Is Thomas Covenant the most frustrating "hero" ever?

Silmarienne

New Member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
2
Let me start with a confession- I resisted reading the TC books since college days (when they were coming out) because I didn't want to read anything that my friends were saying was "like the Lord of the Rings", I figured I would be disappointed.

Like Karsa, I felt that reading through the trilogy was rewarding in the end. When I first read the 1st Chron., it seemed like I had gone through a string of long books/trilogies that didn't live up to the time invested. I felt TC rewarded my trust completely! I am rereading the 1st Chron currently in preparation for the 2nd Chron.

I'm also in a place where I really relate to Covenant even more than before. I too live in a country where just because I am from outside I am seen as better than others, and it is assumed that I can help people and even change their lives. But I am only human and under my skin I am as frail as they. So his darkness and frustration are even more real to me.

In a way, I think the frustration factor is part of the book's grip on the reader. You really, really WISH he would just.... before you know it you are sucked into his world, just as he gets sucked into the Land.
 

Nicole

Member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
17
Thomas Covenant was certainly my most frustrating hero! Not to say I didn't like him, just, ugh, some parts made me cringe! I love the books though, and Thomas Covenant. But the first time, I didn't know it I'd make it through, he frustrated me so much!
 
Joined
Apr 26, 2007
Messages
5
Is it not the object of any good book to stir feelings and muster comment and debate on its characters? Sure Covenant is a abject anti-hero who creates feelings of exasperation at his antics. But does this not make him more real? How would any of us respond to being transported to a fantasy Land in his condition? Is he not much more than a narrow, repetitious one dimensional character who might gladly embrace the reality of the Land and take on all comers! Would this type of person not be completly unable to use the power of the white gold and ultimately be unable to challange and defeat Foul? The paradox of Covenants unwillingness to accept the Land and his power and ultimate ability to harness it when facing Foul is central to the story. No flawed hero, no defeating Foul!! After all, he does take him on and defeat him which is surely heroic enough! I feel Covenant deeper persona makes for a much more exciting read. While there are many times you may want to slap him on the head with a big fish or scream "Get off your fat, lazy arse and do something you useless turd!!!!" but thats because your feelings for the land and its peoples are stirred so much. I hardly think its a bad thing for a book to stimulate these feelings.
My recommendation: Read them with gusto as I have many times.
 

JDP

Never told a lie. Ever.
Joined
Apr 2, 2007
Messages
656
Location
JDP's current whereabouts are unknown, but reports
I wasn't keen on Donaldson's writing style anyway - too flowery and wordy for me, I'm afraid. I got half way through book one of the first chronicles and had to stop. I personally found Covenant to be extremely frustrating; I couldn't find a single redeeming character trait in him. He was perpetually self-involved and didn't really seem to have much character to be involved with. I couldn't empathise with him at all. I can appreciate that some readers do like him, but I just don't see the attraction myself.
 
Joined
Apr 26, 2007
Messages
5
I suppose you don't have to love the guy. Empathising with him isn't absolutely necessary. I found that when I read the books that the other characters that I liked such as Saltheart and Mhoram made me really want Covenant to succeed and find the will inside himself to help those he grew to care about. You have to try to understand and accept what Covenant was in danger of losing if he let himself believe. He had seen the outcome of Leprosy when allowed to go unchecked. Yes he is a selfish, obstinate man but I think after reading all six books you do feel some measure of pity for him and some understanding of why he behaved the way he did. I think we just have too many preconceived notions of what makes a 'proper' lead character in a book and we are therefore less open to the complexities of someone like Covenant. He does have the selflessness and courage after all to make the ultimate sacrifice at the end of 'White Gold Wielder'
 

JDP

Never told a lie. Ever.
Joined
Apr 2, 2007
Messages
656
Location
JDP's current whereabouts are unknown, but reports
The problem that I find with Covenant is, because I can't empathise with him, I don't care whether he overcomes his internal struggles or not. The core of his personality seems to be:

a) he has leprosy.

b) he has been conjured into a fantasy world.

c) he has trouble coming to terms with these facts.

These are things that happened to him, through the plot; they should not be who he is. If he resolves these issues, there is nothing left. I feel he exists as a tool of the plot as opposed to a character in his own right. He is the embodiment of frailty and as such is a bit two-dimensional. I want a character to be human (or alien, or reptilian, or a continent-wide neural network or whatever) not just a plot device, otherwise I won't feel compelled to spend hours of my life 'watching' them (much the same reason as I don't watch Big Brother, I guess).

I wasn't frustrated by the fact that he wouldn't believe/constantly doubted himself/was stubborn and obstinate; I was frustrated because he was predictable. Perhaps if I'd have stuck through a few more of the books I'd have seen him flesh out a bit, but there wasn't anything there to convince me to put in that kind of effort.

To be honest, I find it really interesting that so many people (yep, I know there're a lot of you) feel very differently towards TC than I do. It's good to see that a genre that is sometimes considered very narrow (generally by people who have never read in it) can create such broad differences of opinion.
 

tangaloomababe

Living in Paradise
Joined
Nov 27, 2006
Messages
1,254
I have struggled to read this books, normally I enjoy a good fantasy novel, especially a series, gives you something to look forward to (the next book & the next one etc etc) but with Thomas Covenant I struggled. I started out enjoying the first book but just could not get into them after that. I found his negativity to embrase his potential new life annoying. Here he has been given a chance but fights it all them way. maybe one day I will try to read them again, maybe!!!!
 
Joined
Apr 26, 2007
Messages
5
By the way, yes he probably is the most frustrating 'hero' ever!!!!!!
Although I must admit I feel like knocking Peter Parker's teeth down his throat when he acts in a snivelling, wimpish manner at times during Spiderman and most people seem to love him! I still think the Covenent Chronicles are the best piece of fantasy after LOTR. It has a breath of imagination unrivelled in anything else I have read. Anyone recommend any others on a par?
 

Karsa Orlong

Unchained
Joined
Aug 7, 2006
Messages
201
JDP: Having leprosy unfortunately does have to define who TC is, that's the whole point, if it stops defining who he is in his own mind even for a few minutes then he dies, period. His (initial) reaction to the land, in context with that leprosy, is also a necessary and thoroughly realistic one. Of course, Donaldson is the absolute master of developing characters, and Covenant evolves massively during the course of the series, but even his initial character to me shows Donaldson's intimate understanding of human psychology and is far from being a "tool to serve the storyline".
 

Blind Prophet

Undaunted Soldier
Joined
Jul 10, 2007
Messages
8
Before you damn Covenant you have to rmemeber that as suffering his leprosy, he has to remove any thoughts that do not focus on his well being as the numbness means that he can't feel any injuries he sustains. Consequently he can't afford to believe that the Land is real, because it could mean that he is going insane, and if he is then he could do anything in the blank spots where he is in the Land.
So it's not like he's being an ass for the sake of it, he can't afford to go trust it.

But yeh, he is annoying, even though i have to sympathise with him.
 

zoran

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 16, 2008
Messages
55
I read all 6 Covenant novels quite a few years ago and found him to be the most frustrating character I have ever followed. the first three I found readable but frustrating and the second three seemed almost to be masochism.
I do understand that his failure to do the decent thing relates to his failure to come to terms with his recovered health, but you would think he could have at least got something right, even by accident.
I would truly like to understand what people like about the series that they can re-read it many times. I still have the full first and second chronicles and maybe someone can convince me to re-read them with a different mindset.
Look, I realy like this character, because it has complexity AND because he doesn't allways do the right thing. That's plain realistic - NO ONE does the right thing all the time.

For me, most frustrating characters are those "super - goody- heros" that allways do the right thing.
 

dreir

Flamer of Udun
Joined
Jun 1, 2008
Messages
215
Yeah, in no way is TC the most frustrating hero ever. If you doubt that, check out Nevare in Robin Hobb's Soldier Son trilogy. And I'm a fan of hers. And many other fans agree with me.

TC is in my opinion one of the most realistic heroes ever protrayed. I know some of us have trouble emphatising with him, but here's a tip. Imagine yourself having leprosy (god forbid) and then put through the things he's had to endure. You'll see that all his actions become completely logical.

Btw, I'm currently on book 2 of my (xth) reread of the first chronicles :)
 

El Dirko

Custom User Title
Joined
May 16, 2010
Messages
22
Yeah, in no way is TC the most frustrating hero ever. If you doubt that, check out Nevare in Robin Hobb's Soldier Son trilogy. And I'm a fan of hers. And many other fans agree with me.

TC is in my opinion one of the most realistic heroes ever protrayed. I know some of us have trouble emphatising with him, but here's a tip. Imagine yourself having leprosy (god forbid) and then put through the things he's had to endure. You'll see that all his actions become completely logical.

Btw, I'm currently on book 2 of my (xth) reread of the first chronicles :)
Ha ! I had totally forgotten how annoying Nevare was. Probably blanked it out...

Best wishes,
Dirk
 
Joined
Aug 25, 2011
Messages
5
Thomas Covenant is an arse, but the beautiful thing about Donaldsons character is he is a mirror for every negative emotion/impulse in the reader. For example in a world free of consequence people will more often than not indulge there baser desires, Thomas rapes a girl and manipulates people and shirks every responsibility. At nearly every turn in the books he makes bad choices, choices that oft bear bitter fruit and all the time he hobbles around the land with guilt boring through his guts like drill. On top of that he can not reconcile the concept of the land to his own diseased world. He is a cripple both emotionally and physically and the really scary part is that the leprosy was for his I think just a symptom and not a cause of his inward turmoil.
 

TheTomG

Thomas M. Grimes
Joined
Aug 9, 2011
Messages
613
It's been a LONG time since I read the books, and I did read them only once, both trilogies. I don't really remember the stories I have to admit, it's been decades, but I do remember my exasperation and frustration with the character.

My take on it is this - I liked the flaws, I liked the humanity (I do despise goody-two-shoes whiter-than-white heroes), and I think being a bit frustrated with him was fine, but ultimately I would have liked the stories to be shorter as a result, to move more quickly through the character's evolution. Now, I might feel differently if I read them today (and re-reading them is something I will have to do), but that was how I ended up feeling, that I liked the stories I just felt it left me frustrated with the character for too long.

That said, I did finish reading them, so it couldn't have been THAT frustrating :)
 

JulioM

Member
Joined
Sep 11, 2011
Messages
5
Anyone read the whole third series? I read 'The Runes of the Earth', found it a bit turgid and started reading the first series again :D
 

Pratfall II

Member
Joined
Jul 10, 2013
Messages
16
I think Covenant is an amazing character. He grows as the story goes on... He does do some awful awful things especially to Lena and Elena but he is at heart a good person and we learn this as we go... He's a lot less of a bastard in the Second Chronicles if I recall correctly. Haven't gotten around to reading the Last Chronicles yet...

I think flawed heroes are by far the most interesting. The majority of the drama of the chronicles happens inside covenant's mind. It could be argued as well that the entirety of the Land is just a reflection of his own predicament...
 

paranoid marvin

Run VT Erroll!
Joined
Mar 9, 2007
Messages
2,146
I first read this series about 20 years ago. I started reading it again about 1 year ago, as I remember it being very dificult to get through the first time around. I couldn't remember quite why , and that age may have improved things. Second time round, I still found it tough going, and I felt that my struggle to stick with the stoty was on a par with TC's struggle in the books. The second trilogy is worse , as with the introduction of a female character we get the same recriminations and introspection - but now it's doubled.

The thing is though that usually I would walk away and not even bother finishing it, but I stuck with it. By the end of the second trilogy I consider was it worth it? Two individuals continually complaining about how awful they are, both trying to blame themselves more than the other. In fact the same could be said of the vast majority of characters in the books.

There are redeeming features though; the Raver-controlled giant story is excellent, as are their adventures in the Sandhold, but in between there is far too much negativity. I usually like to read books that leave me feeling happy or sad , or thinking on what has happened. By the end of the second trilogy tbh I was just glad that it was all over...

And now I realise there is a sequel; do I really want to subject myself to that?
 

HareBrain

Smeerp of Wonder
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Oct 13, 2008
Messages
10,486
Location
West Sussex, UK
Anyone read the whole third series?
Me!

And now I realise there is a sequel; do I really want to subject myself to that?
No!

The Illearth War is one of my favourite fantasy books of all time, with a superb structure and some breathtaking moments -- it's the only one I would read again. The Final Chronicles has an event rate of something like one plot-point per thousand pages, and though it's well-written and some of it very interesting, I'm not sure it's a good use of anyone's time.
 

paranoid marvin

Run VT Erroll!
Joined
Mar 9, 2007
Messages
2,146
I agree, the Illearth War is an excellent book, in fact one of the best. The whole series is interesting , and there are some good storylines, but the incessant moaning and self-loathing of Covenant and later Linden Avery go a long way to ruining it for me.

Thanks for the advice on the recent adventures, I'll skip them.
 
Top