August 23, 2004

White Gold

Covenant and Linden Confront the Raver
in a Crucial Scene of the Second Chronicles

(Thanks to this Chronicles fansite for the image.)

There are plenty of reviews of Donaldson's first and second Covenant trilogies floating around out there. Here is one I think is pretty good, but that was more of a standard book review. I don't want to summarize the whole story here and talk about its strengths and weaknesses. I'd rather talk about what the books are like and how they compare to other recent epics I'm familiar with.

Of course, the first thing every epic fantasy is compared to is "Lord of the Rings". I've now read both works many times over, including once each within the past couple of years, so I feel pretty well qualified to compare the two. When it comes to use of language, storytelling, craft and sheer greatness, I don't see how you can argue against Tolkien. It's almost unfair to compare anything to Tolkien's magnificent vision (and I know LOTR has its flaws, and it is derivative from various ancient stories, etc., but it is still without question the standard by which all other fantasy epics are judged), but Donaldson holds up pretty well in his own right.

That may be because a more apt comparison than Tolkien may instead be to an American writer, like maybe Stephen King. It's a very limited comparison. King and Donaldson both write gritty, pseudo-realistic stories about humanity's inner struggle, and Donaldson's two series (especially the second) are in some sense closer to horror than pure fantasy. And both write a really gripping page-turner of a story. But it pretty much ends there.

For a lot of people, Donaldson is just repulsive. They can't get past the idea that the hero with whom we are supposed to sympathize (or empathize) rapes a girl before 100 pages have gone by. They hate the idea of all the suffering and anguish heaped on top of one another at every turn, especially in the second Chronicles. They hate that Covenant is just such an ass (once, even the characters in the book chastise Covenant for his pigheaded obtuseness) to everyone around him.

Oh well. Donaldson isn't for everyone. It is a complex story, full of inner struggle, but it is unlike just about anything you've read before. Oh sure, you've got your big battles, your evil bad guys, your final confrontations, etc. There are always going to be elements of any fantasy that have been ripped off from things in the past (whether it is from the Ring Cycle, LOTR, the Odyssey, whatever). But Donaldson throws them at you in a new way with a fresh perspective, and I really appreciate this series.

If you've never read the books or aren't familiar and want a more standard review, follow the link I gave above. If you read much speculative fiction or fantasy, then I would say that lacking this experience, you have a fairly gaping hole in your reading list. It is a significant work and worth the time and energy. Now is a good time to acquiant yourself with it, since Donaldson is just about to start a new series set in the same world (as you can see from his official website).

I'll be there on the first day to follow the story further. I can't wait.

Posted by Observer at August 23, 2004 02:26 PM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

Gripping page-turner?!? Holy glub. I needed a crowbar to turn the pages of the 2nd chronicles. Yawn-o-rama.

Man, no way am I touching the 3rd series. Crickey, I doubt I'll ever re-read the 1st one again, twice was enough I think. The first series was pretty good, if creepy.

The whole thing does lose some of it's effect now that leprosy can be cured.

Posted by: Humbaba on August 23, 2004 04:55 PM

You know, I get enough self-hatred and self-loathing dealing with people in real life. I prefer a little escapism when I read, not an attempt to prove that even base, self-loathing bastards have value in the universe.

The only meaning that I took from the books was that every human life has some value and no matter how much you may hate yourself or your life you still serve some purpose in the world. As this has never been something that I questioned the series became an exercise in tedium as I got beaten over the head with the same theme over and over. There was no gripping need to turn the page since I could predict with fairly high accuracy that the next page would hold something with Thomas loathing himself and people around him still being devoted to him.

Yes, the writing was well done. The comparisons that can be drawn between Covenant and the Land are well done. The symbolism is well thought out but all served to draw me back to an examination of a character for whom I felt zero interest and less sympathy.

I have to agree with Hummer. I don't need to waste my limited freetime on something so painful even if it is an incredible example of craftsmaship.

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on August 23, 2004 06:16 PM

Yeah, those are my sentiments as well. It's a set of well-written stories, and I can't fault the craft. But my copies of those books got sold to Half Price many years ago. Just not the sort of story I prefer to read.

Posted by: Feff on August 23, 2004 06:35 PM

Clearly, my vast multitude of readers are all heathens!

Posted by: Observer on August 23, 2004 09:10 PM

I first read donaldson's books when I was in 7th grade. I found them pretty horrible at the time. That said, I enjoyed them a lot more when I reread them later.

Posted by: Morant on August 23, 2004 10:04 PM

Maybe your vast multitude of readers just doesn't need to be reassured that someone or something in the universe values them even in their worst down moments?

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on August 24, 2004 10:50 AM