Stephen Donaldson: Introduction

This is the way I remember it.

I was fourteen years old, we were down the shore and my uncle was visiting. He was in his mid-twenties or so. He might have been married to my aunt by then, but she doesn’t figure into this memory.

My uncle took us to the used book store. It was my favorite thing to do on that island full of scratchy sand and stingy salt water. At that used bookstore down the shore, you could buy books for a dollar. One Dollar! I didn’t care that they were used, that just meant that I didn’t have to feel guilty about breaking the spine or getting food on the pages. I didn’t just read books, I devoured them. I flew through them like a tornado. Ripped pages, chocolate fingerprints, cover pealing off. A book never quite recovered from my reading of it.

My mother paid pretty close attention to the books I read. Up to that point, it was mostly young-adult, and a few fantasy books by authors like Piers Anthony and Terry Brooks. They hinted at sex the same way soap operas did, with a lot of groping and moaning but nothing that would lift the veil from my naïveté.

My uncle, probably as naive as I was, didn’t think to question the suitability of my choice when I asked him if I could buy the book with the bright orange cover and the drawing of a man raising his arms to a glow of light on a curved bridge. He probably thought it was religious. The synopsis on the back cover hinted at the story of a man who is sick and finds himself healed in a magical alternative-reality. And how this man will use the power of a ring to fight off the bad guy.

Stephen Donaldson – Lord Foul’s Bane

Sounds a bit like Tolkien, right? And everyone, especially my uncle who was a teenager in the seventies, knew about Tolkien. There was nothing bad in Tolkien. Cute little hobbits and grizzled old wizards. No sex or drugs or humans being evil to other humans. Things you might want to keep away from the mind of your innocent, young niece.

Lord Foul’s Bane, book one of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson, begins with the hero raping an innocent, young girl.

Ok, it doesn’t immediately start that way, but by the time the rape occurs, I had already learned more about human misery and the crushing sadness of despair than I ever wanted to know. When Covenant rapes the poor girl, the reader is not surprised. Covenant does almost nothing good or kind for himself or for anyone else throughout the entire three books of the initial series. He was my first encounter with a true antihero.

This book, which I still have, was my introduction to real, grown-up books. Where not only did bad things happen to good people, sometimes good people did bad things. Piers Anthony and Laura Ingalls Wilder would never again satisfy my newly matured mind. I had seen the power of the gray side, and I would never go back to the black and white worlds of clear cut good vs. evil.

Stephen Donaldson is at his best when writing about the dark side of human nature. If you can handle it, read his Sci-Fi books, the Gap Series. They are harsh, difficult books to get thorough. I have read the series through more than once, and I might do so again.

But only if I am sitting on a bright, sunny beach with loads of happy people around me to deflect some of the despair.


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