"... as if ..."
-- Lord Foul's Bane
-- The Illearth War
-- Gilden Fire
-- The Power That Preserves
-- The Wounded Land
-- The One Tree
-- White Gold Wielder
(about a thousand times in each book)
Criticizing is easy, almost effortless. Creation is difficult.
Creating literature that is fascinating, grand, multi-layered and significant
is so difficult that the vast majority of us will never even
attempt it, much less share the results with millions of
strangers. Any derogatory comments I aim at the Chronicles must
be balanced by the fact that I find them to be artistically
transcendant, superbly crafted, incredibly daring, and filled
to overflowing with everything that makes reading worthwhile.
To think that they are the first works of a previously
unpublished author is staggering to me, almost inconceivable.
I could forgive a first-timer many more flaws than are contained
in the Chronicles. And I'm glad Mr Donaldson made a pile of
greenbacks off of the First and Second Chronicles ... he
1. The first thing that leaps to mind is the sheer volume of pain Thomas Covenant endures through both novels. Even a strong human being would have died or undergone a complete physical and mental collapse from the excessive amount of physical abuse Thomas absorbs almost routinely, especially in the Second Chronicles. And as a middle-aged, non-athletic leper Thomas is physically weak -- how'd he manage to walk the hundreds of leagues across the Land to get to the meeting with Foamfollower? After hiking a measly ten miles through hilly terrain my feet start killing me despite modern hiking shoes; and your feet don't get used to it if you push through and keep at it day after day, you end up with repetitive use injuries. And it only gets worse in The Power That Preserves and Second Chronicles without hurtloam. Is the white gold ring absorbing some of this damage, or mystically sustaining his body? This possibility is hinted at by Saltheart Foamfollower after crossing Hotash Slay, but it needs to be stated outright in the novel because somewhere around the fight with Pietten in The Power That Preserves I rapidly lost my ability to suspend disbelief.
2. The next thing that many folks have pointed out (to the point of overkill) is Donaldson's penchant for use (or abuse) of metaphor and simile. If the publishers had to pay a tax of one dollar for every "like" and "as if" in the Chronicles, they wouldn't have broken even. It does become tiresome if you bring a proofreader's or editor's mindset to your reading but it's an effective way to illustrate a point for those readers (myself lamentably included) whose imagination is not as vivid as the author's. Another of my favorite writers, Ayn Rand had a similar problem in the way she attempted to cram four sentences worth of meaning into a single expression of a character's face. In the overall scheme of their respective towering achievements I can excuse a little stretching of literary license.
3. Why a ring? Why'd Thomas Covenant's wild magic talisman have to be a ring? Hasn't that already been done a couple times? I've thought about this one and haven't come up with a good substitute ... rings are basically the one believable object of jewelry a modern American guy could be expected to wear. He's obviously not going to carry around a sword, staff, necklace, body armor, torq or any of the other things commonly used in fantasy literature to embody magical power. And Tolkien doesn't own the concept of magic rings ... as a couple of recent books tracing the many derivations of magic rings in world legendry illustrate. So what's he supposed to use, white gold tooth fillings? A watch-band? A white gold gear shift knob would've been pretty cool but he didn't drive a car. Can anyone think of a better talisman for Thomas?
4. Just once I would like to read about a person, place or thing that doesn't end up getting killed, corrupted or destroyed. Not because I can't handle the emotional stress but because it lessens the feeling of reality and proportion. After a while you begin to get the feeling that every character is introduced for the sole purpose of watching Covenant's inadequacy result in their death/injury/torture. To contrast with Tolkien's world (which I do about as often as Donaldson uses metaphors and similes), though many beautiful things were destroyed many remained untouched through the valor of their people; Lothlorien, Imladris and the Grey Havens leap to mind. If the Silmarillion had a fatal flaw it was the eventual near-absolute defeat of the Men and Elves by Morgoth's forces, leaving no one left for the reader to care about. Especially in the Second Chronicles the ubiquitousness of Lord Foul's permeation minimize the importance of the Land's denizens, making Thomas Covenant the only person who really matters. That marginalizes the very people who ought to matter most, and did matter in the First Chronicles. In the end I'm not reading the Chronicles because of Thomas Covenant -- I know enough damaged, bitter people in the real world -- but because of the incredible menagerie of otherworldly people and creatures he encounters and interacts with, with remarkable results on Covenant himself. This should be their fight as much as his.
5. One minor thing that irks me is the use of an actual fire by the Healer of Morinmoss Forest. Why couldn't it have been a lillianrill-type fire which used Earthpower as the source instead of actually consuming the wood? It may seem like a trivial detail but when Thomas Covenant returns to the Land to find the inhabitants actually burning wood he is horrified. Lessening the tabu aspect of wood-burning significantly lessens the impact of it in The Wounded Land. And why the heck would Morinmoss Forest permit the use of consuming fire in its inner sanctum, even by a former Unfettered One? Anyone have a plausible answer for this?
6. Why are there obvious references to Earth-ly things in the language of the Land? I mean Doriendor Corishev, anundivian yajña ... that's Russian, right? Dukka and dharmakshetra are both Indian I suppose. High Lord Kevin? Satansfist, Satansheart, samadhi, sheol, turiya? I don't like obvious or even obscure "real-world" words like those appearing in the supposedly separate world of the Land. Weaving a spell that allows a reader to suspend disbelief is demanding and unavoidably results in an extremely tenuous balance. It doesn't take much to jar the reader out of the spell's stream of consciousness but a word obviously from our Earth used in an alternate world does it every time. And as long as I'm busting on an author whose literary talent far eclipses mine, I'll point out a few other names that could have used a couple of strokes from his editor's red pen: