Word for the Day: “Incused” (Stephen Donaldson’s Self-Plagiarism)

Readers of Stephen R. Donaldson know that he likes to use words that send you to the dictionary: carious, disport, dolor, frangible, guerdon, hebetude, leal, moraine, otiose, puissance, roborant, serried, telic, and thurible among the many examples. But my favorite Donaldson word by far is incused:

incused: /inˈkyo͞ozd/

adjective: formed by stamping, or pressing, or hollowed out by engraving – usually in the case of coins

It was evidently Donaldson’s favorite too, because he used it twice in his Thomas Covenant series, plagiarizing himself in the exact same context. It’s when Linden Avery heals someone with her health sense. She does this by mentally reaching into people, exposing herself to their physical and emotional wounds, and through that intimate sharing of pain works her healing powers.

In the first case she heals a Giant. It occurs in The One Tree (1982) (book 2 of the second chronicles), as she is traveling by sea and the ship becomes mired with no winds to propel the sails. The Giants summon a sea-beast (three times as large as the Giants’ ship) and capture it with a hawser, so that as it flees it pulls the ship forward. Eventually the beast becomes ferocious in its movements and the hawser tears at the Giants’ arms, forcing them to free the beast by letting go of their holding blocks. They need to let go at the same moment, but one of the Giants lets his block go a nanosecond too late, and he is yanked forward by the sea beast and smashed against the rail of the ship’s prow. Linden immediately moves to heal him with her health sense:

“The Giant’s pain cried out to her. She saw his shattered bones as if they were limned in light, felt his shredded tissues and internal bleeding as though the damage were incused on her own flesh. He was severely mangled. But he was still alive. His heart still limped; air still gurgled wetly from his pierced lungs. Without hesitation she knelt at his side, cleared her mind of everything else. Reaching into him with her senses, she committed herself to the support of his faltering life. With her own pulse she steadied his, then bent her attention to the worst of his internal injuries. His pain flooded through her, but she refused to be mastered by it. She confronted his lungs. Broken ribs had puncture them in various places. Firmly, she nudged his tissues closed around the bones so that his lungs would not fill with blood…” (The One Tree, pp 60-61)

In the second case, Linden heals an army of warriors. It happens in Fatal Revenant (2007) (book 2 of the third chronicles), when she comes to the war camp of Berek Halfhand, sees most of his army on death’s door, and proceeds through the tents attempting to heal as many as she can:

“The naked human suffering was worse than any she had faced before. She felt every severed limb and broken skull, every pierced abdomen and slashed joint, as if they had been incused on her own flesh. Nevertheless she did not falter. She dropped to her knees beside the nearest of the wounded. This warrior was a woman, and the sword-cut which had split her breastplate had opened her ribs; her left foot had been amputated above the ankle; her shin suppurated with infection and anguish; slivers of bone protruded from a mass of pus and maggots. Linden closed her eyes; refined her attention; swathed the woman in Earthpower. She burned away infection and maggots, cleansed poisons, excised and sealed neurotic tissues, knit together shards of bone…” (Fatal Revenant, pp 169-171)

I’m not surprised Donaldson plagiarized himself. I doubt there’s a better word for conveying the pain Linden feels by healing others. “Incused” implies the pain is being imprinted or engraved on her. It’s hard to get stronger than that.

I liked this bit of self-plagiarism so much, that I plagiarized it myself in chapter 6 of my novella Stranger Things: The New Generation, in describing Eleven’s battle with the Llaza. When she calls the shadow creature into herself, accepting the entity as her personal flesh, she senses her son Mike who has been devoured by the creature, and then “felt his frozen tissues and poisoned bloodstream as if they were incused on her flesh”. Stranger Things is about homage, and that was my homage to Donaldson: plagiarizing his self-plagiarism.

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