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Donaldson Strikes Again!
on October 12, 2014
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is a worthy successor to the first trilogy. It seems somewhat surprising that it was written at all, though it turns out to be a pleasant and gratifying surprise.
Donaldson never intended to write a follow-up series about Thomas Covenant. The story stood complete. However, his publisher very much wanted more Covenant from Donaldson. After reading the Second Chronicles, I can vaguely imagine what must have happened in Donaldson's mind. In effect, he asked himself: "How could I write another Covenant story without repeating myself? Might I really be able to put new wine in old bottles? Is there a way to say something new here that would allow me to retain my interest in the story, as well as my integrity and self-respect as a serious writer?" He then found a way to do just that.
In the first series, Covenant struggled against leprosy. In the second series, he struggles against venom acquired during his return to the land. In the first series, Covenant had to learn to fight his inner despiser by unleashing the wild magic. In the second series he learns all about the powerlessness of power and the need for restraint. Covenant acts more like what you would expect from a protagonist in the Second Chronicles. However, all his former victories begin to lose their usefulness as Covenant confronts the new paradoxes of power he experiences in the land. Personal conundrums reappear.
Covenant is joined in "the land" by Dr. Linden Avery, a woman with problems of her own and special land-acquired talents as well. The relationship between Covenant and Avery (Covenant as quasi-mentor to an admiring Avery, Avery as Doctor and Nurse to an increasingly sick Covenant, Avery and Covenant as romantic partners, Covenant and Avery's tension filled collaboration against Foul) is complex, and central to the story.
Covenant is tempted to destructive unrestraint and despair by Lord Foul, who has turned the land Covenant loves so much into a place of horror. Donaldson shows great bravery and displays prodigious creative imagination as he turns the land we remember from the first series inside out. After accomplishing this feat in The Wounded Land, Donaldson steps outside his comfort zone again in The One Tree by having Covenant, Avery and assorted helpers leave the land behind entirely, exploring new territories in pursuit of means to fight against Foul's desecration of the land. White Gold Wielder involves the return to the land, and 2 big showdowns.
In the Second Chronicles, Donaldson does not rest on his laurels or refuse to take risks. The Covenant story moves forward simultaneously on many different fronts-this is a series teeming with life and vitality. In addition, Donaldson shows serious growth as a writer. I've already mentioned Donaldson's increasingly fertile imagination. And even as Donaldson is reinventing his fantasy settings, he is learning to make them seem more complex and lived in. Further, Donaldson's prose has become more graceful and fluid, and the plotting more complex. The Second Chronicles remains as humane and philosophical as the first series, with themes that are different from, but largely emerge out of, the original trilogy. The Wounded Land and The One Tree are both strong candidates for being the best single Covenant book, and the Giants in this series, especially Pitchwife, are absolutely wonderful. (I think as fondly of Pitchwife-showcased most effectively in The One Tree-as I do of Lord Mhoram, my personal favorite from the first series.)
Though I love the Second Chronicles, I wouldn't go so far as to rank it above the original trilogy. (I oscillate between considering it "as good" and "almost as good" as the original.) Covenant's struggles with venom, Avery's struggles with her personal demons, the complex relationship between these two characters- all this is great, but none of it strikes me with the same visceral impact as Covenant's struggles with leprosy from the first series. In addition, the angst and emotional drama in the Second Chronicles, though usually very powerful, comes across, on occasion, as extravagantly excessive. I've never thought the same about the first trilogy.
But however one decides to rank these 2 trilogies, the important point is this: The Second Chronicles is clearly a classic fantasy series that enriches the Covenant story and enhances Donaldson's stature as a writer.
Beyond 5 stars