A Fine Time to Test

Arielle Glatman Zaretsky '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

In Stephen R. Donaldson's Lord Foul's Bane, he questions what is required to trust. The trustworthiness of the stranger Thomas Covenant comes into question many times over the course of his adventure in the Land, as he continues to meet new groups of people. Each group has its own reasons for deciding whether or not to trust Covenant, and each eventually does decide to trust him. Some test by verbal means, others by believing in the judgement of those who tested before, and others must see verification in his actions in order to acheive this trust.

"I withheld my aid, awaiting proof that you are not a foe of the Lords."

Something in the selfless and casual face that Bannor turned towards death communicated itself to Covenant. He answered without rancor, "You picked a fine time to test me."

"The bloodguard know doubt. We require to be sure." [444]

Trust is questioned in all works of fantasy. On a very basic level, by creating his or her own world or beings, the author himself asks the reader to trust the rules and explanations of the land, either implicitly by making his own rules, or directly, like C.S. Lewis in his Narnia series. In books of fantasy like Lord Foul's Bane, wherein the main character leaves his own world and enters another which he does not understand, he must decide whom to trust, and who's information is correct. When Lena tries to help Covenant's cuts and bruises heal with the hurtloam, he tries to stop her, as the mud violates his beliefs about healing, "Mud? He glared. In my cuts? Do you want to cripple me?" (54). Lena does it anyway however, and it works as she says it will. Without any knowledge of his surrounding, Covenant must find those he can trust and conform his perceptions to their explanations of the unknown. For those inside the world, Covenant comes from a place that they can not understand, and so they also face the question of his trustworthiness. For some, trust comes easily. When Covenant can not answer all the questions put forward by the council of Lords, Prothall tells Covenant, "But we will trust you nonetheless." [261].


1. Is Covenant trusted by any group in the Land? When does this trust begin?

2. How does Covenant maintain these trusts in spite of the betrayals he commits--for instance his rape of Lena?

3. In The Last Unicorn, all other creatures strive to gain the trust of the unicorn, who functions as the traveler, however in Lord Foul's Bane, the Covenant ultimately requires others to trust him. Why is there this difference, when both function as saviors and almost holy or supernatural beings?


Donaldson, Stephen R. Lord Foul's Bane. Part I of The Chronicles of Thomas Coveant the Unbeliever. New York: Ballantine Books, 1977.

Victorian Web Overview Stephen Donaldson Fantasy

Last modified 20 April 2004