The Runes of the Earth by Stephen R. Donaldson

The Runes of the Earth (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, #1)The Runes of the Earth by Stephen R. Donaldson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To abuse an overused cliche, when Donaldson burst onto the scene on 1977 with Thomas Covenant, this teen who had only Tolkien and the plagiarist Brooks, and the Chronicles turned the world on its ear. (Okay, many many years later, having read a part of an interview, I realize that Terry Brooks had no one but Tolkien as inspiration so it was natural that he emulate him) Those Chronicles were so different. And, then the Second Chronicles…then the Last. I’d read this when it came out in 2004, but remembered only a few things (the beginning and the ending.) I’d also read the next (and remember even less …just the ending), but never got past 47 words into the third. I intend to fix that in 2019 and finish the series, but I needed a refresher, so …

Fast forward ten years and 3,500 years from where he left off in White Gold Wielder, the evil that wants the destruction of the Land and everything is risen again in a new but familiar form, and it still has a foothold in the original world of Covenant. When the first of the Second Chronicles came out around the same time as Herbert’s God Emperor of Dune, they both imagined 4,000 years into a future from the familiar. Now, I was a huge Dune fan, but Donaldson did it far better. And he did it again with the Last Chronicles. This is a long set up. Really long. 500+ pages long. And that which was set up to be revealed at the end was a cliffhanger of epical aggravation. Good thing this time around the remaining novels have already been written and I don’t have to wait!

Donaldson has a skill rarely rivaled in using semi-obscure and sometimes really obscure technically correct but not archaic words. And he writes tomes! Sure Jordan and Eddings (and others) did as well, but they were definitely more somniferous and I couldn’t get into them. Donaldson makes it difficult not for the now and then thesaurus confirmation check but for a maddening central character. The inaction, whether from the unbelief of Covenant or the disbelief and later paralytic belief with Linden Avery, this reader for sure found himself more than once when young thinking, “Oh my god, what is wrong with you?!!” As an adult with 40 years maturity wadded on, thoughts tend more toward a sanitized “Just do it, damn it!”

These are not enjoyable reads. But that is not the same as enjoying reading them. They challenge the imagination. They challenge paradigms. There might be other writers who do this in the context of fantasy fiction, but Donaldson’s books are the ones I’ve chosen to read. They are dark and heavy, annoying and disconcerting, frustrating and yet satisfying, not enjoyable as I said but I enjoy reading them.

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