The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

  • Posted on: 4 March 2016
  • By: Lore

Lord Foul's Bane Book CoverThe Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever is a classic fantasy series published in 1977-1979. This is a very polarizing series for readers because the lead character, Thomas Covenant, is an anti-hero fraught with paradox. He is a young, best selling author living an idyllic life when his world is devastated by a diagnosis of leprosy. The disease not only costs him two fingers on his right hand but it also costs him his family, as his wife takes his son and leaves for fear of the disease. To make matters worse he is also shunned by the rest of the community in his small town and he quickly finds himself living a solitary life of despair. He is taught not to hope as there is no cure for his disease and hoping for one only leads to madness. Thomas Covenant is truely a man worthy of your pity. Then he is abruptly summoned to a beautiful and vibrant world known simply as "the Land" where magic is a reality and a cure for his disease is indeed possible. So what does he do? He commits an act of violence so heinous that he instantly transforms himself into a man now worthy of your hatred. Because Covenant is the only person capable of saving the Land from desecration author Stephen R. Donaldson now has you trapped in the paradox of hating Thomas Covenant and rooting for him at the same time. What a bastard.

Unfortunately, it is this paradox that turns off many readers. They don't want to root for Covenant and they walk away from the series because he is not a sterotypical hero. However, I feel such people miss out on a truely great fantasy series. The inhabitants of the Land are thoroughly engaging and so full of life that it is easy to fall in love with them. They live their lives with honor and respect for others and Donaldson offers up a plethora of great characters for you to root for and embrace instead of Covenant. Saltheart Foamfollower is such a great character that every time I read this series I just smile when he enters the story. Lord Mhoram is such a memorable and strong personality that I often name characters I play in video games after him. In fact the names Lore and Lorekeeper that I widely use stem from the concepts of Lore contained in this series. I applaud Donaldson for creating a world so vivid that he can evoke such a variety of strong and memorable emotions in me.

The series starts with Lord Foul's Bane. When Covenant arrives on the scene in the Land he bears an ominous message from Lord Foul to the protectors of the Land, the Council of Lords at Revelstone. A cavewight, Drool Rockworm, has rediscovered the ancient Staff of Law and he is using it to corrupt the laws of magic in the Land. This results in a stereo-typical fantasy quest to retrieve the Staff. The Lords of Revelstone need to not only deny Drool the use of the Staff but they need it to bolster their own power to help them resist Lord Foul. Covenant is heralded as the savior of the Land because he bears a white gold ring, which in this world represents wild magic, so he is involved in this quest as well. He has no idea how to actually use his ring to do anything and ultimately, because he is a leper, he doesn't really believe he has any power. He knows that his situation is without hope and any world where his disease can be cured can't be real, so he quickly earns the title of "Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever."

The Illearth War Book CoverBook 2, The Illearth War, picks up the story a few years later with Lord Foul now in possession of the Illearth Stone and with his army on the march toward Revelstone. Three ancient beings of pure evil, known as Ravers, now serve Foul and help in his assault on the Land. The Lords of Revelstone prepare their response but they know fully that their lore is not enough to successfully resist the might of the Ravers. High Lord Elena summons Covenant from our world to the Land once again in the hope that the power of his white gold can save them. True to himself, Covenant remains unconvinced that the Land is real and he finds that he is as impotent as ever in his efforts to help. The story follows two main threads - one of the war between the armies of good and evil and a side quest where Covenant and Elena head off to discover a source of ancient power that could help even the playing field. The background lore of the Land is continually flushed out and it is this rich environment that makes this series something truely special. There are Stonedowners that use the power of stone, Woodhelvennin who work wood, the Bloodguard who go without sleep in their efforts to guard the Lords of Revelstone, the great horses of the plains of Ra known as the Ranyhyn, the Forestals who protect the trees of the ancient forests, and the Unhomed, who are Giants that love to tell stories. These wonderful beings are why you read this series, not because of Thomas Covenant.

The Power That Preserves Book CoverThe series concludes with The Power that Preserves. The war rages on and Revelstone itself is now under siege. The events of the prior book have left the state of the Land even more broken than before as Foul continues to manipulate the Lords of Revelstone into taking steps that ultimately serve his purpose and not their own. Lord Foul find himself on the verge of accomplishing his true goal - the breaking of the Arch of Time. To do that he needs Covenant's ring and it is by destroying the Land and its inhabitants that he hopes to drive Covenant to despair. If Foul breaks Covenant then the wild magic possessed in his ring would become a tool to help Lord Foul achieve his end game. While the Lords of Revelstone do their best to survive Foul's siege, Covenant and Saltheart Foamfollower attempt to reach Foul's bastion of power to bring it down around his ears. That plan is suicidal but desperate times call for desperate measures. Despite the fact that there are two follow-on series of books this story wraps itself up nicely with this book and the trilogy comes to a satisfying conclusion.

I have read this series many times and the images that I have chosen for the book covers are from the original versions that I still own. The audiobooks are not available on Audible but rather the rights to these audiobooks are owned by prolific narrator Scott Brick. They can be purchased directly from Scott on his website. I have purchased these audiobooks and they are professionally done. Although he doesn't do the largest variety of voices, Scott is an experienced narrator and he does a good job on this series. He owns the rights because he loves these books as much as I do and it shows in his narration.

Be true unbelievers and give this series a try. This is classic fantasy story telling at its best.