But look at this seventies cover:
This should have been one of the greatest works of fantasy fiction ever written. It has an original thought-provoking premise that should be hard to screw up, and it came out in 1977, when fantasy was in a bad place. In the aftermath of the success of The Lord of the Rings, “fantasy” had come to mean reselling Tolkien in watered-down form. The Sword of Shannara would come out the same year. Lord Foul’s Bane was in the perfect position to be a meaningful and important contribution to the genre. Unfortunately, Stephen R. Donaldson screwed it up, and we wouldn’t get the book he should have written until six years later, with The Colour of Magic.
The premise is simple: Thomas Covenant, a novelist and incidentally a leper (yes, there are still lepers), gets hit by a car and finds himself transported to a fantasy land called, conveniently enough, the Land. He questions the Land’s existence, and we are given good reasons to do the same: its history parallels his own, its conflicts mirror his psychic turmoil, and some things in the land—names, snatches of tunes, etc.—are obviously drawn from our world. Covenant appears to the people in the Land as a hero spoken of in prophecy, and quickly finds himself with a quest to carry out. Whether or not it is a dream, the Land obstinately refuses to go away, and he is forced into a kind of provisional acceptance of it so he can keep his sanity and complete the quest.
It plays with some interesting ideas and must have been novel at the time, when we had yet to see the worst that high fantasy had to offer. Donaldson’s fault wasn’t in the conception. It was in the execution, which is so flawed that the book is hardly worth talking about except as a cautionary tale. Read the rest of this entry »