Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Donaldson’s Place in Fantasy

Since this is a major authors course, I want to point out whether or not Stephen Donaldson should be considered a major author. Donaldson earned some fame for his Thomas Covenant series, both critical and commercial, suggesting that he belongs in the same place in literature as the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I, however, seem to think that Donaldson belongs in the same boat as, say, Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyer. To me it doesn’t really matter if your book is popular and the critics love you. The thing I care about most when it comes to deciding whether or not someone’s a major author is the story itself, and when it came to the Thomas Covenant series, I just could not get into the narrative, and there are a number of reasons that Donaldson’s status as a major author is a little overboard.

One of the things that were made clear in the trilogy was that the main character, Thomas Covenant, was not a likable character. The first book, Lord Foul’s Bane, was admittedly interesting and entertaining at first, and after seeing Covenant’s personal struggles with leprosy, divorce and social isolation, I was excited to see how he would grow as a character. The harrowing despair that comes with leprosy made me pity him, and at first I wanted to see him have some sort of victory or redemption. However, after the entire trilogy I ended up feeling incredibly cheated and frustrated with the choices that were made in the story. Covenant is transported into a new, fantastical world, the likes he’s never seen before, and what is the first thing he does? He rapes a young girl. I wanted to forgive him after that, hoping that there was some way he makes up for it, but that moment never came. The rest of the trilogy is Covenant screwing things up worse and worse for himself and those around him. It just became laughable that this terrible person was supposed to save this entire world, since every time he tried to do something he would end up putting everyone in jeopardy.

All of this, of course, comes back to the author at hand. I honestly don’t think that Donaldson is a bad writer. He definitely knows how to write a story and (for the most part) keep the audience engaged, but the main problem is simply the choices that he makes within the story. I’ll admit that having the hero as a leper and an outcast was inspired and had potential to be intriguing, but throughout the trilogy Covenant just becomes less likable, to the point where I just didn’t care about him or the people he was supposed to save. The story doesn’t feel like it moves in a logical progression, like some of the best novels, but instead feels forced and almost gimmicky, as if Donaldson is trying to cover his own ass. Plot lines are tied together somewhat awkwardly, and characters are never really given their moment to stretch beyond just the sidelines and become as major as Covenant’s role. In the end, Donaldson ends up being his own worst enemy, taking the story in directions it doesn’t belong, making for a bloated, unfocused trilogy. I can’t really imagine people arguing over whether or not Donaldson should be considered a major author. To me, the answer’s as clear as the name High Lord Kevin.

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