The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant - Stephen Donaldson

The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant - Stephen R. Donaldson

Wow.

 

The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is a long book.

 

In fact, it's over 1200 pages, and it took me over a month to read. For someone who takes, on average, about three days to read a book, that's an extremely long time.

 

It's quite hard for me to organise my thoughts about it, partly because it's actually a trilogy, and a kind of sequel-trilogy at that (the first trilogy, consisting of Lord Foul's Bane, The Illearth War, and The Power that Preserves, is collectively entitled The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever). Ten years after the events of The Power that Preserves, nearly four thousand years have passed in the Land, the fantastical and possibly imaginary world where Thomas Covenant, leper and misanthrope, once fought Lord Foul. He returns to the Land in The Wounded Land to find it, well, wounded: afflicted by the Sunbane, a tool of Lord Foul's which wreaks truly terrible destruction upon the once-beautiful Land via the successive destructive influences of fertility, pestilence, desert and rain. But this time, Covenant has a companion from this world: Linden Avery, a doctor with a Troubled Past of her own. Together, they must find a way to save the Land and themselves from Lord Foul's Despite.

 

First things first: Donaldson's writing is hard, and I mean Gormenghast hard. Except that Mervyn Peake actually knew what most of his words meant. Donaldson is always using words like "mien" or "sojourn" either in places where the more prosaic choice would work just as well, or in places where the word is just plain wrong. Mr Donaldson, if you are reading this, can I point out to you that "sojourn" means "stay" and not, as you seem to think, "journey"? Also "disinterested" is not the same as "uninterested". 

 

Occasionally, such a prose style works. The end, for example, is particularly powerful. But most of the time it's just annoying. And a little pretentious.

 

I do, however, like the in-depth character analysis that goes along with the dense writing. In many ways, The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is as much about Linden and Covenant as it is about the Land and its plight. This does, however, tend to obscure the best things about the Land: the Giants, those storytelling, laughter-loving, seafaring wonders; Andelain, the yet undefeated region of hills where the Earthpower lives on; all the brilliant, magical lands and peoples we get to meet in The One Tree, the second of the trilogy. But Donaldson suggests that all of these are both real and not-real, part of the human mind and also individual entities. It's a question that never really gets resolved, but that paradox is one of the best things about the book. It allows for some of the best moments in the story, moments that only work because they testify to the power of the human spirit in a place where emotion - pure emotion - can actually affect events.

 

I'm rambling. Sorry. It's just that this book is almost impossible to review. What I'm trying to say is that while it is in places deeply flawed, in others it is wonderful and beautiful and full of courage and respect for humanity. But only read it if you have a lot of time and patience.