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The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever

Posted: May 7th, 2015, 9:12 pm
by Atarifever
I fully expect no one here has read these (although I have an inkling someone here told me once before that they did), but there's the new forum, so I wanted to see if anyone else had. In brief, it's the (fantasy) story of an American authour with leprosy who goes to a world full of magic whenever he goes unconscious (happens three times in the first three books).

The "Unbeliever" part comes from the fact that he actually believes he's having a psychotic break (in response to his horrible life as a leper) and doesn't believe anything happening in the fantasy world is really happening, or actually matters. That makes it complicated, because if it is real, his white gold wedding ring and his being there make him essentially the best hope "The Land" has to be saved from evil. Not only does he not want to help, he believes giving in to the fantasy will lead to him going insane.

This series is dark and sad in the extreme (and sometimes, unfortunately, angsty). It is almost a chore to get through, especially given Stephen Donaldson's complicated language use (I'd say he writes with a thesaurus handy, but I'm not even sure a really good thesaurus could suggest these word choices). It is, thus, hard to read because it is so brooding and dark, but also because it is actually difficult to read. However, the payoff at the end of each of the first 2 trilogies is so good, they are probably my favourite books of any genre that I have ever read.

I love these books. I will eventually have a T-Shirt made that says "I'm a leper... I can stand anything" and if you don't know why, I suggest that you should go read the books and find out.

Re: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever

Posted: May 7th, 2015, 10:03 pm
by scotland
I have read the 1st and 2nd chronicles, my friend.

They are a great counterpoint to Tolkien and his imitators, like Terry Brooks' Shannara. The protagonist is an unlikeable anti hero, sick in body and soul, in a fantasy world that is also not coincidentally sick in body and soul. His story begins with him acting reprenensibly, and that others see him as their great hope is depressing. Lots to think about...who are our heroes, what do we owe to others in worlds (or neighborhoods) we barely consider real, can people be forgiven for horrible deeds, etc.

Its been years since I have read these.

I reread his Mordants Need duology the other year when given them as a gift. He flips his narrative to a person who feels their real life is the unreality and the fantasy world the real one, among other things. I found it less interesting on its own, but interesting as a comparison.

Re: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever

Posted: May 7th, 2015, 10:39 pm
by Atarifever
Well, looks like I need to read Mordant's need. That sounds like how I find "The Regualtors" by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) a pretty boring book, but paired with "Desperation" it becomes something much bigger.

I would love for someone, somehow to turn The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant into a high production TV show, but am certain his reprehensible act in the first novel would lead to it becoming a huge controversy, with people only looking at the surface level seeing it as an immoral book. Never mind that that single act has more fallout in the rest of the first two trilogies than almost anything else that happens, and that Covenant is never really excused for the act, least of all by himself.

As for Terry Brooks, I also like much of his stuff. The Sword of Shannara is more an interesting tweaking of the Lord of the Rings than a whole new book, where the characters and situations are similar, but changed in interesting ways, when you really look at it. The followup series "The Heritage of Shannara" is, in my opinion, his best work, and some of the best fantasy I've ever read. In particular, "The Druid of Shannara" would be an incredible standalone book in its own right. MTV is currently working with Terry Brooks on the second best book he ever did, doing a TV show for "The Elfstones of Shannara." Given the source material, I am hoping for more of "Arrow meets 'Game of Thrones'" than the much more likely "Legend of the Seeker meets Xena Warrior Princess."

Re: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever

Posted: May 8th, 2015, 8:31 am
by scotland
Don't rush out for Mordants Need. It really could have been a single book, the villain may as well be called Snidley Whiplash as he is right out of some melodrama, the protagonist is not just weak willed but weakly created, etc. It seemed like he was writing because he was building on his success, and probably just playing with the juxtapositions. It does not leave the lasting impact of The Unbeliever stories.

Speaking of impact, I may only have read the first three Shannara books. It was the almost mythological ending of Elfstones that left the lasting impact. Just was looking at Druid of Shannara at a used book I may have to return for it.

A Covenant tv series would be risky. If his horrible deed was shown to be part of a brutish world, it would be one act among many and the public may accept it...but as you point out his act has lasting impact, including on his own psyche. If his bad deed was just about anything other than what he would get a lot of pushback...but could be interesting.

One problem is that a reason ( not an excuse) for what he does ties to his sickness. Readers and viewers want to get to Fantasy Land quickly, but you need time in his real world as a foundation. I always think British writers do this we need to see Harry Potter in the Dursley home to understand Harry, or time with Charlie in poverty before he meets Willy Wonka.

Re: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever

Posted: May 11th, 2015, 11:22 am
by JustLikeHeaven
Funny you should mention this. I have a co-worker who has been talking about this series and trying to get me to read them. They're on my short list of fantasy books to dive into.