The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever Analysis

Stephen R. Donaldson

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The six novels describing the life of Thomas Covenant are split into two trilogies, known as The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever and The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. As the series begins, Thomas Covenant, newly published and well received, is writing his second novel while his wife, Joan, visits her parents. Returning some weeks later, she discovers a purple lesion on his right hand. He consults a physician, receives a diagnosis of leprosy, and loses two fingers to amputation. In terror of infection, Joan divorces Covenant while he is in a leprosarium, learning to survive the disease that renders him numb, impotent, and outcast from society.

When he returns to Haven Farm, he finds that neighbors have eliminated the necessity for human contact, to the point of having his groceries delivered. Defiant and lonely, Covenant forces contact by paying his telephone bill in person. A strange old prophet outside the telephone company tells him to “be true.” Confused, Covenant stumbles into the path of a car. He awakes in a swirl of fog atop a high rock tower called Kevin’s Watch, in an alternate reality. The evil voice of Lord Foul the Despiser commands him to tell the Lords of the Land at Revelstone that the Staff of Law, lost by late High Lord Kevin, has been found by the warped cavewight Drool Rockworm.

Covenant, incapacitated by vertigo, is rescued by the barely postpubescent Lena, who takes him to her parents’ home. When Lena treats his wounds with hurtloam, Covenant’s body regains sensation. He realizes that his disease-induced impotence has ended. Overwhelmed by his returned sensations and convinced that he is dreaming, he rapes Lena. Lena’s mother, Atiaran, learns of the rape as she leads Covenant to Revelstone. Although she is appalled, Atiaran keeps her promise to guide him.


(The entire section is 757 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The transformation of the central figure from ordinary to heroic stature is a standard pattern in many fantasies, from Bilbo and Frodo...

(The entire section is 79 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although Donaldson's fictive world of the Land is alien to readers, the ideas which he explores there are not: they are the standard ones...

(The entire section is 298 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was an important influence on Donaldson's perceptions of what fantasy literature is all about, as...

(The entire section is 1525 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although Donaldson appears to take up where he left off with the start of the second Thomas Covenant trilogy — The Wounded Land, The One...

(The entire section is 363 words.)