Why Thomas Covenant Is Important


donaldson-thelastdarkThis week, The Last Dark by Stephen R. Donaldson published.

It is an important book, but one many people aren’t talking about.

They should be. It actually saddens me a great deal fantasy blogs and the like are not talking about it. The original trilogy, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant—Unbeliever, is one of the most important fantasy trilogies written.

Originally published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1977 and repackaged in paperback by—at that time—the new publisher Del Rey Books, Lord Foul’s Bane, The Illearth War, and The Power That Preserves proved to fantasy readers and publishers alike that fantasy could sell in major markets at a time when fantasy did not exist in bookstores. This is important for a number of reasons.

But first, I should take a step back. I have written numerous articles over the years about the importance of editor Lester del Rey and his partner in crime Judy Lynn. They were fantastic visionaries, forces of publishing nature willing to take risks to prove themselves right about an industry that shied away from fantasy novels. Taking The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, they proved to everyone that readers wanted more epic fantasy similar to The Lord of the Rings.

And they were right.

While The Sword of Shannara is one of the most important books written in the genre, it did it with some controversy. Lester del Rey knew this going in. Many compare its first third to that of Fellowship of the Ring and they would not be entirely wrong, even according to Terry Brooks.

But with Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson, Lester del Rey proved that epic fantasy could be something other than the tropes that Tolkien indirectly created and Terry Brooks unknowingly emulated.

In my opinion, it took both books to solidify epic fantasy in its infancy.

In my opinion, it took both books to create epic fantasy demand that eventually led to writers like Tad Williams, George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan, Steven Erikson, Terry Goodkind, Melanie Rawn, Jacqueline Carey, etc., having a place to ply their craft.

With The Last Dark, the final book in The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the story of character Thomas Covenant comes to its conclusion, a bittersweet moment for many of us who read Donaldson’s work in those early years. A total of ten books comprise Covenant’s saga and it is now over. He is one of the most fully realized characters. It is sad to see his end.

If you haven’t read Lord Foul’s Bane, you are missing out on not only an important part of our fantasy history but a truly great beginning to one of fantasy’s best series ever written .

And if you have read the first nine books, The Last Dark by Stephen R. Donaldson is in fine bookstores now.

The end for Covenant is finally here.

“You are the white gold.”

  • Paul S.

    Wow. Not even one comment. Quite sad. I’m also saddened that this series does not get the credit and mass attention that it should. This is an amazing story that Donaldson has told — and by that I speak of the entire series. Donaldson has given us a gift by not playing to the standard swords & sorcery mantra. Yes, reading Donaldson will make you squirm (and occasionally reach for a dictionary). His story will make you uncomfortable and make you question life, ethics as a whole. But isn’t that the point of art and literature — not to shock for shock’s sake — but to push us out of our comfort zones and make us question. Donaldson does that and tells a great story in the process.

  • I tried to read ‘Lord Foul’s Bane’ when I was in high school back in the ’80s. I wasn’t quite ready for it, and quit reading it after THAT scene involving Covenant and Lena.

    Earlier this month, I decided to give the book a second chance. I’m glad I did. I quickly devoured both it and ‘The Illearth War,’ and am in the midst of reading ‘The Power That Preserves.’

    Leaving aside the trilogy’s important contribution to the genre, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant isn’t just outstanding fantasy fiction; it’s outstanding fiction, period. I really appreciate the complex moral and ethical themes, and the Land is simply an outstanding and well-developed setting. Due to Donaldson’s power of description, I—unlike Covenant—almost believe it is real!

    I look forward to reading the whole saga, and hope that more people discover these wonderful books.

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