The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson

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(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

A key theme of this trilogy centers around the question of health. Not only has Covenant's leprosy destroyed his body, it is also an apt metaphor for the spiritual and moral decay that has eroded his ability to act in the cause of good. He no longer believes that he can make choices, take charge of his life or give it meaning; furthermore, he does not believe that he holds the power to do these things for others. Thus Covenant's forced journeys to the Land serve as much to teach him the value of responsible living as they do to block the inroads made by the evil necromancer, Lord Foul. In addition, Covenant is also forced to learn to accept the fact that others, more weak than he, depend on him for guidance; he must accept the burden of their trust. In the "real world" Covenant may be able to refuse to confront his problems, in the Land he is compelled to find answers — even though he continues to insist that this strange place is only a nightmare, a bad dream that will end if he can just make himself wake up.

The Land becomes the arena in which Covenant learns to overcome the most deadly of sins, despair. In his real world Covenant had lost everything he valued most: his wife, son, and the companionship of neighbors — all because of his disease, something over which he has no control. Thus Covenant is sent, or more correctly is dragged, into the Land where he gradually overcomes his self-pity and where he learns the virtue of self-sacrifice.

This first trilogy also examines the nature of divinity and the meaning of good and evil. Through Thomas Covenant and by means of the conflict in which Covenant plays an integral part, Donaldson explores and explains the nature of the threat to the Land, and, by extension, the way in which he perceives the "real" universe to work. Good and evil exist in both realms; the answers Covenant learns in one world have validity in the other. Covenant's quest is really an attempt to give meaning to his life in both worlds.

Although the Land is not an existential universe, its Creator will take no active part in the battle that rages there between good and evil. Like Covenant, people of the Land must choose to throw off evil; they must be strong enough in their own right to overcome the power of Lord Foul.

In all of his long fiction , as well as in most of his short stories, Donaldson continues to explore a central theme: the meaning of heroism and the process by which even the most unwilling — and usually the most unlikely — individuals are transformed into true heroes. In...

(The entire section is 687 words.)