Nov 23, 2010

The Unbeliever

I've mentioned this before, but even though I'm a huge fan of science-fiction I'm probably an even bigger fan of the fantasy genre. Or at least I was in the past. I haven't read a good fantasy/sword and sorcery book in ages. I don't know why I stopped. Maybe it was just a matter of growing past them. But some of my favorite literary memories have to do with the fantasy genre. Stuff like Robert E. Howard's Conan work, Terry Brooks' early Shannara books, Fritz Lieber writing about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Michael Moorcock's tales of his albino hero Elric of Melniboné, and (of course) Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

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'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?


Avitable said...

I'm not a fan of fantasy, but that does sound interesting. If they ever show up for the Kindle, I'll give them a shot.

Of course, you think the LOTR movies were good, so I know how skewed your opinion is.

limpy99 said...

I read the first six. Loved the first trilogy; wasn't all that excited about the direction Donaldson went in with the second. I doubt I'll read any of the third.

Now if you'll excuse me, my Bloodguard says it's time for me to go to work.

Mrs. Hall said...

these kind of books are all bait and switch. you come for the lepers and the fantasy world but the real themes, the dark, the lonely, the evil of humanity, this keeps you coming back for more.

like The Walking Dead. Sure, you come for the Zombies, but you stay for the sheriff, his best friend and the dark themes in a world that has ended. Dang that's a good show.

or like twilight, you come for the vampires but you stay for the edward and bella, the crazy all consuming teenage love . . . the arsty outsider girl in us all . .

oh wait . . forget that last one . . unless you have the twilight love . . you wouldn't understand :)

Verdant Earl said...

Avitable - I do love the LoTR films. But I actually think that these were better written books than Tolkien's stuff. Derivative, of course. But so was Tolkien.

Limpy - I wasn't happy to begin with in the Second Chronicles, but The One Tree became my favorite installment of all six books. The Giant ship, Sandgorgon's Doom, The Elohim, the Guardian of the Tree, etc... And Linden Avery was such an interesting character. I wound up loving the Second Chronicles. "Nom"

Verdant Earl said...

Holly - Yeah, I don't get the Twilight love. Mostly because I haven't read the books or seen the films. But I used to feel the same way about the Harry Potter books and I wound up loving them, so...

sybil law said...

I would definitely give those books a try! My book list keeps growing - yay!

Faiqa said...

I think I might actually read them, they sound good. I have TRIED so MANY times to read Lord of the Rings, and I just end up getting bored out of my mind. And I like fantasy well enough. Loved the movies, though.

Verdant Earl said...

Sybil - Like I said, I hope they make it onto the Kindle one of these days.

Faiga - I totally understand finding the LotR boring. I think they are kinda boring...and I love them! So much detail though. It's an interesting read and an important one, but it can drag.

Heff said...

I'm a fan of CERTAIN fantasy, lol.

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Not a huge fan of this genre. I love a great memoir. Especially one that weaves a tale of triumph over adversity. I'm a sucker for a happy ending.

Verdant Earl said...

Heff - a little role-playing fantasy stuff with Officer Donna, eh? I get it. ;)

Candy - This is EXACTLY like that! Or not so much.