Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Wounded Land by Stephen R. Donaldson

The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever
The Wounded Land
By Stephen R. Donaldson
Copyright 1980

Ten years have passed since Thomas Covenant defeated Lord Foul at Foul’s Creche and saved The Land. Now, he lives on his farm where he has resumed his writing career.
Linden Avery is a young physician with a tragic backstory. Her father committed suicide when she was just 10. She found him hanging from the attic rafters. Her mother lived out her years a slothful, self pitying creature who longed for death. She and Covenant will be linked in a new effort to save The Land now completely under the sway of Lord Foul.

Linden’s mentor, the chief of staff at the local hospital, beseeches her to visit Thomas Covenant and check on him. He is dealing with a problem which he refuses to divulge, but wants Linden to ascertain how he is doing. Linden reluctantly agrees.
On her way to Haven Farm, Linden notices that there are several people dressed in burlap and rags in town. They are holding signs that tell people they must repent now. As she turns into the drive leading to Covenant’s farm, she sees and old man standing alongside the drive, dressed in ochre robes. Upon Linden seeing him, he collapses to the ground.

Linden starts CPR and is able to resuscitate him. After regaining consciousness, the man whispers to her, “You will not fail, no matter how he may assail you.” He then disappears.

Startled and unnerved, she makes her way to Covenant’s house. As she stands at the door, waiting for Covenant to answer, she can hear the plaintive screams of a woman inside the house. Covenant answers the door and tells her to get lost, that he doesn’t want her help or her company. She tells him about the man in the ochre robe and Covenant is startled enough to let her into the house.

There, she finds Joan, Covenant’s ex-wife, bound to a bed, screaming and raving. Covenant is trying to care for her. Covenant releases one of her arms and she scratches him and then licks the blood from her nails. Joan apologizes, saying, “He’s in my head, Tom.”

Linden is horrified and insists that Joan be taken to a hospital. Covenant will not have it. He will take care of Joan – alone. Covenant tells Linden that Joan has recently had a breakdown. It started as a sudden devotion to religion. She took their son, left her parents’ house, and joined a commune. But she soon left, returning to the farm she once shared with Thomas Covenant and tried to claw him to pieces. Since then, Covenant has been caring for her while keeping her restrained. “He,” is using her Covenant tells Linden, to torture Covenant. Linden quickly comes to believe that Covenant himself is mentally ill.

She leaves Covenant’s house and travels down the drive toward the main road, her thoughts troubled by how the old man suddenly disappeared and by Covenant’s madness. Linden Avery, the cold and aloof physician whose life is dedicated to science and logic, must find the rational explanation to the riddle. She parks her car and heads back toward Covenant’s house on foot.

As she approaches the house, she sees that Covenant has company. An old man dressed in burlap tells Covenant that the master has demanded his soul and asks him to come. To Linden’s astonishment, Covenant goes willingly with the man.

They travel through the woods to a clearing. There, Linden sees men, women, and children, all dressed in burlap, standing around a stone alter. Staked to that alter is Joan Covenant. Thomas Covenant is brought forward and asked if he will take Joan’s place. Covenant does so willingly. He is placed on the alter.

Linden is horrified that Covenant is so willing to lay down his life. Just as the leader of the strange cult is preparing to plunge a knife into Covenant’s chest, she begins to scream. Her scream distracts the followers, but the knife continues its downward course into Covenant’s chest.

Covenant feels the knife pierce his chest. But before he can die, his once again summoned to the Land where he is greeted by Lord Foul’s voice, just as he was when he first ventured to the Land 10 years prior. Foul tells him he is now powerless and eventually, will willingly hand over the white gold wedding ring to him.

Covenant finds himself high atop Kevin’s Watch, just as before. However, Linden has made the trip with him. Her highly rational mind can’t grip what she’s seeing. Covenant tries to explain briefly where they are, but they are caught in a fierce electrical storm and cover is their first order of business.

They descend from Kevin’s Watch and are greeted by an old man who takes them to his lonely, remote stone home. He tells Covenant that, for generations, his father and his fathers before him for thousands of years have awaited the return of the White Gold Wielder. He tells Covenant he must put right what is wrong in the Land.

The old man says he must travel to Mithil Stonedown to tell the people that the White Gold Wielder has returned and sets off, leaving Covenant and Linden to wrap their minds around what has happened. Covenant immediately recognizes that he has no earth sense – no vision of what is right and what is corrupt in the Land as he did in his first journey here. Linden tries to cope with the fact that she does have earth sense. To her rational mind, it is nearly too much to bear to be able to see disease and corruption as she sees in Covenant’s leprosy.

Covenant decides to head off to Mithil Stonedown himself. As they depart, the find the old man slain by a knife in the back. Linden is nearly overcome with the horror of the corruption in the act. They continue to the stonedown. Once they arrive, they are immediately taken prisoner by the stonedowners and locked in a room without explanation.

After a few hours, they are summoned to the center of the village and surrounded by the stonedowners who simply stare silently at them. Covenant starts asking questions and making demands. All the while, they stonedowners look on without reaction.

Finally, a voice from the back demands that their blood be spilled. Another man says that he is the graveler of the stonedown and the ritual of silence is his to begin and end. When, in his stream of consciousness ramblings, Covenant mentions the name, Mhoram, the voice from the rear says that since Covenant has named the na-Mhoram as friends, he must die. He launches an attack. But the attack is quickly put down by the graveler using a glowing rock of power. The man is led away and Covenant and Linden are returned to their prison.

Linden says she saw utter corruptness in the man who tried to attack them. Covenant immediately recognizes by her description that the man was held by a Raver – one of Foul’s three disciples who can inhabit the body of the unsuspecting. He also recognizes the graveler’s stone as an orcrest –a magical stone that uses earth power.

The graveler joins them later that evening and tells them that they are to be sacrificed and their blood used to benefit the stonedown. The graveler, who introduces himself as Sunder, the son of the old man who greeted Covenant, says that the blood will be used to control the Sunbane so that the people can extract water and crops from the land which does not yield such without the spilling of blood.
Covenant explains to the young graveler that his father was right and using the man’s orcrest, is able to display the power of the white gold. Sunder is stunned. Covenant implores Sunder to help guide them to Revelstone so that Covenant may learn what went wrong and put it right.

Revelstone, Sunder tells Covenant that Revelstone is where the Clave, the controllers of the naMhoram make their home and the place from which the Sunbane emminates. Covenant insists upon going there. Convinced by Covenant’s display of power, Sunder agrees. They set off under the cover of darkness.

As they travel north along the dry bed of the Mithil River, Covenant learns how wicked the Sunbane is. Sunder must cut himself and draw blood to use his orcrest to summon water on days of desert sun. On days of the sun of pestilence, one must take cover out of the sun or stand on solid stone lest their flesh be corrupted and they converted into horrible monsters.

As they are traveling, Covenant is beset upon by a strange reptilian like humanoid that bites him and injects him with venom. Linden tries to extract the venom, but is unsuccessful. Sunder explains that the being who attacked Covenant was the man who tried to kill them back at Mithil Stonedown. As punishment, he was left to be corrupted under the sun of pestilence and became this creature.

The venom infects Covenant and he becomes ill. In his delirium, he is unable to control his wild magic. Through the use of treasure berries, Linden is able to nurse him back to health, but while the venom is dormant, it is still present.

As they come to the end of the Mithil River, Covenant shows them Andelain and tells them it is a place of beauty and wonder. Sunder is unwilling to enter Andelain, having heard tales of Andelain driving people mad. Covenant ventures forth to see if the Sunbane has infected Andelain as well as the rest of the land.

Covenant finds that the inherent beauty of the Land is still present in Andelain. He wanders about with the venom still coursing through his veins. He eventually encounters the last forrestal, his old friend Hile Troy. With Troy are all of Covenant’s dead from his previous time in the Land. Elena, Saltheart Foamfollower, Mhoram, and Bannor. Bannor implores Covenant to save his people whose plight is an abomination. They give him a gift, an ur-vile to accompany him. He is the last of his kind. The forrestal tells Covenant that his name is Vile, and his purpose is his own. However, he can be commanded just once to carry out Covenant’s wishes.

Covenant returns from Andelain to find his friends are gone. He tracks them to a nearby stonedown where he learns that they have been seized by the Clave and taken to Revelstone. He sets out to rescue his friends who have a large head start on him.
Soon, he is picked up by a rider of the Clave who bears him to Revelstone. There, the na-Mhoram profess to be the only protection between the Sunbane and total destruction of the Land. They invite Covenant to shed a little of his own blood to learn more about the Sunbane. He volunteers and is trapped. His blood flows freely into the banefire while he watches the history of the land unfold; how a raver took control of the lords and corrupted them and the land to create the Sunbane. He also learns that the blood that feeds the Banefire most potently is that of the Haruchi – the Bloodguard.

As his life force dwindles, the white gold, which he can no longer control or harness, kicks in. It wipes out the members of the Clave in the room and he is released. Delirious from blood loss, he only can think of his friends imprisoned in the dungeon. He heads there where he is able to free Linden and their friends as well as several Haruchai.

They head north from Revelstone to Glimmermere Lake which remains untouched by the Sunbane. There, Covenant recovers the Krill of Loric – a magical weapon effective against Ravers. Covenant then decides he must leave the land and search for the One Tree so that a new Staff of Law can be fashioned to help restore the Land to its former glory. Covenant, Linden, the ever silent and implacable Vile, and several Bloodguard head west toward Coerci – the home of the lost giants who died at the hands of the ravers thousands of years before.

As they near the coast, they encounter Giants who are part of an expedition seeking out a source of ill in the world Covenant convinces them that the only way to rid the world of the Sunbane is to use their ship and take him abroad so that he may find the One Tree. After much arguing and convincing, they agree.

The party heads for Coerci and the giants are horrified at the tale Covenant tells them about the giants willingly laying down their lives in shame at what had become of their three brothers. Covenant uses his white gold to bring forth the dead of Coerci and each completes the rite of Camora – a rite where giants immerse their flesh in fire to relieve guilt and anguish. The grief of the dead of Coerci is released and these new giants proclaim Covenant Giantfriend.

Covenant tells Sunder and Hollian – a stonedowner captured with Linden and the others, to take the Krill and return to the Land to fight the Sunbane. He promises to return with the Staff of Law to put things right. The book ends with Covenant and Linden setting sale with the giants, in search of the One Tree.

Donaldson gives us a whole new Land with this second trilogy. Juxtaposed against the Land as we knew it in the first trilogy, this is a vile place. Blood is shed to commit even small acts of survival. The weak are killed and bled so that their friends and neighbors can survive. Hostages are taken to Revelstone – once an icon of love of earthlore – to be bled to feed the Sunbane.

While Donaldson wrote from a few points of view in the first trilogy, it was clear that Covenant was the focal point of the story. In the second trilogy, we get a sense that Linden Avery is a greater focal point than is Covenant. She has earth sense. It is she that perceives and it is she that can reveal knowledge. Covenant, perhaps because he’s dead back in the real world – has not these abilities anymore.
Donaldson tries to make Linden an emotional cripple the equivalent of Covenant in the first trilogy and doesn’t quite get there. Yes, she is sullen, emotionally detached from other people, and excessively deliberative. But she lacks Covenant’s status as an anti-hero. There’s no reason to dislike Linden as there was with Covenant. Therefore, she is a weaker hero in this trilogy (so far) than was Covenant in the last.

There is a profound change to Thomas Covenant’s character in the second trilogy. He is much more proactive. In the first trilogy, everyone else laid out the plans and decided what was to be done. Covenant was always passive; going where he was told to go and complaining about his plight all the way.

In this book, it is he who is decisive, dictates action, and fights. Donaldson brings forward this transformation admirably. We learn how much Covenant has come to love the Land since he left it ten years before and how he has come to love those with whom he fought for its safety. The transformation of Covenant from a pitiful whiner (albeit effective anti-hero) into a decisive, heroic figure, is the most remarkable trait of the new trilogy.

Instead of transporting us back to the real world at the end of this book, we stay in the Land. This is good. While the first trilogy was superb in its execution, these seams in the story were a distraction. It is apparent that our entire story is going to take place in the Land – or at least in the world in which it exists.
The next book covers the search for the One Tree. It is aptly titled, The One Tree. In it, we will learn about other lands exist outside the Land and we will learn of the source of the Staff of Law – and Vain’s purpose.

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