Farewell to My Favorite Leper

Loren RossonThirty-six years.

That’s a long time since we first met Thomas Covenant and wet our toes in a fantasy series that somehow became a 10-volume sprawl.

And if “The Last Dark” sounds like a grim conclusion, it is, which makes it right at home in today’s Game of Thrones climate of moral ambiguity.

The Last Dark by Stephen R. Donaldson

The Last Dark by Stephen R. Donaldson. Available at the library in hardcover.

Unlike George Martin, however, Stephen Donaldson is an acquired taste. Not only are his characters all shades of grey, they’re very depressing, and for some readers the self-loathing can be suffocating.

Thomas Covenant is a leper, and also a rapist; Linden Avery a tormented woman for being forced to watch her father’s suicide as a child, and murdering her sick mother as a teenager. They are loners from our world (the “real world”), but in The Land find themselves taking on the mythic roles of archetypes. Coming to terms with their inner demons is what enables them to combat external evils in The Land more effectively.

Boost your vocabulary
Then there is Donaldson’s vocabulary, which is rich and aesthetic but sometimes gets out of hand. Stephen R. Donaldson Ate My Dictionary offers an amusing catalog of words found throughout the chronicles–and a great way for teens to improve their SAT scores.

And I love Donaldson’s metaphors and similes. For instance:

“Her joints protested as she forced herself to her feet, and shambled forward like a poorly articulated manikin.” (The Runes of the Earth, Chapter 5).

Or:

“He took long draughts of the harsh wine with an air of outrage, as if he were swallowing insults.” (Fatal Revenant, Chapter 8)

You’ll find gems like these on every other page.

The 10 novels make up three chronicles. The first consists of Lord Foul’s Bane, The Illearth War, and The Power That Preserves. The second includes The Wounded Land, The One Tree, and White Gold Wielder. The last is a quartet: The Runes of the Earth, Fatal Revenant, Against All Things Ending, and The Last Dark.

The first chronicle is a Tolkien-like clash of armies with clearly defined good and bad guys. The second is a horror show, involving the corruption of magic, the poisoning of weather and land, and blood sacrifice. And the last has raised the bar with the ambitious theme of time travel.

In all the books, the enemy is a being called Lord Foul (the Despiser), who wants, like all mythic foes, to ruin beauty and make people suffer for sheer love of despite. His methods become more convoluted and hard to figure out in each of the chronicles.

Farewell my friend
Thomas Covenant has been a part of me for a long time now, and it was emotional turning the final page of The Last Dark. I’ll miss him and Linden, and all the friends they made in the strange, passionate world of The Land.

About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

1 comment to Farewell to My Favorite Leper