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Fatal Musings: Epic Vision
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 9:18 pm    Post subject: Fatal Musings: Epic Vision Reply with quote

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"Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have one before us, the labyrinth is fully known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world."

— Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces)


The Land of the Chronicles is filled with heroes, doing the things that heroes do: fighting evil, restoring peace, rescuing people in danger, and preserving the beauty of the Land. But the Chronicles are also about the nature of heroism; they are about where our capacity for heroism comes from. Sure, we can say that heroism comes from "inside us", but the Chronicles doesn't stop there - there's so much more to be said.

Donaldson isn't just exploring the ways that men and women can become heroes. He's reaching much further. He's willing us to believe that we can all be heroic, if we can find the path - the hero-path. And even more: he is creating a new way for stories to show us this path.

Donaldson calls this "epic vision".

In Epic Fantasy in the Modern World: A Few Observations, Donaldson hints at what he means by "epic vision".

"Epic" refers to epic stories: huge stories about great and important things. Donaldson claims that all epics are fantasy, and must be fantasy. "No other use of language, no other communicative tool would convey the size of what they wanted to say." Fantasy is the best and only medium which can sustain the scope and depth of an epic.

But "epic vision" doesn't arise from just any epic story.

According to Donaldson, the way epics have been written has been changing over the centuries. From Beowulf (8th century), to The Faerie Queen (1590), to Paradise Lost (1667), to Idylls of the King (1856), the humans in these epics have become more and more removed from the archetypal forces that control their fates. We've become more insignificant, more inconsequential, in our own epic stories. Because we perceive ourselves as being more insignificant, more inconsequential, in our cosmos.

And then, for a while, no one wrote epics any more.

Donaldson's idea about the dwindling of mankind in our own literature is not new, nor without substantiation. Northrop Frye's Theory of Modes was introduced in 1957. In it, Frye also demonstrates that a historical analysis of our literature suggests just such changes.

According to Frye, first came the Mythic Mode, exhibited by classical Greek and Roman literature, where the heroes of the stories are gods or people with god-like abilities. Then came the Romantic Mode, exhibited during medieval times, where the heroes are quasi-divine or otherwise superior to average humans. Then came the High Mimetic Mode, exhibited during the Renaissance, where heroes are people who have a high social position. Then came Low Mimetic, exhibited during the 18th and 19th centuries, where heroes were everyday people.

But it doesn't end there. Finally, we have the Ironic Mode, exhibited during the 20th century. In the Ironic Mode, heroes are "inferior to their environment": weak and pitiful, ill equipped to cope with the imperatives of society or nature; helpless, downtrodden, persecuted, exiled. In short: futile.

(I do not believe that these heroes are too feeble to be real heroes, but rather that their heroism is relative to their mode. They are heroic for overcoming their environment, or for coping with the imperatives of society, or for overcoming helplessness. They are heroic for escaping futility.)

If epics are about great and important things, but our heroes are only futile, it's no wonder humankind has been squeezed out of our epics.

Christine Barkley, in Stephen R. Donaldson and the Modern Epic Vision: A Critical Study of the “Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” Novels, theorizes that this mode shift has much to do with science and technology. We've learned that the universe is vastly vast, that humans are mere biological machines, and that we've made the world an insoluble mess. How could we but feel small and futile? When escaping futility is itself heroic, how can we aspire to more?

But Frye gives us hope. He feels that contemporary fiction (contemporary in the Fifties, anyway) suggests that literature will cycle back to the Mythic Mode.

And who is standing there in 1955 with his epic three-volume fantasy novel just published but none other than that crazy Beowulf scholar, Mr. J. R. R. Tolkien! Will he be the one to restore great literature to the Mythic Mode?

Alas, no.

For Tolkien, as Donaldson suggests in his Epic Fantasy, didn't quite close the loop.

In Epic Fantasy was wrote:
[Tolkien] restored the epic to English literature. Roughly a century after the epic became an impossible literary form, he made it possible to write epics again.

But - a crucial but - he did it by divorcing his work entirely from the real world, by insisting that there is no connection between the metaphors of fantasy and the facts of the modern reality, by rejecting allegory. He claimed that his work was pure fantasy, that it existed solely for itself. And the subtext of that assertion is that it is indeed possible for us to dream about heroism and transcendental love, about grandeur of identity in all its manifestations - but only if we distinguish absolutely between the epic vision and who we actually are as human beings. Tolkien restored our right to dream epic dreams - but only if we understand clearly that those dreams have no connection to the reality of who we are and what we do.


So Stephen R. Donaldson set out to finish the job.

His mission, in writing The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, is nothing less than reconnecting epic fantasy to modern reality. So that our "dreams of heroism and transcendental love, about grandeur of identity in all its manifestations" can be real again. So that humanity can signify in our epics again.

So that we can be heroes again.

That's what "epic vision" is.

But this can't be accomplished by merely writing another epic like Beowulf, or emulating the stylings of Homer. You can't just go back. The world now is not the world then. In order for an epic story to have meaning, to resonate with modern readers, it has to be set in the modern world. This is not an issue of automobiles and cell phones; this is an issue of having seen a vastly vast universe, of knowing we are biological machines, of living in a world of insoluble problems. It's about the modern perspective.

So Donaldson knew that his epic had to start with a modern, Ironic Mode man. A man who is inferior to his environment; a man who is futile. And then to demonstrate that even this poor soul can inspire us with epic vision.

And that's where leprosy comes in.

Donaldson found the perfect protagonist for his new epic when he realized that his hero needed to be a leper. Donaldson was familiar with leprosy from his father's work, and so he knew that leprosy was much more than a disease. It carries the worst of social stigmas, resulting in isolation and expulsion from society. It dictates that lepers live at the mercy of even the most mundane and usual surroundings, fearing every rug and table corner. And, most astutely observed by Donaldson, it mandates that lepers must strive to avoid the unreality of fantasies - that they live without dreams.

A leper is the quintessential Ironic Mode hero.

In Lord Foul's Bane was wrote:
Moistening his lips with his tongue, Covenant responded, "No, old man. This is normal - human beings are like this. Futile." As if he were quoting a law of leprosy, he said to himself, Futility is the defining characteristic of life. "That's what life is like. I just have less bric-a-brac cluttering up the facts than most people."


In the first Chronicles, Donaldson creates a fantasy world where our leper can become a hero in an epic sense. It is especially designed so that one Thomas Covenant can struggle against his internal crises as if they were external to him. A world which is "the exact opposite of having leprosy".

Fantasy world? you might well ask. It's an important question, if you consider what Donaldson considered to be Tolkien's failing. How can a fantasy world connect epic fantasy with modern reality?

But Donaldson's fantasy world is not the same as Tolkien's. The protagonist is as real as you or I. Like a hero in the classical sense, Covenant goes to a faraway place, faces dangers, obtains something important, and brings it back. The thing that he brings back is an ability to meet life head-on, a knowledge of how to live rather than just survive, an earned sense of self-worth. He still has leprosy, but he is no longer living in the Ironic Mode. He now has a capacity for heroism, which is as real as a nickel.

In The Power that Preserves was wrote:
He was a sick man, a victim of Hansen's disease. But he was not a leper - not just a leper. He had the law of his illness carved in large, undeniable letters on the nerves of his body; but he was more than that. In the end, he had not failed the Land. And he had a heart which could still pump blood, bones which could still bear his weight; he had himself.

Thomas Covenant: Unbeliever.


The fantasy world here is not walled off from us; it is accessible, because it is only a metaphor. As an allegory, it is only another way of exploring the things we all should know, and of revealing the struggles we all must face. In a sense, anyone who understands the metaphor can go there. Because anyone who understands what the Chronicles shows us can learn from it and apply it to their own lives.

It is of necessity a fantasy. Because fantasy is the only medium which can contain an epic. But it is not an epic fantasy which we must observe through a cold glass window; we can hold it, and draw it into ourselves, and let it convince us that we can make our epic dreams real.

And into this fantasy world Donaldson has thrown all kinds of heroes. Fantastic, epic heroes.

In Epic Fantasy was wrote:
I took one real, modern human being, Thomas Covenant, and surrounded him with epic characters: the Giants, the Bloodguard, Lord Mhoram, the Ranyhyn, the jheherrin: characters or images which don't in any way pertain to our real experience of life, but which do pertain to the part of us which dreams, the part of us which imagines, the part of us which aspires.


Since Covenant's quest is to discover his inner hero, and he finds himself in a world full of heroes, the obvious question is: Are these heroes examples which Covenant is meant to emulate?

The answer is, actually, no.

Consider the Giants. As heroes, they represent those who are born heroes. They are literally, as well as metaphorically, large: large of spirit; large of heart; large of courage. They are innately capable of handling everything the world throws at them, and handling it better than us mere humans. Fire and cold don't even harm them. They are generous, and humorous, and kind. Like the Brobdingnagians in Gulliver's Travels, they make us seem small in many ways. "Like a rooster threatening one of the Ranyhyn."

But there is no answer for Covenant in the innate greatness of the Giants. He is who he is. And he is not a Giant.

Or consider the Bloodguard. Heroic by anyone's definition. But their heroism arises from the simple expediency of denying themselves the option of failure. They make no excuses, they accept no limitations, they just "suffice". Sure, they get a little help from Earthpower here and there, so they don't have to sleep or even grow old, but they don't deign to acknowledge it. They have merely made being capable the unquestioned goal of their existence. Time and time again, Covenant batters himself raw against Bannor's obdurate adequacy.

But there is no example for Covenant in the infallible sufficiency of the Bloodguard. He cannot refuse his leprosy away. And real people are fallible and insufficient when confronted with the real world.

Then there are the Ramen, the harsh and wild fighters of the plains. Their heroism arises from selfless devotion to a single, perfect cause: the Ranyhyn. And the Ranyhyn, Earth-powerful and beautiful, are deserving of that service. By pairing down their lives until nothing but devotion remains, they are capable warriors who serve the Land incidentally to their service to the great horses.

But the Ramen, in serving the Ranyhyn, abnegate responsibility for what they do. They follow blindly, serving the Ranyhyn into their extinction rather than taking responsibility for their own salvation. In the real world, a man cannot foist his responsibilities onto another and be true to himself.

These characters from the Land don't exist in the real world. In fact, they couldn't exist in the real world. This is demonstrated when they fall apart and collapse when Foul dispenses a little Ironic Mode reality to them. The Giants die when they realize that their largeness can be a liability rather than an asset. The Bloodguard withdraw their Vow when they fail. The Ramen face losing their identity when that which they serve nears extinction.

Emulating these heroes is not a realistic option for a real person in a modern Ironic world. Donaldson steers us away from the notion that heroes must be such fantastical people. Instead, he wants us to know that we, humans from the modern world, have everything we need to construct an epic vision for ourselves. Donaldson uses fantasy as a vehicle to show us what we are capable of - but what we are capable of is real, not fantasy.

And that's where the white gold comes in.

With white wild magic gold, Covenant can literally do anything that he can will to happen. With a thought, he could sweep aside Foul's army, drag Foul out of his crèche, and give him noogies until he cries "uncle!"

But it's not so easy. For Covenant is limited by his own psychological and emotional regulations. He can't do anything with wild magic unless he truly, passionately desires it with every fiber of his being. And you can't fool the fiber of your being. It requires, as Amok says, "the honest subterfuge of the heart." In order to use white gold effectively, to do with it what he chooses to do with it, Covenant must master himself.

Set up with white gold in this way, Covenant's real story arc is not about learning how to defeat Foul or how to save the Land. His real story arc is a journey of self-discovery. He must resolve his internal conflicts, face the darknesses he carries within himself, tear down his self-built walls. When he does so, he will be capable of wielding the white gold, and the fall of Lord Foul is then a rather trivial exercise.

It's no coincidence that it's just this kind of an ordeal which is of practical value to a modern man in the real world. Covenant could learn how to use Earthpower, but, when he returns to his real home and his real life, this knowledge wouldn't be worth anything. Covenant could learn how to lead armies or ride Ranyhyn into battle, but he would have no armies, no Ranyhyn, when he returned to Haven farm. Ah, but learning how to master ones passions and to harness them towards constructive ends - in the modern, Ironic world, that has real value. To Covenant - and by extension, to us.

Hile Troy, our foil character, gets this all wrong. He rides Ranyhyn and leads armies - and fails. He demonstrates the folly of extending oneself before having confronted one's inner darkness. And in doing so loses any chance he has of returning to the real world with anything of value.

In the Gradual Interview, Stephen R Donaldson wrote:
... only a person who has truly experienced the consequences of his/her own destructive actions is qualified to evaluate--is, indeed, capable of evaluating--his/her future actions in order to make meaningful choices between destruction and preservation. Hile Troy is an interesting example. He's "innocent" in a way that Covenant is not: he's never done anything even remotely comparable to the rape of Lena. As a result, he's bloody dangerous. He literally doesn't know what he's doing: he hasn't learned the kind of humility that comes from meeting his own inner Despiser face-to-face. Therefore, in spite of all his good intentions, he makes decisions which bear an ineluctable resemblance to Kevin's.

(07/13/2004)


And so white gold can be seen as a de-fantasizing mechanism for the Chronicles. By making the traditional elements of a fantasy plot inconsequential, and by making a real person's journey of self-discovery critical to the plot, the narrative, while remaining in a fantasy setting, remains focused on "real" things. The use of fantasy as a means of externalizing internal matters, and thereby making them accessible to understanding and manipulation, remains intact. But the story does not suffer from the fantastical elements becoming so important as to occlude what we can learn about ourselves. Unlike Tolkien, Donaldson gives us epic dreams that do have a "connection to the reality of who we are and what we do".

It is the ordinary (as in, not fantastical) people of the Land who by their example impart to Covenant the lessons of heroism that he needs. Mhoram and the other Lords. The Stonedownors and Woodhelvennin he meets. The Unfettered. People who strive despite being merely human. People who love and hope and risk and die in defense of the Land. People who are, essentially, just like you and I. And yet, who seem to be braver, more willing to serve, more able to overcome their limitations, more wise in the honest subterfuge of the heart: more heroic. These are the heroes who know something we don't, who have something to teach us.

The people of the Land have epic vision.

Like our epic heroes of old, they participate in the fate of their own cosmos; they are equal to the archetypal forces that shape their world. And they are aware, in a uniquely humble way, that they matter.

In The Illearth War was wrote:
"Friends! Comrades! Proud people of the Land! There is war upon us. Together we confront the test of death. We go to the greatest glory of our age - we are honored by the chance to give our utmost for the Land. This is the test of death, that at the last we may prove worthy of what we serve.


Everyone who is familiar with the first Chronicles knows the lessons that it teaches us: that it doesn't matter what is real, what matters is what you care about; that standing up for what you believe in, despite the prospect of inevitable defeat, is the answer to despite; that passions can provide us the energy to make our achievements possible, but they should never make our choices; "that every weakness is a strength misapplied, and every strength is a weakness which has found its proper use;" that you should not force the paradoxes of your life to resolve one way or the other, but instead you should strive to use what both sides can give you; that we all have a creator inside of us, and a despiser, and that we should value both of them, and not cast either out.

These are very big, very important ideas. Epic ideas. Ideas about bringing out the heroism in each of us.

That's quite an accomplishment for a series of three medium-sized books. But, as we all know, the story doesn't end there. Lester Del Rey pestered Donaldson, until Donaldson was inspired to imagine how the Chronicles could be taken further.

It's evident that Donaldson would not, not ever, write just another "Land story", as much as that would have satisfied Del Rey. No, he would only add to the Chronicles if the additions carried his notion of epic vision further; anything else would cheapen and undermine everything he had written. We can thank whichever gods are responsible that Del Rey's hounding inspired Donaldson in exactly that way.

In A. A. Adams's 1991 interview, Stephen R Donaldson wrote:
I became obsessed with the idea of trying to push the contest onto what I perceived as being a more profound level. That's how I got hooked on doing The Second Chronicles. [...] The two stories together are a kind of moral hierarchy [...] a sequence: you can't get to the second stage unless you have done the first.


So, how does Donaldson push his epic vision to the next, more profound level?

Because the Final Chronicles are not yet complete, we can't really be sure of Donaldson's overall objectives. And because the objectives of the Second Chronicles in large part are designed to serve the objectives of the Final Chronicles, they provide us only with strong clues, but no clear answers. However, several different aspects have emerged which seem designed to take us to this next level.

One way in which Donaldson seems to be building a more profound epic vision is by reversing the direction in which it that vision is provided.

In the Second Chronicles, the people of the Land are subject to the depredations of the Sunbane. They live in a literally fatal environment, which surpasses the abilities of any human being who lives under it.

In The Wounded Land was wrote:
"But I was speaking of the Three Corners of Truth," she continued with asperity before Covenant could interrupt again. "This knowledge at least you do require. On these three facts the Clave stands, and every village lives.

"First, there is no power in Land or life comparable to the Sun-bane. In might and efficacy, the Sunbane surpasses all other puissance utterly.

"Second, there is no mortal who can endure the Sunbane. Without great knowledge and cunning, none can hope to endure from one sun to the next. And without opposition to the Sunbane, all life is doomed. Swift or slow, the Sunbane will wreak entire ruin.

"Third, there is no power sufficient to oppose the Land's doom, except power which is drawn from the Sunbane itself. Its might must be reflected against it- No other hope exists. Therefore does the Clave shed the blood of the Land, for blood is the key to the Sunbane. If we do not unlock that power, there will be no end to our perishing."


With those words, the Clave declares that the people of the Land are inferior to their environment. They are helpless, downtrodden, persecuted, exiled. Their lives are futile. They live fully in the Ironic Mode. Covenant recognizes this instinctually. They were like lepers; all the people of the Land were like lepers.

Although the Sunbane has been eradicated, in the Final Chronicles the people of the Land have not been entirely lifted from their Ironic Mode existence. Something called Kevin's Dirt prevents them from fully participating in the beauty of the Land, and the over-reaching Haruchai have ensured that all knowledge of Law and Earthpower has been forgotten. While the extremities of existence under the Sunbane are gone, their lack of awareness means that they cannot participate in the events which are shaping their world.

Like the epic stories of our recent past, the people of the Land have become more and more removed from the archetypal forces that control their fates. They have lost their epic vision.

In the first Chronicles, Covenant obtained his epic vision from the people of the Land. In the subsequent Chronicles, Covenant must return epic vision to the people of the Land. He begins with Sunder, and Hollian, and Memla. He teaches them that futility is not the sum of their existence, that they are capable of making choices that can affect their fate, that they have a right to choose something better and a means of executing that choice.

While the human, real heroes of the first Chronicles have been set back, the fantastic, epic heroes of the first Chronicles haven't been idle. This is the second way in which Donaldson seems to be building a more profound epic vision.

In the first Chronicles, we have those heroes who Covenant met in the Land, but who did not provide a worthwhile hero model for our Ironic mode hero: Giants, Bloodguard, Ramen. These heroes could not stand up to the kinds of limitations and setbacks encountered in the real world, and they subsequently failed.

Donaldson goes to the next level by letting these heroes redeem themselves.

The Giant's had failed because they trusted in their stature to preserve them from all ill. Notably, in the second Chronicles they are led spiritually by Pitchwife, a stunted cripple who was "no more than an arm's reach taller than Covenant". And they gain a measure of revenge against the Ravers who were their undoing, when Honninscrave is instrumental in the first ever destruction of one of the three Ravers. He can accomplish this only because he has decided to buy this victory with his life.

The Bloodguard failed because they could not tolerate being insufficient. In the second Chronicles, Brinn and Cail of the Haruchai show different ways in which failing can become a strength. In one case, this allows the Haruchai to achieve their pinnacle of success. In the other, the Haruchai susceptibility to the Clave is overcome.

The Ramen risked their identity by valuing only their service to the Ranyhyn. In the final Chronicles, the nature of their service, and of their identity, changes. This is best exemplified by the Ramen who now ride the Ranyhyn, contrary to all of their cultural proscriptions. And, as the horses that they serve in turn serve Linden, the Ramen begin to transfer their service and their loyalty from Earthpower incarnate to mortal humans.

In all these cases, the Land's heroes first fell in some sense to those things which people from the real world deal with every day. While their complete redemption is not yet completed, it seems that they begin to be restored when they learn the very lessons that Covenant learns, real-world lessons. From time to time, people don't measure up, they can be insufficient, they must adapt as things they depend on fail. Real world humans learn how to survive these things. Donaldson takes us to the next level by showing us how even heroes constructed from fantastic elements meet obstacles and, in the end, must survive in the same way we survive.

It is through such reversals and about-faces that Donaldson has reached a more profound level. Lessons that Covenant has learned about epic vision are brought back to the Land. There, they will be wielded and felt by the epic heroes who still shape their fantasy cosmos, demonstrating their worth. And they will help to restore epic vision to the people who first gave theirs to Covenant.

Another way in which we might speculate how Donaldson takes his epic vision to the next level would be to consider the limitations Donaldson worked under when writing the first Chronicles. There are many clues that suggest that Donaldson is trying to surpass these limitations.

In the first Chronicles, Covenant has to bring his hard-earned lessons back with him to the real world, so that they can help him with his subsequent life. This placed an implacable boundary on what Covenant could achieve in the Land: he had to survive, and he had to return.

However, heroes can, and often do, give their lives in the pursuit of their heroism. They can go on that journey to obtain something necessary ... and never come back. Donaldson can take epic vision to the next level if he can eliminate this requirement of survival and return. For there are epic ideas to explore in the matter of giving one’s life for a purpose. This is the third way in which Donaldson builds a more profound epic vision.

In White Gold Weilder was wrote:
Thickly, she murmured, "I'm sorry. I just don't understand. Killing people is wrong." The memory of her mother was present to her as it was to Covenant. "But dear Christ! Saving them has got to be better than letting them die."

"Linden." With all the gentleness he had in him, he said, "Hamako didn't want to be saved. For the opposite reason that your father didn't want to be saved. And he won."

"I know," she muttered. "I know. I just don't understand it."


There is no doubt that the Second Chronicles focuses on the sacrifice of the central hero's life. The venom which inflicts Covenant ensures that there is no path for him which can lead to victory over Foul, except for the ultimate sacrifice. For the most part, Covenant's journey in these Chronicles is a matter of realizing that this is necessary, and then coming to terms with it. Only at the very end, when he understands the necessity and the consequences as thoroughly as anyone can, can he perform this final, selfless act.

At that time, the reasons are of paramount concern. Covenant wants to be like Hamako, not like Linden's father, and not like Kevin, and not like the Bloodguard, and not like the Giants. His sacrifice is valiant, not wasted, because he values what he achieves. And it's not arrogant, because he chooses only his own end, and does not decide for others. And it's not an act of service, because no one decides for him what his life is worth. And it's not an act of despair, because he doesn't want to die, he just can't find a way to live and succeed at the same time.

And so Covenant dies as a true, epic hero.

And that's where Linden Avery comes in.

According to Donaldson, in order for fantasy to work, it has to remain connected to what is real. However, if everything Covenant learns, if the meaning of the sacrifice he makes, dies with him in the Land, then that connection is broken. Simply put, someone needs to bring the new, refined epic vision which Covenant creates back to the real world, and demonstrate it's worth there.

Donaldson solves this dilemma by inventing for Covenant an inheritor. An inheritor provides Donaldson with a means of pursuing his story in several ways.

As soon as Linden enters the story, her role as Covenant's inheritor is cast.

In The Wounded Land was wrote:
Perhaps Covenant had fooled Dr. Berenford: perhaps he was crazy, a madman wearing a clever mask of stability. Or perhaps he knew something she did not.

Something she needed.


In Covenant, Linden finds someone who can satisfy what she craves for. And what she craves, without knowing it, is epic vision: a way of escaping the futility that her parents have cast over her life. Under the shadow of her parent’s legacy, she has completed medical school and become a small town doctor, but she suffers from black moods that remind her that she is nonetheless powerless and ineffectual.

In The One Tree was wrote:
"Sometimes," she said, though she was hardly ready to begin, "I have these black moods. I've had them ever since I was a girl. Since my father died. When I was eight. They feel like - I don't know how to describe them. Like I'm drowning and there's nothing I can do to save myself. Like I could scream forever and nobody would hear me." Powerless. "Like the only thing I can do to help myself is just die and get it over with."


She instinctually sees in Covenant her cure. He has returned from the Land with an epic vision that enables his life in ways that she covets but cannot achieve. Where had he found an answer potent enough to preserve him against the poverty of his life?

In Linden, Covenant comes to find someone in whom he can place his mortal responsibilities for the Land. This allows him to die without dooming the Land by his demise. It is Linden who, once Foul is out of the way, will heal the hurt of the Sunbane and complete the rescue of the Land. This is no small task - the work of Covenant's inheritor is significant and difficult, and requires another epic hero in order to succeed.

Therefore, the relationship between Covenant and Linden, between epic hero and inheritor, is critical to the story. Linden must follow in Covenant's footsteps, but before she can do so she needs to experience her own personal crisis. Like Covenant, she needs to have personal, internal problems manifest in external form in the Land. The Land is ready for her: under the Sunbane, it is poisoned and incurable, the exact opposite of medicable. And she must undergo a hero journey of self-discovery and learn epic lessons before she is ready to accept what Covenant must pass on to her. Anything less would undermine the value of the First Chronicles: if Linden can become an epic hero more readily and more easily than Covenant, then Covenant’s accomplishments become in her shadow less significant, the strivings of a man who achieves with great difficulty what another can do more easily. Linden must struggle to be a hero every bit as much as Covenant, or else what we believe about epic vision is shattered.

And in order to make their relationship meaningful, Covenant and Linden become lovers. This is far more significant than passion and an easing of loneliness. Covenant and Linden become committed to each other, and care for each other deeply. This provides a natural, organic way for Linden and Covenant to take from each other, give to each other, and become entwined in each other's struggles. It is the epitome of intimacy that is necessary for both of them to become what the other needs.

Like the people of the Land, Covenant gives to Linden the epic vision that she lacks. She is haunted by the futility of her parents, and, like a sickness, that futility has spread to her own life: all of her efforts at being effective have not cured her. When she sees that Covenant has power, she mistakenly believes that she can achieve effectiveness, an end to futility, through such power. She becomes power hungry. But Covenant's example teaches her the truth: it's not power that makes one effective; it's the choices one makes, and the clear, free, unblackened reasons behind those choices.

When Covenant dies, and successfully achieves the end that he has made for himself, Linden is ready - finally ready - to accept the mantle of epic hero from him, and complete the rescue of the Land. The lesson of Covenant's sacrifice unlocks the final door, revealing to her the answers she has long needed. Remade, she completes the new Staff of Law, and unmakes the Sunbane, and ere she departs founds a new line of caretakers for the Land's continued recovery. She has epic vision, and its power, along with the powers of wild magic and Earthpower and Law, remakes the Land, and restores it to its former beauty.

Linden completes Donaldson's goals by taking all that she learned, learned from Covenant, learned about herself, learned in spite of her parents, and returns to the real world. She keeps a sure hold on her wedding ring, which symbolizes everything she has returned with, everything she has been given by Thomas Covenant, everything that she has accepted, and everything she has become capable of bearing.

Everyone who is familiar with the Second Chronicles knows the lessons that it teaches us: giving your life in a cause you believe in can be the right answer; like evil, an avarice for power is a part of you that must be accepted and integrated, neither to be suppressed nor allowed to rule you; taking away someone’s ability to choose is the most evil thing you can do; that in order to fight evil in the world, you have to expose your soul to it; no single person can handle every problem, because no single person has every strength, and so you must not let guilt prevent you from sharing responsibilities with others.

Covenant may be dead, but his epic vision, now embodied in his inheritor, has been brought back to the real world.

For over twenty years, Donaldson let Thomas Covenant lie dead.

But he cannot let Covenant rest in peace. Because there is a fourth and most ambitious way in which Donaldson can build a more profound epic vision.

In order to complete the Cycle of Modes, and bring us back to the Mythic Mode where gods and god-like beings wrestle with destiny, Covenant must become like a god himself.

In terms of the Mythic Mode, gods are beings of great power, vastly superior to ordinary humans. Their very actions shape the cosmos, and the fate of the world often rests upon the outcome of their struggles. In this way, they create the world in which we live. And, we can only hope, they recognize this, and feel a responsibility towards their creation.

But, because they are characters in stories told by humans, gods are always, ultimately, human at heart and human in mind. They are fallible; they have weaknesses; they react to feelings. Therefore, despite differences in stature, we can always relate to them. This is why epic stories of gods, overcoming or succumbing to their fallibilities and weaknesses, can teach inspire us and teach us. Their stature makes them epic; their humanity connects them to us. And so they help us participate in the shaping of our own world. That potential to change the world is fundamental to epic vision.

With wild magic, Covenant takes the first step toward becoming a god. The puissance of his powers is undeniable. But they are not immediately accessible. In the first Chronicles, Covenant learns to accept the power, only after coming to terms with the moral imperatives that such power entails. And he is able, in the end, to shape the world he has found himself in.

But when he returns to Haven Farm at the end, he can't take his power with him. He can bring back an epic vision, but he can't retain an Mythic Mode. This is another limitation which Donaldson labored under in the first Chronicles: Covenant remains, in the end, a man. A full return to Frye's Mythic Mode demands that the hero be something of a god.

In the Second Chronicles, Covenant discovers the horrible responsibility of gods: his god-like actions have reshaped the Land.

In The Wounded Land was wrote:
... all the fathomless ill of the Sunbane and the Clave was his fault, his doing. He had no answer for the logic of his guilt. The Staff of Law had been destroyed - and he had destroyed it. Wild magic had burst from his ring to save his life; power beyond all choice or mastery had riven the Staff, so that nothing remained but its heels. For such an act, he deserved to die. The lassitude of blood-loss seemed condign and admirable. His pulse shrank toward failure. He was culpable beyond any redemption and had no heart to go on living.


Covenant has become like the Creator himself; the Land is as much his Creation as any others. And, like the Creator, Covenant desires the beauty in his creation to survive, and the blight to be erased. And so he takes responsibility for his world, and sets out to restore it.

But even with wild magic, Covenant reaches the limit of what a mere mortal can do. Venom and numbness have returned to him a leper's impotence, and he cannot save the Land.

And that's where transformation comes in.

In the Gradual Interview, Stephen R Donaldson wrote:
... But neither Troy nor Covenant actually died in the Land: rather they were transformed; became beings of an entirely different kind. In Troy's case, a series of transformations were involved, resulting in a new Forestal. In Covenant's case, the destruction of his mortality freed his spirit to support the Arch of Time (the fact that he retains some form of sentient identity is demonstrated by his ability to speak to Linden during her translation back to her "real" life). In both cases, huge powers were required to cause transformation instead of literal death. ...

(11/21/2004)


"Transformation instead of literal death" provides Donaldson with the opportunities that he needs. It allows Donaldson to write about a hero who gives his life to save the world. And then to write about a hero who is transformed into something greater than an ordinary man. This one plot mechanism opens up whole new areas of epic vision for Donaldson to explore.

Being one with the Arch of Time, the Creation upon which the Earth's very existence rests, Covenant is another step closer to the Creator. He's not only responsible for the Land, but he's even part of the process that allows the Land to exist. At the end of the Second Chronicles, when he usurps the Creator's place to speak to Linden, he does so as a co-creator who has earned the privilege.

Donaldson is creating a new Epic Mode. One which is born of the Ironic Mode. Covenant becomes more and more god-like, but he also remains a leper and a man. He has immortal strengths and powers, but he is connected to our world. His struggles are titanic, but there are things about the human condition which we can learn. His victories are not accomplished with wild magic alone, but also because an Ironic Mode life is a thing to be reckoned with.

There are paths from futility to epic vision - hero's paths - and Donaldson has blazed one for us.

In the Final Chronicles, we can see Linden, as before, playing the role of an inheritor, following in Covenants footsteps. The fate of the Land rests in her hands, and she has the utter power necessary to save it or damn it. She is approaching the limit of what one mortal, even armed with wild magic and the Staff of Law, can achieve. She, too, has died in the real world; she, too, is willing to die in the Land to save what she loves. She, too, has everything necessary to transform.

No one can say what she, or Covenant, will accomplish before Donaldson is through. But they will accomplish as gods.

If the correspondences that have been established in the first, Second, and Final Chronicles continue, then Liand will fulfill his role as Linden's acolyte and assume the mantle of responsibility for the Land. Beings from outside the Arch like Covenant and Linden will no longer be necessary for the Land's survival. (And so there was no need for the old man in the ochre robe to test a successor to Linden.) It may be that, in this way, the two realities become sundered, and go their separate ways. The Land ceases to be accessible from the real world, and no one in the real world will have any connection to the world inside the Arch.

Do we thereby lose our connection to the real world? Have we not, by now, created other, stronger connections?

The Land, for all intents and purposes, will be gone. But its value is undiminished, as it has achieved all that was asked of it.

It has given to us an epic vision.

[Edit: I mistakenly started referring to Mythic Mode as "Epic Mode" towards the end: this has been corrected.]


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 9:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

(Yeah, it's really long. I began writing that last November, when I realized that Fatal Musings: Thomas and Linden had a whole seperate Musings within it. ((That I have been working on even longer. *sigh*)) I can only hope no one is discouraged by the size; take it a little at a time, I guess.)
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 9:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are things I would, and at another time might, argue with you about in there...but for now:
that's a pretty epic post, in itself.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 10:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hail

Wayfriend, that was...(dare I say it?)...epic!

Anyone who reacts with TL:DR is missing out. I read the whole thing straight through, but I am a hardcore old-school reader. Take it in small bites or a single gulp, but if you love the Chronicles, read what Wayfriend wrote!

I think WF will get another Watchy next cycle, and the post that starts this thread will be why.

(edit - I see that Vraith and I were on the same track.)
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 05, 2010 5:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I just read straight thru too. I could not stop reading if I'd wanted to.

Wayfriend, you have told a tale worthy of a Giant!

White Gold White Gold White Gold White Gold

And there's another Musing about Thomas and Linden? I can't wait Smile
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 08, 2010 6:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fantastic post, Wayfriend!

Many thanks.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 08, 2010 6:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the nice responses.

No one wants to discuss?

. . . . . . . . . .

I picked up a copy of W.A. Senior's book on the Chronicles a few months ago. I had held off reading it until after I finished my post. (Because I wanted to see what I could come up with on my own, without the benefit of Senior's analysis.) So now I am reading it.

There are some things in the book that correspond to the topic of my post. If I get a chance, I will post them.

In the mean time, I'll post an excerpt that I could have included originally, but left out because I didn't want to belabor the point.

In Epic Fantasy in the Modern World: A Few Observations, SRD wrote:
"Man is an effective passion."

This, I think, explains much of the popularity of modern fantasy. After reading all those mainstream novels since 1945, we need to hear affirmative things about being human. We're faced with accumulating future and culture shock. Our capacity to destroy ourselves as a race grows stronger. We hardly ever see any evidence that who we are, or what we care about matters to anyone else in the world. Under the circumstances, it's understandable that we've grown tired of being told how futile we are. Reasons for hope would be priceless at any time, but now they have become especially valuable because they are so rare. When we are farthest down in the void is when we most need to be reminded that, "Man is an effective passion."


Not "Man is effective". "Man is an effective passion."

We are the white gold.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 09, 2010 1:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

wayfriend wrote:
Thanks for the nice responses.

No one wants to discuss?


Why isn't this all a way of saying that Donaldson just wanted to do something different, something that's never been done before in the field of epic fantasy?
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 2:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TheWormoftheWorld'sEnd wrote:
Why isn't this all a way of saying that Donaldson just wanted to do something different, something that's never been done before in the field of epic fantasy?

I don't think Donaldson is just doing something different. I think he's doing nothing less than evolve the genre into something more important and more useful. (Or attempting to, depending on how much credit you extend him for his accomplishments.) Which is highly ambitious. But which, if successful, could have a lasting impact on literature itself, and indirectly a lasting impact on civilization as we know it.

So it's worth discussion, I feel. Smile

The very first time I read the Chronicles, I found them very uplifting, and I would even go so far as to say that they helped me. At the time, I considered it a story about perseverence. Now I think I recognize that it's a story that communicates epic vision - that a man can be an effective passion, despite "the poverty of his life". And that this is where the uplift that I found came from, I now have come to see.

If other people have found the Chronicles to be uplifting, or would say that it changed their lives for the better, then I think we need to give Donaldson credit for some success.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 3:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

wayfriend wrote:
TheWormoftheWorld'sEnd wrote:
Why isn't this all a way of saying that Donaldson just wanted to do something different, something that's never been done before in the field of epic fantasy?

I don't think Donaldson is just doing something different. I think he's doing nothing less than evolve the genre into something more important and more useful. (Or attempting to, depending on how much credit you extend him for his accomplishments.) Which is highly ambitious. But which, if successful, could have a lasting impact on literature itself, and indirectly a lasting impact on civilization as we know it.

So it's worth discussion, I feel. Smile

The very first time I read the Chronicles, I found them very uplifting, and I would even go so far as to say that they helped me. At the time, I considered it a story about perseverence. Now I think I recognize that it's a story that communicates epic vision - that a man can be an effective passion, despite "the poverty of his life". And that this is where the uplift that I found came from, I now have come to see.

If other people have found the Chronicles to be uplifting, or would say that it changed their lives for the better, then I think we need to give Donaldson credit for some success.


The Chrons introduced a new concept of epic fantasy fiction. But how can Donaldson claim in his essay that Sauron is an externalized part of innocent little Hobbit Frodo? Isn't this just revisionism? Then Donaldson gave Tolkien credit for showing that even the most innocent contain some evil. But I don't see that Frodo had any kind of inner despiser, he was simply under the spell of a magic ring.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 5:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TheWormoftheWorld'sEnd wrote:
But how can Donaldson claim in his essay that Sauron is an externalized part of innocent little Hobbit Frodo? Isn't this just revisionism?

Well, this is in regard to another literary theory, that in fantasy internal struggles are represented as external struggles. So we're changing the topic a bit.

No, it's not revisionism: it's interpretation.

I'm not sure what you think Donaldson is saying when he says that Sauron is a part of Frodo that's externalized. But if your imagining that SRD is saying that Tolkein's history of Middle Earth includes Sauron popping out of Frodo's head and saying "Happy Birthday!", I think you would be wrong.

This is a comment about how the story is designed and structured. It's about how the author constructs the characters. It's not a comment about the story's plot or anything else that happens "in story".

Frodo is a hobbit. He love's peace, and the tranquility of a pastoral lifestyle. Therefore, he is opposed to war, and the noise of a mechanized lifestyle. (To greatly simplify here.)

Sauron is a being that embodies war and the noise of a mechanized lifestyle. Therefore, in combating Sauron, Frodo combats war and a mechanized lifestyle.

But in real life, war and a mechanized lifestyle aren't forced on us by a Sauron-type guy. We do it to ourselves. War arises from ourselves. A mechanized lifestyle arises from ourselves. Each and every one of us. Even a Frodo.

In Epic Fantasy in the Modern World, a Few Observations, SRD wrote:
But in Lord of the Rings the importance of Sauron, personified evil, resides in the fact that he is an expression of Frodo. Seduced by power, Frodo spends the novel in the process of becoming Sauron - and that is only possible because part of him was Sauron to begin with. Perhaps the most profound perception in the entire story is Tolkien's realization that darkness can come from even the most innocent, simplest, cutest characters.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 8:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

wayfriend wrote:
TheWormoftheWorld'sEnd wrote:
But how can Donaldson claim in his essay that Sauron is an externalized part of innocent little Hobbit Frodo? Isn't this just revisionism?

Well, this is in regard to another literary theory, that in fantasy internal struggles are represented as external struggles. So we're changing the topic a bit.

No, it's not revisionism: it's interpretation.

I'm not sure what you think Donaldson is saying when he says that Sauron is a part of Frodo that's externalized. But if your imagining that SRD is saying that Tolkein's history of Middle Earth includes Sauron popping out of Frodo's head and saying "Happy Birthday!", I think you would be wrong.

This is a comment about how the story is designed and structured. It's about how the author constructs the characters. It's not a comment about the story's plot or anything else that happens "in story".

Frodo is a hobbit. He love's peace, and the tranquility of a pastoral lifestyle. Therefore, he is opposed to war, and the noise of a mechanized lifestyle. (To greatly simplify here.)

Sauron is a being that embodies war and the noise of a mechanized lifestyle. Therefore, in combating Sauron, Frodo combats war and a mechanized lifestyle.

But in real life, war and a mechanized lifestyle aren't forced on us by a Sauron-type guy. We do it to ourselves. War arises from ourselves. A mechanized lifestyle arises from ourselves. Each and every one of us. Even a Frodo.

In Epic Fantasy in the Modern World, a Few Observations, SRD wrote:
But in Lord of the Rings the importance of Sauron, personified evil, resides in the fact that he is an expression of Frodo. Seduced by power, Frodo spends the novel in the process of becoming Sauron - and that is only possible because part of him was Sauron to begin with. Perhaps the most profound perception in the entire story is Tolkien's realization that darkness can come from even the most innocent, simplest, cutest characters.



I have no substantial issue with Donaldson's essay, I just wanted to know how to address people who skeptically state that he was "just trying to do something different."

Here's the part that I am concerned with from your quote above:
Quote:
Frodo spends the novel in the process of becoming Sauron - and that is only possible because part of him was Sauron to begin with.


I classified this as revisionism on Donaldson's part, since this was not Tolkien's intent, nor was it part of the Rings, and since I don't believe any interpretation is necessary for such a simple work.

However, now you seem to be saying that the Rings was a parable of the plight of modern man (which I take to be spiritual emptiness, loss of meaning and, let's say, epic vision). I can understand that well enough. However, Donaldson quoted Tolkien's assertion that the Rings contained no message, that it was intended purely for its entertaining, escapist fantasy.

Which is it?
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TheWormoftheWorld'sEnd wrote:

I have no substantial issue with Donaldson's essay, I just wanted to know how to address people who skeptically state that he was "just trying to do something different."

Well, you could say "POIT!"
Or that "just" is ridiculous in relation to "do something different."
But should say, "Not DO something different, MEAN something different. [or at least differentLY.]
myslitheryhermaphroditicfriend wrote:

Tolkien's assertion that the Rings contained no message, that it was intended purely for its entertaining, escapist fantasy.

Which is it?

The answer is Tolkien was lying.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TheWormoftheWorld'sEnd wrote:
However, now you seem to be saying that the Rings was a parable of the plight of modern man (which I take to be spiritual emptiness, loss of meaning and, let's say, epic vision). I can understand that well enough. However, Donaldson quoted Tolkien's assertion that the Rings contained no message, that it was intended purely for its entertaining, escapist fantasy.

Which is it?

Tolkien said it wasn't allegorical - it wasn't a metaphor for Nazis or WWII or real things like that. But he did say it was "applicable" to the real world, as people saw fit to use it.

If it's applicable, then that argues some amount of commonality between the book and the real world, doesn't it? Else, what could we find in it that was applicable?

And if there's some degree of commonality, then LOTR must be speaking about something real of the human condition. It's not hard to see that Tolkien is saying in LOTR: green, growing things are good; wheels and gears are bad. Even the smallest of us can be brave and do noble things which matter. Even the loftiest of us can covet power, and destroy what is good in the mindless seeking of it.

So, no, saying that Frodo had Sauron-nature in him doesn't in my opinion mean that Tolkien's work must be considered an allegory. It only means that it talks about being human.

[edit] In Middle Earth, its not hard to see that elves embody world-weariness and superiority; dwarves, labor and greed; hobbits, simplicity and stoicism; men, weakness and proliferation; orcs, unconcern and mindless obedience; etc.

How could not, if you look, see that these races are personifications of human traits, traits which to varying degrees we all share?
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

wayfriend wrote:
TheWormoftheWorld'sEnd wrote:
However, now you seem to be saying that the Rings was a parable of the plight of modern man (which I take to be spiritual emptiness, loss of meaning and, let's say, epic vision). I can understand that well enough. However, Donaldson quoted Tolkien's assertion that the Rings contained no message, that it was intended purely for its entertaining, escapist fantasy.

Which is it?

Tolkien said it wasn't allegorical - it wasn't a metaphor for Nazis or WWII or real things like that. But he did say it was "applicable" to the real world, as people saw fit to use it.

If it's applicable, then that argues some amount of commonality between the book and the real world, doesn't it? Else, what could we find in it that was applicable?

And if there's some degree of commonality, then LOTR must be speaking about something real of the human condition. It's not hard to see that Tolkien is saying in LOTR: green, growing things are good; wheels and gears are bad. Even the smallest of us can be brave and do noble things which matter. Even the loftiest of us can covet power, and destroy what is good in the mindless seeking of it.

So, no, saying that Frodo had Sauron-nature in him doesn't in my opinion mean that Tolkien's work must be considered an allegory. It only means that it talks about being human.

[edit] In Middle Earth, its not hard to see that elves embody world-weariness and superiority; dwarves, labor and greed; hobbits, simplicity and stoicism; men, weakness and proliferation; orcs, unconcern and mindless obedience; etc.

How could not, if you look, see that these races are personifications of human traits, traits which to varying degrees we all share?


All right, so the Rings was an externalization, only Donaldson created a character for whom this was taken literally, not in the real world but so realistically he had a difficult time denying it and was forced to come to terms with it in the end.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TheWormoftheWorld'sEnd wrote:

However, now you seem to be saying that the Rings was a parable of the plight of modern man (which I take to be spiritual emptiness, loss of meaning and, let's say, epic vision). I can understand that well enough. However, Donaldson quoted Tolkien's assertion that the Rings contained no message, that it was intended purely for its entertaining, escapist fantasy.


I've been following this thread with great interest.
The WormoftheWorld'sEnd quote has been where my thoughts about all this are going.

Is Stephen Donaldson writing the Chronicles both as a form of entertainment and, more importantly, as a way to give a profound insight on the direction of our modern age? Alas, I struggle with the later idea as I feel I'm not equipped to interpret what his message might be.

So I've been thinking along the lines of a personal approach: how could the 3rd Chronicles reflect and enhance my own life. This seems a more manageable way to tackle such a very large concept.
For myself, I became very curious about the chapter where Esmer stroked Linden's ears when she was deafened by the almighty blast that shattered the Word of Warning. I'm using this to help with my understanding of the Loudness War that is taking place in music production today.
I'm not saying that Stephen Donaldson is making a broad statement about the present and future state of the music industry, it's just my way of opening up to a higher plain of thought. And hopefully I'll find the wisdom to use this knowledge to carve out my own pocket of silence in which to make the best music I can.

Does this make any sense?


Last edited by Krazy Kat on Tue Jul 13, 2010 12:29 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TheWormoftheWorld'sEnd wrote:
All right, so the Rings was an externalization, only Donaldson created a character for whom this was taken literally, not in the real world but so realistically he had a difficult time denying it and was forced to come to terms with it in the end.

I think I understand what you are saying. And, on that basis: yes.

Unlike Frodo and Sauron, TC in the first chronicles recognizes his relationship with Foul. He sees that he can be just like Foul. And, because he holds onto the fact that the Land is a dream, even goes so far as to see that the Foul part of the dream comes from what's inside him.

In the Second Chronicles, TC abandons his reservations that the Land is a dream. But his relationship with Foul goes to another level. He recognizes a spiritual relationship with Foul, that they are brothers in fate. Foul is what he is because TC is what TC is, and versa vice.

In the Final Chronicles, I feel positive, we will go to another level. From shared aspects to spiritual brothers to literal merging into one. Although, I think the form of that literal merging into one will be quite a surprise.

So, yes. Donaldson clearly wants this relationship between the protagonist and his externalized aspects to be more than just the way the author constructs the story, but to also be part of the story.

(I just hope it doesn't go Stephen King far, where TC realizes he is a character in a story... )
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Krazy Kat wrote:
TheWormoftheWorld'sEnd wrote:

However, now you seem to be saying that the Rings was a parable of the plight of modern man (which I take to be spiritual emptiness, loss of meaning and, let's say, epic vision). I can understand that well enough. However, Donaldson quoted Tolkien's assertion that the Rings contained no message, that it was intended purely for its entertaining, escapist fantasy.


I've been following this thread with great interest.
The WormoftheWorld'sEnd quote has been where my thoughts about all this are going.

Is Stephen Donaldson writing the Chronicles both as a form of entertainment and, more importantly, as a way to give a profound insight on the direction of our modern age? Alas, I struggle with the later idea as I feel I'm not equipped to interpret what Donaldson's message might be.


I notice you used the British version of the author's name used on his books on your side of the pond. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But the reason for it didn't occur to me on first reading.

Krazy Kat wrote:
So I've been thinking along the lines of a personal approach: how could the 3rd Chronicles reflect and enhance my own life. This seems a more manageable way to tackle such a very large concept.
For myself, I became very curious about the chapter where Esmer stroked Linden's ears when she was deafened by the almighty blast that shattered the Word of Warning. I'm using this to help with my understanding of the Loudness War that is taking place in music production today.
I'm not saying that Stephen Donaldson is making a broad statement about the present and future state of the music industry, it's just my way of opening up to a higher plain of thought. And hopefully I'll find the wisdom to use this knowledge to carve out my own pocket of silence in which to make the best music I can.

Does this make any sense?


I think Donaldson was just trying to make literary waves, yet not just trying to be different about it. Taking some real-world wisdom from his books is like the icing on the cake.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Krazy Kat wrote:
Is Stephen Donaldson writing the Chronicles both as a form of entertainment and, more importantly, as a way to give a profound insight on the direction of our modern age?

I would say: yes. In as mhch as literature affects the modern age (which it does) and in as much as the future of fantasy changes literature, and in as much as he changes the future of fantasy. I think that's his goal.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 16, 2010 12:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wayfriend - can I just say thank you for sharing these thoughts and insights. I for one really appreciate it (though do not feel qualified to debate).

And as for any need to read in bite-sized pieces, do not be concerned. It is so well written, and interesting, that how could anyone not read it straight through. The real point is that it clearly needs to be read several times, not just once.

[And I'm glad to read it took you several months to do - I had this thought that it had occured to you fully formed and been transcribed as a stream of consciousness - that would have left me feeling even more inadequate than I do...]
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