Authors: Stephen R. Donaldson
The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
The Runes of the Earth
Against All Things Ending
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever
Lord Foul’s Bane
The Illearth War
The Power That Preserves
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
The Wounded Land
The One Tree
White Gold Wielder
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Copyright © 2013 by Stephen R. Donaldson
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Donaldson, Stephen R.
The last dark / Stephen R. Donaldson.
p. cm.—(The last chronicles of Thomas Covenant ; Book four)
1. Covenant, Thomas (Fictitious character)—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3554.O469L37 2013 2013016784
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
to Jennifer Dunstan,
who stood with me the whole time
and to John Eccker,
who has put in more effort, and has been of more help, than I could ever have expected
and to Robyn H. Butler:
“And they lived happily ever after.”
“The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever”
As a young man—a novelist, happily married, with an infant son, Roger—Thomas Covenant is stricken with leprosy. In a leprosarium, where the last two fingers of his right hand are amputated, he learns that leprosy is incurable. As it progresses, it produces numbness, often killing its victims by leaving them unaware of infections. Medications arrest its progress; but Covenant is taught that his only hope of survival lies in protecting himself obsessively from any form of damage.
Horrified by his illness, he returns to his home on Haven Farm. But other blows to his emotional stability follow. His wife, Joan, abandons and divorces him to protect their son. Fearing the mysterious nature of his illness, the people around him cast him in the traditional role of the leper: a pariah, outcast and unclean. In addition, he becomes impotent—and unable to write. Grimly he struggles to go on living; but as his despair mounts, he has episodes of prolonged unconsciousness, during which he seems to visit a magical realm known only as “the Land.”
In the Land, physical and emotional health are tangible forces, made palpable by an energy called Earthpower. Because vitality and beauty are concrete qualities, as plain to the senses as size and color, the well-being of the physical world has become the guiding precept of the Land’s people. When Covenant first encounters them, in
Lord Foul’s Bane
, they greet him as the reincarnation of an ancient hero, Berek Halfhand, because he, too, has lost half of his hand. Also Covenant possesses a white gold ring—his wedding band—which they know to be a mighty talisman, able to wield “the wild magic that destroys peace.”
Shortly after he first appears in the Land, Covenant’s leprosy and impotence disappear, cured by Earthpower; and this, he knows, is impossible. Indeed, the mere idea that he possesses some form of magical power threatens the stubborn disciplines on which his survival depends. Therefore he chooses to interpret the Land as a dream or hallucination. He responds to his new health with Unbelief: the dogged assertion that the Land is not real.
Because of his Unbelief, his initial reactions to the people and wonders of the Land are at best dismissive, at worst cruel. At one point, urged by sensations which he can neither accept nor control, and certain that his experiences are illusory, he rapes Lena, a young girl who has befriended him. However, her people decline to punish or reject him for his actions. As Berek Halfhand reborn, he is beyond judgment. And there is an ancient prophecy concerning the white gold wielder: “With the one word of truth or treachery, / he will save or damn the Earth.” Covenant’s new companions know that they cannot make his choices for him. They can only hope that he will eventually follow Berek’s example by saving the Land.
At first, such forbearance achieves little, although Covenant is moved by both the ineffable beauties of this world and the kindness of its people. During his travels, however—first with Lena’s mother, Atiaran, then with the Seareach Giant Saltheart Foamfollower, and finally with the Lords of Revelstone—he learns enough of the Land’s history to understand what is at stake.
The Land has an ancient enemy, Lord Foul the Despiser, who dreams of destroying the Arch of Time—and with it not only the Land but the entire Earth—in order to escape what he perceives to be a prison. Against this evil stands the Council of Lords, men and women who have dedicated their lives to nurturing the health of the Land, and to opposing Despite.
Unfortunately these Lords possess only a small fraction of their predecessors’ power. The Staff of Law, Berek’s primary instrument of Earthpower, has been hidden from them. And the lore of Law and Earthpower seems inherently inadequate to defeat Lord Foul. Wild magic rather than Law is the crux of Time. Without it, the Arch cannot be destroyed; but neither can it be defended.
Hence both the Lords and the Despiser seek Thomas Covenant’s allegiance. The Lords attempt to win his aid with courage and compassion: the Despiser, through manipulation. And in this contest Covenant’s Unbelief appears to ally him with the Despiser.
Nevertheless Covenant cannot deny his reaction to the Land’s apparent transcendence. And as he is granted more and more friendship by its people, he remembers his violence toward Lena with dismay. Thus he faces an insoluble conundrum: the Land cannot be real, yet it feels entirely real. His heart responds to its loveliness—and that response has the potential to kill him by undermining his necessary caution and hopelessness.
Trapped within this contradiction, he attempts to escape through a series of unspoken bargains. In
Lord Foul’s Bane
, he lends the Lords his passive support, hoping that this will enable him to avoid the possibilities—the responsibilities—of his white gold ring. And at first his hopes are realized. The Lords find the lost Staff of Law; their immediate enemy, one of Lord Foul’s servants, is defeated; and Covenant is released from the Land.
Back in his real world, however, he discovers that he has in fact gained nothing. Indeed, his plight has worsened. His experience of friendship and magic has weakened his ability to endure his outcast loneliness. When he is translated to the Land a second time, in
The Illearth War
, he knows that he must devise a new bargain.
During his absence, the Land’s plight has worsened as well. Decades have passed there; and in that time Lord Foul has acquired the Illearth Stone, a bane of staggering power. With it, the Despiser has created an army that now marches against the Lords: a force which the Staff of Law cannot adequately oppose. The Lords need the strength of wild magic.
Other developments also exacerbate Covenant’s dilemma. The Council is now led by High Lord Elena, his daughter by his rape of Lena. With her, he begins to experience the real consequences of his crime: unlike the rest of the Council, he can see that she is not completely sane. In addition, the army of the Lords is led by a man named Hile Troy, who appears to come from Covenant’s own world. Troy’s presence radically erodes Covenant’s self-protective Unbelief.
Now more than ever Covenant needs to resolve his conundrum. Again he posits a private bargain. He will give the Lords his active support. Specifically, he will join Elena on a quest to discover the source of EarthBlood, the most concentrated form of Earthpower. But he will continue to deny that his ring has any magic. He will accept no responsibility for the Land’s fate.
This time, however, the results of his bargain are disastrous. Using the Illearth Stone, Lord Foul slaughters the Giants of Seareach. Hile Troy is only able to defeat the Despiser’s army by giving his soul to Caerroil Wildwood, the Forestal of Garroting Deep. And Covenant’s help enables Elena to find the EarthBlood, which she uses to violate the Law of Death. She resurrects Kevin Landwaster, a long-dead High Lord, believing that he will have more power against Lord Foul than anyone living. But she is terribly wrong; and in the resulting catastrophe, both she and the Staff of Law are lost.
Covenant returns to his real world knowing that his attempts to resolve his dilemma have served the Despiser.
Nearly broken by his failures, he visits the Land again in
The Power That Preserves
, where he discovers the full cost of his actions. Dead, his daughter now serves Lord Foul, using the Staff of Law to wreak havoc. Her mother, Lena, has lost her mind. And the Lords are besieged by an army too powerful to be defeated.
Covenant still has no solution to his conundrum: only wild magic can save the Land, yet he cannot afford to accept it. However, sickened at heart by Lena’s madness, and by the imminent ruin of the Land, he resolves to confront the Despiser himself. He has no hope of victory, but he would rather sacrifice himself for the sake of an unreal yet magical place than preserve his outcast life in his real world.
Before he can reach the Despiser, however, he must first face dead Elena and the Staff of Law. Although he cannot oppose her, she defeats herself: her attack on him draws a fierce response from his ring—a response which also destroys the Staff.
Accompanied only by his old friend, the Giant Saltheart Foamfollower, Covenant finally confronts Lord Foul and the Illearth Stone. Facing the Despiser’s savagery and malice, he at last finds the solution to his conundrum, “the eye of the paradox”: the point of balance between accepting that the Land is real and insisting that it is not. On that basis, he uses the dire might of the Illearth Stone to trigger wild magic from his ring. With that power, he shatters both the Stone and Lord Foul’s home, thereby ending the threat of the Despiser’s evil.
When he returns to his own world, he learns that his new-found balance benefits him there as well. He knows now that the reality or unreality of the Land is less important than his love for it; and this insight gives him the strength to face his life as a pariah without fear or bitterness.
“The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant”
For ten years after the events of
The Power That Preserves
, Covenant lives alone on Haven Farm, writing novels. He is still an outcast, but he has one friend, Dr. Julius Berenford. Then, however, two damaged women enter his life.
His ex-wife, Joan, returns to him, violently insane. Leaving Roger with her parents, she has spent years in a commune which has dedicated itself to Despite, and which has chosen Covenant to be its victim. Hoping to spare anyone else the hazards of involvement, Covenant attempts to care for Joan alone.
When Covenant refuses aid, Dr. Berenford enlists Linden Avery, a young physician whom he has recently hired. Like Joan, she has been badly hurt, although in entirely different ways. As a young girl, she was locked in a room with her father while he committed suicide. And as a teenager, she killed her mother, an act of euthanasia to which she felt compelled by her mother’s self-pity. Loathing death, Linden has become a doctor in a haunted attempt to erase her past.
At Dr. Berenford’s urging, Linden intrudes on Covenant and Joan. When members of Joan’s commune seek to sacrifice Covenant, Linden tries to intervene, but she is struck down. As a result, she accompanies him when he is returned to the Land.
During Covenant’s absence, several thousand years have passed, and the Despiser has regained his power. As before, he plots to use Covenant’s wild magic in order to break the Arch of Time. In
The Wounded Land
, however, Covenant and Linden learn that Lord Foul has altered his methods. Instead of relying on armies and warfare to goad Covenant, he has devised an attack on the natural Law which gives the Land its beauty and health.
The overt form of this attack is the Sunbane, a malefic corona around the sun which produces fertility, rain, drought, and pestilence in mad succession. So great is the Sunbane’s destructiveness that it now dominates all life in the Land. And its virulence also serves to mask Lord Foul’s deeper stratagems.
He has spent centuries corrupting the Council of Lords. That group now rules over the Land as the Clave; and it is led by a Raver, one of the Despiser’s most vicious servants. The Clave extracts blood from the people of the Land to feed the Banefire, an enormous blaze which increases the Sunbane.
However, the hidden purpose of the Clave and the Banefire is to inspire from Covenant an excessive exertion of wild magic. And toward that end, another Raver afflicts Covenant with a venom intended to cripple his self-control. When the venom has done its work, he will be unable to defend the Land without destroying the Arch.
As for Linden Avery, Lord Foul intends to use her loathing of death against her. She alone is gifted or cursed with the health-sense which once enabled the people of the Land to perceive physical and emotional health directly. For that reason, she is uniquely vulnerable to the malevolence of the Sunbane, as well as to the malice of the Ravers. Such evils threaten her to the core.
Although her health-sense accentuates her potential as a healer, it also gives her the capacity to possess other people; to reach so deeply into them that she can control their actions. By this means, Lord Foul intends to cripple her morally: he seeks to make of her a woman who will possess Covenant, misuse his power. Thus she will give the Despiser what he wants even if Covenant does not.
And should those ploys fail, Lord Foul has prepared other gambits.
Horrified in their separate ways by what has been done to the Land, Covenant and Linden wish to confront the Clave; but on their own, they cannot survive the complex perils of the Sunbane. Fortunately they gain the companionship of two villagers, Sunder and Hollian, who help Covenant and Linden avoid ruin.
But Linden, Sunder, and Hollian are separated from Covenant near a region known as Andelain, captured by the Clave while he enters Andelain alone. It was once the most beautiful and Earthpowerful place in the Land; and he now discovers that it alone remains intact, defended from the Sunbane by the last Forestal, Caer-Caveral, who was once Hile Troy. There Covenant encounters his Dead, the spectres of his long-gone friends. They offer him advice and guidance for the struggle ahead. And they give him a gift: a strange ebony creature named Vain, an artificial being created for a hidden purpose by ur-viles, former servants of the Despiser.