Sunday, January 22, 2012

White Gold Wielder by Stephen R. Donaldson

The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenent, Book Three:
White Gold Wielder
By Stephen R. Donaldson
Copyright 1983

White Gold Wielder picks up where The One Tree left off with the Giants of Seasearch, Thomas Covenant, and Linden Avery leaving the sunken island of the One Tree with no direction, no purpose, and no goal.

With them as well are Findail, the Elohim, and Vain, the enigmatic ur-vile who says and does nothing. Vain is altered by the encounter at the One Tree. Earlier, he had placed on a wrist and ankle the metal ornaments of the staff of law. Now, that arm has become wood with bark and all.

The company decides to head back to the Land because Covenant has decided that if he does anything else, it will be to extinguish the Banefire burning at Revelstone.
The giant ship, Drummond heads west, but is blown off course by strong winds out of the south and is driven into a field of ice, many miles north of their course. The giant in charge, the First, decides that they will not free their ship of the ice field in time to reach the land, so she leads a small company of giants and Haruchai to assist Covenant and Linden ashore.

The company crosses the ice field and is soon back in the Land. They meet up with Sunder and Hollian, the stonedowner couple Covenant left behind to spread the gospel of the White Gold and to try to rally the people of the Land against the Sunbane. Sunder reports that they were met in this quest with indifference some places and outright hostility in others.

He also reports that the na-Mhoram have stepped up their kidnappings to feed and strengthen the Sunbane. Most stonedowns and villages are made up now of the very old and the very young, with the healthy and vital taken for their blood.

Joined by Sunder and Hollian, the company heads east toward Revelstone. They arrive to find the place silent. They enter and Covenant, now barely able to control the white gold due to the raver’s venom pulsing in his vains, elects to use another means to bring down the sunbane. He summons the Sandgorgon, Nom, who killed his bloodguard on the island of Bhraithar and then proceeded to single handedly wreck the keep there. It must answer the summons of the person who says its name and kill them. However, wielding the white gold, Covenant is able to control and subdue the sand gorgon and make it do his bidding.

Covenant, Linden, and the giant, Grimmand Honninscrave, enter Revelstone to find the Raver Gibbon who leads the na-Mhoram. The rest of the company is left at the entrance to fight off the attack from behind. The raver, now desperate, has summoned his warriors as well as lowly peasants to strike blows at the giants who guard the rear.

Once inside, the group finds Gibbon in his chamber, wielding his Rukh with which he controls the power of the Sunbane. Gibbon captures Honninscrave by sealing his arms and legs in stone. He prepares to bring his might against Linden and Covenant so he may take the White Gold and supplant Lord Foul as the master of the universe. But before he can, Nom enters and knocks from Gibbon’s hand, his Rukh. This releases Grimmand Honninscrave who attacks Gibbon and kills him.

With the death of Gibbon, the soul of the raver is free. It enters Honninscrave. Honninscrave struggles for mastery of his own body as he duels the raver inside. He begs for Covenant to kill him while he holds the raver at bay. Nom kills Honninscrave as he holds the raver, thus slaying both. Now, no one leads the Clave, the keepers of the Sunbane.

Covenant is distraught and depressed after yet another friend has made the supreme sacrifice on his behalf. Crazed with grief, he steps into the Banefire and unleashes the magic of the white gold upon himself, enduring his own rite of Camora – the rite of immersion in fire used by the giants to cleanse their souls of hurt and suffering. Linden watches with horror as Covenant endures the pain. However, he steps from the Banefire a changed man. He is now at peace with himself and his power for the first time.

They travel to the top of Revelstone where they meet The First and her husband, Pitchwife who are there with Nom. Nom has used his immense strength to channel through the stone and plan to sluice the waters of Glimmermere Lake into the keep and to extinguish the Banefire. Nom lets the water flow and the Banefire is ended.

The end of the Banefire does not mean the end of the Sunbane for it is now deeply woven into the fabric of the Land. Covenant lays the foundation of what he hopes will be a new regime of peaceful people who will once again someday be able to see a healthy Land and make use of its innate power. He instructs his remaining Bloodguard to remain at Revelstone, keep it, and make it ready for a new generation of lords who will oversee the Land’s restoration.

Hollian and Sunder join Covenant, Linden, the two giants, Findail and Vain as they depart Revelstone and head for Lord Foul’s lair in Mount Thunder. Along the way, they are attacked by ur-viles, and the pregnant Hollian is slain. Sunder is bereft of speech with grief. He recovers Hollian’s body and takes it with him, acting if she was still alive.

The company arrives at Andelain where Covenant spoke with his dead and received the gift of Vain. There, the company meets the old forestal, Caer Caveral. Caveral is now old and tired from keeping the Sunbane from sundering Andelain – the only place in the Land that is still pure. He asks that he be killed to save the Land. Sunder obliges him with a knife to the back and Hollian’s life is restored. As High Lord Elena destroyed the Law of Death centuries before in The Illearth War, Caer Caveral has destroyed the Law of Life, restoring life through death.

Sunder and Hollian stay behind in Andelain which is no longer protected by the forestal and is slowly being warped by the Sunbane. Covenant and the rest of the party head for Mount Thunder.

Along the way, Linden becomes uneasy with the new Thomas Covenant who is so at ease with himself and his choices. She fears that he has surrendered and will surrender the white gold to Lord Foul. She resolves that she will take whatever means are necessary to prevent that from happening.

The company arrives at Mount Thunder and enters. They are attacked by Cavewights who want to use Covenant’s ring to resurrect Drool Rockworm, the cavewight who found the staff of law and was tricked into summoning Thomas Covenant to the Land for the first time. The Giants stay to hold off the cavewights while Covenant and Linden venture forward to meet Lord Foul.

Lord Foul is waiting for them. Immediately upon arrival, Linden’s body is seized by a raver and she is left as a powerless spectator as Covenant does what she’d feared. He gives the white gold ring to Lord Foul. Foul grasps the wring and immediately kills Covenant. He then begins unleashing gouts of power at the Arch of Time itself – the device which keeps him chained to the land. With the fall of the Arch, Foul will be unleashed into the cosmos to dominate the universe.

However, something blocks Foul’s attack. It is the spirit of Thomas Covenant, now unbound by both the laws of life and death, to meet Foul head on. Foul eventually uses up all of his power and is forced into submission and retreats from the Land.

Linden is able to break free of the grasp of the Raver and seizes the white gold wedding band. She sees Findail desperately trying to kill Vain and she understands their conflicting, yet synergistic purpose. The fluid earthpower of Findail of the race of the unhomed and the stoic rigidity of the ur-vile Vain, are complementary. Linden uses the white gold to bond the two and they slowly lose their earthly forms and are reshaped into a new staff of law.

With Covenant gone, Linden begins to fade from the Land. Before she leaves, she takes the staff of law and the white gold and combines the power of law and chaos to destroy the Sunbane. Before she leaves, she places the new staff of law into the hands of the giants.

While in an ethereal state between the Land and her own world, the spirit of Thomas Covenant speaks to her. He tells her that he could not use the white gold to attack and kill Foul for the battle would have destroyed the Arch of Time, allowing Foul his victory. He simply needed Foul to wield the power against himself, for as Covenant was told so many times by those repeating prophecy, he is the white gold. He leaves her with the promise of undying love.

Linden awakens in the glade where she witnessed Covenant being stabbed by the maniacal preacher. His body is dead and prostrate upon the stone, a knife protruding from his chest. Her friend and mentor, Dr. Berenford is there with the police. People have been hurt and as doctors, their place is among the wounded. The police are left to tend to the dead.

So ends the third and final volume of Stephen Donaldson’s Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

The second trilogy really pales in comparison to the first. It opens with promise as we see the Land, which Donaldson imbued with so much beauty and spirit in his first trilogy, warped and ruined. The first book was about action, reaction, and learning. Plots and subplots were put into motion and promised an epic battle for the heart and soul of the living Land.

However, Donaldson wallowed in lugubrious reflection, second guessing, and overwrought emotion. Thomas Covenant was an anti-hero. We were supposed to root for him, but not like him. After all, his first act in the Land was to rape a 16 year old girl. He finds redemption in the first trilogy.

But he’s not very likeable in the second trilogy because he’s a whiny, petulant, mouse of a man. Every little setback turns into page after page of morose introspection. Covenant is cleansed of this narcissistic brooding by his immersion in the Banefire. But by then, it is too late for the reader because the remainder of the book is written from Linden’s point of view.

Linden isn’t very likeable either. She’s no anti-hero, although Donaldson makes a half-hearted effort at making her one. We learn that Linden killed her mother by suffocating her as she lie dying in a hospital bed. This would be a tragic and painful ordeal for a real person and would certainly fill them with guilt. But it lacks the despicable nature that creates an anti-hero. The seminal and defining event in Linden's life that makes her so unsure of her emotions is seldom referenced and does not serve as a defining characteristic. It seems tacked on.

Linden is also almost always sulking about something. Much of the second trilogy, especially the second book, is page after page of Linden brooding about something Covenant said or did. Reading the interaction between them was like hanging out with a couple who look for the smallest reasons to fight with each other and ruin your evening. You don’t want to hang out with them anymore and there were times that I wanted to put these books down and quit spending time with Mr. Doom and Mrs. Gloom, aka Thomas Covenant and Linden Avery.

The second book was pointless. Through 500 pages, little new information was revealed. The plot advanced little. The point of the book turned out to be false. It was as if Donaldson was cranking out words and storylines while searching for the resolution of his story – a resolution he did not find before completing the second book.

The third book brings some redemption to the story. We rejoin the main plot. As he head toward Revelstone with the goal of bringing down the Clave and ending the Sunbane, Thomas Covenant once again becomes a man of action. With purpose defined, he becomes a less brooding figure and a more heroic one.

The story’s climax is fitting and almost makes it worth enduring the second book. The climax is brilliant because it is rather anti-climatic, but revealing. At the beginning of the book, Foul tells Covenant that he will willingly hand over the white gold. The reader dismisses this as boastful bloviating. The anti-climax is developed as Covenant does just that. There is no epic battle, just simple surrender and self sacrifice. Foul is not destroyed. We find that Foul and his existence are as essential to the existence of the Land as is the staff of law.

The end of the second trilogy sets up another sequel which Donaldson would undertake almost 30 years later. Three books have been published in the Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. I have read the first two, and they show promise for an exciting conclusion to this epic story.

Reading this trilogy was frequently a struggle, but worth it for no other reason than it sets up the third Chronicles. No matter how badly Donaldson’s plots sometimes falter, he remains a brilliant wordsmith. His expansive vocabulary, his strong character development (when they are not overwrought with self pity), and his descriptive narrative make him one of the most enjoyable writers I’ve ever read.

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