were turned outward level with her head, and bowed to him in the traditional Ramen gesture of greeting. "Covenant Ringthane, I know you. But you do not know me. I am not Winhome Gay, who passed her Cording and studied the Ranyhyn in the days when Manhome was full of tales of your Quest--when Manethrall Lithe returned from the dark underground, who became a Manethrall, and later heard the word of the Lords asking for Ramen scouts to search the Spoiled Plains between Landsdrop and the Shattered Hills. This requesting word was heard, though these same Lords knew that all the life of the Ramen is on the Plains of Ra, in the tending of the Ranyhyn--yes, heard, and accepted by Manethrall Gay, with the Cords in her watch. She undertook the task of scouting because she hated Fangthane the Render, and because she admired Manethrall Lithe, who dared to leave sunlight for the sake of the Lords, and because she honored Covenant Ringthane, the bearer of white gold, who did not ride when the Ranyhyn reared to him. Now that Manethrall Gay is no more."

    As she said this, her fingers hooked into claws, and her exhausted legs bent into the semblance of a fighting crouch. "I am Manethrall Rue--old bearer of the flesh of her who was named Gay. I have seen Fangthane marching, and all the Cords in my watch are dead."

    === I CAN'T HELP IT ===
    Have to post one more:

    He lifted his cheek from her hair, moved her so that he could see her face.

    That sight chilled him. Despite the dimness of the light, her gaze shocked him like an immersion in polar seas.

    The otherness of her sight, the elsewhere dimension of its power, had focused, concentrated until it became the crux of something savage and illimitable. A terrible might raved out of her orbs. Though her gaze was not directed at him, it bored through him like an auger. When it was gone, it left a bloody weal across him.

    It was a look of apocalypse.

    "RAVED OUT OF HER ORBS"!!!!

    It almost feels like a fantasy 'mad libs' at times. A [adj.] might [verb] out of her [syn. for eyes].

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  45. I'm raving out of my orbs right now.

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  46. This thread made me consider rereading the first book to see if I would appreciate it any more now... but I don't think that's a good idea.

    My orbs may not be able to take it.

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  47. Look, names that sound "foreign" and "exotic" to an English speaker actually mean something in their native tongue. Some pseudo-Celtic Elven name (Eowen et al) or some pseudo-Central-Asian Dwarven name (Khazad-Dun et al) would presumably have an actual meaning in the Elven or Dwarven language, just as English names mean something in English (or German, or French, or Latin, or Greek, or Hebrew, or any of the other languages from which English was built). So if an Elven character has a name "Oriandolen" that means "Doom" in Elvish, and the novel is set in an Elven land where everybody speaks Elvish, then why not just call the character "Lord Doom"?

    I'm sorry, but this argument utterly perplexes and confuses me. Do people translate the names of various deities into their own language? By that logic, we'd be referring to Zeus as "Living" or Thor as "Thunder," while Spanish, French or Hindi speakers would call them by those names.

    Hell, by this logic wouldn't people be abandoning names of English derivation in favour of using modern English names? I'm really sorry, but your argument's giving my tiny brain a headache.

    In any case, the language spoken in Lord of the Rings is Westron, not Elvish or Dwarvish, so it doesn't apply to your speculative situation.

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  48. Tolkien, being a linguist, was quite clever about the way he handled it. Iirc, he 'translated' Westron into English, and the other languages kept their respective relationships to Westron via European analogues. I believe Sindarin was the only tongue he actually invented, most of the others are directly lifted from real historical languages. Which is one reason the LotR has the best fantasy names ever.

    Tying Tolkien and Lord Foul's Bane together, does this portion of Lord Foul's backstory ring a bell for anyone?

    ====== Era of Lord Foul the Despiser

    Lord Foul pretends friendship with the Council of Lords and is accepted by High Lord Kevin who teaches him much secret lore. Foul sets a trap for Kevin near Mount Thunder but Kevin is mistrustful and sends other Lords who are butchered at the spot known thereafter as Treacher's Gorge. Lord Foul corrupts the southeast regions of the Land which are renamed the Spoiled Plains and Shattered Hills surrounding Foul's Creche. He begins breeding monstrous creatures to be his servants and warriors, starting a series of internecene wars against the Lord's Council which results in widespread death and destruction of the Land.

    *However, Donaldson did write some pretty spectacular lore when it came to the banishment of Lord Foul by High Lord Kevin, who essentially nukes The Land in order to rid it of Foul:

    ======= Era of the Desecration
    Sickening of the butchery and seeing no respite for the Land or its peoples, High Lord Kevin creates the Seven Wards, giving the First to the Giants who set sail from the Land. He sends the Bloodguard to safety in the mountains and attempts to secure as many innocents as possible before challenging Lord Foul to the Ritual of Desecration. Foul accepts and together they enact the Ritual which temporarily banishes Lord Foul and his Raver servants from corporeal existence and devastates the unprotected substance, creatures and peoples of the Land. High Lord Kevin realizes in the instant before his death that Lord Foul and the Ravers cannot be slain by the Desecration. He dies howling in agony.

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  49. Tom said:

    The characters other than Covenant were boring and two dimensional to the point where I suspect this was a conscious choice, mean to emphasize why Covenant thought the world was a delusion. If I'm right, it was a clever idea that was poorly executed, because making characters boring on purpose doesn't change the fact that they're boring.

    Actually one thing I really loved about these books is how plainly the many characters embodied the axiom that your actions, not your intentions, are the basis of your character (or lack thereof). Saltheart Foamfollower (an appropriately "silly" shortening and adaptation of his name, as I read the books) is one of my favorite characters in all of fantasy fiction.

    The scene in which Covenant presents his message to the Council of Lords in the first book is a great example of the originality of Donaldson's characters--at the devastating news Foamfollower pleads for Covenant to laugh to dispel some of the despair that he has brought, and when Covenant refuses he laughs himself. The description of the choked sounds Foamfollower makes, the obvious pain of forcing himself to overcome the absolute hopelessness of the situation and find the strength for joy is communicated so well in that passage that I can forgive Donaldson his unpleasant literary tics and flourishes, such as his tendency to use anatomical analogies to describe landscapes.

    That scene always reminds me of George Tabori's play "Mein Kampf", which makes the implicit claim that those who are unable ultimately to laugh at the ridiculousness of the Holocaust are doomed to be destroyed by it.

    That, in my opinion, is neither a ham-fisted argument nor a crude one, and to suggest that the entirety of the novel(s) can be reduced simply to Covenant's struggle for redemption is to underestimate the scope of the story. Every single character in the tale faces the same terrible conflict, though of course the nature of the challenge (and the ease and obviousness of the choices available) varies from one to the next.

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  50. Reading that Illearth War excerpt...I have no idea what's happening there, and the names all run together into fantasy sludge, but I have to admit it's making me crave some cheap noodles right now.

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  51. "I'm sorry, but this argument utterly perplexes and confuses me. Do people translate the names of various deities into their own language? By that logic, we'd be referring to Zeus as "Living" or Thor as "Thunder," while Spanish, French or Hindi speakers would call them by those names."

    Looking at textual history, other cultures would often gloss other gods into ones they were familiar with and which, actually did, mean something in their language.

    Tacitus and Caesar when dealing with the Germanic tribes glossed *Tiwaz with Mars, *Wodhanaz with Mercury, and *Thunaraz with Hercules.

    So, instead of calling them by their foreign names they called them the equivalent of "War", "the Messenger", and "The Glory of Hera" in their own language respectively.

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  52. I read both trilogies in a mixed-up order, because the library never had them all at the same time. So I didn't find out that Covenant was a rapist until I was two books into the 2nd trilogy and had read the end of the first trilogy. (Well, I realize they said it in flashback a lot, but I figured that Covenant was just overdramatising himself, as usual.)

    If you skipped pretty much all the descriptive passages and jumped straight to the drama scenes, and if you looked up the Thirty Crucial Vocabulary Words Which Were Used Again and Again, you could actually get a bit of enjoyment out of them. (And White Gold Wielder had a good ending.)

    But all in all, the popularity of the books testifies more to the desperation of fantasy readers for reading material than anything else. I wasn't even vaguely tempted to read the 3rd trilogy, because I have much better things to do with my time.

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  53. Oh, and what kind of creepy person goes around committing crimes in his dreams? I mean, not that I remember mine very often, but it's surely not a common sort of behavior. You might not be convicted for it, but surely you'd seek professional help if your dreams were full of you murdering and raping other people.

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  54. well, I think the situation in the story was one where TC was sort of questioning his sanity and basically sort of flipping the bird at his own delusions more or less. It was like him saying "OK, you want crazy?! Heres some crazy for you!"

    But yeah, I didn't like the book much either...

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  55. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  56. <>

    Indeed, it's easy to forget now how little 'epic' fantasy there was back then. The genre exploded soon after, with trilogies popping up like mushrooms. But today I don't think this bloated miasma would even get published, despite its intriguing concepts and unique "hero."

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  57. Put me in the column that just thought the world was boring and the actually writing was weak.

    Doesn't have anything to do with "edge."

    Though Covenant is a completely unlikable tool bag.

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  58. I was wondering if you'd ever be prone to review the Covenant novels. (Writing here without reading any prior comments.) They had a tremendous impact on me, not entirely positive.

    Here are all the fantasy book I read to age 13: (a) Narnia books, (b) Was read the Hobbit by 6th-grade teacher, (c) Was given first Covenant series for 13th birthday. Possibly that was too young (or maybe I'm just an over-delicate flower), because the rape, darkness, and bitterness actually did hit me pretty hard circa junior high school. (Or maybe junior high is just like that anyway.) There's a lot of Covenant's internal monologues that I think I myself internalized for a long time, and I can quote back a lot of it today.

    So, probably the most influential fantasy series of all for me; I've re-read it numerous times now. (Outstripped only by "The Once and Future King".)It gets longer and wordier, slower-paced as it goes on. And man, the recent "Final Chronicles" seemed like a piece of shit -- I wanted to stab my eyes out trying to get through the first book of that.

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  59. I read the first three books of the original trilogy and hated myself for it afterward. I'd had friends who read them and really liked them, but, as pretty much most people here seem to say, the protagonist is such an insufferable whining self-absorbed jerk that I just couldn't bring myself to read any more. I thought they were going to get better, and I was wrong.

    I'm fine with anti-heroes, but Covenant has pretty much no redeeming qualities.

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  60. Okay, and now I've read the preceding comments. First: I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined so many people putting down a piece of literature because it included a rape scene. So that's something for me to think about.

    Two: For me there are some unforgettable characters in the series. And the "Illearth War" is hands-down my favorite modern fantasy novel of all time. Scenes like (some spoilers):

    - Hile Troy the warlord, his backstory, preparations, and reaction when he finally sees the enemy army. Chills me to this day.
    - Elena and her crazy queenly self-destructive come-ons after Covenant. That's like the creepiest thing I ever read and it wouldn't be possible without that dreadful setup in the first book.
    - Mhoram and (in book 3) his decision to release Covenant from summons to save one girl in the "real" world even when the entire fantasy land faces imminent doom.
    - Nom the Sandgorgon (in book 6) when it appears from across the world to smash down the giant fortress doors. I melt at that.

    Anyway, to each their own.

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  61. I don't have any real substance to add to this discussion, but I did want to offer a link to one of the strangest long exegeses of a fantasy novel ever done, the Fantasy Bedtime Hour, a cable access show in which "two girls in bed, unequipped to handle fantasy novel concepts, discuss Lord Foul's Bane."

    All episodes online here:http://fantasybedtimehour.com/index.php

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  62. I read six books of this stuff. I didn't like it much, but it was like junk food - it required zero effort to consume, even though it was bland.

    Was Thomas Covenant really a rapist? Here is my problem with the series: I was never convinced a jury of his peers would have found him guilty.

    Rape requires (to my mind) willful sexual aggression on the part of a perpetrator who KNOWS that consent has been withheld.

    So far as I could tell from reading, the victim (Lena, if memory serves) did not express her intentions clearly. She appeared to be initiating a great deal of intimacy. So far as I could tell, she made no attempt to resist or to demand a cessation of intimacies. (I haven't read the book in decades, and I'm not going to find a copy to verify this.)

    I read the book when I was very young and had little practical knowledge of sex. However, I had no idea that Covenant was supposed to be a rapist until the author harped on that theme for several paragraphs. Possibly if I had read it as an adult, I would be able to spot some passage that indicated that the victim had indeed demanded a cessation of intimacy.

    At any rate, I never saw Covenant as an anti-hero, just as an unconvincing, bland cardboard-cutout of a loser who happened to have lousy superpowers.

    Hasn't anyone else noticed that Covenant is just a badly written Green Lantern ripoff? He even has the goofy ring as a power focus.

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  63. The problem with the "rape as a manifestation of Covenant's internal strife" thing is that we never knew Covenant BEFORE he was a jackass. He goes from being a self-absorbed misanthropic jerk to a self-absorbed misanthropic rapist jerk. My understanding is that he gradually starts working his way towards "normal person" over the course of the story, but... life's too short, you know?

    I need to be interested in a character to sit through a "road to redemption" story.

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  64. "The problem with the "rape as a manifestation of Covenant's internal strife" thing..."

    I don't think the rape is supposed to be that. The "rape" is supposed to be a manifestation of his belief that this isn't real. He's just been cured of leprosy by having mud smeared on him! Why would he think it was anything other than a dream? Having been cured of leprosy, he is also cured of the associated impotence and we can all join the dots from there pretty easily.

    The "manifestation of Covenant's internal strife" follows on from there (or starts to take account of what's happened) as he starts to question the unreality of the world.

    A large chunk of the novels (and particularly books 8 and 9) are about the dangers of wish-fulfilment. Perhaps fantasy readers don't want to hear that message?

    I'm with Delta too on the highlights - I'd happily give up everything JRRT wrote for that one-word sentence when Covenant says "Nom". Likewise, Foamfollower is pretty well my favourite non-central character in fantasy fiction.

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  65. My guess is that Donaldson's extravagant and overwrought writing style in the series, which seems to put so many people off, was a very conscious decision in an attempt to describe the Land in a language that portrays it as hyper-real and emotionally unavoidable... like a world of continuous heightened awareness.

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  66. Here's filker Tom Smith's take on the TC novels, a spoken word piece called "Serial Killer".

    Book 1: Everything turns to shit
    Book 2: Everything is shit
    Book 3: We install plumbing

    Book 4: The toilet backs up
    Book 5: The house overflows
    Book 6: We save the house, but the plumber dies

    Book 7: The plumbing explodes
    Book 8: We resurrect the plumber
    Book 9: We discover the true meaning of shit

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  67. Donaldson has said that the language use in the TC books was deliberate but I've never read anything else by him to see if that's true or not.

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  68. Yeah, that one-word paragraph, "Nom" is the most electrifying 3 letters I ever read.

    Admittedly someone has to get through all 6 books to get to the point where that's effective.

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  69. Is "Nom" a Cookie Monster reference?

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  70. I've tried to get through the first book on at least two occasions, but the main character's self-pity was so grating that it made it impossible for me to finish it and I finally got rid of the book.

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  71. In certain moods, the Thomas Covenant books work for me, and as Delta says there are moments, characters, and passages that are powerful. As a result of this review and comment thread, I'm actually going to reread the series and see how it strikes me as an adult (if that's what I am now).

    I can say that the TC series influenced Walla Walla's SAD&D gaming culture strongly. Russ Woodall had viles and urviles in his campaign, among other borrowings from the series, and they were standout formidable badasses in a campaign known for its formidable badasses.

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  72. Nagora,

    The reason that didn't work for me is that I can't see myself raping an innocent girl, even in a dream. I've had some pretty weird dreams, but I've never raped anyone in one. Maybe my dreams are unusually milquetoast or something, but that whole scene gave me a feeling I'd seen a teensy bit too much of Donaldson's id.

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  73. Rev,
    I doubt either that you've suffered years of impotence from an incurable disease. I can imagine that some of the dreams that situation might lead to could seem somewhat like the scene in LFB. I felt it was a believable and understandable reaction to the whole setup, not simply a case of "oh, there's a pretty girl, I'll rape her because, you know, that's what I do".

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  74. I can imagine that some of the dreams that situation might lead to could seem somewhat like the scene in LFB

    I can't.

    Maybe if Donaldson had established Covenant as a decent person before the disease and put some effort into setting character development leading up to the rape, it could have been explained away as an inevitable result of his being cured -- a tragic flaw sort of thing. Instead his flaws are, well... banal. At the point where we're introduced to him he's already a self-pitying misanthrope. It wasn't at all surprising that he turned out to be a rapist, because why *wouldn't* a person who cared solely for himself be a rapist?

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  75. This thread prompted me to talk to a friend of mine who does counselling at a hospital... obviously what follows in only anecdotal and from only one person so take it with a grain of salt.

    I asked her what, in her opinion, the attitudes would be towards sexual intimacy for someone in Covenant's position. It turned out she had read the book years ago so she knew what I was referencing.

    In her opinion, his response would be very uncommon as most men recovering from a physical dysfunction would be extremely self-conscious and gun-shy... and that even if *consciously* he wanted to perform, *subconsciously* he would still be afraid of failure, ridicule, etc. and would need therapy for his mind to catch up with his body in regards to 'healing' from his impotency. Overly aggressive tendencies, without being coaxed by a very safe and nurturing partner seemed unlikely to her.

    But, she gave the caveat, someone with strong sociopathic tendencies (or specifically dissocial personality disorder) may not react the same way... and that one could argue that Tommy-boy was more than a bit sociopathic... at least at the beginning of his story.

    Whether that's an accurate generalization or not, it seems more plausible to me, as a reader. The whole 'well he's really hard up after so long' never rang true to me.

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  76. Well, again, it's a dream so shyness etc. doesn't really enter into the equation, IMO.

    We as readers know it's a fantasy that leprosy can be cured by having mud smeared on you; why is it so hard to accept that Coventant knows that too? Is he supposed to look around and say "Well, this is clearly a fantasy novel; better mind my step"? In the book he does what any of us do and says instead, "this is clearly a weird hallucination or a very vivid dream". If anyone can tell me why he should have rationally thought otherwise I'd be fairly surprised.

    Likewise, I'd be pretty surprised if your friend's experience of people with physically-induced impotence didn't include reports of erotic dreams where the problem "magically" went away for the duration of the dream with no question of fear of failure etc.

    I feel that those that condemn the rape so confidently are wanting to have their cake and eat it here - they readily accept that the events are an impossible fiction but insist that TC should have reacted to them no differently than he did the nightly news on TV, or the knocking on the door of a Girl Scout selling cookies.

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  77. I really don't care if there was a believable reason for him to take those actions or not. "I thought it wasn't real" is not an excuse for a sexual assault and in fiction it still makes me despise the character.

    There was very little reason to have sympathy for Covenant before the rape scene and afterwards I wanted to see him meet a bad end. When he didn't, it meant I had no desire to read the rest of the series. Combined with my dislike of the overall style of the book, there was nothing in the series I wanted to experience further.

    Okay, Foamfollower was fun and had an interesting philosophy. There's one good thing I'll say about the book.

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  78. Although he *thinks* it is a dream, objectively within the story it's physically real.

    This comes down to personal tastes but, as someone who resonates with the works of Claude Levi-Strauss and Dr. Stephen Wehmeyer's work regarding the importance of somatics in the perceptions and, thus, experience of phenomena... I still don't buy it. That approach also reinforces the idea that while some people may not realize they are dreaming while asleep, people who are awake *don't* assume that it's a dream. The somatic feedback makes that a near impossibility... despite it being a hackneyed literary trope. If he's so disconnected that, in a waking state, he actually *feels* like he is dreaming, then it adds to the argument that he's a bit... unbalanced.

    Same with the 'hallucination' argument in that outside of the use of datura or extreme psychological dysfunction (or possibly extreme overdose) people experiencing 'hallucinations' or entheogenic states of consciousness know the difference between the hallucinatory phenomena and ordinary phenomena (despite how modern fiction portrays it).

    That's without taking into account that not everyone has a disconnect with their 'waking' conscience in dreams. As indicated in these comments, many of us perform recognizable actions in our dreams, with recognizable motives... we don't suddenly act completely out of character.

    Maybe that's key in this argument. Those who do act outside of their normal conscience parameters buy the story, while those who don't find it a bit hard to swallow.

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  79. "But God, the writing is just awful. Really, really bad. You have to force yourself through these books like a dog team running the Iditarod. The fact that the protagonist is a nihilstic rapist is least of the novel's problems."

    This.

    I read the 9 books in junior high. I think I was just desperate for any fantasy fiction and it was in the B Dalton.

    I want the time I spent reading them back.

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  80. "Although he *thinks* it is a dream, objectively within the story it's physically real."

    That's a ludicrous argument. No sane person in Covenant's position would believe or have any reason to believe that it was physically real.

    "I fell down and bumped my head and when I woke up magic worked, but Claude Levi-Strauss says I should assume it's real"?!!!?? Wise the bap, man.

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  81. "That's a ludicrous argument. No sane person in Covenant's position would believe or have any reason to believe that it was physically real."

    Let's see: His experiences in The Land have internal consistency that dreams and hallucinations don't, he's able to perform actions which in dreams would normally cause a shift in his 'dreamscape' (especially emotionally charged ones such as sex, combat, sleep, urinating, defecating, eating), he has a memory of past events that normally wouldn't be present in dreams - let alone once he 'wakens', etc.

    I understand that Donaldson is probably trying for ambiguity, but I don't find his attempts successful... to the *audience* it seems obvious that the Land is real.

    As for the "No sane person in Covenant's position would believe or have any reason to believe that it was physically real" part, one of the literary 'conceits' that anthropological and folkloristic research within the last 50 or so years has shown unrealistic is the idea that when people experience what they perceive as numinous or 'supernatural' phenomena in a waking state they actually tend to believe it happened - in great part because of the somatic experience (i.e., every part of their being reinforces the 'reality' of the situation to them).

    They may keep it to themselves or only within a community where such events have a shared ontology (or go to the some paranormal show and be thought crazy) but they don't doubt their experiences as much as people who *haven't* experienced those events seem to think so.

    The amount of people who believe in 'ghost' phenomena is a good western example (as well as other paranormal experiences), the 'Old Hag' phenomena in Newfoundland is another (which is covered wonderfully and really entertaingly in "The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions" by David Hufford). The enthnographic studies of Neil Price and Neil Whitehead also touch on this.

    People don't doubt their own experiences as much as Donaldson (and his character) thinks they do.

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  82. "to the *audience* it seems obvious that the Land is real."

    No, to the audience it is "obvious" that the Land is a place in a fantasy book which they are holding in their hands and what is happening there could only happen in a fantasy. There's nothing more to say - you know the events in the book are impossible, I know the events are impossible. Donaldson wrote a character who "knows" the events are impossible.

    Not a single person reading LFB believed that the events in it were real. How, then can the reality of the situation be "obvious"? It's nonsense.

    As to the claims of believing everything you see, I am reminded of a story told to me by a nurse on a drug trail of the subject who, when asked if she had noticed any side-effects, told her that the drug had brought her dead mother back from the dead. Every morning when the subject came down for breakfast her mother would be sitting already eating. She was completely real in appearance and could hold a conversation. But the subject said that she didn't mind because the drug was helping her other problems and she knew that her mother wasn't real.

    I'm sure that irrational people can accept irrational beliefs (it's pretty well their defining feature) and the study of folklore, religion, and primitive peoples certainly would uncover many examples. But that falls a long way short of being a universal truth among reasonably well-educated, modern, cynical people, of which there are many and in particular TC is presented as being.

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  83. "No, to the audience it is "obvious" that the Land is a place in a fantasy book which they are holding in their hands and what is happening there could only happen in a fantasy."

    Come on... do I really need to qualify my statements with "in the context of a fictional story"?

    Unless you're arguing that Donaldson is attempting meta-fiction with his Covenant series this is a bit of a straw man.

    When one reads "The Maltese Falcon" no one doubts that the events are meant to be read as actually happening to the characters... there is never any doubt as to whether or not Sam Spade is 'dreaming' or not. The events are 'real' insofar as they are part of a coherent narrative.

    As as counterpoint, "The Singing Detective" by Dennis Potter has a lot in common with Donaldson's book: a writer who's life is destroyed by a crippling skin and joint disease who falls into a fantasy world which mirrors his own history, psychological state and even his philosophy that fiction shouldn't provide solutions, only clues.

    Throughout both the BBC series, and the American film adaptation with Robert Downey Jr., the narrative reinforces the insubstantial nature of the layers of 'reality' while never undermining the importance of the 'meaning' of those illusory events to poor Philip (who is as unlikeable a character as Covenant in some regards).

    Donaldson's prose is no different from any other fantasy novel in that it is portrayed as actually happening to the character. Even reading good reviews of Donaldson, his fans never doubted the 'reality' of The Land... they were just waiting for Thomas to finally get it and become the hero he's destined to be.

    The later novels where other characters share in this 'delusion' reinforces the early narrative of The Land's 'reality' (i.e., that it is portrayed as actually occuring).

    So, yeah... to the audience it is *obvious* that The Land is real.. at least as real as Midde-Earth is to Frodo, Cimmeria is to Conan, Tatooine is to Luke Skywalker, or the Noir-version of San Francisco is to Sam Spade.

    "She was completely real in appearance and could hold a conversation. But the subject said that she didn't mind because the drug was helping her other problems and she knew that her mother wasn't real."

    There are a few things that are different about Covenant's situation and this woman's.

    1) it is only one element of 'hallucination' within an otherwise 'normal' shared reality. If other people started to interact with her mother and reference things the mother said she would believe more in the 'mother''s objective reality. Especially if her mother hit her, threw a plate at her, drove her car with her in the passenger seat, etc.

    2) Without smell and touch and true sound the somatic elements are lacking (I would even argue that, as with schizophrenics there wasn't a true auditory component but the hightening of thought as an 'external voice').

    In Donaldson's world *everything* supported his experience... not just one isolated element within a controlled situation that can be navigated within accepted objective reality.

    In Donaldson's world Covenant could feel, smell, and hear the person he was violating. He could feel, smell, and hear her family when it became known what he did. Same with everything and everyone he encountered.

    I'm glad you liked Donaldson's books. Many people do. But it's obvious that what works for you doesn't work for me.

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  84. Split due to character limits...

    And finally, in response to "I'm sure that irrational people can accept irrational beliefs (it's pretty well their defining feature) and the study of folklore, religion, and primitive peoples certainly would uncover many examples."

    The labelling of entire cultures or people within modern cultures as 'irrational' because their ontological complexes are different than that of the Western Industrial world is one of the things that has shifted within the last 50 or so years. It's amazing how many Ph.Ds who are "reasonably well-educated, modern, cynical people" give more credence to the *experiences* (if not always the objective reality) of a people once they immerse themselves in the culture... and that's without going into the surprisingly long list of full-time academics that become practitioners of a magico-religious system they studied or became initiated into in their field work.

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  85. Thank you for reminding me about this series and author. Most of my novel collection has been in Rubbermaid storage since the Great North York Flood of ’05 inundated my apartment. I don’t really get the chance to “revisit” old friends the way I could before by taking a simple stroll to my bookshelves.

    Last time I checked in with Donaldson he had 6 novels and a short story in the Covenant series (which were all done by about 1983), and I was waiting for him to finish the 1990s Gap series before I started in on them (in retrospect that was a fairly ludicrous reading strategy but I figured that way I wouldn’t have to serially re-read the early books several times over).

    I read “Lord Foul's Bane” when I was in high school and loved it. It was the first time since reading “The Lord of the Rings” that I had the sense that I was reading a serious piece of fantasy literature and not simply another inferior Tolkien-pastiche.

    I certainly won’t argue that Covenant is a difficult character to like - though I don’t imagine Donaldson really expected us to identify with him quickly or easily - but I found the story, and especially the world to be absolutely enthralling. When I moved on to the second trilogy I found the passage of time and the changes in the world to be initially jarring - though that was more my “fault” than the author’s - but I grew to identify with and invest in the story in time.

    I remember being surprised by the rape scene in “Lord Foul's Bane” but I certainly don’t recollect it as having been particularly graphic; and I have a hard time imagining Donaldson being able to write the series without it. This is definitely a series I’ll have to revisit, especially since there are apparently three new books I haven’t read yet and another on the way.

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  86. “… maybe that's key in this argument. Those who do act outside of their normal conscience parameters buy the story, while those who don't find it a bit hard to swallow.”

    I don’t necessarily agree entirely with this point; I think it’s more likely that some people simply find Donaldson’s writing style and creation thoroughly enjoyable and others thoroughly detestable – a matter of personal taste.

    On the other hand, as a teenager I didn’t find anything particularly difficult to accept in Covenant reacting at the beginning of the series as if he was in a dream and nothing really mattered; you can end up in some pretty weird/wild situations in dreams, and wake up very glad to discover “it was just a dream.”

    I’d have to say that I originally found it more believable/interpretable from a “it’s not real so my choices don’t have real consequences” standpoint. From what I remember of my own teen years, and what I’ve seen and heard from my students, pretty much “anything goes” when the background is: “you’re in a fantasy world and can do anything you want, what do you do next?” Of course, as an educator and former teen myself, I‘m thoroughly of the school that “Lord of the Flies” was “realistic fiction.”

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  87. "Unless you're arguing that Donaldson is attempting meta-fiction with his Covenant series this is a bit of a straw man."

    No, I'm arguing that you are bringing meta-information to the table and trying to use it to explain the book. I'm saying that Covenant is supposed to be a cynical, bitter, rationalist person from the real world who simply can not just shrug his shoulders at talking clouds, magic, giants and miraculous cures.

    You want the character to be written to fit in with your pre-conceived notions of how a literary character acts, while Donaldson has tried (regardless of success) to write a character that reacts like an actual person might. You are suffering a failure to read here, I think. You are standing back and analysing TC as a character in a book instead of attempting to empathise with the person the book is representing to you. That's why you keep getting stuck in this rut of "obviously it's real" when the whole point is that it is obviously not real and not possible.

    Stop bringing you privileged information as a reader into your reading and you'll find that it makes a lot more sense.

    "The labelling of entire cultures or people within modern cultures as 'irrational' because their ontological complexes are different than that of the Western Industrial world is one of the things that has shifted within the last 50 or so years."

    Well, I don't doubt that political correctness has crept in here and there, but "rational" and "irrational" are words with meaning and if we can manage not to be scared of those meanings then we can honestly apply them carefully and correctly. A society where the majority of people believe, for example, that famine is caused by the whim of God is an "irrational" one. A society (or group) where the majority of people believe that things happen because of measurable effects combined with natural laws the workings of which can be discovered, is "rational". The latter will naturally have a hard time accepting that all the rules have changed because of a bump to the head.

    To put it another way: when St Paul banged his head and thought Jesus spoke to him he accepted it because he already believed that such things, and much more bizarre things, could happen. If I banged my head and saw Jesus I would assume that it was because I banged my head; Jesus would remain to me a dead prophet of the Jews and nothing more. The vision-Jesus would find it very hard, no matter what he did, to convince me that the conversation was real. Because I know I can be fooled. Covenant not only knows that but has been warned about it by his psychologist (IIRC, might have been someone else) - watch out for false hope. Which is exactly what he does. He mistrusts the whole thing as a comforting delusion or madness. Of course he does; any sane person in his position would just as a self-defence mechanism.

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  88. "You want the character to be written to fit in with your pre-conceived notions of how a literary character acts, while Donaldson has tried (regardless of success) to write a character that reacts like an actual person might."

    Considering that I've used real-world research regarding the study of how real people process extranormal experiences (in historical and modern non-industrialized societies *as well as* within modern industrialized societies by *otherwise rational people*, that's not the case. I disagree with Donaldson and yourself that real rational people would react as Covenant did when faced with a consistent, unshifting world providing an overwhelming bombardment of somatic phenomenological feedback.

    "You are standing back and analysing TC as a character in a book instead of attempting to empathise with the person the book is representing to you. That's why you keep getting stuck in this rut of "obviously it's real" when the whole point is that it is obviously not real and not possible."

    Regarding the character: For the reasons previously mentioned I don't find Covenant to be a convincing or well executed character. Effectively he's an extreme charicature of the author's philosophical stance... which I don't buy as having any basis in real world praxis. It's an interesting fictional exploration of that argument but one who's execution didn't work for me.

    Regarding the Land as obviously not being possible: The entire series shows your assertion to be false as other 'real world' characters start getting drawn into the land and they start having shared experiences.

    Also, to willingly bring in extra-literary elements, the blurbs on the back of each successive book, as well as the way the books are marketed increasingly reinforce the ontological validity of "the Land"... at least to the reader's perspective.

    But, I imagine we'll just keep going round and round with this little sparring contest... which is pointless.

    I'm glad lots of people including yourself get a lot out of the series (including the significant number of people using it in their academic theses) but, in regards to Donaldson's themes, I prefer the work of other artists who handled those themes and ideas differently and in my opinion better (e.g., Dennis Potter, Mark Z. Danielewski, Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, or even the imperfect work of Gerald McMorrow).

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  89. I found the books to be enjoyable, although I admit that the first time I read them I put it down and walked away for a few months. I don't recall what made me do that, I don't think I had gotten to the rape, but TC is admittedly a difficult character to empathize with. My wife can't stand him, although it's not the rape that made her put it down, it's his self loathing.

    That said, I think something is being muddled here in the conversation about how real or not real the Land is and whether TC should have recognized that RE: the rape. It isn't until IIRC the 2nd book when he meets anyone else from "the real world" in the form of Hile Troy, and it isn't until the 2nd trilogy before anyone else is pulled into his madness with him. By this point, he is indeed beginning to suspect that the Land might just be real, and her certainly has been treating it as such for a while, including all the regret and self loathing that comes from committing the acts that he has.

    However, at the time of the rape, TC has experienced the following, he became a leper, lost his wife, his children, his fingers, his feelings, his connection with any other living soul (to the point where they brought him groceries just so that he wouldn't go into town) and his ability to day dream, he was hit by a car, transported under a cave where he met a goblin like creature, met a being calling itself "Lord Foul", found himself at the top of an impossibly tall spire, climbed down that spire inspite of his paralyzing vetigo, had mud smeared on his head which then subsequently cured his leprosy, including bringing dead nerves back to life. At no point in these sequences of events has he encountered anything that should make him believe the world he is in is real. And none of us would either.

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  90. "At no point in these sequences of events has he encountered anything that should make him believe the world he is in is real. And none of us would either."

    My argument, which I've made througout my comments in this thread, is that what he experiences in the first book (i.e., a full somatic sensory situation - not just a dreamscape level of 'sensation') is something that would make him on a very deep level react as if it was real.

    His conscious mind may be in denial but as he smelled, felt, and heard his victim as he was raping her, the rest of his being would, in my opinion based on my reasoning above, feel that this is a bit 'too real' for him to complete a 'rape fantasy'.

    I don't want to repeat myself but what you thought was being missed in this discussion was actually addressed... whether you agree with it or not is another matter. ;-)

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  91. Ah, then the problem is that you think he's trying to act out a "rape fantasy" so perhaps the disconnect here is what the fact that he doesn't think the world is real means. I'm suggesting that such complete tear from reality, and a discord between what he "knows" to be real and what his senses tell him are real all combine together to remove some of the standard human inhibitions. Combine with a general sense of rage and helplessness and you get a person capable of committing horrible and unspeakable acts, especially so early in the book. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that even normal humans are perfectly capable of being sadistic and evil creatures given the right circumstances and a conscious belief that there will be no consequences for those actions. See Milgram and the Stanford Prison Experiments for the most popular examples.

    I think a lot of the reaction here is over the fact that the crime committed was rape and against a young girl, which tends to evoke powerful protective instincts within most people. I wonder if we would be having the same conversation, and if people would be so disturbed if instead of rape he had committed a murder? If his form of lashing out in his confusion and yes insanity had been to kill Lena instead of raping her, would we have a different reaction?

    Bear in mind this is not an excuse, merely pointing out that it's not just thrown in for gits and shiggles.

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