Tuesday, May 24, 2011
A land is a reflection of the inner state of beings that inhabit it. From the inside, we each weave the fabric of our physical environment. Exploring our world, we are really journeying through ourselves. And discovering ourselves.
This truth is evoked and illustrated so eloquently in my personal favorite fantasy tale, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Since the novels, which were written by Stephen R. Donaldson, are fairly well known, I'll just provide a brief description of their premise here. Thomas Covenant's life, as the first trilogy begins, has taken a drastic turn from bright promise to darkness and despair. Once he had been happily married, a successful novelist; but now that leprosy has begun to ravage him (yeah, I know that modern medicine can treat that illness fairly easily nowadays, but back in the '70's it was still a big deal!) he finds himself surrounded by people who fear and shun him. His wife abandons him and takes their infant son along with her.
In his loneliness and bereavement, Covenant experiences a series of "psychotic episodes" during which he's apparently translated to a vibrant and magical environment known simply (to its wondrous inhabitants) as The Land.
Now, I don't want to give away any more of the plot to those of you who haven't read it. I highly recommend these novels, though they are quite dark (more so than The Lord of the Rings, for instance, and also much more adult oriented) and won't appeal to the faint of heart. But I do want to mention that for all its breathtaking detail and the seering power and sweep of Donaldson's prose, the crowning achievement of this work, to me, is the underlying sense - which the author never loosens his grip on - that Covenant's entire odyssey within The Land can arguably be taking place insideof him. In a sense he is The Land.
I often wondered (even when I first discovered this story, fairly young) how much of this underlying archetypal resonance was conscious on Donaldson's part. It seems that he's pretty aware of the statement that he's made with "Covenant" though, (even if we can, of course, draw our own conclusion as readers) which leads me to consider him a natural mystic.