Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Continued Adventures of HaRav HaGaon HaTzadik Thomas Covenant HaKofer: Rebetzin Kofer to the Rescue II.

Stephen Donaldson wrote the original books of the Covenant Chronicles more than twenty years ago. Recently he started another round of Covenant books titled the Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. He plans to write four books for the Final Chronicles. So far he has written two of the books, Runes of Earth and Fatal Revenant, which just came out.
Covenant died at the end of the Second Chronicles. He sacrificed himself for the land he did not believe in. The Final Chronicles are really about Dr. Linden Avery, who came into the Land in the Second Chronicles along with Covenant and was his companion through the events of that trilogy. Avery does not have Covenant’s issues with believing in the Land. She struggles more with issues of power and control. In a sense she is the opposite of Covenant in that she fears being helpless, of not being able to save others, while Covenant feared the moral implications of having power and the responsibility of saving others.
In the Final Chronicles it is Avery’s task to once again save the Land from Foul. The thing about Foul, and what makes him such a great villain, is that, like Donaldson’s heroes, Foul is a far more complicated character than what you would usually expect from fantasy. Foul is not simply this evil doer who wants to take over everything and kill everybody. Foul is bound to the Land and wishes to destroy the Land in order to break free and once again challenge the creator. In order for this to happen he would need Covenant’s white gold ring to willingly be surrendered to him or for someone else to use the ring to destroy the Land. Foul always works in multiple directions. While on the surface he presents a threat to the Land, his real goal is always to get either Covenant or Avery to use the ring to bring about the destruction of the Land they wish to protect. Foul has a knack for being able to put his opponents in situations in which their particular characteristics will work against them and to allow them to gain powers precisely tailored for them to misuse. In Avery’s case, Foul has two weapons to wield against her, her love for Covenant and her desire to save her son, Jeremiah, who Foul has under his control. To better aid Avery in allowing her to bring about the doom of the Land, Foul has allowed Avery to regain the Staff of Law, which she now wields in addition to Covenant’s ring.
At the end of Runes of Earth, Avery was reunited with a resurrected Covenant and Jeremiah. Covenant, now a part of the Arch of Time, is no longer the same man whom Avery once knew. Covenant has a plan to destroy Foul, but he needs Avery’s help and Avery, with good reason, does not trust Covenant. The book is a bit slow until you hit page 266, at which point everything changes. The second half of the book has some awesome fight scenes. Particularly with Avery having to take on an adult and very twisted Roger Covenant.
If Lord of the Rings is the greatest overall fantasy series ever written then the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant has the most sophisticated characters. In a way this can become a weakness of Stephen Donaldson. At times he becomes too smart for his own good and makes his characters too complicated much in the same way that Frank Herbert, in the later Dune books, made his characters so complex that they were reduced to incomprehensibility. Donaldson though manages to keep his characters human in ways that Herbert, despite his unquestionable genius, failed to do.
Fatal Revenant, as with the rest of the Covenant Chronicles, is an experience. Be warned though, whatever you might think of fantasy, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are anything but light reading.
Long Live the Unbeliever.

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