What is Evil? Does it exist? When you speak about the world, do you define an act, a person, or a group as evil? I have called Donald Trump Lord Foul since the 2016 Republican National Convention, by association, am I calling him evil? If evil does not exist, then what is that quality we identify as evil? Is evil a treatable sickness, disease, or mental condition? The question of evil is a foundation for good fiction. Science fiction and fantasy fiction settings provide a rich playground to study the question. Is a race of mammals that eats other mammals evil? Orc eats human, human eats pig; evil depends on your perspective.
The Wounded Land, the first book in The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, introduces Linden Avery. She is the most tortured of Stephen R. Donaldson’s characters. As a doctor, she has a certain self-assurance that no matter what situation, what disease, or injury she encounters, she has the training and the equipment to treat her patient. Short of those things, she relies on the institutions she belongs to for support. Then she meets a beggar in the driveway to Haven Farm.
Evil in our Past
Like Covenant before her, the creator of the Land tests Linden Avery. The beggar dies, his heart stops, and Linden does what she is trained to do; she tries to save his life. His breath is foul, making CPR a disgusting process, but she does not relent. She cannot go for help, she struggles to the save the beggar, and she fails; her strength fades and she collapses. When she looks up the beggar is standing, he helps her to her feet, hugs her, and vanishes into the sunset.
“Ah, my daughter, do not fear.” His voice was husky with regret and tenderness. “You will not fail, however he may assail you. There is also love in the world.”The Wounded Land by Stephen R. Donaldson
Shaken, Linden Avery is undeterred. She meets Thomas Covenant and faces something she cannot cure.
In the ten years since the end of The Power that Preserves, Thomas Covenant has become a successful author. He has written a series of books, and the community around Haven Farm is less aggressive toward him. There are still a few that resist him; evangelicals still think him the devil, and the Sheriff is as unwilling to help Covenant as ever.
The older man sighed. “You know, it’s strange. The same people who try to convert me seem to think he needs saving, too. He’s a leper who doesn’t go to church, and he’s got money. Some of our evangelicals consider that an insult to the Almighty.”The Wounded Land by Stephen R. Donaldson
In this bubble of success, Joan returns to Thomas, but something is wrong with her. She has violent fits tamed by drinking blood; preferably Thomas Covenant’s blood. Linden witnesses this act and is unable to reconcile it with insanity, disease, or even death, but she refuses to call it evil. Naming the act as evil would force her to confront something from her past; something from her parent’s deaths that haunts her.
Determined to help Covenant, Linden ignores his refusals resulting in her witnessing another, more brutal, sacrifice where she is taken to the Land.
The Evil of Despair
Like Covenant before her, Linden’s introduction to the Land is from atop Kevin’s Watch. With Covenant’s guidance, she makes her way to Mithil Stonedown where we learn just how wounded the Land has become.
Three millennia have passed since Covenant reduced Lord Foul and destroyed Foul’s Creche. Three millennia since his giant-friend Saltheart Foamfollower died. The Land is victim to the Sunbane; an aurora of the Sun that determines the conditions for the day. From heavy rain and storms one day, to a dry desert the next. Another day may bring growth and bounty, while another brings pestilence and swarms of insects and disease. Earthpower—the magic that the inhabits the Land—is now an instrument of its torture.
For the people of the Land, this normal. The Clave—the new name for the Lords of Revelstone—rules the Land. According the Clave, the only way to survive is to sacrifice; Earthpower requires blood and sacrifice.
Covenant is devastated, but without Hurtloam to cure his leprosy, he is void of the sight that let him see the magic and health of the Land. Linden is not so fortunate. For Linden Avery, a doctor, Earth-Sight should be a miracle. Being able to see a harm or an illness and intimately understand it is the first step to curing it. But in the Land, there is no cure, and there is no medical term for what Linden sees.
The Graveler’s eyes burst open. He spat a curse. “Decency, is it?” he grated. “You are swift to cast shame upon people whose lives you do not comprehend. Well, let us hasten the moment when I may decently save you.”The Wounded Land by Stephen R. Donaldson
A new quest to Revelstone re-introduces us to the Land. We learn that Hile Troy is still here but transformed into the Forestall of Andelain. Andelain where Earthpower and the dead are still potent. In Andelain, the ghost of Foamfollower gives Covenant Vain: an Ur-vile like creature that does not speak and appears indestructible.
At Revelstone Covenant learns that the leader of the Clave, the na-Mhoram, is a raver. This knowledge, and poison from an earlier raver finally unlocks the Wild Magic that is Covenant’s power, he rends Revelstone and escapes with a handful of Bloodguard and the friends he made on the quest to the keep.
His geas clear, Covenant makes for Seareach where the group meets a group of Giants on a Search of their own. After the brutal reality of the Sunbane trapped Land, the giants are a refreshing end to The Wounded Land.
“We are the Giants, born to sail, and bold to go wherever dreaming goes.”The Wounded Land by Stephen R. Donaldson
For all those that thrilled to Lord Mhoram’s Victory over the raver at Revelstone, the condition of the Land, and its people is a gut-wrenching examination of that question; what is evil? For the people of the Sunbane locked Land, Evil is Andelain, where health and the dead have power. Blood, sacrifice, the Rede of the Clave are the rhythm of life. Blood and sacrifice are how they survive.
They were like lepers; all the people of the Land were like lepers. They were the victims of the Sunbane, victims of an ill for which there was no cure and no escape. Outcast from the beauty of the world. And under such conditions, the need to survive exacted harsh penalties. Nothing under the sun was as perilous to a leper as his own yearning for the kind of life, companionship, hope, denied him by his disease. That susceptibility led to despair and self-contempt, to the conviction that the outcasting of the leper was just—condign punishment for an affliction which must have been deserved.The Wounded Land by Stephen R. Donaldson
Covenant knows better. He knows a Land that is less like our world and more like the fantastic worlds we escape to in fantasy and science fiction. The Wounded Land ends with a new quest, one across the sea to find The One Tree and remake the Staff of Law. With the Law restored, Covenant hopes to break the Sunbane and heal the Land, but according to the ghost of his old friend this is not the quest he needs to undertake, but one he must complete.