Yes, I am a geek. I am proud to be a geek. I’m really okay with being a fantasy geek. I’ve almost convinced myself that it isn’t the best genre for me to write, but for reading, there are few genres that I enjoy as much. The Lord of the Rings trilogy wasn’t my first foray into fantasy (that honor belongs to the Incarnations of Immortality series by Piers Anthony, which, in retrospect, is just plain awful), but it was the first trilogy that I remember taking my breath away.
The first full length novel I remember reading was Watership Down. I was in the third grade and my father bought it for me. The weekend after I’d finished it, we drove out to Elbe to a little greasy spoon restaurant (my dad’s favorite kind) and talked about the book over a french dip sandwich. It was my first experience with a grown-up literary conversation and it went something like this:
Dad: Did you like the book?
Me: The rabbit book?
Dad: Are you sure it was about rabbits?
Me: It said it was about rabbits.
While I started the month honoring contemporary novelists – and fully intended to continue doing so throughout the month – I find that I cannot separate the novel from its history. Similarly, I cannot honor contemporary novelists and the impact their words have had on me without acknowledging the tremendous impact that historical fictions have also had. So I come to one of my favorite novelists and one of my favorite novels, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. To say this novel profoundly impacted my perspective on life would be a drastic understatement.
The theme of anti-heroes in literature always brings me back to the first anti-hero novel I read: The Vampire Lestat. Instead of talking about that particular book, though, I come to another, lesser known Anne Rice series: The Mayfair Witches. I do this in part because someone invariably compare the Vampire Chronicles to Twilight et. al. and piss me off and in part because the Mayfair Witches played a more dramatic role in my development as a writer (while the Vampire Chronicles played a bigger role in my development as a person).
Next to my wonderful son, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are the only good thing my ex-husband ever did for me. I was 18 before I read a fantasy novel (with the exception of Watership Down and The Hobbit, both given me by my dad) and within two pages of Lord Foul’s Bane, I was entranced. By chapter 2, I hated the hero. By the middle of the book, I couldn’t stop rooting for him. By the end, I was glad he won, but wished he’d died in the process. It was one of the most emotionally challenging novels I had ever read – and was the first book that I ever read more than once.
The beauty of Lord Foul’s Bane rests in the utter humanity of it. Thomas Covenant is not a particularly likable hero, quite the opposite in fact, but he is a believable hero precisely because of that. The reader may not like him, but somehow has to empathize with him. The reader’s prejudices are challenged and no one but Lord Foul himself is completely evil or completely good. This is Donaldson’s strength as a writer. He presents humanity not as it should be, but as it is, and in so doing, we become a little more human ourselves.