The idea that Donaldson can be called a major author within the fantasy genre blows my mind in so many ways. How revolutionary was his plot? Do the characters still have relevance in today's society? What new conventions were presented that seem to influence the genre? These questions still linger in my mind after reading three, I'll count them again, THREE books! After three books in a series I feel some emotional attachment or can retain some overarching theme that is important, but with Donaldson I can't. So rather than lie or try to justify why The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever are "so vital to the fantasy genre," I'm going to list off a few things that hindered me while reading these books.
Irk number 1: Thomas Covenant. I have read plenty of stories where the main character is an unlikeable or untrustworthy character, Scrooge from Dickens's A Christmas Carol for example. yet sooner or later they have a moment of conscience where they understand what is right and wrong in the world. Thomas Covenant doesn’t have that moment until the end of the third novel, which is far too long in my opinion. He makes morally questionable, if not downright wrong, choices with consequences that take hundreds of pages in order to fully understand the magnitude of problems he has created. For example, the infamous rape scene… Covenant doesn’t experience any backlash from the rape until the end of the second book, almost 600 pages later. We, as the reader, are allowed to think that his immoral actions can continue without backlash, without changing his ways. And Covenant continues acting that way, being a prick throughout most of the series.
Irk number 2: The aforementioned character's constant questioning. Thomas Covenant's first appearance in the land would require questioning, I would question the character's validity if he didn’t at least try to reason that this was a dream. So I forgave Donaldson for the questioning in the first book, even though it was overbearing and at times hard to wade through. By the start of the second book, when we have a character who is from reality and believes in the Land whole heartedly (Hile Troy), I was becoming annoyed. Yet it wasn’t just annoyance, Donaldson has some beautiful descriptions of the Land that rival that of Tolkien in detail. I could feel the water, taste the air, and could understand the characters. Yet there was an overarching feeling that tore me from becoming engaged in the land, caused primarily by this strict questioning by Covenant.
Irk number 3: Reading The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever after The Lord of the Rings. The Lord of the Rings may well be the most well known and well respected fantasy series that has ever existed. Whether consciously or not, every fantasy novel is compared with Tolkien or one of his contemporaries, every world is held in comparison with Middle Earth, every hero compared with Aragorn or Gandalf or Frodo. So when the jump from the master of the genre, the grandfather of fantasy, to a lackluster writer like Donaldson is taken, there is what seems to be a natural dislike of the lesser writer. As one student said on the discussion board, Donaldson was doomed from the start; I for one had nothing else to compare Donaldson to other than Tolkien and from the moment I started comparing I began hating Donaldson.
While none of this is new, I still figure that I might as well state what I think is the most problematic about the series.