Death such as this, death piled cruelly upon death, century
after century, required another kind of answer. In their
desperation, the living Giants accepted the reply Covenant had
provided for them.
Pitchwife led the way. With a sharp wail of aggrievement, he rushed to the bonfire and plunged his arms to the shoulders in among the blazing firewood. Flames slapped his face, bent his head back in a mute howl against the angle of his crippled chest.
The First joined Pitchwife. Kneeling on the stone, she clamped her hands around a raging log and held it.
Seadreamer did not stop at the edge of the flames. Surging as if the Earth-Sight had deprived him of all restraint, he hurled his whole body into the fire, stood there with the blaze writhing about him like the utterance of his agony.
|-- The Wounded Land|
If you have actually picked up this book, read the first hundred
pages, and decided to keep reading ... you are either a Thomas Covenant
fan or a hopeless masochist. No one else could endure the sheer misery.
To me reading The Wounded Land is emotioanlly nauseating, like watching
a good friend undergo the death of a thousand cuts.
The Land ... destroyed and ravaged. The free peoples ... deluded
and butchered like cattle. Knowledge of Earthpower ... lost or
perverted. Proud Revelstone ... twisted into a gruesome chamber
of horrors. And on and on. If it weren't for Covenant bumping
into the sur-jheherrin and the Search near the end of
the book I couldn't stand to pick it up at all.
However the plot of The Wounded Land is brilliant, perhaps genius. Like the introduction of the Mule in Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Empire, The Wounded Land allows Donaldson to have his cake and eat it too -- retaining a familiar and powerful setting while radically altering the nature of the struggle waged upon it. Though the effect obviously is lost upon those who haven't read the First Chronicles, Donaldson expertly weaves skeins of the original work into the darker, more ominous fabric of the Land languishing under Lord Foul's most exquisite perversions. Tolkien's magnificent tales of the Three Ages of the world spun out nicely but rarely against the same landscape -- there are good reasons for that. It's devilishly hard to revisit the same territory and look upon it with new eyes without either suffering by comparison or diminishing the original in subsequent readings.
Briefly, it has been ten years since Thomas Covenant redeemed the Land by disintegrating the Illearth Stone and diminishing Lord Foul. Like the first-rate villain he is the Despiser not only survives his downfall he turns it to his advantage. The magnitude of his defeat require millenia to overcome but the key barrier against him -- the eldritch Staff of Law -- is destroyed. Through the monotonous centuries Lord Foul insidiously burrows into the very fabric of Earthpower, symbiotically healing himself and weakening the puissance of Law in the Land. For a few centuries this aids the Lords in their struggle to repair the Land's harm but eventually allows Foul's minions -- spearheaded by the Ravers as always -- to overthrow the Lords and begin the long destruction of the free peoples' understanding and skill in Earthpower. Foul creates a miasmic evil power called the Sunbane that manifests as a colored corona around the sun with horrific power over the substance of the Land.
In a splinter of time the Land's vast forests, fertile plains and hillsides are gone, wiped off the face of the suffering earth by a gruesome progression of Desert, Fertility, Rain and Pestilence. Everything on the Upper Land is continually redesecrated by the Sunbane with the single exception of the Andelainian Hills which are protected by the eldritch power of Caer Caveral, formerly Hile Troy of our world. The free people of the Land lose their mastery of stone and wood lore, which is replaced by the Raver-mastered Clave's false and evil Rede of communicidal bloodshed. This is merely a malignant husk of the Land Thomas Covenant remembers, and whose suffering impels his avid search for understanding and remedy.
There is a tremendous amount of meaty subject matter in The Wounded Land, not least of which is the introduction of Linden Avery, a complex woman and a doctor of our world, into the Land. Her gift of medical percipience becomes a near-magical ability in the Land, though under the Sunbane it is more curse than gift. Her physical, emotional and psychological development parallels Covenant's throughout the Second Chronicles although I think most readers would agree Donaldson empathizes more with Covenant and the fundamental choices in the Second Chronicles fall on his shoulders even after his death.
Another facet of Donaldson's writing that I admire is the tantalizingly indirect exploration of mysteries, represented in this book a couple of times. The enigmatic expression of Power locked inside Vain grants us a glimpse at the yearning of the ur-viles, and the realization that even their ideal of perfection holds self-loathing and destructive glee worthy of the goddess Kali. Hamako provides Covenant otherwise-inaccessible insights into the Weird of the Waynhim, which may or may not be a Demondim spawn interpretation or corruption of the Elohim's Würd. Maybe it's just me but I want a deeper look into all of the Demondim ... the Viles, ur-viles and Waynhim alike. Mr Donaldson, please write the Third Chronicles.
To me, the most cogent question raised by The Wounded Land and subsequent novels is that of causation. If the Despiser is merely a reflection or part of Thomas Covenant, what are the implications? Is Foul's restoration caused by Thomas Covenant's own slow healing process in our world? Ten long years of recovery have not only rehabilitated Covenant physically (other than his leprosy); his intense search for self-understanding -- as reflected in his writing numerous introspective novels -- reveal a new and fundamental ability to feel, perceive, understand and accept. During the same time Lord Foul's capacity for evil has undergone a frightening transformation. Instead of employing the terrible but relatively simplistic tactic of sending physical armies forth to murder, the Despiser delves far deeper into the nature of the Land to wrack its very soul: Earthpower itself. Far worse than merely killing the free peoples of the Land is enslaving them in a ghastly maze of lies, half-truths and perverted Earthpower which requires them to spill their own blood to survive. With that stroke he not only alienates the free peoples from each other (for outsiders are seen merely as free blood) but from themselves as well, as friends and even family members must turn knives upon each other for the survival of the village. I wonder what happens to Lord Foul after Thomas Covenant's death. It is stated that he cannot be slain, but if he is Covenant's alter ego the rules of his existence and the fact Linden is sent back to our world upon Foul's "death" suggest he is gone for good. Unless the meticulously intricate manner of Thomas and Linden's summoning invalidates this line of reasoning.
But it'll take another two long novels after The Wounded Land to get that far ...
Chapter headings for The Wounded Land
2: Something Broken
PART I: Need
4: "You Are Mine"
5: Thunder and Lightning
6: The Graveler
8: The Corruption of the Sun
10: Vale of Crystal
11: The Corruption of Beauty
PART II: Vision
12: The Andelainian Hills
15: "Because You Can See"
16: The Weird of the Waynhim
18: Revelstone in Rain
PART III: Purpose
20: The Quest
22: Plain of Fire
23: Sarangrave Flat
24: The Search
25: "In the Name of the Pure One"