Back to the fiction – Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson

BOOK REVIEW                                                                                                                       (Staff, 7-9, 10-12)

This Back to the fiction segment comes to you from Jack Kirne (Year 12).

Jack has a brilliant review of part of a trilogy of fantasy novels by Stephen R. Donaldson: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever

  After J. R. R. Tolkien’s magnificent ‘Lord of the Rings’ the world ‘fantasy’  was changed forever. Receiving both commercial and critical success, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ has become one of the best known imaginative works of the twentieth century. Consequently authors have tried to copy this formula to capture the minds and hearts of the public – but instead this led to the genre becoming, on the most part, generic and clichéd, and while Tolkien’s work held steady, while its genre slowly lost its magic.

Amongst this scene “Lord Foul’s Bane” (1997), emerged. Initially rejected by over forty publishers and written by an unknown author by the name of Stephen R. Donaldson it told the tale of a leper named Thomas Covenant, who after being hit by a police car is thrown into a new and mysterious world. Here he is cleansed of his disease and welcomed as a great hero as his mangled hand and wedding ring give him the resemblance to a great hero of the past.

However, Thomas Covenant cannot accept this world believing it is the product of his sick mind and he rejects everything and everything in it – naming himself ‘the unbeliever’. Bestowed with a message from the ominous (and un-creatively named) ‘Lord Foul’ to the Lords of Revelstone, a tale begins of a man who is expected to save the world by its inhabitants, but who refuses to do so.

Donaldson clearly doesn’t want us to like Covenant, he is rude, arrogant, selfish, and has no respect for local customs (perhaps a critique of the American Tourist!). Within the first one hundred pages Covenant has broken every rule of what the typical fantasy hero ‘should’ be sealed by his rape of a local village girl, Lena.

Spanning three novels ‘Lord Fouls Bane’, ‘The Illearth war’ and the ‘ The Power that Preserves’ The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant tells a story of extreme suffering and woe, filled with rape, horrific violence, mixed intentions, the follies of man, sacrifice and ultimately how the best of intentions can lead to total disaster. This is all brought to life by Donaldsons magnificent, cinematic writing. Some literary critics have described Donaldsons tale of one of horror rather than one of fantasy. Exploring ideas that Tolkien contended could not exist in ‘high fantasy’, Donaldson’s work is a masterpiece, telling not a story of people who overcome evil despite impossible odds but rather one full of failures and the desperate attempt to survive.

To top it all off the battle scenes are truly spectacular. Brought to life by cinematic writing the two major wars that span the books II-III are unforgettable, often matching and sometimes topping Tolkien’s masterpiece.

Recently re-published in a singular edition, The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is a must read if your into fantasy, horror, the human condition or if you’re looking for something just a bit different.  This is adult fantasy at its finest – dark, thought provoking and importantly moving. A modern classic.


Some interesting quotes;

1.       Foamfollower’s question caught him wandering. “Are you a storyteller, Thomas Covenant?”

Absently, he replied, “I was, once.”

“And you gave it up? Ah, that is as sad a tale in three words as any you might have told me. But a life without a tale is like a sea without salt. How do you live?”

Covenant folded his arms across the gunwales and rested his chin on them. As the boat moved, Andelain opened constantly in front of him like a bud; but he ignored it, concentrated instead on the plaint of water past the prow. Unconsciously, he clenched his fist over his ring. “I live.”

2.       “Where I come from we don’t see– If you don’t know the annual cycles of the plants, you can’t tell the difference between spring and summer. If you don’t have a–have a standard of comparison, you can’t recognize– But the world is beautiful–what’s left of it, what we haven’t damaged.” Images of Haven Farm sprang irrefutably across his mind. He could not restrain the mordancy of his tone as he concluded, “We have beauty, too. We call it ‘scenery'”

“‘Scenery.'” Mhoram echoed. “The word is strange to me–but I do not like the sound.”

Covenant felt oddly shaken, as if he has just looked over his shoulder and found himself standing too close to a precipice. “It means that beauty is something extra,” he rasped. “It’s nice, but we can live without it.”

“Without?” Mhoram’s gaze glittered dangerously.

And from behind him Foamfollower breathed in astonishment, “Life without beauty? Ah, my friend! How do you resist despair?”

If you’re interested in Stephen R. Donaldson, here is a link to his website.

Thankyou, Jack, and we will be featuring another review from you soon.


2 thoughts on “Back to the fiction – Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson

  1. Great review, and excellent choice of quotes. I think I attempted to read this once but was put off by the qualities you mention above, the horror elements, the rape. Worth persevering do you think?

    Early in my editing/writing career I read manuscripts for a major Australian publisher and read so many bad rip offs of Lord of the Rings that when I tried to read Lord of the Rings before the movies came out it sounded like a bad rip off of itself!

    • Hey, thanks for replying – I’m feeling a little honoured.

      I think it is definitly worth reading but it is hard work, expecially the first half of the first book. But the pay off is enormous, simpilly because I dont think I have ever read anything quite like it.

      Thanks again,

      Jack Kirne

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