Jesus was raised three days after his crucifixion (if you believe that sort of thing). Thomas Covenant has now been raised three thousand years after his own sacrifice. But where Jesus’ resurrection signaled, in the words of a famous scholar, “The Victory of God”, Covenant’s seems to pave the way for the enemy’s victory — disaster and oblivion.
That’s Stephen R. Donaldson for you. Only a few chapters into Against All Things Ending, the penultimate volume of the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and I’m thrilling to my favorite author as much as ever. This is The Land, after all, where heroes are self-loathing lepers, rapists, and suicidal depressives, and where even the most promising beacons of hope spell calamity.
Those familiar with the series know that Covenant defeated Lord Foul at the end of the Second Chronicles by sacrificing himself and becoming part of the Arch of Time, leaving Linden Avery to heal The Land devastated by the Sunbane. In the Last Chronicles, over three millenia have passed (a mere ten years in our world), and Foul is back with dirtier tricks, assaulting The Land with caesures (destructive time distortions), and polluting it with an invisibly corrosive atmosphere that has killed the people’s health sense. With Covenant dead, it’s all up to Linden this time, until in desperation she dares the impossible: to resurrect him. The last pages of Fatal Revenant saw Covenant return to life, utterly horrified:
“Oh, Linden. What have you done?”
“Done, Timewarden?” Infelice snapped viciously. “Done? She has roused the Worm of the World’s End. Such magicks must be answered. Because of her madness and folly, every Elohim will be devoured.”
Now, three years after one of the greatest cliffhangers in fantasy literature, comes Against All Things Ending, and in the first chapter we get treated to Covenant’s perspective in the very first moments after his resurrection. It’s worth citing some of the brilliant writing. I imagine this to be a dark version of the Johannine incarnation/resurrection — the “white gold becoming flesh”.
“Thomas Covenant knelt on the rich grass of Andelain as though he had fallen there from the distance of eons. He was full of the heavens and time. He had spent uncounted millennia among the essential strictures of creation, participating in every manifestation of the Arch: he had been as inhuman as the stars, and as alone. He had seen everything, known everything—and had labored to preserve it. From the first dawn of the Earth to the ripening of Earthpower in the Land—from the deepest roots of mountains to the farthest constellations—he had witnessed and understood and served. Across the ages, he had wielded his singular self in defense of Law and life.
“But now he could not contain such illimitable vistas. Linden had made him mortal again. His mere flesh and bone refused to hold his power and knowledge, his span of comprehension. With every beat of his forgotten heart, intimations of eternity were expelled. They oozed from his new skin like sweat, and were lost.
“Still he held more than he could endure. The burden of too much time was as profound as orogeny: it subjected his ordinary mind to pressures akin to those which caused earthquakes; tectonic shifts. His compelled transubstantiation left him frangible. With every lived moment, fractures spread deeper into his soul. Defying every necessity that sustained the Earth and the Land, he had pointed Linden toward the ineffable catastrophe of his resurrection.
“The Worm of the World’s End was coming, and it was holocaust incarnate.”
I’m sure that Against All Things Ending will deliver the usual fever-pitched crescendos with unceasing suspense. Back to reading.