Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
OMG that was a rather difficult book to get into. I mean, most of the time I had keep re-shifting the gears in my head to see what might be valuable and good about this book, and for a great 200 pages I was wondering if I had stumbled into another Eddings slogfest full of completely predictable situations and heroes, with only the main character being a bit out of the ordinary.
And then I had to remind myself that this came out in 1977 and the cult fantasy favourite (as opposed to the mainstream fantasy favourite) was LOTR. We've been inundated with Lewis and Beagle and who knows what else in the fantasy field. The time was ripe for a change, and all the big fantasy fans have all declared this fantasy cycle as a major turning point with a textual breakaway into new territory that has stuck with us all the way to modern fantasy, (which I have to say, I now adore).
But did I really get into this book? Is it even possible? The answer is yes, with a pretty huge caveat.
It's pretty obvious that the entire book is an exploration of a quote by John Milton in Paradise Lost: "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."
Putting that firmly in mind, now read our self-hating Thomas Covenant in his American home being treated as a Leper, because he is one, and see America as Mordor. He's in hell. And then he gets sent to heaven.
The magical land is just that. It's magical, people CAN live on beauty, alone, and there are honourable seafaring giants reminiscent of the Ents, horse riders with much more magic in the horses, just like Rohan, only more like Valdemar, and the Council, who are mages who have lost much lore over the centuries.
Covenant is skeptical of everything he sees, now, for although he used to be a best-selling author, he's now given up on all things imaginative in the wake of the hell of being diagnosed as a Leper and to learn he has no hope whatsoever. So when he is miraculously cured, and the wedding ring of his divorced wife has turned into the receptacle of the mystical Wild Magic that could either restore or destroy this wonderful fantasy world, he just Can Not Believe any of it. He's hallucinating. He's dreaming.
Too bad for him, it's all too real to his senses, and even his nerves have regenerated, which he knows is impossible. Oh Dear.
Honestly, the ideas come across as much more interesting than the execution. Like I said, it was a slogfest.
It's also too bad, because he's rather an asshole.
After reading so much modern fantasy, I ALMOST wish he'd done something other than rape the wide-eyed girl that was doing her damnedest to help him, like murder a cute puppy or an innocent child. Maybe he'd have had an easier time making me believe he really did regret the act later, or even right after the passion had been spent. Jesus. What a fucking prick.
Okay. Moving along. And that's another thing. It was just a very, very long travelogue. At least LOTR had it in service of excellent secondary or tertiary goals. The most we can say about Covenant is his gradual slide into belief and eventual realization that he's been a major asshole.
At least there was lots of dancing! And the initial metaphor and how it changed each time was not lost upon me. That was one of the nicer aspects of the novel, other than the realizations of Covenant, himself.
Okay, now here's my biggest nut and bolt complaint: Lord Foul is both a pretty damn interesting strategist and uber-powerful magical villain. I wish it hadn't taken so damn long for us as readers to GET THAT POINT. Practically anything else would have been a better introduction to Drool and Foul. They came across as an actual snivelling idiot and a minor house lord, and not the wielder of a staff fashioned by the Creator, himself, to right the corruption being spread throughout the fabric of reality, or the source of that corruption, itself: Lord Foul. It was all properly epic and I loved the ideas once I was finally INTRODUCED to them.
I saw the influence of Zelazny's Amber series right away, and I've always loved it when authors did that. You know. Uber Reality and the lesser realms, with Earth being one of many minor realms. It was a nice addition to the book.
And oddly enough, I got a lot more out of the novel's spoken-aloud tales, campfire style, than I did with the entire "let's go get that damn Staff" storyline.
It's not a bad novel. Don't get me wrong. I'm not jumping off the deep end and slamming this as I would with a modern fantasy that tried to pull this off. I'm trying to respect it as a product of it's time and place, and as such, I'd probably give it a 5 star rating, too, or perhaps a 4 because Zelazny's was better. Or at least I remember it more fondly, and since I haven't read the other Covenant novels, I really shouldn't judge just yet.
But the language in this novel wasn't up to Tolkien's high standards, and the worldbuilding didn't leave all that much impression on me, either. Maybe that's a personal failing, and the fact that I couldn't get into the groove and kept falling out of whatever groove I eventually got... well, it certainly didn't help.
I'll keep going, because once I invest in a thing, I like to maintain the investment, especially when others tell me it only gets a lot better, but as of right this moment, I'm a bit weary. Maybe a few novels before I sink into the next might be best.
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