January 22nd, 2016

Macbeth the Usurper

Lord Foul's Bane (Top Fantasy Novels of the 1970s)

Lord Foul's Bane (1977) begins Stephen R. Donaldson's epic fantasy, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Thomas Covenant is a leper, and must keep his wits about him because his leprosy demands vigilance. When summoned into an alternate world, the Land, the magical healing of the world heals his body, but in his soul, he is still a leper.

This is a divisive book. I've known far too many people, mostly women, who simply could not read the series. The world and the outlook posed to them simply did not work. Of all the books that I've read from the 70's, this is the only one that requires a trigger warning. The protagonist rapes a girl.

The book hit like lighting in the 70's. This is one of those books that dared to be different. It gave us an unlikable man who didn't want to be a hero. Donaldson gave us a different narrative to "yes, I'll be the chosen one." He gave us sturm and drag. He gave us doubt that the protagonist would do the right thing, and in many cases, veering from the epic fantasy script.

Underneath all that, the book itself is a fairly exemplary epic fantasy. It has dwarves, elves, kung fu easterners, wizards, goblins, and all that, except that they've had their serial numbers filed off. They may be described as humans and cavewrights and ur-viles, but we readers know better. Lord Foul has returned after a thousand years, threatening to take over the land. In response, the Lords must defeat the evil Drool Rockworm and recover the Staff of Law. Between good and evil is wild magic, white gold, the very wedding ring that Covenant wears upon his finger.

As far as villains go, they chew the scenery very well. Their rants come across as rather theatrical. Lord Foul even gives his evil rant at the beginning of the novel. There's no need to wait.

Lord Foul's Bane is the weakest book in this first trilogy of Thomas Covenant. I often felt myself unengaged and uninterested in the main event. I honestly didn't care who lived or died. Donaldson's writing is quite competent, often flowing, but the overall work often falls flat.