Lord Foul's Bane
Why this book?
Lord Foul’s Bane is a portal fantasy in which both worlds are intertwined, at the least in a quasi-spiritual sense. Significantly, the protagonist, Thomas Covenant, is an author who finds himself an unbelieving visitor to the Land, a world he assumes is imaginary. The leprosy that impedes his work as a writer and numbs him to sensation takes on a mythical/prophetic significance once he is translated to the Land.
The world-building, mythos, and culture of the Land are staggering, and throughout there is an allegorical sense at play.
Donaldson never shies away from psychological realism, but he does temper it with supernatural/spiritual elements. Early on, Covenant wrestles with his disbelief in the Land, to the extent that he lashes out against those who seek to befriend him in the most shocking ways. His explorations are cursed with a sort of reverse Midas touch; but Covenant is a man on a refreshingly different “hero’s journey”, one with intimations of Calvary along the Via Dolorosa toward a world redeemed.
I found the scenes set in the Land (by far the largest portion of the book) utterly immersive, and there was always a sense of something sublime beneath the surface; something that raises the book above the triteness and triviality of much run-of-the-mill fantasy. Thomas Covenant, a character riven by guilt and shame—and often exasperating, even disappointing the reader—nevertheless possesses enough qualities of an “everyman” to allow for easy identification. Whatever we make think of him at times, he is never dull and always fully three-dimensional.
The vocabulary is rich, at times poetic. Donaldson is certainly not afraid to dip into the dustier tomes of lexicography, but at his best, particularly in scenes of magic, he makes language soar with his rare ability to convey images of absolute clarity using archaic and obscure words.