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An attempt at an assessment

 
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call11back
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 05, 2016 8:52 pm    Post subject: An attempt at an assessment Reply with quote

So I have finally reread all of the Thomas Covenant books from first (LFB) to last (TLD). I feel like I can finally wrap my head around The Last Chronicles and give some insightful thoughts. So here goes...

1. Donaldson has mastered the art of describing complex action sequences.

The battle of First Woodhelven is the best but certainly not the only example of this. In The Last Chronicles Donaldson seems to revel in his ability to depict action scenes overloaded with differing combatants, actions and goals simply and clearly. Again and again, Donaldson will take an action sequence and multiply its complexity to insane lengths without meandering from the concise narrative line. I can think of no other author who has done this so well and so consistently, and this is one of the great strengths of The Last Chronicles.

2. Too many episodes seem slow and pointless.

This is easily my biggest complaint about The Last Chronicles. There are too many parts where either Linden or Covenant discuss the consequences of their actions with their companions or Linden and the Giants wander around hungry lacking in a real goal. Sorry, but there is just too much of stuff like that in The Last Chronicles. Fatal Revenant is my favorite book of the four in large part because Linden has fairly clear goals towards which she is progressing. Too much of the rest of the time, the movement from one plot point to the next seems kind of aimless.

3. SRD can write convincingly and compellingly about the real world.

I'm guessing this is not as much of a surprise to those of you who have read The Man Who.. books, but SRD really nails the real world in the prologue. Compare the prologue to the real world scenes in the first trilogy. Susie Thurston and her husband, the revival preacher and his assistant, Sherriff Lytton, etc., all of them are stereotypical characters who merely show up to advance the plot. On the other hand, the Sheriff Lytton in The Last Chronicles is fleshed out quite nicely. I was so hoping that he got shot and sucked into the Land, Little touches add to the realism of very minor characters such as Megan Roman and Sandy. The world of the prologue sucks the reader in, just like Linden and Jeremiah are sucked into The Land. It is a fine piece of writing.

4. Where has the magic gone?

One of the joys of reading the first two chronicles was the richly imagined and magical setting in which the action took place. The Land was a revelation in the first chornicles, with every new place imbued with it's own magic. Then we see Lord Foul warp the magic of The Land to his will, but it still remains magical and wondrous. Yet most of the action seems to take place in non-descript wilderness in The Last Chronicles. The Verge of Wandering, the lower land beyond the Sarangrave, the desolate seashore where Foul's Creche once stood, the resting place of the quellvisk bones, all of these are more or less nondescript wilderness locations. There are exceptions, of course, the Lost Deep is powerfully imagined, for example, but in general the magic seems to have seeped out of The Land. While this may reinforce the theme that the Masters have shackled the potential of The Land, I still find this a bit dismal.

5. Characterization is the other literary skill that SRD mastered.

Characterization, characterization, characterization. Who is Thomas Covenant? In the First Chronicles we get that answer largely through his conversations with Foamfollower and Mhoram, and his internal monologues. Who is Linden Avery? We get this answer through what she does, and the changes she goes through are extreme and shocking despite the fact that SRD does not cheat and gives us plenty of indications of where Linden is going. The Last Chronicles, as good as it is, may not be SRD's supreme acheivement here. The Gap books at least equal this in the transformations of Angus and Morn. I here do apologize to SRD for my very critical and negative first reading of The Gap books. I did not live up to your expectations of me as a reader on the first reading of The Gap books. Further readings impressed me much more. Once again, SRD, I apologize.

6. The Last Chronicles demands careful reading, or re-reading.

As hinted at above, while SRD moves his narrative along in a logical fashion, he often does so in subtle ways that ask the reader to pay careful attention. SRD is fair, though. Paying careful attention to repeated thematic statements, and to mild variations on them, signal quite significant shifts in character and plot that come as a surprise even though they were telegraphed.

7. SRD does not shy away from difficult themes.

It is so simple to adhere to hoary chestnuts like "The means do not justify the ends." SRD isnt' doing that. He turns tired aphorisms upside down, in the case by stating that good can be accomplished through evil means and realistically exploring what that means and what the consequences of that might be. That is just one example. The Last Chronicles is, in some ways, much more mature, more thoughtful and wiser than SRD's other works. The idea of the Deus Ex Machina is another one that SRD upends.

8. SRD always nails it the second time.

My favorite book in each of the chronicles is the second one. The epic military struggle in The Illearth Stone, the wonders of exploring the wider world in The One Tree, the episodic clarity and truly masterful writing in Fatal Revenant... SRD nails the second book every time. And the Second Chronicles are my favorite as well. I could not put those boodks down for even a moment.
And yet... if you asked me to choose a work that shaped my life, after the Bible, it would be the First Chronicles.....
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 05, 2016 9:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great post, call11back. It's nice when people put some effort into something cogent and detailed rather than off-the-cuff.

I can tell you from my own experiences that there's a lot of things that come together in your head only after you re-read it and put some effort into understanding things. For example, I think I get SWMNBN now, but it took a long time.

What I still haven't totally figured out is Thomas Covenant. But I figure if I keep gnawing at the edges I will eventually get to the chewy center.

What you don't mention is whether or not the second read has improved the series in your estimation, or not. Many people have claimed that this was so. So I cannot help but to be curious.

I'm not sure if you're looking for comments on your commentary. I agree with many things; I could argue for a different assessment on some others. However, your comments about "difficult themes" is right on the mark as far as I am concerned. The Chronicles has always been centered around "epic vision" -- the fight from futility to effectiveness -- and Donaldson had the guts to propose "ultimate answers" to everything he ever dared to address.

Hope you start or continue some other discussions.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2016 8:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent post, call11back, I agree with lots of what you say. FR is my favourite of the LCs as well, although I also really enjoyed the first half of The Last Dark also.

I agree that SRD's real-world writing is very good in the LCs, and I'd have to take issue with some of the characterisation in the last series. I found it much harder to warm to people like Liand and Marthir than say Hyrim or Hollian. We have discussed a number of times here SRD's treatment of the Giants in the LCs, and how they seem more like packhorses and number-maker-uppers than individuals.

Great contribution though, hope we hear more from you!

u.
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2017 12:18 am    Post subject: Re: An attempt at an assessment Reply with quote

call11back wrote:

1. Donaldson has mastered the art of describing complex action sequences.

The battle of First Woodhelven is the best but certainly not the only example of this. In The Last Chronicles Donaldson seems to revel in his ability to depict action scenes overloaded with differing combatants, actions and goals simply and clearly. Again and again, Donaldson will take an action sequence and multiply its complexity to insane lengths without meandering from the concise narrative line. I can think of no other author who has done this so well and so consistently, and this is one of the great strengths of The Last Chronicles.


While he had that ability before, I did not find that with the LC. It got way too overloaded. Tedious is how I would describe the battles scenes in the last 3 books.




Quote:

5. Characterization is the other literary skill that SRD mastered.


He is the master of this. I can not think of another writer where I understand character motivations so well.

Quote:

8. SRD always nails it the second time.


We have to agree to disagree on this one. I thought the second book was the weakest of both of the first two series. FR may be the best of the LC but it is still deeply flawed.
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2017 4:56 am    Post subject: Re: An attempt at an assessment Reply with quote

slickthomas wrote:
call11back wrote:

8. SRD always nails it the second time.

We have to agree to disagree on this one. I thought the second book was the weakest of both of the first two series. FR may be the best of the LC but it is still deeply flawed.

Interesting. I can understand considering The One Tree the weakest of the 2nd Chrons, but there is a strong case that The Illearth War may be the strongest of the 1st Chrons. Both Lord Foul's Bane and The Power That Preserves had some strong scenes and fantastic writing, along with some flat spots. The Illearth War demonstrated the same high level of quality, but was a much more consistently well-honed tome than the other two.
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2017 7:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

slickthomas wrote:
We have to agree to disagree on this one. I thought the second book was the weakest of both of the first two series. FR may be the best of the LC but it is still deeply flawed.


I agree that Fatal Revenant is the strongest of the Last Chronicles books, but I don't see that it's deeply flawed, so must respectfully disagree with that part. For the First Chronicles, I like The Power That Preserves the best, as I was deeply moved by a lot of it, particularly the ending chapters. For the Second Chronicles, I like The Wounded Land the best...there's something eerily fascinating about how the Sunbane has warped the Land, plus I love the 'Coercri" chapter.
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