Title: Lord Foul’s Bane
Author: Stephen Donaldson
“And he who wields wild white magic gold
is a paradox-
for he is everything and nothing
hero and fool
and with the one word of truth or treachery,
he will save or damn the Earth,
because he is mad and sane
cold and passionate
lost and found”
Thomas Covenant is on the brink of losing it all. He has leprosy, his writing career is in shambles, his wife has taken their young son and left him, and the rest of the townspeople fear and despise him. So when he is mysteriously transported to the Land, a place overflowing with beauty and health it seems like a dream come true. His leprosy is gone and he has feeling in his extremities again. But this place is not the wonderland that it seems. And Thomas Covenant was brought to the Land for a reason. To be the opposser of a great evil, Lord Foul.
You don’t have to have known me very long to know that my absolute favorite book genre is epic fantasy. I love long tales full of heroes, journeys, quests, feasts, magic, etc. But let’s touch back on the notion of ‘hero’ for a moment. This is my second attempt to read this book and the first time I succeeded. This book is quite a controversy in and of itself and after completely finishing it I think I understand why. If you are, like me, and read tons and tons of epic fantasy, you become used to the type of character who is the protagonist. Characters like Richard Rahl from the Sword of Truth series, Drizzt DoUrden from the Legend of Drizzt series, and Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings trilogy are a few of my favorite characters and perfect examples of this. They are brave, loyal, steadfast, heroic, compassionate; all the things you expect out of a hero. They are people you look up to, people you try to emulate.
Thomas Covenant, the protagonist of this series, is not like these characters at all. He is not a hero.
He is whiny, defensive, clingy, selfish, doubtful, and you could even say that he is weak. Within the first part of the book he actually rapes a sixteen year old girl, Lena. I don’t think this is a spoiler since it happens very early on in the story, and this is actually the point that I stopped at when I tried reading it the first time. Would Aragorn or Drizzt rape a young girl? Absolutely not. They protect the weak, not exploit or harm them. But even after I put this book down in disgust a few years ago I could never quite get the story out of my head. I wanted to know what happened next. I wanted to know if Thomas ever grew as a character, became a better person. If he ever defeated Lord Foul and paid for his crime against Lena. The story had, despite that despicable act, gotten under my skin. So here I am, years later, re-reading this book and I find that I actually quite enjoyed it. And while I couldn’t stand Thomas at first, I have come to like him quite a bit.
And here’s why.
Thomas is NOT a hero. He is the ubermencsh, or the everyman, that was plucked from his world, OUR world, and chosen for a task in the Land. He could be you, he could be me (if you know, I was a guy :P), and while he does not in the beginning act like a hero, he does act in ways a regular man would act if taken out of his natural environment and placed without warning into a new one. Well, minus the raping of course. I don’t think many men would commit this act if put in Thomas’ shoes. And other than the whole rape incident his reactions and emotions to everything that is happening are surprisingly realistic. But let me shed a little more light on Thomas’ actions. When he first arrives in the Land, he believes he is dreaming or at worst, dead. He suddenly is cured of this debilitating disease from which the doctors have told him there is no cure, and he is well, no longer impotent. How many of us have committed acts in our dreams that we would never even THINK of committing in actual reality? So while I am in no way condoning his actions, I can say that I can see where he is coming from. Sort of, I guess. I guess what I am trying to say is that this main character is not perfect, he is deeply flawed. But he learns. He grows. He changes. And it is a magnificent thing to watch throughout the course of this book. This story is fascinating and interesting, and filled with a beautiful world and creatures and mythology and all kinds of great things that you usually find with the epic fantasy genre.
My only actual other complaint about this book is that some of the characters names were absolutely ridiculous. Stephen Donaldson created this beautiful world with all kinds of different languages and names and the best thing he could come up with for the bad guys were Drool and Lord Foul? Really? Other than this small thing I found the book to be really well written.
My favorite aspect of the book was the writing style, which was very beautiful and ornate. Passages like this:
They moved heavily, unevenly, like pieces of a broken lament…
just made me sigh with happiness.
So, despite myself, I really enjoyed this book. I would say that it is quite different from anything that you would find standard in epic fantasy, but it was still a great book and very well written, and I look forward to moving forward in the series.