It’s Friday, now, something which many people in our culture celebrate, since they’re about to enter the weekend, in which they can spend time with family and/or friends, and at least not have to work.
I’m not sure whether I’ll have to work tomorrow or not; my coworker is supposedly coming to the office today for the first time after his surgery, but it may be too much to ask of him to work on Saturday as well. In any case, I think tomorrow would have been one of my scheduled days, but I could easily be wrong about that, and it’s not worth my trouble to try to figure it out. I haven’t been trying to keep track. I honestly hoped for it to be a moot point by now.
As you might have noticed, I’m still here and writing my blog today, the day after September 22nd. It’s disappointing, I know. I’m disappointed, myself. But I did at least do some walking yesterday; more than usual, I mean. I walked a total of about six miles, which is a halfway decent amount, though nothing like my target.
After writing about and thinking about the books I had read when I was younger, focusing yesterday specifically on Tolkien’s work, I nevertheless decided to go and start rereading Stephen R. Donaldson’s works, the ones I had read even more often than The Lord of the Rings by the time I had gone to college. Somehow, I identified with Donaldson’s books much more than I did with Tolkien’s, though I think it’s clear that I love Tolkien’s work more.
But Thomas Covenant is definitely an anti-hero. He’s no Frodo or Sam or Aragorn. He defines himself by his disease (leprosy) because it is what he must keep in the forefront of his mind in order to prevent its progression. Also, it’s what cost him his wife and child. Then he gets brought to the Land, and he’s sure that he’s going insane, and that he can’t afford to let himself believe what’s happening, or he’s going to lose control of his life and his disease and truly go mad.
He does terrible things in the course of all this, but finally learns to find the center of the paradox of thinking that he’s dreaming and still believing in the Land, and ends up defeating Lord Foul. I guess you would say, on the balance, he did much more good than evil. But if you still hated him, I don’t think even he would have felt you were unjustified or wrong in it. He doesn’t think of himself as any kind of hero, that’s for sure, and he doesn’t want other people to think that way, not least because it’s an overwhelming amount of pressure for any person but a narcissist to experience, which I suppose makes sense.
Anyway, when I first started reading Donaldson’s work, I remember feeling a weird kind of rebelliousness against the popularity of the first chronicles, and since the second chronicles had just started coming out, I began reading The Wounded Land, the first book of the second chronicles, before I had read the first. It was an odd decision, and even I can’t quite recreate the mental state that led to it. I don’t know if I wanted to get a head start or what exactly it was. My friend Cindy had read, or was reading, the first chronicles and recommended them, if I recall, and maybe I wanted to get a head start on her?
That doesn’t feel quite right.
In any case, it wasn’t a terrible choice, because it gave me a sympathetic point of view with Linden Avery, the new co-hero of the second chronicles, who is a doctor who finds herself brought to the Land with Thomas Covenant this second time around, and she has no prior experience with it. Also, The Wounded Land is one of the two best books in the whole series, from my point of view (the other one being The Power That Preserves, the last book of the first chronicles).
So, yesterday, I decided to start reading it again, and I got pretty far. It’s as good, and as dark, as I remembered. I have more awareness and familiarity with some of the things in it, like the fact that Linden is a doctor, but also with bitterness and loss and the like. Somehow, though, I already felt connected with those parts of the books even when I was younger. I don’t know why for sure. Maybe it’s because I always felt like I was weird, even when I was exceptionally “successful”, in school and so on.
I certainly didn’t feel that I was like the other people around me; I’ve always felt like I was crazy in some way or other, and maybe that’s part of why I always was drawn to villains. They were different, but they were powerful; people were afraid of them and didn’t want to mess with them if they could help it. They were outsiders who worked to change the world to fit them, instead of having to change themselves to fit into it.
And Lord Foul was also the most eloquent villain I’d ever read, which appealed to my love of words. He had curious turns of speech, though, saying things like, “Do you mislike the title I have given you?” to Thomas Covenant. It’s almost as though English was not his first language, and he was putting words together in ways that made sense to him because they conveyed his ideas the way he wanted to convey them. But he was also an actual character, unlike Sauron in LOTR, though he was only personally in the books for a few scenes, at the very beginning and the very end of both chronicles.
He’s also, as I mentioned yesterday, the purest villain, in that he simply hates all life and love, as it is put in the books. It’s the core of his being, it’s the sum of his character. It’s hard, at first, to understand how this might be so, how anything or person could simply be defined by hate that way.
Unlike with Tolkien, who has Morgoth and Sauron falling into evil and becoming hateful, it seems that Lord Foul was, in fact, fundamentally the dark side, or the dark counterpart, of the Creator of the Land. He was cast into the Land when the Creator became enraged upon realizing that his “brother” or counterpart or dark side had tampered with the creation. So Lord Foul is trapped in the Land, imprisoned with all the Creator’s stuff, unable to die, unable to escape except by destroying the “arch of time”, and so he hates everything about the Land and its world and everyone in it. If he can’t get out, then he’s going to make the Creator suffer by hurting his creations, and ultimately by destroying them and escaping if he can.
I can sympathize more with that plight as time goes by. I’ve certainly had many moments in which I feel that I literally hate everything and everyone in the world, the universe, and wish I could destroy all of it. But, unlike Lord Foul, I don’t feel like I should do such a thing, that I have anything like the right to do such a thing, even though I tend toward nihilism.
But, of course, I can escape, unlike Lord Foul, if it comes to it, and it seems unfair to punish everything else just because I’m unhappy. It might occasionally seem like it would be satisfying, but ultimately I’d feel it was unimpressive. It would display a lack of self-control. It would, in a way, be embarrassing, but I’d be embarrassed with myself more than in the eyes of anyone else.
It’s a weird state of mind (what a surprise). But it’s one of the reasons I have no patience or sympathy with people who commit mass violence and the like, because—though I can certainly get inside the mindset that must have led them to want to destroy these people by whom they feel they can never feel accepted—I see it as a childish urge, the indulgence of a tantrum. I have no respect for such lack of self-control, in others or in myself. I find it more disgusting than I do the various other things that make me feel so outside and alien. There is no excuse for it.
But Lord Foul’s situation is different, and anyway, he’s a fictional character. Most of all, any good epic adventure needs a bad guy, the worse the better (so to speak) and he’s as bad as any I’ve read, while still being a real person in the books. And I can sympathize with the Creator, too, who is clearly not some perfect, all-seeing, all-knowing being, but just an artist of sorts, who made something beautiful, and was frustrated that he couldn’t do so without there being evil within it.
Of course, there is also now a “last” Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and I have read only a part of the first book of those, while I was away in Raiford, when only one or two of them had come out. I think. But now they’re all out, and I may, just possibly, skip back ahead to those to find out what happens. I think, from hints I’ve gathered, that we get more understanding of the nature of Lord Foul, and the Creator, and all that in these books, which would be interesting.
Further bulletins as events warrant. Assuming the Arch of Time doesn’t get broken in the meantime. If it does, though, at least you’ll know that I was able to escape, and so it won’t be entirely sad.
[By the way, the title of this post is the first line of a song the Lords sing in the second book of the original Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.]