I guess Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke was the last great fantasy novel that I've read. But it was also a bit ponderous. I don't see myself re-reading that one for a long, long time. The Harry Potter books were good, but not life-altering great. Not for me, at least. I read them to find out where the tale was going to end. Once it did, I moved on. Although, I have to say that the films have all been excellent. Well, not so much with the last one, but ya know...
If pressed, I would say that Stephen R. Donaldson's first two Thomas Covenant trilogies (he's currently writing a third series...a planned tetralogy) are hands-down my favorite fantasy novels of all-time. I've probably read each trilogy about a half-dozen times, and I'm due for another reading. Which is what got me thinking about them today.
Thomas Covenant is a writer and outcast dealing with the his recent divorce from his wife, Joan who took their infant son with her. This all happened because Covenant unexpectedly was diagnosed with leprosy, even losing two fingers on his right hand from the disease. The leprosy also causes impotence, either physically or mentally fueled. Joan couldn't deal with living with a leper, so she leaves him during a period of time he spent in a leprosarium. Covenant deals with this by diving into the meticulous details of living the careful life of a leper. Shaving becomes a deadly ritual each day as the leprosy affects his nerve endings and he might not realize he had cut himself. So instead of using a safety razor, he insists on a painstakingly slow ritual with a straight razor. To keep himself grounded. These small details become his life.
Until he is transported into The Land after being knocked unconscious. The Land is your garden-variety fantasy world. Giants, magic, demon-like creatures and a big bad named Lord Foul the Despiser. In The Land, Covenant's leprosy is healed and he is mistaken for the reincarnation of a long-dead hero named Berek Halfhand. Along with the missing fingers, the white gold from his wedding band was the talisman for this former Lord and hero. Covenant doesn't believe any of this. He thinks he is suffering delusions or that he is in a coma and dreaming. So he gives himself a title: The Unbeliever.
I know...it's all sounds kinda silly. But it's one of those "buy the premise, buy the book" things. It's actually a very adult-themed book. And very dark. One of the first things he does after being healed by The Land is to rape the young woman who saved and healed him. Because his impotence was cured along with leprosy, ya see. Thomas Covenant is not your typical hero...far from it. Thus begins his long journey into redemption and salvation. He becomes the unwilling adversary to Lord Foul over a series of adventures as he travels back and forth between the real world and The Land. We soon find that he isn't even the only person from his world to have traveled into the The Land. And in the second trilogy, his emotionally damaged doctor is included in his travels.
It's tragic and gut-wrenching and exciting and everything that a series of fantasy novels should be. And more!
I remember when I first heard that The Lord of the Rings was going to made into a series of feature films. I was excited, but it was tempered by the thought that there was no way that any film series could do the novels justice. I was wrong on that last part. Peter Jackson did an incredible job with adapting the books into film. Here was one of my favorite fantasy works of all-time on the big screen. I couldn't believe it.
But it wasn't the set of books that I wanted to see adapted the most. That would be these Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. And, sad to say, this post isn't about me rejoicing over the news that they are finally going to be adapted. That will probably never happen. I mean, if I had "Bill Gates Fuck You" money, I would make sure that it got done. But I'm a fan and Mr. Gates probably isn't. Shame. Honestly, I would prefer an on-going series on SyFy. Maybe six years long. One for each book in the two trilogies. That would be awesome! Sigh.
I'm just thinking that, over time, these books have gotten a bit lost with the fan base. Sure, Donaldson is writing another series of books about the character. I haven't read any of them yet. I'm waiting until he finishes the series and I will read them all in a row. I'm too impatient nowadays to wait for each installment. But neither the First nor the Second Chronicles are even available for the Kindle these days. Not a good sign. Frankly, I'm not sure they were ever as popular as I thought they were. I had some friends back in high school and college who eagerly awaited each new installment. But maybe I was just hanging with a very specific literary crowd.
I probably didn't do a good job selling the books above. A leper? A fantasy world? Rape?!?! But if you are a fan of the genre or if you've ever been a fan in your youth, maybe you should track down these books and give them a chance.
I know I'm going to be giving them another read over the holiday season. What better way to celebrate than with a leper rapist?
___________________________________________________Note: Remember to play the Badgerdaddy Trivia Challenge every day. He's really not a very nice guy?