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Stephen R. Donaldson: Do You Believe?

By TheophileEscargot in Culture
Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 03:08:35 PM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)

In 1972 an aspiring writer started writing a fantasy trilogy. Knowing that with an unsympathetic protagonist and an unusual prose style it would be hard to get published, he decided to submit it to every potential publisher in America, in alphabetical order. Forty-seven rejection slips later, it had been rejected by every fiction publisher in the USA. So, he went back to the top of the list. It was accepted by Ballantine books in 1976, and quickly became a word-of-mouth bestseller.

This article concentrates on "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant", but also describes Stephen R. Donaldson's other books. Minor spoilers included.

Stephen R. Donaldson is one of the more controversial SF and Fantasy authors. His books are full of unsympathetic characters who generally experience great suffering. Some readers find the violence, suffering and degradation intolerable. Others are put off by his willful toying with genre conventions and his portentous writing.

With other fans, Donaldson is an overwhelming favourite. In genres that are frequently accused of escapism, his books are dark and morally complex. Even when grotesquely unlikable, his characters are starkly memorable. Donaldson is also highly skilled at pacing and creating tension: his books can be hard to put down.

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant consist of two separate trilogies. The original consists of Lord Foul's Bane, The Illearth War and The Power That Preserves. The second, imaginatively titled "The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant", consists of The Wounded Land, The One Tree and White Gold Wielder.

The Chronicles are heavily and obviously inspired by Tolkien. Many of the familiar elements of Fantasy are there: an idyllic, rural other world called "The Land"; magic; other races, some benevolent, some malicious. The originality of the Chronicles lies with the way these elements are used; often directly opposite to the traditional manner.

The protagonist, Thomas Covenant, is mysteriously transported to The Land; apparently in order to save it: an over-familiar idea even in 1972, dating back to long before Edgar Rice Burrough's Mars books. Covenant is no hero, however; and is about as far from John Carter as could be imagined.

In general, when transported to an alien land, the existential uncertainty suffered by the hero is mercifully brief. He may wonder whether he is dreaming in between attacks, but whether dreaming or not, quickly decides to act in an appropriately heroic manner. Thomas Covenant is different.

Covenant is a leper. Deserted by his wife, who took their baby and fled when he was diagnosed with the disease, Covenant's survival depends on constant paranoia. Without feeling in his limbs, he must constantly survey them for injury. In his life he must avoid all unnecessary risks. Lepers who grow careless die quickly, so his doctors have impressed on him the idea that he must accept the grim reality of his situation. So, when miraculously healed after entering the Land, Covenant refuses to accept its reality. Furthermore, he refuses to even act as if it is real, to even consider saving it. This is the essential dilemma that drives the plot of the first trilogy. As with the quest to dispose of the Ring in LotR, various other characters and subplots dominate the events of the book, while Covenant's internal quest continues.

It is this fact that accounts in large part for the appeal of the Thomas Covenant books to adolescents. Every teenager instinctively sympathises with a refusal to carry out a concrete task for nebulous moral reasons. Covenant's refusal to save the land is directly analogous to a teenager's refusal to tidy his or her bedroom. As a leper, Covenant is an outsider, rejected by and rejecting the world, another factor that allows adolescents to identify with him in spite of his unsympathetic nature.

However, there is more to this series than that. The books deal unashamedly with issues of evil and moral choices. One of the principal themes of "The Lord of the Rings" as that of the corrupting nature of power: Tolkien's One Ring cannot be used without corrupting its bearer. Tolkien's theme is the essentially Christian one, that paradoxically it is only innocence that can overcome evil. Ultimately Tolkien sidesteps the issue: evil eventually destroys itself. The Covenant books have a similar Ring, and a similar dilemma over whether to exercise its power, but this time we see in much more pitiless detail the consequences of his refusal to use it. In Donaldson's books some characters choose to use power, some to reject it, but there are always consequences and a price to pay.

The greatest weakness of the series is probably its writing style, abandoned by Donaldson in later books. Donaldson makes a point of using obscure and archaic words all the way through the text: nothing is cold if it can be gelid, no-one can be foolish if he can be anile, and practically everything is eldritch or fey. Most readers become used to it, but some give up in disgust, or a strained dictionary arm.

The first book is also somewhat notorious for its early rape scene, which has caused many readers to give up in disgust. This is a shame, since the books are worth persisting with: more powerful, if less readable, than his later books. The sexual violence is not repeated, and this scene is utterly necessary to the series, both thematically and structurally: the disastrous consequences are worked out in painful detail over the first trilogy. It is unfortunate that he had to write this scene before he had time to fully develop his writing style.

Mordant's Need
For the Mordant's Need books, Donaldson narrowed his vocabulary, to the relief of most readers. Once again, this is a fantasy about a dysfunctional character plunged into a strange world, but this is a much lighter read than the Thomas Covenant books. It consists of two long books: The Mirror of her Dreams and A Man Rides Through. Funny in places, touching in others, this is probably a better introduction to Donaldson than any other.

The plot is notable in that it avoids the familiar quest structure: most of the action takes place in a single castle. It's a tribute to Donaldson's plotting ability that he carries this off. The central character here, Terisa Morgan, is more subtly flawed than Covenant, oppressively meek and passive, rather than aggressive, but she is developed convincingly as the plot progresses.

The Gap Series
With the Gap series, Donaldson turned to old-fashioned space opera, complete with asteroid miners and space pirates. Fantasy is not too far away, as the plot is based on Wagner's Ring Cycle, with familiar characters turning up in new guises. His universe is impeccably worked out: while the economy appears unconvincing at first, the gaps turn out to be the key to developments in the later books. This is probably the most gripping work Donaldson has ever written: Donaldson's plotting, pacing and writing had improved immensely by this point: I found it hard not to read each book in a single sitting.

The series begins with The Real Story, a remarkably slim book at only 200 pages. Once again, some of the scenes may be rather too brutal for the most sensitive readers. The Gap series is structured as a melodrama, with the three principal characters changing roles as the book progresses.

The four later books Forbidden Knowledge, A Dark and Hungry God Arises, Chaos and Order and This Day All Gods Die are a more typical length, expanding the tight focus of the first book into a consciously epic story.

The Man Who...
Stephen Donaldson claims to be a slow reader: judging by his output he may write faster than he reads. Starting in 1984, he also wrote a series of mystery novels. At his publishers insistence he used the thinly-disguised pseudonym "Reed Stephens" (Reeder is his middle name), but the books have now been reissued under his real name.

As you would expect by now, suffering and guilt are major aspects of these books. The protagonist Axbrewder gets drunk, is beaten up and is shot at with the frequency of a Raymond Chandler character; but here we get to see the consequences in gritty detail. Burly detective Axbrewder has plenty of guilt to go around as the title of the first book, The Man Who Killed His Brother, demonstrates. Follow ups were The Man Who Risked His Partner, The Man Who Tried to Get Away and The Man Who Fought Alone.

While interesting, these books are less successful by mystery standards, the plots being somewhat implausible. It doesn't help that Axbrewder is not intended to be a particularly intelligent character: in the partnership he acts mainly as the muscle, leaving the deduction to his sharp-tongued, claw-handed female partner Ginny.

What the books do show is Donaldson's particular strength in all his books, grabbing the familiar tropes of a genre and taking them seriously. In Donaldson's books, everything has consequences. A Chandler detective who gets shot in the shoulder is back to normal almost immediately: Axbrewder spends a whole book in recovery, staggering painfully between sickbeds in a haze of painkillers. When Axbrewder and Ginny cross the local gang boss, they have to leave town for good. This is the recurring theme of Donaldson's books: confronted by a genre situation, the characters react in diverse but human ways, motivated by fear, greed and apathy rather than just an abstract desire to save the day.

Other works
Stephen Donaldson generally writes at an epic length. He has never written a stand-alone novel at all. However, he has published two short story collections: Daughter of Regals and Other Tales and Reave the Just. There are some interesting snapshots among them, but without the space to develop characters and worlds his appeal is more limited. Gilden-fire is a one-off: a story involving part of the Thomas Covenant chronicles, a detailed account of a journey that was alluded to in the chronicles themselves.

His most recent book, "The Man Who Fought Alone" was published in 2002, and he is tight-lipped about future projects. However, he has hinted that a Third Chronicles of Thomas Covenant may be written at some time in the future. Whatever he chooses to write, it is sure to be as powerful as ever.

An earlier version of this article appeared on Radio Free Tomorrow.

Stephen R. Donaldson has no connection with another Stephen Donaldson who was a noted campaigner against prison rape. Even Piers Anthony has accepted this now.


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Best character?
o Linden Avery 2%
o Mick "Brew" Axbrewder 0%
o Thomas Covenant 20%
o Saltheart Foamfollower 23%
o Morn Hyland 11%
o Lord Mhoram 5%
o Terisa Morgan 5%
o Angus Thermopyle 29%

Votes: 34
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o In 1972
o controvers ial
o Lord Foul's Bane
o The Illearth War
o The Power That Preserves
o The Wounded Land
o The One Tree
o White Gold Wielder
o words
o somewhat
o notorious
o give
o up
o The Mirror of her Dreams
o A Man Rides Through
o The Real Story
o Forbidden Knowledge
o A Dark and Hungry God Arises
o Chaos and Order
o This Day All Gods Die
o insistence
o The Man Who Killed His Brother
o The Man Who Risked His Partner
o The Man Who Tried to Get Away
o The Man Who Fought Alone
o Daughter of Regals and Other Tales
o Reave the Just
o Gilden-fir e
o earlier version
o Radio Free Tomorrow
o Stephen Donaldson
o Piers Anthony
o Also by TheophileEscargot

Display: Sort:
Stephen R. Donaldson: Do You Believe? | 72 comments (69 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Author's notes (5.00 / 1) (#1)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 11:49:47 AM EST

This article has a long and convoluted history. It started out in March 2002, and was put on hold. It was resurrected in April 2002. Couldn't see where to go with it, so put it out for collaboration on K4, where Scrymarch and Rhyax made significant changes and wrote a second part to it.

However, it wasn't really going the direction I expected, so after a long hiatus I eventually forked the text, mostly going back to the original version. Another draft appeared in the K5 diary section here. The final version eventually appeared on Radio Free Tomorrow.

As you may notice, the links vary between Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. In general I've tried to use .com links, but where availability was better I've substituted .co.uk. Hopefully this will not cause too much confusion.

Credits. As mentioned before, especial thanks to Scrymarch and Rhyax for collaborating on the first draft.

Also thanks to Uncle Mikey, ti dave, hulver, Reconstruction, greenrd, kvan, anonimouse, curien and Slothrop for commenting on the drafts.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death

What crappy books! (3.72 / 11) (#2)
by greyrat on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 12:33:16 PM EST

The guys a bad writer! Dull, tedious reading! When he's trying to forshadow something, or build the suspense, he's just duller than powder!
~ ~ ~
Did I actually read the article? No. No I didn't.
"Watch out for me nobbystyles, Gromit!"

Yes. I believe. (4.50 / 2) (#4)
by mreardon on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 12:44:48 PM EST

The Chronicles of T.C. shook my adolescent foundations to the core.

Good author, low re-readability (5.00 / 3) (#5)
by yanisa on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 12:48:36 PM EST

I like Donaldson's books (I've read both Chronicles and the Gap), but despite being a compulsive re-reader (I read every day - new stuff when available, old stuff when no new stuff) his books are the only ones I have never re-read. I remember enjoying them, but I just can't get myself to go thru that particular thousands of pages again - despite the marvels I remember are contained within (Unfettered! Free!).

So my advice is, borrow the books :)


I think this line's mostly filler

Is re-readable (5.00 / 1) (#11)
by coljac on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 03:20:20 PM EST

I've read both Chronicles several times, and when it came to the Gap series, I re-read the preceeding books each time a new one came out. So I've read a lot of Donaldson.

That said, I was a lot younger then and had more time... these days the idea of tackling the CoTC seems absurd. :) I really recommend Mordant's Need though, very accessible and enjoyable.


Whether or not life is discovered there I think Jupiter should be declared an enemy planet. - Jack Handey
[ Parent ]

emminently re-readable (5.00 / 1) (#16)
by speek on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 05:01:37 PM EST

The Thomas Covenant series is so full of thematic and symbolic elements, re-reading it has yielded plenty of new discoveries. The Man Who... books are all one day, cover to cover books you can't put down, so you can re-read them just for fun. Mordant's need is a simple exercise of plotting - very interesting for what it is, but lacks the depth of his other books. And about half his short stories are very interesting.

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Odd thing... (5.00 / 1) (#27)
by gr3y on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 09:47:07 PM EST

But I first read CoTC in 1988 and SCoTC shortly thereafter, and, like you, have never been able to bring myself to re-read them.

Out of my library, they are the only books I have never been able to pick up again. The very thought of doing that disturbs me.

And I'm a voracious reader. I've read and re-read "Friday", "Armor", "Dune", "The Forever War", et al. more times than I can remember.

I don't know why that is. I enjoyed the story, and some part of me refuses to throw them away. I've packed them through a dozen moves in five years, stored them for four years while I was in the military, and I keep them on my shelves now, but I have the feeling that I'll never pick them up again.

I am a disruptive technology.
[ Parent ]

Might be worth a try (none / 0) (#29)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 05:10:22 AM EST

I also didn't read them for a long while, but eventually picked them up again.

Oddly enough, they were less bleak than I remembered: it's easy to forget that there are large sections dominated by more sympathetic characters than Covenant; like Lord Mhoram, Hile Troy and Saltheart Foamfollower.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

When I have children... (none / 0) (#64)
by gr3y on Fri Dec 20, 2002 at 12:33:43 AM EST

I'll pass them along. Before I do that, I'll re-read them, to recapture the memory, if not the emotional impact, of reading them the first time. I'll be more than willing to open that box when I have something to gain, I think, in hoping that my children will be as receptive to the books as I was.

I am a disruptive technology.
[ Parent ]

Perhaps, it's because they're DRAINING (none / 0) (#53)
by Ricochet Rita on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 08:13:57 PM EST

At least the CoTC were for me. Reading them as a teen was a roller-coaster, emotionally & mentally. And I'll have to concur, they are the one series that I can't bring myself to re-read. The "emotional memory" of them collectively is more than I care to re-live.

The SCoTC was also draining, but more of an endurance test--as to whether or not I could finish them (I did). I think it was fortunate that I had a waiting period in between, while each volume was published. That seemed to soften the effect enough for me to continue the second series. I'm not sure I would have finished the Chronicles had they been available, all at once.



[ Parent ]

Yes. (none / 0) (#63)
by gr3y on Fri Dec 20, 2002 at 12:27:57 AM EST

Something akin to that, surely.

At the time I began the first trilogy, I was emotionally and philosophically receptive, and I could empathize with Donaldson's Covenant. Not the specific details of his "life", but with the feeling of alienation, isolation, and separation from a clearly-perceived reality.

I think some of the reason I do not want to read the books again is that I'm no longer trying to figure out who I am (I'm not a teenager anymore, unfortunately), but am trying to understand an entirely different mystery. The CoTC were some of the books that contributed greatly to my present personality gestalt, and as such, have been elevated to almost mythical status in memory (along with some other books and movies, although none to the extent the CoTC has been).

I would be loathe to disturb that sense of presence in my past. I realize this is akin to people not wanting to believe The King and John Wayne were drug users, or that Liberace and Rock Hudson were gay, or that the 1950s-era "Papa knows best" mentality that I long ago rejected never existed, but at least I'm aware there's a closed door there.

So, yes, to read them again would be to re-open the box and stir the innards a little, and I'm naturally reluctant to do that.

As an aside, I own the first trilogy, but I borrowed the second from the library. And I agree with you - reading the second trilogy was more of an exercise in endurance to me, to finish the trilogy and see how the story ends. The conclusion was ultimately satisfying, but it took a long time to get there.

I am a disruptive technology.
[ Parent ]

Timely... (3.50 / 2) (#6)
by aziegler on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 01:53:00 PM EST

I was just looking for a "new" author to read since my "must read" authors are all currently in-between books on the series that I read (Jordan, Turtledove, Sawyer, Brin, Weber, Bujold, and various others) ... so I will pick up a couple of Donaldson's books soon (preferably the first series, despite the cautions).


Mordant's Need (4.00 / 2) (#12)
by coljac on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 03:22:54 PM EST

As did TE I recommend starting with the Mordant's Need books. They're a bit more lightweight than the others, but very enjoyable. If you like those then jump back into Thomas Covenant. Thousands of pages about the disbelief of a leprous rapist is not for everyone, but Mordant's need should be more widely read.


Whether or not life is discovered there I think Jupiter should be declared an enemy planet. - Jack Handey
[ Parent ]

Don't know what suffering is... (4.00 / 1) (#8)
by kaemaril on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 02:42:06 PM EST

His books are full of unsympathetic characters who generally experience great suffering.

Bah, you don't know suffering until you're David Feintuch's Nick Seafort. Or, the more unkind reviewer, might suggest, until you've read the adventures of Nick Seafort :)

Why, yes, I am being sarcastic. Why do you ask?

Oh, tell me about it. (none / 0) (#23)
by seebs on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 07:40:42 PM EST

"Space opera", I thought.  "That'll be fun to read", I thought.  After four or five books, I gave up on waiting for him to get to the part where something goes right for the poor bastard.

[ Parent ]
Should have kept going. (none / 0) (#28)
by kaemaril on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 10:22:26 PM EST

Things go right

Children Of Hope. 'nuff said.

Why, yes, I am being sarcastic. Why do you ask?

[ Parent ]
Kind of (none / 0) (#45)
by kostya on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 01:12:00 PM EST

Children Of Hope. 'nuff said.

If you mean by having his wife, who has been faithful and supportive for 20 some years die trying to stop a insurrection, as working out right! Sure, he gets to be a captain again (of the largest ship in service), but DAMN.

Veritas otium parit. --Terence
[ Parent ]
D'oh! (none / 0) (#57)
by kaemaril on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 10:48:33 PM EST

Sorry, my mistake. I meant Patriarch's Hope, the latest (currently).

Why, yes, I am being sarcastic. Why do you ask?

[ Parent ]
Big Stick (none / 0) (#65)
by odaiwai on Sun Dec 22, 2002 at 11:29:55 AM EST

Nicholas Seafort wins the award for the SF hero with the biggest stick up his ass.  He's easily the least sympathetic character I've ever read about.  Even when his baby died, I couldn't feel sorry for him.  Still, I kept reading the first four books.

In the first four books, I kept waiting for him to actually go to the toilet and stop being such an anal-retentive asshole.

But, the attempt at the Trannie language in the fifth book was so obvious, it was completely impossible to maintain any sense of disbelief that someone could misunderstand it.  Even the Jive talk in the Airplane movies was less comprehensible than that. 'Voices of Hope' completely put me off him.  

At least there was a reason for Thomas Covenant to distrust the world he found himself in.  There was no reason for Seafort to be the asshole he was.  In the second series, for example, Covenant is far more accepting of The Land - he's taken his sins on board and is penitent.  Seafort just assumes that everything he's done is wrong, but that everyone else should suffer for daring to correct him.

For example, he ruined the career of a man who saved his life.  There was no reason to do that, beyond a slavish following of a rule about a junior officer not touching a senior, even it was clear that the allegedly junior officer was much more experienced than that senior in a particular field.

Pah, give me Covenant over Seafort anytime.

dave "although, I'd prefer a Vorkosigan, to go"
-- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
[ Parent ]

Ah, yes. Voices. (none / 0) (#69)
by kaemaril on Tue Dec 24, 2002 at 11:18:20 AM EST

Voices was a complete aberration, imho. Book six onward resumes quite nicely :)

Why, yes, I am being sarcastic. Why do you ask?

[ Parent ]
I have a fun game (3.60 / 5) (#9)
by the on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 02:49:00 PM EST

Let's see who can identify the most clichés in a Stephen Donaldson book. I'm on 2393 and I'm only on page 20 of my first one...

The Definite Article
Donaldson = boring (3.60 / 5) (#13)
by Lode Runner on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 03:43:57 PM EST

What's the big whoop about Donaldson, anyway? Beyond fusing Heller's antihero with Tolkienesque fantasy what do these books offer that's novel?

The only cool part of the first Covenant series --I certainly didn't waste my time with the second-- was in the first book when Covenant raped that Lena chick. But it's all quite predictable once he's smashed the West's ethical paradigm.

stick to John Norman (none / 0) (#17)
by speek on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 05:05:37 PM EST

The only cool part of the first Covenant series ... was ... when Covenant raped that Lena chick

It's certainly easy to see why you wouldn't appreciate Donaldson.

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

parse it as you like (5.00 / 1) (#25)
by Lode Runner on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 08:03:01 PM EST

But were any of you surprised by anything in the first trilogy besides the rape scene? I hope not because D. left pretty much no fantasy cliche unturned. A "dark Terry Brooks" is still a Terry Brooks.

[ Parent ]
whine whine whine, enough already! (4.33 / 3) (#14)
by lordpixel on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 04:09:19 PM EST

So the guy goes to some effort to write an interesting article and look at the drek that passes for comments.

I enjoyed reading this guide. I've plowed through about 50% of the Gap novels and always did want to finish it "when I have the time".

Now I know more about which other books might be worth looking at.


I am the cat who walks through walls, all places and all times are alike to me.

Boring... (3.66 / 3) (#15)
by selkirk on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 04:35:18 PM EST

I can't stand these books. Given a choice, I would rather read something more interesting...Like raw census data or mattress tags.

donaldson = my first favorite author (5.00 / 3) (#18)
by speek on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 05:23:43 PM EST

I have never had any success predicting who will like his books, and who will hate them (there is no in-between). The Covenant series are fantastic books for me. No standard fantasy ever held much interest for me after that (ie David Eddings, Terry Brooks, etc). The writing is lush, but specifically so for those books. In some ways, I actually like the second series more, because it brings the thematic elements into clearer focus than the first series, where things are a bit muddied at times. It is frustrating, however, that, plot-wise, The One Tree is almost completely pointless.

Mordant's need is a pretty cool exercise in pure, character driven plotting. It's as though he took time with each character and really thought hard about "what would I do if I were him/her?" This is not easy in a fantasy setting, with magic, where authors usually take some liberties to make sure everything comes out right.

The Gap series starts out with a book that is hard to take. The Real Story is just plain unpleasant. The rest of the series, essentially the same story writ large, with more characters, is more interesting and not as repellant (though pretty close). Speaking as someone who generally can't read a book without at least one character I like, it is a complete anomaly that I like these books.

I have recently discovered the "The Man Who..." books, and am thoroughly enjoying them. They are very different, and it generally takes me just a day to read them.

I have met Mr. Donaldson - took a seminar with him and Nancy Kress long ago. At the end of it all, we played charades, and the poor guy had to act out "The Chronicles of Amber". I particularly enjoyed this, as it was my submission :-) A very smart man (he did it pretty quick after an initial moment of despair).

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees

The Gap (none / 0) (#48)
by ggeens on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 02:09:18 PM EST

The Real Story was originally meant as a stand-alone novel. That's why it's so different from the rest of the series.

The whole series lacks sympathetic characters. Personally, I disliked Nick the most. I found myself wanting him to die, being disappointed each time he survived.

What saves the series is the strong internal consistency. You get a good insight of the drive of each character, and their actions are logical from their reference point.

L'enfer, c'est les hutres.

[ Parent ]
Yech! (4.66 / 3) (#19)
by ucblockhead on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 05:49:42 PM EST

Put me down as a Donaldson hater. I read these when I was a teenager and I was soon having daydreams about meeting Thomas Convenent.

A teenager daydreaming about inserting himself in a fantasy novel not unusual, you say? Well, in this case, the daydreams involved me beating the living crap out of him until he stopped whining.

Gah! I've rarely so hated a fictional character.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

Well... (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 06:16:59 PM EST

...you might like these. I like Thomas Covenant versus Ender Wiggins.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Excellent!! [n/t] (none / 0) (#55)
by Ricochet Rita on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 08:29:01 PM EST

n/t means no text. Nada. Move along, nothing to see here.

what're you looking at?


[ Parent ]

Well, good. (4.00 / 1) (#35)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 10:55:14 AM EST

That's kind of the point. TC isn't supposed to be likable.

that's also the point of the story - that even the most miserable, hateful and whiny among us are capable of redeeming themselves.

Now, where did I put that clue? I'm sure I had one a minute ago....

[ Parent ]

Points (5.00 / 2) (#47)
by ucblockhead on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 01:47:44 PM EST

Oh, I understand the point Donaldson was trying to make. I just didn't want to read about it. :-P
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
if you hate Thomas Convenant (serious spoilers) (5.00 / 12) (#21)
by speek on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 07:03:25 PM EST

Let me try. I know it's probably hopeless, but I just brainstormed a theory.

Imagine a guy, a writer of crappy fantasy (let's say, Terry Brooks or David Eddings type stuff just for the sake of argument). Or even worse, John Norman, or Burroughs. Y'know, basic hero worshipping for pre-pubescent boys to get off on. They guy's married, has a child, he's very successful.

Then one day, he gets ill. Goes to the hospital, learns he has leprosy. They have to amputate two of his fingers. He loses feeling in his hands and feet/lower legs. Think of leprosy like certain kinds of cancer, where you can put it "in remission", and if you're careful and lucky, keep it there. If he cuts or bruises himself, he's susceptible to infection, and a recurrence of leprosy which would threaten his limbs, and his life. Being numb, this means he has to constantly watch over himself.

Furthermore, his wife leaves him - can't stand the idea of being with a leper, and uses the daughter as an excuse for why she's justified in doing this. Imagine the guy never really gets over this - for instance, never gets rid of his wedding ring.

Now picture this guy, whose great life has just been horribly smashed, picture him going back and reading the wretched tripe he use to write. Imagine him burning everything he ever wrote in disgust with himself, disgust he could ever be so naive, so moronically innocent, so destructively stupid.

This is Thomas Convenant. The man is bitter. He turns into a complete recluse and believes he completely disgusts the world. In fact, he does, and the world goes out of its way to make sure they don't have to meet him face to face. They send him groceries - for free. Bend over backward to make it easy for him to conduct his business from home.

Now imagine this man gets transported to a world of magic and sensuality, he gets almost immediately (and with trivial ease) cured of leprosy. He has his sensation back. The first thing that happens is a giddy reawakening of happiness and joy - which causes him to commit rape without even thinking about it. Now this man knows he is wretched, horrible, and undeserving of anything good. The best thing at this point is to persist in denying the reality of this magic world. It must be a dream. And, being a dream, he knows he'll wake up eventually, and return to being a leper. Suddenly, the danger of being seduced by this world is clear: if he let's that happen, he'll be unable to go back and face reality as a leper.

Damned if he does believe (result: he's a real rapist), damned if he doesn't (result: the rape was simply imagination, but reality could be hard to take after such a nice dream). So, he denies. He maintains his bitterness (which is required to survive). And yes, he whines - mostly a hateful, dismissive whining to keep the dream at bay. The dream refuses to hate back, so he redoubles his efforts.

Sympathy for Covenant would be pushing it, but how about empathy? This is how real people react to such things. There is no wonderful Frodo or Sam, with idyllic lives who have to carry a ring, but have wonderful strong friends to help them, who travel heroically and bravely together to smite the enemy. Real people, who really despair, with real feelings that get hurt, that don't mend with a hug and apology. Real people who know what evil is, because they can recognize it within themselves, not as some distant thing dressed in black, with red eyes.

And, if you're excuse for hating these books is that they're derivative, then you've completely missed the point. It is intentionally set in the Tolkienesque epic fantasy world. The point is to write in this setting, but without the innocence and hero-worship. For adults, about adults. Not for children, about children.

And lastly, although Thomas Covenant is unlikable, there are plenty of other characters that are very likable: Morham (my favorite), Foamfollower, Banner for example.

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees

Nicely done (none / 0) (#36)
by protogeek on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 10:59:21 AM EST

That was the best summation I've ever seen of why some people like the Thomas Covenant books. A really compelling character and a complex, unwinnable conflict -- sounds great.

I wish the books were half as interesting to read as your comment. I made it halfway through the second book before I gave up out of sheer tedium. I've often wished that some editor had taken Donaldson aside and convinced him to trim the trilogy down to a single novel, because there's a fascinating story in there somewhere.

[ Parent ]

they tried (none / 0) (#39)
by speek on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 11:57:04 AM EST

Donaldson said the editor made him cut every third adjective from The Illearth War. I think he was trying to be funny, but the editor's did try. He just refused to budge much. He knew what he wanted to create, and that's what he insisted on.

But I don't blame anyone for not liking it or not getting through it, just like I wouldn't blame anyone for not wanting to slog through Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars. It's great, but really wordy.

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Synopsis for those that haven't read Donaldson (4.80 / 5) (#22)
by Rogerborg on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 07:27:34 PM EST

Clench... hate everything... rape... clench... pain... anger... existential angst... clench... rape.... torture... still hate everything.

Damn right that Stephen R. Donaldson isn't the same person as Stephen Donaldson.  Prison rape would count as light comic relief in a Stephen R. Donaldson book.  Avoid, unless you get turned on by violent incestuous rape scenes.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs

yes (none / 0) (#24)
by speek on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 07:50:51 PM EST

They are like Oprah books in disguise that way - horrible awful things happen to the characters, and we read it as entertainment.

Some Oprah books are damn good though.

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Piers Xanthony (none / 0) (#66)
by odaiwai on Sun Dec 22, 2002 at 11:43:22 AM EST

The responses from Anthony on that site have firmed my resolve to never read anything that talentless hack ever writes again.  He made a statment about another author based on almost no research and then abuses anyone who dares point out that he may need to revise his opinion?  

Not too mention his paedophilic obsession with schoolgirl panties.

-- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
[ Parent ]

He's OK (3.50 / 2) (#26)
by TresOkies on Tue Dec 17, 2002 at 08:28:22 PM EST

I recently re-read both Chronicles series and found I missed a lot when I read them the first time 15 years ago. I find the writing a little heavy and pretentious at times, but I enjoyed the potential of the Sand Gorgon characters.

As for the Gap, I found the Real Story hard to get through with its' brutality, but I actually found myself actually sympathizing with Angus after a while. I may need to re-read the Gap after I manage to get through all 1500 pages of "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" (slow reading). If you like Angus' character, you might like Gully Foyle in The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester.

I'm not sure I would classify myself as a lover or a hater. I would certainly purchase his work again (unlike Terry Brooks or David Eddings). His style is unlike most other writers, but that's a Good Thing.

heh (3.00 / 1) (#46)
by lithmonkey on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 01:33:08 PM EST

(unlike Terry Brooks or David Eddings)
David Edding's books are what got me into reading fantasy when I was in sixth grade. I tried re-reading them a few years ago and found out how horrible his books really are. I've thought about re-reading Terry Brooks Shannara series, but didn't want to ruin my memories of them... are they that bad?

[ Parent ]
Brooks, Eddings, and Donaldson (oh my) (4.00 / 1) (#56)
by TresOkies on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 09:04:15 PM EST

I can't speak for all the Shannara books since I haven't read them all. I read the first one when I was sixteen or so and thought "not bad, but a lot like Tolkien". The second book was difficult for me to finish. Being a masochist, I tried to read the third book, but I didn't get 75 pages into it before I put it away for good.

David Eddings aggravates me. The Belgariad wasn't a bad series, even though the characters were one-dimensional. The Mallorean really pissed me off because he basically rewrote the Belgariad and passed it off as new. Same characters with the same traits and tendencies. Not only that, but he (or his publisher) dragged out the hardback to paperback time. After the Mallorean, I refused to buy any more of his stuff.

Then, there's the Wheel of Time. Ah, nevermind.

How about some stuff that is good that you may have missed (since I seem to be rambling here)...

  • Steven Brust. If you haven't read To Reign in Hell, go out and buy it right now and start reading it. You will either love it or hate it. If you love it, you will find yourself reading it every 2-3 years because it is _that_ enjoyable of a book. After that, try Phoenix Guards and 500 Years After. Those introduce the universe and the species that populate his Vlad Taltos books. There's about 10 Vlad books and they all have 1 word titles. A Vlad book is a great "cold day and the kids are at Grandma's house" time waster. Funny, yet interesting. The Vlad books are told in the first person, which usually bugs me, but for Steven Brust, I'll go out of my way.
  • Most anything by C.J. Cherryh. The Morgaine cycle, Chanur, the Merchanter universe. The only books I didn't love were the Foreigner series and even then, they are better than a lot of the stuff out there. She writes good characters that you find yourself associating with.
  • A.A. Attanasio. The four book Arthurian saga (starts with The Dragon and the Unicorn) contains some of the most intriguing and vivid prose that I've read in years. I'm looking forward to re-reading these in a few years. The tale is not your same old Arthur story. Remember how you reacted the first time you read the Mary Stewart Merlin books? This is just as good, maybe better.
OK, that's enough rambling for now. Definitely try Stephen R. Donaldson. You may hate it, but you might not. It's worth a try.

[ Parent ]
Attanasio (none / 0) (#61)
by ethereal on Thu Dec 19, 2002 at 11:13:24 AM EST

I cannot say enough good things about The Last Legends of Earth. I'm not sure if it was sci-fi or fantasy, but it rocked my world as a kid and I can still reread it.

I can't stand Terry Brooks myself, but I grudgingly came to like Donaldson's Gap series after a book and a half or so. Maybe I will give Thomas Covenant a try, after hearing about it here.


Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

Clench Racing (5.00 / 3) (#30)
by chrimble on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 06:24:01 AM EST

As originally mentioned here...

This is a social and competitive sport, that can be played over and over with renewed pleasure. Playing equipment currently on the market restricts the number of players to six, but the manufacturers may yet issue the series of proposed supplements to raise the maximum eventually to nine.

The rules are simple. Each player takes a different volume of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and at the word "go" all open their books at random and start leafing through, scanning the pages. The winner is the first player to find the word "clench". It's a fast, exciting game -- sixty seconds is unusually drawn-out -- and can be varied, if players get too good, with other favourite Donaldson words like wince, flinch, gag, rasp, exigency, mendacity, articulate, macerate, mien, limn, vertigo, cynosure.... It's a great way to get thrown out of bookshops. Good racing!

Works for Tolstoy too (spoilers for Chronicles) (4.00 / 1) (#32)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 09:12:13 AM EST

Nick really ought to stick to his movie reviews in Interzone. He's pretty good at those.

Clench racing: you don't have to stick to Donaldson. For instance, I just looked at my last project Gutenberg download: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Sure enough, "clench" appears pretty near the start "Dolly knew this trick her sister had of clenching her hands when she was much excited." We could conclude that Tolstoy (or his translator) must therefore be a terrible writer... or we could conclude that some words are more common than you might think.

Nick Lowe also proudly boasts that he didn't bother actually finishing the books. He then mocks the "predictable" plot, based on the bit he did read, saying:

all Covenant has to do now... is go chugging off to cut himself a new Staff of Plot from the jolly old One Tree.
Now if he had read the books, he would have found out that this doesn't happen. The finding-the-One-Tree bit is misdirection, based on traditional genre expectations.

This may indeed be the "conceptual breakthrough in the science of criticism" that he claims. Read the first bit, guess what happens, then lambast your guess for being predictable. It could indeed revolutionise criticism by making the life of a critic easier. Doesn't tell us quite so much about the books though...
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

Nick Lowe seems to have a (none / 0) (#54)
by dr k on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 08:22:55 PM EST

large burr lodged in his rectum. He should go see a doctor before it gets [too] infected.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

Dave Langford: (5.00 / 1) (#67)
by odaiwai on Sun Dec 22, 2002 at 11:50:46 AM EST

To quote from this wonderful man about Donaldson:

Good parodies give you this ghastly vision of what the original must be like, even if you've never read the original. In one fanzine piece, I tried to sum up the subtle prose essence of a certain fantasy bestseller in just half a page, like this:

`"Hellfire!" erupted Thomas Covenant, his raw, self-inflicted nostrils clenching in white-hot, stoical anguish while his gaunt, compulsory visage knotted with fey misery. His lungs were clogged with ruin. A hot, gelid, gagging, fulvous tide of self-accusation dinned in his ears: leper bestseller outcast unclean.... To release the analystic refulgence, the wild magic of the white gold ring he wore, could conceivably shatter the Arch of Time, utterly destroy the Land, and put a premature, preterite end to the plot!

Yet what other way was there? The argute notion pierced his mind like a jerid. Only thus could the unambergrised malison of Lord Foul be aneled. Only thus. He clenched his clenching. Hellfire and damnation!

At that point he winced at a swift, sapid lucubration.

But I'd better cut this short before it runs into a second trilogy, and put an end to your suspense by telling you straight away that the butler did it. I'm sorry, I'll read that again. The hierodule did it -- with the aegis -- in the lucubrium.

More at Langford's site at http://www.ansible.demon.co.uk/

dave "no, not *that* dave"
-- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
[ Parent ]

Movies (4.00 / 1) (#31)
by Happy Monkey on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 09:04:43 AM EST

I've always thought that the Covenant books would make great movies. There is so much vivid imagery. Plus, in movie form, you wouldn't have to deal with the writing style.

But they may be a bit too relentlessly depressing for the Hollywood audience.
Length 17, Width 3
heh (4.00 / 1) (#41)
by speek on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 12:11:20 PM EST

I've always thought harrison ford would make a decent covenant. Now that he's older, he's ugly (I think so anyway), scruffy, awkward, big, sneers really well, and can be abysmally grumpy enough for the role.

But, they'd never pull it off. They'd make it into what it explicitly is not: a redo of Lord of the Rings. They wouldn't do the point of the books justice. I bet Donaldson never sold any movie rights for it.

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

They wouldn't be more depressing (none / 0) (#59)
by porkchop_d_clown on Thu Dec 19, 2002 at 08:44:43 AM EST

Than learning that they're making a sequel to Dumb and Dumber.

Now, where did I put that clue? I'm sure I had one a minute ago....

[ Parent ]

I swear, Lord Foul's Bane saved me from suicide. (4.00 / 2) (#33)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 10:38:30 AM EST

I read it my first term freshman year in college, right when I was going through the "jeez, I can't hack this, I'm too stupid, I've got no friends, I might as well kill myself" stage. I got to the end, started over at the beginning, read it again, then went looking for the other books. Completely forgot to kill myself.

No, I'm not kidding.

Now, where did I put that clue? I'm sure I had one a minute ago....

For sheer writing talent, though... (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 10:50:09 AM EST

You can't beat Brust. He has some basic "let's get paid" kinds of books (the Jhereg series) but he really shines when you get to the end of a book like "Brokedown Palace" and realize that (a) it was written in an utterly different style from "Jhereg" and (b) was set in the same frikken' world but you never noticed because the points of view and style are so different.

My favorite of his stories is "Agyar" which is set in the real world (more or less) and it takes you a long time to realize exactly what it is that's been bothering you about the lead character...

Now, where did I put that clue? I'm sure I had one a minute ago....

you must read (5.00 / 1) (#38)
by squinky on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 11:11:09 AM EST

To Reign in Hell.

[ Parent ]
Yes. It was excellent. (none / 0) (#52)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 04:24:19 PM EST

But it was definitely an earlier work for Brust - the story is great but the writing is a little sophmoric.

Now, where did I put that clue? I'm sure I had one a minute ago....

[ Parent ]

I really don't like rape. (3.50 / 2) (#37)
by squinky on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 11:08:13 AM EST

I quit reading Lord Foul's Bane when he started raping the girl.

I quit reading the Fountain Head at the rape scene (which she tried to justify as solution to mutual but forbidden attraction).

I find it very difficult to watch rape in tv or movies, but I hardly even notice killing. Perhaps it's because in the types of movies/tv I watch (martial arts) most of the killing is the end result of a fairly even match or self-defense. Though gun violence bothers me too.

But rape is just vile, and devoid of any entertainment value for me.

It amazes me that it can even be committed. Forcing someone to have sex with me is the least sexy thing I can think of. How do rapists get/keep it up?

Don't be put off. (5.00 / 4) (#42)
by zakalwe on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 12:24:09 PM EST

Its interesting that people cheerfully read through books where the villian, or even Hero will cheerfully slaughter dozens (or thousands) of people, but a single rape will genuinely shock. The protagonist who kills someone in rage or accident is generally viewed with sympathy as a tragic figure. One who rapes is a monster, regardless of circumstances. I can only think of 2 examples where a rapist is presented sympathetically.

I think its because rape seems so personal to us. Death seems distant, and ultimately inevitable. We have a long experience of coping with loved ones dying. Rape is something unexpected - you hope never to encounter it, and so if it happens to yourself, or a loved one, we have no way of coping, and feel powerless in the presence of great harm.

But rape is just vile, and devoid of any entertainment value for me.
Disagreeing here sounds pretty bad, but in a sense I do. Fiction reflects life, and in life rape happens, and is something that affects people. In books a rape is a strong event and usually an important aspect. If it produces a strong impact, more vivid characterisation then it does improve the story. Admittedly calling it "entertainment value" sounds crass - but I still think its a mistake to skirt offensive subjects merely because of their offensiveness. Books where nothing bad happens are rarely of interest.

To take an example - "Ash - A Secret History" by Mary Gentle has the rape of the 8 year old protagonist in the opening paragraph. Its shocking, and designed to shock, but it is a very effective device. Avoiding the book because of this means you miss a good book - good in many ways because of its grittiness.

[ Parent ]

helplessness, rather than rape (4.00 / 1) (#50)
by squinky on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 02:39:40 PM EST

is probably the root of my revulsion (fear?).

And I agree with your analysis that death is distant and inevitable so it's less offensive. Additionally, death is the curtain-call-- it can be a chance for one final feat of excellence (self-sacrifice).

Violence between two competant enemies is fine, and possibly entertaining, but indescriminate killing is also hard for me to stomache.

To use Pulp Fiction as an example, I didn't like the executions, or the accidental killing in the back seat of the car. The rape, however, wasn't so bad, because (as I recall), there wasn't the horrible impending-doom buildup to it.

Schindler's List is an example of general helplessness that I disgusted me. The shower scene specifically was awful. I excused myself to the restroom, because I knew that those women weren't going to die there and I didn't like observing that  impending-doom helplessness.

Rape specifically is offensive in fiction because it's hopeless; it is usually a choice (for the victim) of "get raped or die". Raped is better, but it's still not good.

What I want in fiction is the chance of success, a struggle. Even if the conclusion is failure, I want a glimmer of hope. I don't demand a happy ending, I don't even particularly like one, but I do demand that the characters have a chance. I suppose that you could have a struggling rape victim, but that's still not something I want to see.

Rape does happen in real life, but so do a lot of other things that I don't want to see fictions of. If I'm going to contemplate an evil, I should contemplate it's irradication rather than be amused by it.

So, I can watch shows like Buffy and Angel because the evils are mostly fictitious; I have no moral obligation to to anything about them.

A large component to my distaste of the Bane (and Fountainhead) rape was that it was from the protagonist's perspective. I do not want to side with a rapist by seeing his mind. It makes me an accomplice.

I am enough of a moral failure on my own, but there are some things that are (I believe anyway) outside the scope of evil which I will commit in my lifetime. Rape, murder and holocaust fall into those categories, so I feel like fictions about those unpleasantries from the criminal's perspective have little relevance to me. Rape from a victim/victim's loved-one's perspective could be relevant, but still probably not entertaining to me.

[ Parent ]

Interesting (5.00 / 2) (#43)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 12:24:44 PM EST

Your reaction isn't uncommon: as I mentioned, quite a few people give up at that particular scene.

My question is: are there any circumstances in which you would read a book in which a rape was depicted? Or would you stop reading regardless?
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

after the fact (5.00 / 1) (#44)
by squinky on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 12:39:26 PM EST

is bearable,To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance.

[ Parent ]
Two hilarious examples (5.00 / 1) (#51)
by squinky on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 02:43:15 PM EST

are in Voltaire's Candide.

In one instance, a woman who was rumored to have been raped and disembowelled is reunited with her friends who are shocked that's she's alive.

"But we thought you were raped and disembowelled"

"I was, but such accidents are not always fatal."

In the other case, she wakes up with a eunuch humping on her.

"Oh, what an affliction to be without testicles." he laments.

[ Parent ]

Resonating with Reality (5.00 / 1) (#60)
by Cougaris on Thu Dec 19, 2002 at 11:11:58 AM EST

I always thought the rape scene was one of the highlights of the book. Now, don't get me wrong - I abhor rape (the act and the people who do it). However, as much as we wish to close our eyes and shut our ears, rape continues to exist and to put down a book because it uses such a powerful act, is a shame. You can't keep your head in the sand. __

[ Parent ]
It's integral to the story (4.00 / 1) (#68)
by odaiwai on Sun Dec 22, 2002 at 12:08:52 PM EST

It's integral to the story, specifically, relating to how his sensation is returned to him.

What's worse for him is that the other characters realise that he's overcome by hormones and they forgive him.  Even the daughter of that rape forgives him, and that really tears him up.

It's not a gratuitous rape - the echoes of it last for thousands of years.  It's *vital* to the storyline, and to Covenant's rejection of his recovery.

-- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
[ Parent ]

Ridiculous vocab (none / 0) (#40)
by PingvinRich on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 11:57:24 AM EST

I can't read him. It's as if it would kill him to call, for instance, a red flag just that - it's a 'scarlet oriflamme'.
Sorry, Donaldson fans, but this is Tolkien with the good bits taken out.

Good then, Bad now (none / 0) (#49)
by fractal on Wed Dec 18, 2002 at 02:32:59 PM EST

As the writer points out, the Thomas Covenant novels may have greater appeal to teenagers. I read them when they were new and I was 17 or so, and enjoyed the novels.

A few years ago, howevah, I tried to read them again and couldn't finish the first book. Like slogging through mud fer chrissakes. Gelid, saturnine mud at that.

If you want to read a worthwhile book that also expands yer vocabulary, try this one.

I also read the Mordant's Need books back in the day, and I don't remember finishing the second book. What a load of crap. Just because you CAN stretch a story into two thick books doesn't mean you SHOULD. Donaldson needed an editor willing to cut forty- or fifty-thousand words out of that series.

If Donaldson's writing is as improved as the poster indicates, the Gap series sounds almost worthwhile.

Mordan'ts Need. (none / 0) (#58)
by porkchop_d_clown on Thu Dec 19, 2002 at 08:39:58 AM EST

Those books were what made me realize that the sci-fi publishing biz had managed to convert the concept of a "novel" into the "long winded serials"

Now, where did I put that clue? I'm sure I had one a minute ago....

[ Parent ]

love The Gap! (none / 0) (#62)
by muchagecko on Thu Dec 19, 2002 at 12:51:59 PM EST

I loved how Donaldson messed with my head as he twisted the characters in the Gap Series around. Making the hero a villian, or the villian a hero, or both. Disgustingly compelling, I couldn't stop reading. I hated the wait between the books. It drove me nuts.

It is a hard series to recommend to friends, because most folks don't seem to want their heros/villians messed with. I loved it.

"Do you think Mr. Fantastic can stretch his dinky also? And do you think The Thing is hard all over? I mean really all over."
Thomas Covenant (none / 0) (#70)
by Eisernkreuz on Thu Dec 26, 2002 at 01:41:21 PM EST

Thomas Covenant. One of the most disgusting thinly veiled attacks on Jesus and Christianity I have ever seen. Back BEFORE I ever was a Christian, I found his character to be a disgusting, perverted, filthy antitype of Jesus. This savior finds himself in a new land of magic, then promptly rapes the young virgin girl who is guiding him through it. Wow. What disgusting reading. I couldn't finish the book. It was so pathetic. In fact, if there ever was a reason to avoid every single book that this warped author ever wrote, that would be it. I don't really believe in reading books where the character we are forced to follow is a twisted pathetic evil man, who in gratitude for a young girl's trust and help brutally and sadistically rapes her.

If that kind of reading is what turns you on, then why not compile biographies of people like Jeffrey Dalmer and the like. It could keep you busy for years. And, who knows, to complete the experience, you might even try some of the stuff they did.

I feel REALLY sorry for those who are writing that kind of literature, no matter what cloak it wears. So, what was his next book "Adventures of Charley the Child Molester"? Where, the hero, Thomas Buggerall thanks a ten year old boy for rescuing him by forcing anal and oral sex on him? Some savior. Lord NAMBLA himself.

Followed by "Roving Gangs of Perverts Buggering Young Dogs"?

Where does his revolting talent end?

Christianity? (5.00 / 1) (#72)
by epepke on Wed Jan 01, 2003 at 06:01:22 AM EST

Thomas Covenant. One of the most disgusting thinly veiled attacks on Jesus and Christianity I have ever seen.

Oh, yeah, Christianity. I never could get past the part where they nail Jesus to the cross. I mean, crucifiction is just so icky poo! Nails through the hands and feet! It isn't my idea of entertainment.

But seriously, folks. If you see the world as a clash between the forces of Good and Evil, or even if you want to, you will hate The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Sure, the writing is at a sub-moron level, the world is derivative, and the premise is stupid (because leprosy had long been easily treatable when it was written) but people don't hate it because of that--they hate it because, in spite of that, it works, and it does what it's supposed to do. It's disturbing, like seeing Picasso's Guernica in a dentist's office, and it's supposed to be. This is not Heller's anti-hero; this is real, human, personal evil described from the inside. No cutesy Godfather gangsters, no moral that makes you go to bed happy. It's in a way unfortunate that such a mediocre wordsmith tackled these issues, but hey, Philip K. Dick didn't have great grammar either. People who enjoy that kind of experience might derive something from it; they'll also go for La Celestina and Richard III, which provide a diluted experience.

But those who like the traditonal, gimme a 4/4 beat that I can dance to, who want to put a pushpin into a corkboard of moral relevance, would be well advised to stick to the classics. Plenty of good stuff there, and I don't look down upon it, but Stephen R. Donaldson mined some little-tapped ore. For those who can get into it, well, it's the kind of thing they get into.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
My theory: if you like T.C., don't read LOTR (4.00 / 1) (#71)
by RebornData on Fri Dec 27, 2002 at 10:36:44 AM EST

My impression of the Thomas Covenant books (which I read first) was a whole lot better before I read the Lord of the Rings. I credited Stephen Donaldson with a much better imagination than he obviously has, and that's one of the primary qualities I look for in SF and Fantasy.

Think about it:

In LOTR, you have a completely innocent ringbearer who is pure at heart and is carring a corrupting ring of great power, ignorant of it's use, but activating it voluntarily or involuntarily throughout a long, drawn-out quest. In T.C., you have a morally reprehensible and corrupt ringbearer who is carring a ring of great power that represents his former innocence, ignorant of it's use, but activating it voluntarily or involuntarily throughout a long, drawn-out quest.

In LOTR, the elves are a magical race with impressive powers who have cooperated with the humans and created amazing works in the past, but whose influence is declining in the world and who are leaving for a distant shore. In T.C., the giants are a magical race with impressive powers who have cooperated with the humans and created amazing works in the past, but whose influence is declining in the world and who long to leave for a distant shore. In LOTR, the elves leave. In T.C., the giants are slaughtered horribly.

Viewed through the lens of LOTR, Thomas Covenant becomes nothing more than a literature class exercise of taking another author's creative work and putting a "twist" on it, in this case the perverted visions of Stephen Donaldson's inner id. It's like drawing graffiti of a goatee and a huge phallus on a fine portrait. I won't say that Donaldson is talentless (he has a gift for description), but frankly, it could be put to better use.

My advice to those who are considering a Donaldson book: if you have to pick and choose carefully what you read because of limited time, your time is better spent elsewhere. On the other hand, if you find perversion and sickness entertaining for its own sake, Donaldson is a rich source of material. For pure depravity, you can't beat the first book in "The Gap" series, titled "The Real Story". It's basically the same formula as Thomas Covenant, but set in a space opera rather than fantasy. As such, it's a little less constrained by genre, and much, much more disgusting. I can honestly say I'm sorry I read it, for it (along with reading LOTR) revealed Donaldson's formula in stark relief and revealed a lot more of the man's inner psyche than I ever wanted. But if that's your thing, go for it.


Stephen R. Donaldson: Do You Believe? | 72 comments (69 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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