Above the company, moonshine and Forestal-fire condensed to form
a human shape. Pale silver, momentarily transparent, then more
solid, like an incarnation of evanescence and yearning, a woman
walked toward the onlookers. A smile curved her delicate mouth;
and her hair swept a suggestion of dark wings and destiny past
her shoulders; and she shone like loss and hope.
Hollian eh-Brand. Sunder's Dead, come to greet him.
The sight of her made him breathe in fierce, shuddering gasps, as if she had set a goad to his heart.
Erect with the dignity of her calling, the importance of her purpose, she moved to the Forestal's side and stopped, facing Sunder and her own dead body.
"Ah, Sunder, my dear one," she murmured. "Forgive my death. It was my flesh that failed you, not my love."
Helpless to reply, Sunder went on gasping as if his life were being ripped out of him.
|-- White Gold Wielder|
It was with mixed feelings that I picked up White Gold Wielder
and started reading it for the first time over a decade ago.
The big question in my mind was if Donaldson could possibly
bring such a complex and wide-ranging fantasy epic to a
satisfying conclusion; i.e. one allowing Covenant's and Avery's
hard work and sacrifice to be rewarded without selling out for a
happy ending. After Tolkien's bungling of the last chapters of
the Return of the King and David Edding's embarrassing bungling
of the promising story line of the Belgariad it looked like
there was just a lot of ... well, bungling of saga
endings getting perpetrated by otherwise talented authors.
Would the Second Chronicles suffer a similar fate?
I'm happy to report that Donaldson delivers the goods with White Gold Wielder, expertly walking the tightrope between good and evil, happy and sad, life and death, resolved and unresolved. I felt he gave me his answer to the dilemmas of white gold / wild magic, and humanity's inner conflict without taking away my ability to find my own answers. He doesn't let you forget that events didn't have to turn out the way they did, that free will exists and monstrosities aren't always successfully held in check.
Even with the tremendous power and knowledge Linden Avery gained with the mastery of the renewed Staff of Law, mysteries are rife within the Land. Once more with the Demondim ... has the Weird of the Waynhim been destroyed by the ur-viles' killing rampage against the Waynhim or fulfilled with Vain's metamorphosis? What is the significance of the Haruchai's and Giants' participation in the struggle against the Despiser and how will they interact with the denizens of the new Land? What remains of the Search and Starfare's Gem? What is the destiny of the Cavewights, and Mount Thunder (and it's fitfully slumbering banes)? What is the fate of the new Land and its few remaining peoples, and how can the Earth reconstitute itself after the ravages of the Sunbane? Will Sunder and Hollian restore the legacy of Lords from Revelstone or must Linden Avery be summoned again to resanctify the Land? Can the Land ever regenerate its vast forests (and Forestals)? I guess maybe there is material enough for a Third Chronicles following the Despiser's second defeat though I still insist the real story lies in the tales of the Old Lords.
The plot of White Gold wielder is fairly direct like that of The Wounded Land; Covenant and crew traverse just the areas they need to in order to confront the main enemies. First to Revelstone to deal with Gibbon-Raver's hideous Clave and the Banefire. Didja notice how Donaldson allows everyone (except maybe Findail and Vain) to contribute to the overthrow of the Clave? Even Nom and Glimmermere get into the act, though I was stunned that Donaldson didn't throw another couple of duped Riders like Memla na-Mhoram-in into the mix. They could've followed Covenant into Andelain and helped form the nucleus of Sunder and Hollian's restoration effort. Nonetheless the battle for the soul of Lord's Keep is a dandy bit of writing with a number of memorable scenes including the Courser ambush, the Grim, the attack of the menials, the big showdown between Covenant, Gibbon and Nom, Covenant's caamora, and the extirpation of the Banefire by Linden's inspired redirection of the mystic waters of Glimmermere.
Perhaps White Gold Wielder is lengthier than it need have been but in fairness the first hundred pages are basically external to the Land and could be considered continuation chapters of The One Tree. Sans that, White Gold Wielder is actually fairly compact and economical getting Covenant and Avery into physical, mental and spiritual shape to tackle the real showdown which has been building for over a thousand pages. And what a showdown it turns out to be; no dues ex machina here ... the good guys actually have to face down the ultimate evil in its lair. Let's count the number of destinies resolved in the catacombs of Mount Thunder:
As a younger man I thought the ending might have been improved had Donaldson allowed Foul to triumph ... what an unprecedented plot twist that would have been. But after reading the conclusion of Michael Moorcock's Elric saga I changed my mind. The ending was unexpected but not really satisfying, as if the evident loser of a chess game angrily swiped all the pieces off the board prior to checkmate. It occurred to me that life by its very nature is more complex, that complete subjugation is in one sense the easy way out -- what my mathematics teachers used to call the trivial solution. Director James Cameron ended the Terminator II: Judgement Day with an eerily similar finale. To secure victory for his friends the protagonist (a cybernetic killing machine) must gain an understanding of his "humanity" and sacrifice his life so his companions can continue the job of crafting a world free of tyrranical extermination. Wonder if Mr Cameron ever read the Second Chronicles?
Anyway, that wraps up the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Or does it? In a recent interview Donaldson didn't rule out the possibility of a Third Chronicles. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Chapter headings for White Gold Wielder
PART I: Retribution
1: The Master's Scar
2: Leper's Ground
3: The Path to Pain
4: Sea of Ice
6: Winter in Combat
7: Physician's Plight
8: The Defenders of the Land
9: March to Crisis
10: The Banefire
PART II: Apotheosis
12: Those Who Part
13: The Eh-Brand
14: The Last Bourne
15: Enactors of Desecration
16: "Andelain! Forgive!"
17: Into the Wightwarrens
18: No Other Way
19: Hold Possession
20: The Sun-Sage
21: "To Say Farewell"