When discussing Donaldson’s credibility as a writer in class, we brought up the possibility of social commentary within his work. Through some light research of Donaldson’s background, we found out that he was an activist during the Vietnam War and that this may have made an impression on his series. We even likened Thomas Covenant’s strange dreams/hallucinations when entering into the Land with the heavy drug use in the time of Vietnam. One of our biggest discussions on social commentary within the trilogy, however, was that Covenant’s leprosy represented the posttraumatic stress disorder commonly seen in war veterans.
In this blog post, I would like to argue that even if Donaldson’s work does contain important social commentary, it means practically nothing in the scheme of things and certainly does not make him a major writer.
Firstly, although it is not always the best idea for an author to throw his or her opinions, messages, or intentions harshly into their audience’s face, I feel many readers (our class included) do not even digest Donaldson’s story as if it is making an important statement about society. Donaldson presents us with a protagonist (if you can call him that) who is quite detestable. Although he is plagued with a terrible disease such as leprosy, any chance of pity or sympathy we may have felt for Covenant is removed in the beginning of the very first book in his rape of Lena. Despite the fact that he becomes somewhat of a hero (very passively), we cannot even give him credit for that because by the end of book three we are still led to believe that the Land isn’t even a real place. Even if Donaldson was trying to liken Thomas Covenant’s leprosy to the suffering and isolation of Vietnam War veterans struggling with PTSD, he failed in doing so because instead of feeling emotionally bound to Covenant, most readers feel emotionally frustrated with him.
Most importantly though, I think an attempt by any author to make important statements in a novel can only be successful when the novel is enjoyable and well-written. Most members of our class found Donaldson’s trilogy so poorly-written that they were not even able to finish reading it. When a majority of an author’s audience cannot finish a series, the author has failed in making any valuable contributions to social commentary and to literature. Even those who are able to finish will not feel enlightened by Donaldson’s ideas because his characters and settings are one-dimensional, leaving no room for personal involvement between the reader and the story.
I fear that this blog post will seem like a repeat of rants which were already beaten to death in our class. I do feel that the only true argument we made in favor of Donaldson as a major writer was that his trilogy contained valuable social commentary. I do not believe even this is true about the Thomas Covenant series—even if social commentary on Vietnam was Donaldson’s intention, it was not clear to the reader nor was it well-executed.