Adventures in the Land: Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson

It was 1979, I was 16 and lost in Middle-earth. I’d been lost there for a year. I never wanted to escape but this was in a time when all that there was of Middle-earth was The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – not even The Silmarillion had been published yet, let alone the twelve volumes of the History of Middle-earth. I had copied out, by hand, the map of Middle-earth and hung it on my bedroom wall. I had traced the Shire map and put it on my desk. Each night, I prayed that I might wake up in Middle-earth and leave this mundane world of O-levels and drear behind. I never wanted to leave Middle-earth, but there wasn’t that much of it out there yet.

So it’s no surprise that, when I saw a book commended with the tag line, ‘Comparable to Tolkien at his best’, I picked it up. If memory serves, it was The Sunday Times that had made the comparison. I read the back cover and I was sold.

Thus began my travels in the Land. At 16, I drove through the hundreds and hundreds of pages of the first and second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, six volumes in all that must have come in at something close to twice the length of The Lord of the Rings, with the time-rich dedication that is only possible when you’re a teenager. I loved it, the richness of the Land, the invention of the Bloodguard, warriors so oathbound that even death waits in thrall to their sworn word, the Giants, creatures of mirth and story rather than the dim-witted foils of Jack, and most of all the Land itself. I loved it until…in common with almost everyone else who has ever read the books, I ended up so irritated, frustrated and fed up with Thomas Covenant that I just wanted to wring his neck. Just stop the self-pity and do something man.

For Thomas Covenant is the wearer of a white-gold ring, the wielder of wild magic, a leper granted health in a world of wonders and the bloody idiot wants nothing to do with it. Come on! I went to bed each night praying to wake up in Middle-earth: he gets the Land which, while not Middle-earth, is still pretty good, and all he wants to do is go back. I mean, why? He’s a leper, he’s lost, lonely, bitter and isolated. Why would he want to go back?

So my initial joy at finding a world as involving as Middle-earth slowly frizzled away, gnawed away by overwhelming character irritation.

But when I got married, the ring I chose was a plain band of white gold.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply