Nov 19 2008

Review: Lord Foul’s Bane

Covenant knew that he was going to pass out—wanted hungrily to pass out—but before he lost consciousness, the hurt in his chest made him say, “Giant, I— I need friends.”

“Why do you believe that you have none?”

Covenant blinked, and saw everything that he had done in the Land.  “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Then you do believe that we are real.”

“What?”  Covenant groped for the Giant’s meaning with hands which had no fingers.

“You think us capable of not forgiving you,” Foamfollower explained.  “Who would forgive you more readily than your dream?”

“No,” the Unbeliever said.  “Dreams—never forgive.”

Then he lost the firelight and Foamfollower’s kind face, and stumbled into sleep.

Rating: ★★★★★

I’ve always loved to read.  When I was a kid, our mom had to limit us to five books per library trip, because we’d disappear into our rooms until we finished whatever we brought home, and she wanted us to get some sunshine too.  It’d be hard for me to pick out a favorite single book; one day I might say Monte Walsh, another day Atlas Shrugged, and another day The Stand.  Different moods bring to mind different books.

Picking out a favorite series is much easier.  I love the Belgariad, and I think it’s long overdue to be turned into a TV series or miniseries (the dialogue is perfect for it), but it’s a little too light to call my favorite.  I’d have to give that honor to Stephen R. Donaldson’s “Chronicles (and Second Chronicles) of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.”  Like a lot of Covenant fans, I first read the books in high school when some of the language and topics were honestly a bit over my head, but I stretched to understand them and loved what I could absorb.  I’ve reread them every couple years since.  The Land, the Giants, the Haruchai, the Lords, the Ranyhyn, Andelain, Revelstone—all the characters and places are incredibly vivid and deeply explored.  Even today, my computers are named Bannor and Brinn after two of the Haruchai, and my usual Internet pseudonym is my favorite character from the books.

People often report either loving or hating Donaldson’s books, and the reason seems to be that he explores his characters in such emotional depth.  He takes interestingly flawed people, puts them through hellish circumstances, and shows how they can conquer those circumstances (or not), chronicling every drop of blood and sweat along the way.  Some people get bored with that—stop talking and obsessing and do something!  But some of us love it.  I’ve rarely felt like I knew characters as well as these, even some that only appear in a single book of the series.  With a few paragraphs, Donaldson can make a person come to life: not just the way the person looks, but his hopes and fears and personality.

In the first book, Lord Foul’s Bane, Thomas Covenant is an author whose first book becomes a best-seller, soon after which he is diagnosed with leprosy and loses two fingers and the feeling in his hands and feet.  His wife takes their infant son and leaves him, and the townspeople ostracize him.  After an accident, he wakes to find himself in another world where his leprosy is healed and he’s hailed as a returning hero who will save the world from its ancient nemesis, Lord Foul the Despiser.  His white gold wedding ring, which he still wears in defiance of his divorce, is considered the ultimate magical talisman, with which he will “save or damn the Earth.”

His doctors at the leprosarium warned him against this very thing: when a leper is completely cut off from society, he may begin to have delusions of grandeur and begin to think he can have an ordinary life again—or even a heroic one.  If he accepts the delusion, he won’t be able to handle waking up to his real existence, and he’ll fail to maintain the careful life that keeps his disease under control.  So Covenant insists that the “Land” isn’t real, that he’s dreaming or hallucinating, and names himself “the Unbeliever.”  From then on, he’s torn between the Land and its people which he comes to love, and his absolute need to believe they aren’t real.  In trying to maintain that insistence, he makes mistakes that hurt the people around him, and the more he tries to atone for those mistakes, the deeper in he digs himself.

I won’t go into it any further and spoil it, because it really is a great story, and I hope anyone who likes epic fantasy will read it.  It was shopped around Hollywood for a while and some big names wanted to make a series of movies out of it, but all the studios thought it would be too much like Lord of the Rings because there’s a magic ring in it.  (That’s just stupid; when a teen slasher movie is a hit, all the studios line up to copy it!)  I’m still holding out hope for a mini-series someday, though; it’s really too deep for movies.  In the meantime, I’ll review all six books.  Then there are four more coming in the “Last Chronicles,” but they won’t be finished until 2013, so we’ll have to wait a while on those.

Review: Lord Foul's Bane, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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