Dare to Hope?

Jessica Harnsberger '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

After learning that he has contracted leprosy, Thomas Covenant accepts this horrible news with a dangerously indifferent and unaffected attitude. The doctors take Covenant to see the only other patient in the leprosarium who suffers from the same primary case of Hansen's disease. Exposed to the "pungent reek" and grotesque shriveled body of the infected man, Covenant becomes sick and resolves to fight for survival (Donaldson 15). In his remaining time at the leprosarium, he listens to many speeches of experts regarding his disease and the measures one must take to survive. In one such speech, which returns to Covenant in his nightmares, an expert explains that, "as far as we can prove, [leprosy] comes out of nowhere for no reason. And once you get it, you cannot hope for a cure" (16-17).

Upon returning to his house on Haven Farm, Covenant reads over the material he had started for his new book as well as his first novel, the best-seller. Shocked at his own "naäve" and "supercilious trash," he sees the advice of his doctors in a new light:

For the first time, he understood part of what the doctors had been saying; he needed to crush out his imagination. He could not afford to have an imagination, a faculty which could envision Joan, joy, health. If he tormented himself with unattainable desires, he would cripple his grasp on the law which enabled him to survive. [20-21]

Covenant thus realizes that his only hope for survival depends solely on his ability to remain conscious of his reality at all times. Deemed the "Unbeliever," Covenant refuses to accept his heroic role in the strange world of the Land, for he has rid himself of the faculties of imagination and hope. When speaking to Foamfollower the Giant after his encounter with the Ranyhyn, the Unbeliever maintains that hope comes from "strength" and "power" (384). Foamfollower challenges this view by asking, "Where is the value of strength if your enemy is stronger?" (384). Finally, in response to Covenant's question of the source of hope, the Giant explains that hope comes "[f]rom faith" (385), "from the power of what you serve, not from yourself" (386).

Questions

1. Why does Donaldson include the details of the doctors' speeches so early in the story? How do these details contribute to the psychological state of Thomas Covenant?

2. In this book, the main character rejects the imagination, the faculty necessary to experience much of the fantasy world. How does this fit in to the other fantasy books we have read? Have we seen other characters with similar views of the imagination?

3. Covenant views "Joan, joy, and health" as "unattainable desires" -- does he have a similar opinion of any aspects of the alternate world of the Land? How does his avoidance of such desires influence the way he interacts with people in this other world?

4. How do the words of Foamfollower affect Covenant? Why is it important for the Giant to question Covenant's views of hope?

References

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


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Last modified 21 April 2004