I've Got the Power

Carol Ann Penney '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

Rather than focusing on a capable, probable protagonist, many fantasies follow the journey of an unlikely hero, usually small, young, or disadvantaged in some way. In Lord Foul's Bane, Stephen R. Donaldson makes his hero, Thomas Covenant, a man diseased with leprosy whose community has rejected him. Covenant's disease and weakness not only makes him an unlikely hero, but also an unwilling one. In the fantasy world, rather than being recognized for his weakness, the people of the Land identify the unusual and foreign magic contained in what he considers a normal object, his wedding ring, and therefore consider him as a man of great power. He wrestles with the idea of bearing this magic which he does not understand as he journeys to the Keep with the giant Saltheart Foamfollower.

"Wild magic! he groaned. Heroism! This is unsufferable. With a jerk of his head, he knocked transitions aside and asked roughly, "Do you want my ring?"

"Want?" Foamfollower croaked, looking as if he felt he should laugh but did not have the heart for it. "Want?" His voice quavered painfully, as if he were confessing to some kind of aberration. "Do not use such a word, my friend. Wanting is natural, and may succeed or fail without wrong. Say covet, rather. To covet is to desire something which should not be given. Yes, I covet your un-Earth, wild magic, peace-ending white gold . . . I admit the desire. But do not tempt me. Power has a way of revenging itself upon its usurpers. I would not accept this ring if you offered it to me." [Donaldson 197-198]

As others attempt to explain the force of his ring to him, Covenant argues, "It's just a ring. I wear it -- I wear it because I'm a leper. I don't know anything about power"(168). He uses his leprosy as an excuse for possessing the ring and denies its use, not wishing to believe in, accept, or perform the journey that lies before him but rather actively attempting to hand off the responsibility to someone else. As the unwilling hero, he resists the fantasy world, as Donaldson writes, "He did not want to know how wild magic worked; he did not want to believe in it in any way. Simply carrying it around was dangerous" (198).

Questions

1. How does the magic and origin of Thomas Covenant's ring compare to that of the ring of power in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings? Why do the people of the Land call it "wild magic"? Do its powers serve for good or evil?

2. Thomas Covenant's name and the title he gives himself, "the Unbeliever" (65) echoes the Biblical language of Thomas the unbelieving disciple, and the covenant as God's promise to the human race. Do these references have significance in Thomas' journey and character development?

3. How does this situation between Foamfollower and Covenant compare to the encounter between Frodo and Galadriel in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings? Does this scenario of temptation arise in any of the other fantasies read in class?

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 20 April 2004