The Power in Magic or the Magic in Power

Dove West '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

The various kinds and ways magic is used differs throughout the many novels we have thus far read. In Lord Foul's Bane, Donaldson creates a world that, similar to LeGuin's The Earthsea Cycle, holds a certain kind of power and magic in the land itself.

After Thomas Covenant, a man turned bitter from his struggle to live with the fatal disease of leprosy, is hit by a police car, he finds himself transported to the Land. There he encounters various forms of magic and power. While racing to deliver Covenant's message to the Lords, Covenant and Atiaran encounter a terrible slaughter of the Wraiths, yet Atiaran tells Covenant that he could have stopped it from occurring.

"Yet Atiaran had believed him capable of saving them; she had expected some putting forth of power Like Lena and Baradakas and everyone else he met, she saw him as Berek Halfhand reborn, the master of wild magic. You have might, the Despiser had said. You will never know what it is. He did not know; how could he? What did magic, or even dreams, have to do with him?

Covenant goes on to tell Atiaran that if he could have saved them he would, but she responds by telling him that he "has the power".

"What power?" he asked painfully.

"Do you wear the white gold for nothing?"

"It's just a ring. I wear it -- I wear it because I'm a leper. I don't know anything about power." [168].

The notion of power and magic continues to play a very important role throughout the entire story. Earlier, in the novel, Lena discusses natural powers. "There is power in the Earth -- power and life. Such powers and mysteries are in all the Earth -- but we are blind to them because we do no share enough, with the Land and with each other" [55]. A little later on, Covenant himself contemplates other forces such as dreams stating that "a dream might heal other afflictions" [59].


1. Is there a difference between power and magic? How are power and magic treated in this book compared to other ways in different books, primarily in The Earthsea Cycle and The Lord of the Rings? What kind of techniques and styles do the authors use in order to create their different effects?

2. How is the role of the ring similar and different in The Lord of the Rings?

3. Covenant's belief that he is in a dream holds a certain kind of power in itself. How is this power different from the other kinds of power and magic seen in the book? What is the power of dreams?

4. In the first part of the passage, Donaldson discusses the idea of expectations. Do expectations hold power? What are the consequences of other people's expectations on Covenant? How does this shape both his character and the book?

5. What is the significance of the Despiser telling Covenant that he has a the power of wild magic, but that he may never know what it is?


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