In Defense of Thomas Covenant

JoanDrake

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This is something that's always sort of vexed me about the Thomas Covenant series SPOILER:Everybody generally despises Covenant(at least in the first few chapters) because he rapes this woman in the first book. Now, granted, rape is not a nice thing to do (especially to someone who I think had just saved his life) but Covenant thinks he's dreaming, yes? So why does everyone get so upset about a man FANTASIZING about raping a woman? After all, don't WE do many things even WOPSE than that, and then write STORIES about them(or want to) FOR A LIVING? ( And isn't it rather cleverly ironic of Covenant to put his main character into the position of the writer?)
 

Karn Maeshalanadae

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That scene didn't actually bother me, to be honest. What bothered me more was the fact that she continued to help him even after the event, not to mention her mother helped him as well.


My dislike for the series...well, I won't call it a dislike really, since I found the first trilogy to be decent, but I felt it kind of suffered from what I am deciding to call Shannara syndrome, for lack of a better term. Perhaps I need to read more.


What that means is that between the first and second trilogies, just too much time had passed and again, there is only one connecting character. Beyond the main villain, perhaps. I find it rather jarring for series to do that. I have had the opportunities in the past to pick up at least the first volume of Last Chronicles, but I never did, simply because I figured it would again be a timeline launch.
 

Mouse

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I've not read it so not in a position to comment really, but... I've never fantasized about rape! And I definitely haven't ever done anything worse than that. So to answer your question, it depends who you mean by 'we.' Because it doesn't include me.
 

HareBrain

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And I definitely haven't ever done anything worse than that.
I think Joan's point is that if you have created a character who has, say, murdered someone else, then you have "fantasised" it. But Covenant isn't in the position of raping Lena to create drama in a story he's writing. And personally, I'd feel very uneasy sharing the company of any man who enjoys an extended ultra-realistic rape fantasy.

I think to the extent Covenant's action is forgivable (and he doesn't forgive himself, which goes some way to alleviating the reader's distaste) it's because he's overwhelmed by the effects of hurtloam and healthsense, which suddenly removes his impotence and to some extent his control. Also (from memory) Lena sees him as a holy being and doesn't resist as much as she might. That wouldn't of course excuse Covenant at all in real life (in my view and the law's) but if he truly believed her to be a creation of his own mind, it might somewhat.

In my view Donaldson trod a very fine line here and knew he was doing so (and needed to for the story to work). I think he pulled it off, just.
 

Hex

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I haven't read the books for years but while I remember feeling uncomfortable and distressed by the scene it was primarily (I was a teenager, forgive me) because Covenant himself is so distressed by what he's done.

The way it's presented is distressing. I still remember the heaviness and the guilt that follows the character and flavours the story. I think it worked.

I'd contrast it with all the intestine-porn out there right now, where people are murdering each other and not caring even slightly about what they've done (or maybe a sentence or so to indicate they're not total psychos). There are lots of books also where rape is part of war, just like disemboweling your enemy.

Ahem. I think I've made my point.

I liked the Thomas Covenants right up to when they started getting flabby and poorly edited towards the end.
 

Mouse

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Yeah, see, that's the only way it'd work for me. If the character genuinely felt awful and tormented themselves about it. I'd be ok with reading it then (I have actually written from the POV of a rapist - but he was suicidal and all sorts after). So, yeah.

But to me 'fantisize' means thinking about it and getting off on it.
 

Hex

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It's weird what people have fantasies about; I suspect rape isn't the worst, but if it's a fantasy that's unacted on, then is the person themselves a bad person?

There's a lot of violence porn that I find impossible to read, and it's clear that many writers get a real thrill from the idea of slicing someone else into pieces -- I don't for an instant think they'd actually want to slice up a real, live human.

I'm not innocent, here. I hate war-porn but I like a good, damaged hero with a questionable past and scars of all sorts. And that's pretty sick too.
 

Mouse

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It's weird what people have fantasies about; I suspect rape isn't the worst, but if it's a fantasy that's unacted on, then is the person themselves a bad person?
Doesn't make them a bad person, but if I knew someone had fantasies about raping and murdering someone then I'd be pretty concerned!!

Anyway, I should probably leave this thread alone as I've not read the book.

I'll just say again that if the character feels genuinely awful and the author manages to show this successfully, then I'm more able to stay with that character.
 

scientia

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I'm not sure anyone has actually described the scene correctly. Thomas hates himself. His wife left him. The townspeople don't want to have anything to do with him because of the leprosy. Thomas believes that he somehow deserves to be despised. And, if I recall correctly, he destroyed the book he was writing. When Lena treats him like he is a savior, Thomas is unable to deal with this view of himself. His rape of Lena is an attempt to show that he is not worthy of any kind of adoration and really deserves to be despised. It's only when he talks about it later that he mentions the fact that he had stopped getting erections after getting the disease. I suppose it is true that he had some doubt that what he was experiencing was real but his actions were based on self-loathing.

But, again, this is too simplistic. Normally when he saves the day at the end of a book it makes things worse in the next book. So, when he tries to do good; he ends up doing bad as well. There are also times when he tries to fail and actually succeeds. When someone helps him, he hates himself even more. And, no matter what he does, he ends up hurting those around him. This is a fundamental part of the story and it begins long before Thomas. Recall that High Lord Kevin had the same problem. He performed the Ritual of Desecration because he thought it would destroy Lord Foul. It actually did more harm than good and they began calling him Kevin Landwaster. Elena made a similar mistake when she resurrected Kevin. When she was then attacked by Kevin, Thomas had no idea how to save her. Everything seems to lead to sacrifice. Elena, Saltheart Foamfollower, members of the Elohim, Hile Troy, Caerroil Wildwood, a number of others and finally Thomas himself. There is an interesting discussion in the third book about whether it is right for Thomas to delay coming to The Land to save the life of one little girl who was bitten by a rattlesnake when it could mean the death of thousands in The Land. Was that the right thing to do?

I noticed that the tone in the 4th book was different from that of the first three. Perhaps that is due to the gap in time when they were written. However, I noticed that the 5th and 6th books are more like the original three. But, of course, he didn't stop there; he wrote another trilogy. Those books seem to lose a lot of the essence of the first six.
 

paranoid marvin

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I saw the rape scene as Donaldson creating an instant anti-hero. Even without that though, the way that he constantly whines and self-depracates is enough to make me dislike him. Having said that the world that has been created is fantastic, easily on a scale with Tolkien, and some of the storylines (especially at the start of the second trilogy) are brilliant. Unfortunately Covenant (and later Avery who is just as bad) make me want to stop reading, they are that annoying. Overall a very depressing series of books.
 

The Ace

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The rape scene was nasty, and Atiaran having to deal with it afterwards, but that wasn't what got to me.

Time and again, I got a sense of, 'Could do better,'. the Covenant series could've been great fantasy, but it never rose above the mediocre, even before that waste of space, Avery, was introduced.
 

Nechtan

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Each to their own and individual taste and all that. I loved the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant but it took a few years to get there.

After being blown away by the Lord of the Rings at age 11, the next books I picked up were Terry Brooks the Sword of Shannara and Donaldson's Lord Foul's Bane. At the time I really liked Sword but I couldn't deal with LFB. From what I remember, it seemed to take ages to get Covenant to the Land and those chapters were particularly fun reading. Leprosy, divorce, disgust from the townspeople, misery. Huh, what's this? Then, when we finally get to the Land, there was an interminably long monologue from the creature who summoned Covenant followed by another neverending monologue from some guy called Lord Foul. Hang on, where's the mysterious stranger who arrives to tell the hero what to do? Where's the Gandalf/Allanon figure? Oh no, not having this, it's not following the correct procedure! I put the book down.

Fast forward a couple of years. A school friend was talking about TC and I said I hated it and had stopped reading. " But you missed this awesome scene, that awesome scene, Giants, Ravers, Bloodguard, Ranyhyn, Mhoram, Elena, you missed out the battles in the following books, etc." Ok, I'll try it again.

I still didn't like Covenant but the Land. Oh, the Land! The people and their selfless devotion and love for each other and the Land. The places; Revelstone, Revelwood and Andelain became just as important to me as Minas Tirith, Lorien and the Shire. TC remained an unwelcome intrusion in this amazing world. There were times I would rage at him. "What are you playing at?", " Why are you doing these despicable things?", "Why can't you accept the beauty of the Land", "Why are you such a coward?", "DO SOMETHING!!!! People are DYING!!!!!!".

And then, in the third book... he did.

After everything that happened. All the deaths, the defeats and sacrifices. After all the damage inflicted by himself and by Lord Foul, Covenant snaps. He may still not believe in the Land but he loves it and will defend it. For me, that moment when he says (paraphrasing) "I'm going to pull Foul's Creche down around that bastard's head." is right up there with the Ride of the Rohirrim for most awesome, fist pumping moment in fantasy.

It's been a while but I reread the first two trilogies over and over again and each time I began to appreciate more and more Donaldson's writing and what he was doing with a character like Coveneant. And Linden Avery. I really liked that they weren't the usual type of characters you find in an epic fantasy. They're not the most pleasant people and they're both damaged goods but, IMO, that's what makes the Chronicles such a powerful piece of writing.

Donalsdson has said the Chronicles of TC are a comparative theology and there are references to Christian, Judaic and Buddhist terms and philosophy in there. I don't have the knowledge, the skills or the confidence to go there but there are definitely deeper levels to the series than a lot of epic fantasy.

As always, your mileage may vary.
 

BAYLOR

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I like the series but I loathed Covenant, especially after what did to Lena.
 

Nick Anthony

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Coming late to the discussion, but here are my thoughts. The character Thomas Covenant was never meant to be liked as a hero. No. Instead we are given memorable character to root for that have faith in Thomas because HE reminds them of past hero's. Like Lena, her mother, and her father. Then there is the giant Saltheart Foamfollower who has unwavering loyalty to Covenant. Or Banner the blood guard who does not judge. There is Lord Moram even and his elegant wisdom. There are just too many memorable characters, scenes of struggle and anguish, and even humor to just say the series was mediocre at best.

Now I will admit that the 1st trilogy is the best of the set and that the second set seemed to take a step back though I think it ended on a better note than what the 2nd trilogy started out on. I have not read the final set yet but do plan on reading it soon. So those are my thoughts...
 

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I have not read the final set yet but do plan on reading it soon.
I enjoyed the first trilogy. The second set wasn't too bad. The last four books left me wishing I'd saved my money.
As for Covenant himself. Donaldson makes him thoroughly disagreeable and then throughout the books, attempts to twist the reader's opinion from one of loathing to finally rooting for him. You can see exactly the same technique used in Donaldson's Gap Series in the form of Angus Thermopyle.
 

svalbard

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Not the best set of books to be reading if you feeling anyway down in the dumps.
 

farntfar

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Covenant actions and later those of Linden and to a lesser extent several others (Pitchwife, certain of the Eloi etc) are almost entirely dictated by his need to atone for, or at least correct previous mistakes. The rape is merely the first of his sins.

Donaldson replays this theme on many occasions, with Covenant later trying to atone for mistakes made trying to atone for this one, (Mistreating Elena, Foamfollower, Linden, Mhoram etc), and never receiving the forgiveness he naturally refuses to give himself. (Although apparently getting it from almost everyone else.)
His attempts to make things better sometimes work and sometimes not, with some of his greatest victories turning out to be defeats that show up later and vice versa.

The theme is revisited, as Foxbat has pointed out, in the Gap series, with Angus' rape of Morn, which eventually made him become a sort of hero/good guy in the end. (And once again various other people's good actions resulting from their guilt in the past.)

On a side note, this theme seems to have been reproduced by Doctor Who with the John Hurt character being the inspiration for his later (and earlier?) greatness.
 

nixie

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The rape scene disgusted me at first and I nearly didn't carry on reading. Then I thought about, he didn't believe the Land was real, in his mind he was dreaming. He is a character I started off loathing, then a sense of pity, finally a grudging respect.
 

SilentRoamer

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The rape scene disgusted me at first and I nearly didn't carry on reading. Then I thought about, he didn't believe the Land was real, in his mind he was dreaming. He is a character I started off loathing, then a sense of pity, finally a grudging respect.
Nixie its interesting this thread came up after I think we discussed Thomas Covenant on Saturday over tea?

As a young man I found this very hard to read. One side of me sort of saw it as if Thomas Covenant was a sort of ultimate voyuer and the other that he was an awful human being for wanting to do that (even if there were no unintended consequences). Lena's reaction was far harder for me to digest than Thomas Covenants.

I suppose with the advent of VR and developing realism in games this may become a moral question for the future.

If holodecks (aka TNG) were a real thing and so raping a holo character was a victimless crime is there any moral issue? Is this a victimless crime or is the mere thinking of this morally wrong? Does it allow immoral thoughts to be experienced without moral certitude?

One thing is for certain - I don't have the answers!
 
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