When Thomas Covenant contracts leprosy he struggles to come to terms with the fact that he has a disease that is possibly incurable; despite the fact that the disease can be kept in check with drugs, he almost regresses into madness when he loses a finger.
While in a fragile state he attempts to save someone’s life and finds himself transported into a world full of adventure, danger and magic. Thomas assumes that the world he finds himself in is simply a delusion as his mind slips into madness; to further reinforce this belief, he finds that his leprosy has also been cured.
In Illearth, he reluctantly becomes the ‘hero’ of a band of strange followers who see him as a powerful magician who is in the position of a Golden ring (his wedding band) that signifies his vast ‘white gold’ power. Thomas (the unbeliever) pursues the adventure without really committing to the world, his belief that it doesn’t exist still strong – thus he is forced to commit many mistakes and commit acts that he considers evil – in his ‘mad’ state he does not care or even realize what his actions signify. He ultimately must battle against the evil Lord Foul not only to save the world but also to redeem his tortured and troubled soul…..
The Thomas Covenant books are not for the faint hearted; readers who are easily offended should not even attempt to them as the book deals with some disturbing and dark issues including rape. As the main character believes he is being delusional, he commits crimes he would not normally – this is an interesting look into the mental state and how the line between good and evil becomes fuzzy when you are not in your ‘right’ mind. This moral discussion in a fantasy setting is a very real and intriguing commentary.
Thomas isn’t your traditional ‘sword and sorcery’ hero – he’s a reluctant hero, and some could even call him an anti-hero in a way as he often abuses his power and becomes very irresponsible at times. The whole book can be seen as a metaphor of our current society.
Donaldson has created a dark and sinister world tinged with enough reality to make it believable. It’s an imperfect world full of flawed characters and it manages to parallel modern times very well, albeit in a magical way. His writing style is very good, entwining excellent characters with subtlety and a powerful storyline for of danger and suffering to produce one of the darkest fantasies of modern times, and one of the most rewarding.
Donaldson cleverly changes Thomas as he moves through the land and together the reader and Thomas experience the land becoming more real as he (an we) realize that it is a real world, with real living breathing people in it. You can feel the responsibility weigh heavily on Thomas!
This book is not a traditional fantasy book; it does have many elements of traditional fantasy (like Lord of the Rings) but it becomes more of an examination of the power and potential abuses of the human spirit. It’s daunting in the way it makes you look at your own character and flaws, as you see Thomas’s vulnerability in the book.
Interestingly, as you view the whole Thomas Covenant sage, you begin to realize that it’s a rite of passage for Thomas Covenant – his acceptance of his disease goes hand in hand with the acceptance of Illearth, and the many distinct plots that we follow and characters we meet are all part of the tapestry that is Thomas covenant.
If you can get through the books, then you will really be amazed at the quality of the series -it’s very dark, and yes it is very hard to read, but if you can struggle through to the end then you’ll be very satisfied with the challenge that you have passed.
The first and second chronicles of Thomas covenant (I’m currently reading the final chronicles) are up there with the best fantasy I’ve read -the exploration of the depravity and darkness of the human soul make it stand out as a superior series….