Stephen R. Donaldson, the Master

... at one time he had been a kind of golden boy. He had been happily married. He had had a son. He had written a novel in ecstasy and ignorance, and had watched it spend a year on the best-seller lists. And because of it, he now had all the money he needed.
-- Lord Foul's Bane

The things I don't know about Stephen R. Donaldson could fill up my 50 megabytes on this server and then some. How an active author as prolific, popular and acknowledged by his peers as Mr Donaldson could maintain such a low profile in our modern age is curious, and must certainly be the result of a conscious effort. It's a refreshing approach from the standard media-hype angle of fantasy authors with a tenth of the talent, but it also leaves the appreciative reader wondering about the person whose literary accomplishment just rocked their world.

The About the Author blurbs in the back of my paperbook editions of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant seem to compete with each other to provide the least amount of information while still justifying their existence. Witness Lord Foul's Bane:

Born in 1947 in Cleveland, Ohio, Stephen R. Donaldson makes his publishing debut with the Covenant Trilogy. From ages three to sixteen, he lived in India, where his father, an orthopedic surgeon, worked extensively with lepers. (It was after hearing one of his father's speeches on the subject of leprosy that he conceived the character of Thomas Covenant as protagonist for an epic fantasy.) He graduated from the College of Wooster (Ohio) in 1968, served two years as a conscientious objector doing hospital work in Akron, then attended Kent State University where he received his M.A. in English in 1971. He now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

My copy of The Wounded Land omits the section entirely and when it resurfaces in The One Tree, it mentions his receipt of several prestigious awards then adds the following sentence: Donaldson now lives in Corrales, New Mexico, where he is writing White Gold Wielder, the third volume in The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

A brief search of biographical or bibliographical studies on our man yields surprisingly little. There's the publication by Kent State University Press in 1995 of W. A. Senior's Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Variations on the Fantasy Tradition, which received mixed reviews on's review page and of which Book News, Inc. had the following to say:

... examines Donaldson's first three novels in an attempt to define their place in the fantasy canon. After an introduction to and defense of the fantasy genre, he discusses Donaldson's debt to Tolkien, his use of myth and the creation of sustaining mythologies within the novels, and themes of life and death. Includes two interviews with the author of the Covenant series, conducted in 1990 and 1991. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.

So far so good I suppose, but all the information is strictly literary and doesn't deal with the man himself. Thus those of us unlucky to have met or corresponded with the man are stuck with the unhappy reality of having to glean what little we really know of Stephen R. Donaldson from a sparse series of interviews, which can now be found on Mr Donaldson's official web site

Personally, all of the above leave me unsatisfied because they provide insight into how he feels on certain subjects but not why. What experiences imbued him with the requisite depth of life wisdom necessary to fabricate the Land, its heroic people, its monstrous enemies and its byzantine protagonist, one Thomas Covenant? Did a young Mr Donaldson have torturous experiences with overly religious hypocrites which he deftly weaves into both First and Second Chronicles or did he just make it up entirely? Is the turmoil of the Thomas, Jane and Roger a reflection of his own personal life or merely well-crafted literature? One wants to know where Stephen R. Donaldson ends and the Chronicles begin.

What I'd really enjoy -- apart obviously from a personal meeting/interview with Mr Donaldson -- would be an hour-long televised biopic in similar format to the popular VH1 "Behind the Music" biographies. Starting out with the typical baby pictures, working through childhood experiences, excerpts from earlier authoring experiments, then hitting the Chronicles. They could commission some good artists to illustrate dramatic scenes from the books -- say Frank Frazetta covering the climax of Mhoram's duel with Satansfist -- while Mr Donaldson reads excerpts from the works. An entire host of contemporary fantasy authors would no doubt avail themselves of the opportunity to heap praise and insightful critiques of his works.

I apologize for the lack of content in this attempted biography, which falls far short of my original expectations. There simply isn't enough information available (yet) to do Stephen R. Donaldson justice ... and perhaps that is his desire, which of course we must respect.