|The fatigue, the lack of rest, the unrelieved haste of their journey showed in both Lords: Hyrim's eyes, formerly so gay, had a gray angle of pain, and Shetra's lean face was lined and sharpened, as if some erosion had cut away the last softness of her features. But they endured. As time passed, they found deeper springs of strength to sustain them.|
|-- Gilden Fire|
To me, Gilden Fire is a lot like Tom Cruise ... it seems shorter every time I see it.
Har har -- Tom Cruise visited the military base I was working at in Korea in 1995 and
yes Virginia, he really is vertically challenged. But I digress.
I settled down this evening in the tub to soak and enjoy Gilden Fire, a rare treat I hadn't experienced in over six years ... and before the water had even cooled off appreciably it was over! Seriously though, I may be a fast reader but that's ridiculous. It begins in medias res with Korik and company thundering away from Revelstone astride a pack of Ranyhyn, flashes back in time briefly as he hand-picks his fighting crew, then catches up to the action as the company plunges into Grimmerdhore forest for a showdown with some ur-viles and pack of nasty wolves. And that's about it.
We get probably our least filtered view into the Haruchai mindset here than at any other point in the First or Second Chronicles. We also witness the travails and lack of capability of two of the lesser Lords -- Hyrim son of Hoole and Shetra Verement-mate -- but there's simply not enough room for serious character development. The last two sentences of the quote above may be the best encapsulation of the deepest lesson we learn by reading the story of Thomas Covenant, which in some ways is the lesson of our own lives. It's worth reading and thinking about.
In the foreward Donaldson discusses the rationale for trimming this chapter from the text of The Illearth War and the more I consider it, the less sense it makes. It boils down to two issues, sheer length and weakening Covenant's Unbelief by the narration of events external to Covenant (or Hile Troy, also from our world) through the eyes of a native of the alternate Earth. Let's look at those two issues individually.
I reject the first argument out of hand. Anyone who is willing to read a 527-page novel (The Illearth War as published) is not going to be put off by a 600-page novel. Heck, I've read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged about six or seven times and it's over a thousand pages of tiny letters crammed onto each page. To misappropriate a quote from Bill Shakespeare, "the play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king". You've caught my conscience Mr Donaldson! If I've made it through Lord Foul's Bane and I'm back for more, a hundred pages more or less won't deter me ... and shame on the bean counting division at Del Ray: paper and ink doesn't cost that much.
The second argument is more substantial but also unconvincing because let's face a hard fact: by the Illearth War, Thomas Covenant's Unbelief is bupkis! It was an intriguing concept and plot device throughout Lord Foul's Bane, just as the question of "Did the children really go to Narnia or was it just a dream?" was fascinating in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and "Did John Carter really go to Barsoom or was it a hallucination?" was interesting in A Princess of Mars. But when you bring the same character back to the same alien landscape for another adventure, you've just answered your own question.
In The Illearth War I read with awe as Mhoram meditated, pondered, speculated, lucubrated, deliberated, cogitated, cerebrated and ruminated ... and it's some of the best darn writing in the entire Chronicles. Thank goodness the editors didn't axe those sections just because they're from the viewpoint of someone not from our Earth. Consider The Fellowship of the Ring ... the first hundred and more pages are entirely inconsistent with the rest of the book and are (as I rediscover each time to my sorrow) Boring As Hell but what editor in his right mind would second guess Tolkien and yank them from the Lord of the Rings? Our dear Professor said several times before his death that the single greatest flaw of The Return of the King was not spending a few hundred more pages to flesh out the climax and resolution ... right on John! I say, give Donaldson as much creative space and time as he wants, get out of his way and revel in your astonishment at what he produces.
So given the reality of the editorial vivisection perpetrated upon the body of an otherwise fine novel, what are we left with? A "short story" insufficiently strong enough to stand on its own merit, whose absence from The Illearth War deprives us of key information on Korik's mission, and whose inclusion wouldn't have made a rat's ass worth of difference to the tattered straw man of Covenant's academic Unbelief. I'd be pissed at Del Ray except he was the first publisher to give Donaldson a go after something like 47 rejection slips from US publishers. So overall good on ya Del Ray, but please whoever prints the next set of books drop the pretense and include Gilden Fire in The Illearth War and let me "get my Donaldson on". Yeah baby! ;-)
p.s. Thanks to Jay Resop and Alynna Lis Eachann of
p.p.s. Mahalo nui loa (thanks a lot!) to Jeanne Pomenti for the original quote from Gilden Fire.