Josh:  Hi Steve,

I apologize if any question of this sort has been asked already, but I searched the current Gradual Interview database for a bit and couldn't come up with anything that satisfied me. Thanks in advance for answering my question.

Undoubtedly, my reading of your work (or any work) is filtered through my own perspective at the time. Presently, I am very concerned with belief systems around the world, why such beliefs/ideas/philosophies exist, and their consequences. Obviously, that's extremely broad. I say it only to help you understand where part of my mind is when I'm reading your books--to help you identify what MY filter is.

As such, I tend to find numerous interactions in your books that are centered around conflicting beliefs. Oh, assuredly they are. (I couldn't resist. I actually considered writing this whole post in the entertaining language of the Mahdoubt.) Often times, large groups in Chronicles tend to operate under a system of beliefs that reason would deem fallacious. Just to give give a couple examples, I have the people of the land during the time of the Clave and the Haruchai in mind (as well as most people of the land while the Haruchai are the Masters of the land).

The Haruchai operate with a naive absolutist mentality. That is, they have established a clear set of rules and values with which to govern ALL of their actions in every scenario. They are rigid and inflexible in these beliefs. Inevitably, they encounter situations where one of their rules dictate they act in a certain way while another dictates they act in quite the opposite way. Contradiction and ensues. They don't see the folly of this mentality, however, (at least not yet in my reading), and they continue to try to abide by their system of rules. They instead seem to resolve to establish a hierarchy of rules (ie. rule A overrules rule B if they come into conflict). This is observed when they choose to give their loyalty to Covenant over Linden when they appear to oppose each other (this is a bad example, but I think you get the idea).

The people of the land during the time of the Clave and the Masters appear to blindly follow orders without question (something nearly of us have been asked to do while growing up in our respective cultures). A spurious belief system ensues. I see this as analogous to the West's colonization of Africa (I lived in Cameroon for 6 months: more of my filtered perspective), where people of [insert colonizer's religion here] were sent any given number of locations to establish an education system for the children where they would additionally be taught the colonizer's religion. It goes beyond just religion, of course, to everyday ethics or political ideology etc. The result is, after a few generations, the indigenous peoples of the colonized territory end up "blindly" sharing their colonizer's beliefs.

I don't mean to suggest that you had the colonization of Africa in mind when you wrote the Second Chronicles. I am simply wondering if you were consciously establishing a parallel to things such as this that you noted in the real world. I am interested in understanding your thought processes involved in the creation of your world and its people. How did things chronologically play out? For example, did you just have the Haruchai available and did you want to sort of turn them into semi-villains for the Last Chronicles, and, therefor, did you look for some way in which to do that? Or did you plan to include a belief system conflict such as this in your work, and then decide to use the Haruchai for this, since they had characteristics that were susceptible to such a system? Was it neither? A little of both? I'm just interested, as I often am when I read great author's works.

Your stories are just so full of psychology, fantasy, philosophy, and so many other elements, each of which is amazingly entertaining to follow by itself. When they're all woven together into one tale, it becomes endless entertainment and a non-stop thinking exercise. The Covenant series is definitely my favorite of all time, whatever my perspective.

Again, thanks in advance for your response,


I've been putting off responding to your thoughtful message because, well, because it's had me stumped. Now, however, I think I've figured out what my problem is. It appears to me--and I could be wrong--that beneath the surface your question is about *polemics* (which for purposes of discussion I'll define as "the advocacy or criticism of one or more belief systems": an admittedly idiosyncratic definition which nonetheless serves to help me think). But I'm not a polemicist: I'm a storyteller. In other words, I don't set out to write about themes or issues: I set out to write stories. Along the way, I do try to discover and explore the themes and issues that seem to me to be inherent in those stories. But I strive--hard--to never ever EVER impose my own agendas or "filters" on my stories.

Of course, my goal in writing is impossible. Not to mention self-contradictory. I can't turn off who I am ("filters" and all) when I write. And if I could, what would be the point? Ultimately *I* (the whole package of intelligence, imagination, stories, sympathies, passions, filters, beliefs, etc.) am all I have to offer my readers. Nevertheless the way I think about my work is important to me. In itself, it's a filter: a belief about the significance and requirements of creative integrity. Like the Land's Creator, my policy is one of, well, non-interference. <rueful smile>

That said, however....

Your observations about systems of belief in "The Chronicles" are certainly apt. (I might argue with your assertion that "The people of the land during the time of the Clave and the Masters appear to blindly follow orders without question.... A spurious belief system ensues." I'm not inclined to criticize people who follow a belief system that obviously *works*: it keeps them alive--and it kills them when they don't follow it. For the villagers, anyway, the belief system is demonstrably *not* spurious: it accurately predicts the real experience of real individuals. Sure, the Clave's teachings *are* spurious: the Clave is lying about the intended purpose of those teachings. But the people in, say, Mithil Stonedown couldn't possibly know that. And they couldn't do anything about it if they did know it.) My point is simply that I didn't set out to write a story about systems of belief. Instead I created characters--and then tried to follow the "logic" of their personal realities to their natural conclusions. The fact that the story clearly *is* about systems of belief is a symptom of who I am rather than a statement about my intentions.

Could that be any less clear? I hope not. <grin> I'm trying to be as murky as I can.

So "who I am" in this context--my pertinent filter--involves what I choose to call "imperialism". My life has taught me a deep repugnance for imperialism in all of its guises, physical, racial, commercial, religious, political, whatever. I can't ignore that: it's bred in the bone. And in the specific case of "The Chronicles," I don't *want* to ignore it: it fits the story (which is, after all, about a man who--for his own survival--tries to reject one system of belief in favor of another).

Here's another way to say pretty much the same thing: your reading of the story is accurate, but it does not accurately reflect my reasons for telling the story. Which you probably already knew. <sigh>


Ben Chambers:  I'm currently reading "The Man Who" series for the first time, and I'm in the middle of "The Man Who Tried to Get Away."

I have to say, having your "authentic" detectives thrown in the middle of a Mystery Camp, where other characters (even a mystery author!) preach about the relevance and meaning of mystery novels, is pure genius! How did you ever come up with the idea for this?

Have you ever had a negative reaction from "typical" mystery readers about the ideas you put forth about how mystery novels apply to us? (Specifically, the difference between an intellectual mystery and an emotional one, and how the process of examination in a mystery novel is really about examining ourselves). I've never been a mystery buff (Doyle ruined it with me, as all of Sherlock Holmes's solutions seemed to be cheap tricks or "deus ex machina"s from the author), but I thoroughly enjoy this series for the authentic emotions of its characters.

I didn't mean to ramble this much, but thank you for your time.
Ah HA! A reaction to my mystery novels. *This* doesn't happen very often.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you where or how I get my ideas. The various functions of my mind and imagination are as much a--drumroll, please--mystery to me as they are to you. The idea of a mystery camp is not new, of course--although I like to think that I pushed it farther than it usually goes. But how did I decide to include a team of mystery writers? All I can tell you is that their presence seemed like a natural extension of my basic concept.

As it happens, "'typical' mystery readers" have passed judgment on my books, and their verdict is nigh universal: the books don't sell. To comfort myself, I observe that I probably don't publish these books often enough to interest "'typical' mystery readers" (who as a group tend to be devoted fans: they commonly don't get interested in a detective--or detectives--until the body of work reaches a certain mass). But that may simply be a form of whistling in the dark.


John Kaminar:  thanks for doing the gradual interview. it's so interesting to read all the questions and answers.

to my shame, i never finished the Gap series. i started it several times, but just never plugged through the second volume. well, i've recently finished it, and was quite impressed. question is about Morn, and her Gap Sickness. It seems to me that the sickness is very similar to TC's leprosy. Both maladies completely change the lives of the heroes. was this a conscious choice?

also... why do you put Morn and others of your characters through such hell?? i spent most of the Gap books dreading what you would do to her next! don't take this the wrong way, but i'm still not sure the final payoff was enough for the dread i felt at each new terror unleashed on Morn. i did however enjoy the switch of roles of Angus and Nick... very skilled writing there.

Illness in the Works of Stephen R. Donaldson. What can I tell you? This is another of those "bred in the bone" subjects I was talking about a little while ago. I grew up in a medical family--and I "failed" a number of my family's stated expectations by not becoming a doctor. So I guess I'm compensating for that failure. <rueful smile> On a more constructive note: I have always found physical limitations--and strengths--to be a fertile source of metaphors for the emotional, psychological, and spiritual conditions I want to write about. Those metaphors are EVERYwhere in my stories.

But "why do you put Morn and others of your characters through such hell?" I don't mean this to sound flippant (although it will <sigh>), but what *else* am I going to do? Pat them on the back for several hundred pages? Sorry: I'm actually quite serious here. None of us ever know who we are--never mind who we want to be--until we're tested. If we don't go through hell--in one form or another--we never find out what we're made of; and so we can never choose to become the people we want to be. Sure, going through hell exacts a terrible price. And many people can't pay it. (Nick Succorso leaps to mind.) But the people who do-- Ah, those are the people who are really worth reading about. If for no other reason than because it's actually possible to learn something from them. I know (to my cost--in the best sense of the term) that people like Morn Hyland and Angus Thermopyle, Thomas Covenant and Linden Avery, have taught me invaluable lessons. Without them, I wouldn't even come close to being who I want to be.



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Douglas:  I'm fascinated with the "laws" that are such a big part of the land. They remind me of the writing of the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who basically said that God existed in the form of universal laws that govern nature. Einstein put it this way.

"It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropomorphic concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near to those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order and harmony which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly."

I'm wondering if this concept has had an influence on your writing in any way?
Well, "influence".... I don't know how to answer that. I've never read Spinoza; and I wasn't familiar with this Einstein quote. But that doesn't mean their ideas didn't influence me. After all, lots and lots of other people *did* (and do) read Spinoza (and Einstein). Those people may have been influenced by their reading; and I have surely read--and been affected by--some of them. I just don't know it because the interconnections are both oblique and unlabeled.


Monumental Guilt Beyond the Ken of Human Understanding:  Does Lord Foul like sushi? Okay, has he ever possessed someone, ate sushi during the possession and decided that he in fact liked it? Are there any sushi chefs in the Land? Why not?
Lord Foul, being the DESPISER, *despises* sushi. There are no sushi chefs in the Land. In a distant region of the Earth, however, an obscure people worship sushi. Sushi chefs are the high priests of that religion. Sadly, they are too self-absorbed to have any effect on the outcome of larger events.


Stutty:  Ah Stephen, while having the GI does help the time between books pass, I must say I read it sometimes with pity or perhaps wonder that you manage endure the same damn question over and over without going over the edge. We thank you.

Haven't asked one in awhile so here we go.

1) How's AATE coming along? (obviously I'm hoping this question not bad juju like telling and actor "good luck.")

2) I must admin I'm near obsessed with knowning what suggestions Lester del Rey had for the Covenant story. Spaceships perhaps? LF was actually J.R. Ewing? Covenant at a Pink Floyd concert?

Oh, and please remember the standing invite to our villiage cabbage festival.

1) I never know how books are coming along until after I finish working on them (and "working on them" includes all the rewrites). Since I identify so closely with my characters, my experience in writing about them is intensely subjective. During that process, I have no *perspective* on the book as something that someone else might read.

2) Sorry to disappoint. For my own creative, mental, and even moral well-being, I "deleted" those memories as fast and thoroughly as I could. It's conceivable that Lester's suggestions remain hidden somewhere in one of my file cabinets--but I ain't about to go looking for them.


Dan Trueblood:  Where does it come from? I mean really, where does it truly come from? I ain’t talking about the Land, or Mordant, or Giants, or Gap engines; I’m talking about your razor sharp, deep cutting sarcastic wit. I read the GI every month and there always seems to be someone out there asking the same question you answered a thousand times before. I mean to tell you, my heart races and my vision gets blurry in anticipation of your answer to these questions. Look, I’m out here once a month laughing my balls off and I got to know: Does it come naturally or do you have to work hard at it? Dude, my wife does not allow me to read the GI toward the end of the week because Saturday night is a fool-around night and I need those bad boys in place for optimum performance. Well, regardless of my suffering manhood, I hope next month there can be one more question about the Creator. Keep up the wonderfully good work and just where did I put that testicular adhesive?
Wit, it seems, is in the mind of the beholder. If you were to poll GI readers, you would find--I suspect--very few who have actually been castrated by my wit. Or even merely maimed in less prestigious ways by my steel-trap-type analytical mind.


Jack T:  Hello Mr. Donaldson.
I have been a fan of your writing since I first found the Thomas Covenant Chronicles in the early '80's .
I enjoyed both chronicles very much .
I recently found the third chronicles, and read both books in about 10 days.
I now hunger for the final book, as im sure do most fans . My question is, what is the timetable for the final book?
Best wishes and God Bless !
Jack T. Massachusettts, USA.
I guess it’s time for yet another report on the publication schedule for “The Last Chronicles.” I’ve been over this a number of times, but apparently my answers aren’t easy to find using the Gradual Interview search feature. So I’m going to lay this out in a format that I hope will facilitate searches.

“The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant,” Book One, “The Runes of the Earth,” published October 2004.
“The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant,” Book Two, “Fatal Revenant,” published October 2007.
“The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant,” Book Three, “Against All Things Ending,” expected publication 2010.
“The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant,” Book Four, “The Last Dark,” expected publication 2013.

The long lag between books is painful for all of us--although I suspect it may be more painful for me than it is for you, since I have to actually *write* the ^##%&#@ things. But I need every minute of those three years. What I’m trying to accomplish here is demonstraby impossible. (If it were *possible,* I wouldn’t have to answer so many questions about it.) I can’t simply coast my way through it.


Dave Mcdonald:  thank you for the stimulation!!! enjoying my second reading of the Chronicles(1st reading was in the late 70"s ,80's) I am following strong with the maps .In The Wounded Land Thomas enter Andelain from the banks of the Mithil river I thought the black river border the heart of the land ???(this coming from a man now 50 whom you have helped to become an avid reader by not stepping over word I didnot understand and look them up
getting ready for the last Chronicles and other tales I have missed
I’ve never tried to provide meticulously explicit maps for the “Covenant” books. There just isn’t room for all the names and labels I might want to put in. But I’ve always assumed that when the Black and Mithil Rivers meet, the resulting river is also called the Mithil, not the Black (simply because the reasons for its name are no longer apparent). So the river that Covenant crosses into Andelain in “The Wounded Land” *is* the Mithil.


Michael from Santa Fe:  Has it all been worth it?
Huh? Define “it”. And “all”. And “worth”. And “it” again. Gimme some *context,* man. I need to know what we’re talking about here.


Don:  A couple months ago, you answered a question regarding having one of the Imagers in Mordant's Need open a mirror on The Land, saying you would never make such a connection, in part because you couldn't imagine how The Land could fit within Terisa's mind, or how the world of Mordant could be contained by Covenant or Linden.

So here's an odd question that preciptates from that:

Do Covenant/Linden and Terisa come from the same Earth? I'm not asking if you have a multi-verse going on here, but do you imagine that it's possible that if Terisa Morgan (or, more likely, her father) went to her world's equivalent of Covenant's farm or Linden's hospital, she would find the same buildings? Or even--in the case of going to the hospital--Linden herself?

(I suspect this question is either abject stupidity or sheer brilliance, and I haven't the faculties to tell which.)

I don’t know whether it’s stupid or brilliant either--but it does go WAY outside the text. You might want to do a GI search on “Douglas Adams” and read what he had to say about questions that stray outside the text. Certainly *I* do not imagine any possible congruence between the reality (by which I mean the story) that includes Linden and the reality (story) that includes Terisa.


fiona:  more of a plea really. when you have finally got poor old tom out of your system could you see your way to writing another sci fi book. i thought the gap series was absolutely wonderful. I was in floods of tears at the end when Angus flew off into the great blue yonder. thank you for taking the time to read this and all the other [far more interesting] questions- all written it seems by men.
Sometimes I find myself feeling proudest of the books which have received the least attention. So I'm especially grateful for your good opinion of the GAP books. But as I've said before, I don't choose my ideas (not consciously, anyway): my ideas choose me. At present, I have absolutely no way of knowing whether I'll ever write any more s/f. Apart from "The Last Chronicles," no ideas have chosen me yet.

A rough estimate of the March GI questions/comments suggests that at least 75% of them were posted by men. I wish more women read my books. But then, I wish more EVERYBODY read my books. <rueful smile> Pure ego, of course: I should know better.



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murray kester:  have you ever been approached about or considered turning the chronicles of thomas covenant into a video game? I think it would make a great rpg.
I would never consider turning "Covenant" into a video game myself: not because I have anything against video games, but because I don't know how, don't have time to learn, and don't really enjoy such games myself. As for being approached: there's no point in approaching *me* because I don't hold the rights. Ballantine Books does. To the best of my knowledge, Ballantine has ignored every approach so far.


Bill Weldon:  Stephen,

Just wanted to say that I the you have out done yourself with the first 2 books and am looking forward to the final 2 books to see how you pull everything together. That being said, I also though your essay on martial arts training was a fantastic read, and it has helped me continue on with reaching one of my goals which is getting my black belt, which I will be testing for the end of this month. I also shared it with my Tae Kwon Do instructors including our Senior Grand Master 7th Degree Black belt who is one of the founders of our organization.

The question I have is has the discipline that you need to train in martial arts helped you with your writing both in keeping on track as well as continuing to press ahead even when you feel things bogging down.

Thanks again,
Bill Weldon
A bit of chronology is pertinent. I didn't start studying the martial arts until 10+ years after the publication of the first "Covenant" trilogy. So in the obvious sense, the discipline (and self-knowledge) that I learned as a writer helped me as a student of the martial arts, rather than the other way around.

But in a less obvious sense, my training in the martial arts has been very helpful in my writing life. (I would never admit this to anyone--he said, admitting it freely--but in the privacy of my own thoughts, I've been slowly developing an attitude toward writing that I call "the writer as warrior".) My life today is FAR more complicated and stressful than it was 20 years ago (when it was in turn far more complicated and stressful than it had been 10 years previously); and now I find that the "outlet" of basics, kata, and sparring, learning and teaching, does a lot to help keep me sane. And in a (perhaps) even less obvious sense: for me, at least, if for no one else, studying the martial arts is ultimately about learning to face my fears; and I do believe that without my years of martial study I would never have become, well, *brave* enough to write "The Last Chronicles".


Ross:  Mr. Donaldson,
I've been reading this GI since the beginning, and though I've contributed a couple of questions, for the most part I have simply enjoyed reading your responses to others' questions. Personally, I have very few questions regarding your novels. But reading the different perspectives presented here gives me a much greater depth of appreciation for your works. For that I'm completely grateful to you and everyone who has contributed to this interview.

Which brings me to my point. I'm a writer whose original inspiration to write came in large part from reading The Chronicles when I was 13 (I was one of those way-too-young-to-read-Donaldson types -- but trust me, there was no harm done to my psyche). And reading this GI has revealed that you have incredible insight into the writing craft itself. Is there any chance that you would ever consider writing a book on the subject of writing?

My second question has to do with the GI itself. Honestly, I'm beginning to think that this may be one of your most important works. As an old-time fan, I can remember a time when finding any scrap of Donaldson info (or the motherlode -- an interview!) was cause for celebration. Now we have your very presence on the Web, and we can even ask you questions! This is absolutely invaluable for a fan. But really, when do you find time to keep this interview up? I certainly appreciate the effort, but man -- there are four years of questions here now, probably enough copy to fill a book (Hey, there's an idea...).
I cannot imagine myself *ever* "writing a book on the subject of writing". I have virtually no interest in non-fiction myself; so why would I write a book that didn't interest *me*? And writing is simply too difficult to spend the effort on anything except what I love: stories.

On the other hand, I do think I've been sort of "tricked" into writing the moral equivalent of a book in the GI. Certainly there is more than enough content here to fill a book--if someone were willing to undertake the (massive) job of editing it (eliminate repetition, organize by theme, create an index, that sort of thing). I have no intention of tackling that ordeal myself. It would bore me stupid. But secretly I hope that someday some enterprising young scholar (and publisher) will see fit to make something out of the raw materials of the GI.


Seth L Goldner:  Greetings to one of my favorite authors going back to the late 70's! I have enjoyed the psychological complexities, nuances, and development of your characters from the Thomas Covenant Chronicals and couldn't have been happier when I learned there would be a 3rd series. (Bannor and especially Saltheart stand out in particular. Man do I miss those guys!) Oh right, my question: Your incredibly complex vocabulary from the Chronicles-is it a result of careful research, "thesauras poised" as it were, or do you have a natural command of the English language? I always considered myself to have an above average vocabulary but there is hardly a page that didn't require a trip to the dictionary to fully understand your meaning. I have to admit to having taken in much of it by context & inference. This is not a complaint; rather an admiring observation of your writing style. Thank you for entertaining my question and enduring, hopefully, my incorporated "fan" mail.
I’ve talked about “vocabulary” in the “Covenant” books before--and doubtless will again. I hasten to say that I do not use a thesaurus. Nor is there anything “careful” about my research. I simply love words, partly for their sound, and partly for their power to enable thought. So when I read, I make lists of unfamiliar words. And when my lists reach a certain mass, I indulge in word orgies, looking up sounds and meanings without regard to their potential relevance or usefulness. You might say that I’m trying to furnish my mind with the raw materials necessary for what I want to write by “mining” other people’s vocabularies. On some level, however, I do acquire the raw materials for their own sake; and I value them whether or not they ever serve my purposes.


John:  My question involves the relationship between your writing and your physical activities and training (martial arts). I do my share of working out, weightlifting, etc. and have learned the value of cycling my intensity.

Do you cycle your intensity with respect to writing as well? I have to imagine that writing the Covenant novels is quite strenuous on the mind (perhaps too much of an assumption on my part).

Do you take breaks and write material that could be conceived as being "lighter" or "less intense" than your main work? Perhaps something not for publication, but something only for the sake of giving yourself a break without entirely forgoing writing altogether?
It’s true that the strenuousness of *how* I write ebbs and flows according to the intensity of *what* I’m writing. But this variation isn’t something that I plan or premeditate in order to pace myself or develop my, well, my strength. Instead I go with whatever my story requires from me on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day, week-by-week basis, in much the same way that I do whatever my sensei or sigung tells me to do whenever I’m in the dojo.

I suppose you could consider working on the Gradual Interview a form of “cycling my intensity”. Rather like riding my exercycle between visits to the dojo. But keep in mind that I never take time away from my story in order to work on the GI. I only use time that I could not have used for more intense, more essential writing.


Nate:  As many others have said before, thank you for taking the time and effort to respond to these questions.

My question relates to the use of the color green in the Thomas Covenant Chronicles. Even before it became a buzzword in the environmental movement, green was almost universally associated with life, nature and health. Yet in The Land this color often goes hand in hand with corruption, banes and evil. The obvious examples that spring to mind are the Illearth Stone and the Skest.

Why did you make this creative choice? Is your use of green an example of simple irony? Are there deep thematic elements at work that I am too dense to recognize? Perhaps you don’t look good in green and bear a longstanding grudge against it.

Whatever the reason, it works wonderfully. In particular, your descriptions of the stone and the green Sunbane aura have always made my skin crawl.
I’m sorry: I can’t explain it. This is another “how does [my] imagination work” question, and I don’t know the answer. Somewhere in the back of my head is the nagging impression that I once saw something malevolent that happened to be green. The crocodile in “Peter Pan”? When I was 9 years old, and had never seen a movie before? Honestly, I don’t remember. But as I recall, I made the Illearth Stone green simply because that seemed like the “right” color at the time.


Beth:  Mr. Donaldson,

I actually first have a comment that I need to get off my chest, then my question. This is my first visit to this website. In reading previous postings in the GI, some people seem to question your characters, specifically Convenant and Linden. In my opinion(humble as it is...grin), your creation of these people and ability to make them real to me is nothing less than genious.

Now quickly, my question for you. You mentioned that your belief in freedom of choice stems from your parents belief in predestination. In some way, do you see your parents beliefs manifest in some of the other characters?

Thank you,
You may be misquoting me somewhat. As I recall, I said that my emphasis on “the necessity of freedom” *may* be a reaction against my parents’ belief in predestination.

In practice, my parents were comparatively humane in how they applied their religious beliefs. But the missionaries in general were not. They were “absolutists” down to the ground: “You either agree with me in every detail, or you are going to roast in the fires of Hell eternally.” And you can certainly see “absolutism” in several of the characters and races in “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.” Not to mention the willingness to damn absolutely everyone else for the sake of one being’s beliefs or desires.

But I wouldn’t want you to take these ideas out of context. I write this kind of fantasy in part because it permits--and even encourages--exaggeration (i.e. dramatizing passions and beliefs in *pure* forms, so that they can be looked at and studied “outside” their real manifestations in conflicted and self-contradictory human beings). The importance of “absolute” characters like Hile Troy, and the Haruchai, and the Ranyhyn, and the Ravers, and Lord Foul lies *within* the story, not in any desire I might feel to criticize missionaries. (Read my many messages on the subject of polemics.)

I hope that makes sense.


Michael from Santa Fe:  I find that as I approach the end of a book, I read more quickly. As things get more exciting, I want to know what happens and so my reading speed increases, not through any conscious mechanism but it just seems to happen. I was wondering, does your writing speed increase during more intense sequences or as you approach the end, or is it pretty much the same throughout, or does it just depend on how the writing is going that given day?
Of course, there are many factors that influence my productivity on any given day: interruptions, biorhythms, illness, insomnia, general worry, that sort of thing. But it's generally true that I write more quickly when I can "see" what's immediately ahead of me clearly than I do when I'm feeling my way, wrestling with uncertainty in one form or another. In this context, various things impact how clearly I "see". Sometimes events are plain but characters are not: on other occasions, the problem is reversed. Sometimes I flounder trying to describe effectively a specific character, setting, conflict, or sequence of actions. Generally again, however, I do tend to "see" more clearly as I get closer to the end of a book (if for no other reason than because fewer decisions remain to be made)--or to a scene that I find particularly exciting for personal reasons (reasons which are not always the same as the reasons that make a scene exciting for a reader).


Jason D. Wittman:  Hello again, Mr. Donaldson,

I was reading through the Gap series recently, and I came across the ancillary documentation regarding Juanita Estevez and her invention of the gap drive. In it, you describe her as "a private individual with a strongly developed instinct for self-protection." You also have some of her colleagues insist that she is "a major loon." I'm curious to know if you meant to imply that the one leads to the other. I know the answer might involve delving further into her character than you had intended to, but the question has been bugging me, and I thought there'd be no harm in asking.

Also, I know you never mix your universes (The Land and the Gap universe, for example), but it occurs to me that Lord Foul would just about salivate at the thought of manipulating Angus Thermopyle. After all, Angus has been at the mercy of his inner Despiser for quite some time -- although his welding, which could be viewed as a technological Raver, might leave him more experientially equipped to deal with Herem, Jehannum, and Sheol. Just a comment.

Hope all is well.

No, I didn't mean to imply that Juanita Estevez' instinct for privacy led her to be considered crazy. I intended to suggest that jealous colleagues often prefer to consider someone crazy when that someone achieves a breakthrough which has eluded everyone else. And in Dr Estevez' case, the jealousy of her colleagues was exacerbated by the fact that she didn't understand the principles behind her own achievement (not to mention the fact that her ignorance made her experiments potentially lethal).

Doubtless LF would have enjoyed Angus' pain at being manipulated. But Angus' particular (enhanced) abilities would probably not have been of much use to LF's larger purposes.


Peter B.:  Once upon a time in the G.I. (sorry, I couldn't find the exact posting amidst all that content!) you made reference to the idea that the Last Chronicles, at least in part, was going to show Lord Foul's side of things, and give a window into the reasons for acting the way he does. Is that still your intent or did I misinterpret your words?

All the best, and thanks again for your wonderful work.
<sigh> Your message underscores the folly of ever saying ANYthing about my intentions for upcoming work. No, I haven't changed my mind about what I'm doing--or will do--in this story. But that doesn't mean I plan "to show Lord Foul's side of things," or "give a window into the reasons for acting the way he does". I don't want to commit myself to anything that explicit.


Robert:  Mr. Donaldson,
Thanks again for simply being who you are... that you answer questions with honesty, integrity, humour, and the right amount sarcasm when necessary. You have alot more patience than I would have under the same situation.
I just read an answer about your time in India as a missionary child, about calvinism, and the blinding of your eyes to the people you were there to help. I know you are "well adjusted" but I can't help feeling sad for you --- not the feel sorry for you as I am sure there were good as well as bad like any life but just sad that the experience was less than it could have been.
Thanks again for all you do.... you have been a very good influence on my life and yes... religious studies. We don't always agree but you have insights alot of christian authors don't. If you do respond in person or in GI... one question if I may.... are there in your stories any absolute truths or stedfast beliefs? By example... do the Lords, Elohim, ect. have any concrete absolutes in their existence or is it more a personal belief that leads them to do the things they do?
You probably know what I mean.... a bible of sorts? I hope this finds you well and again, thanks for everything.
I don't really know how to answer your question. No, there is no codified text ("bible") that reveals absolute truths--unless you think of "The Chronicles" themselves as a bible. <rueful smile> Nonetheless the characters do have access to what might be considered absolute truths. Earthpower is one. Law is another. The necessity of freedom is another. It is absolutely true that the Creator cannot reach through the Arch of Time to alter his creation without destroying its integrity. There are other examples. Still, I feel constrained to point out that one of the constant themes of "The Chronicles" is that "absolutes mislead". Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that "the interpretation of absolutes misleads"--interpretation being inherently fallible.


Dale Cebula:  Mr Donaldson,

HUGE fun of your work...I started reading Covenant in about the 8th grade, and I'm 37 now! I have a few silly questions for you.

Do any regular people live (or ever lived) in the Lower Land? I know the Giants did before they were all slain, but are there any villages in this part of the world? The names of the regions suggest that no right thinking person would do so, but where the "Spoiled Plains" always spoiled?

Have any of the "regular" people in the Land ever done anything wicked or hateful? Kevin, Elena, etc made big errors, but they do not do things out of sin or greed or whatever. I believe this to be due to the connection to Earthpower, and also has something to do with this being a story about Covenant and Linden and not necessarily about the folk of the Land. Just curious.

Finally, can you think of a reason why Foul did not just "dive" into the earthpower prior to Berek forging the Staff of Law. It seems that the reason he did so prior to TWL is because the STaff was gone. Again, that would make for a silly story in the first trilogy, but anyway.

PS--I am a medieval history major and I have to take issue with some GI comments you made about the Middle Ages lacking progress. Or is that just my vanity?!?! LOL

Please keep in mind that I'm working without a net (i.e. a story "bible") here. As I've said many times before, in general I only invent what I need. But with that proviso....

Starting from the "known" (the text), we can make some deductions based on, say, the history of the One Forest. The One Forest was decimated by *people*--an act which in sheer scale could be considered a desecration--and they had to come from SOMEwhere. Since they didn't intrude through Doom's Retreat (that happened later, and when it did, the Upper Land was already inhabited--if sparsely, perhaps), and since the various mountain ranges naturally discourage migration, it seems likely that these people arrived from the sea, or along the coasts. Therefore the Lower Land must once have been inhabited by humankind. (I think we can assume that the Spoiled Plains weren't "spoiled" until after LF established himself in Ridjeck Thome.) And these people must have been capable of considerable darkness or malice, since they eventually gave rise to the Ravers.

However, even back then the Sarangrave and Lifeswallower must have been toxic. The Defiles Course derives its poisons, at least in part, from the banes buried under Mount Thunder; and those banes--according to the text--were there from the Earth's very beginning. As a result, much of the Lower Land would have been comparatively unwelcoming. So it seems natural that people would slowly move toward the Upper Land, hacking and burning as they migrated.

Does that answer your question?

As for LF's use of Earthpower to bring himself back after his defeat in the first trilogy: why would he do such a thing if he didn't have to? Being the Despiser and all, he can't possibly *enjoy* things like Earthpower. (I like to picture him puking at the taste of aliantha.)

As "a medieval history major," you would certainly know more about the Middle Ages than I do. But surely they haven't been called "the dark ages" for nothing?


Scott:  Mr. Donaldson,

An absurd suggestion that will hopefully strike you as amusing (as that is my intent).

I've been doing some thinking, always a dangerous thing :). Years ago a friend of mine and I developed a fanciful theory about the time of the end of the world. We were fascinated by the various theories that different cultures and religions have about the end of our planet (at least as we know it). Anyway...We developed a theory based on the (at the time) numerous compiliation cds being offered on late night television. We posited that when the makers of the CDs caught up to present day, the end was nigh. (If you recall, the titles were Greatest Hits of the 70s, then 80s, then 90-92, then 91-93, and so on). The series of CDs caught up to present day and by 1996 there was a greatest hits of 1996 released before the end of 1996. And the world continues. So much for our theory. However, I hasten to point out that it has fared just as well as other theories on this subject have. :)

My point, in relation to your work is: I notice the GI is up to 1966 answered questions. Some quick thinking suggests that you'll hit 2008 answered questions by May of this year, thus bringing your GI and our calendar year into alignment. Given the power of the GI and the alignment that is about to occur, do you fear or hope for any visible change in the world on that glorious day? ;)

All the best for continued good health on your part, and a desire for the world to not end before we finish your series.


Hmm. It seems likely that I'll hit 2007 messages answered in May of 2008--or shortly thereafter. (Although this count doesn't include the many messages I've answered privately.) At that point, as I see it, only mumblemumble things can happen. The GI will grind to a halt. Or I'll grind to a halt. Or the world will grind to a halt. Or my readers will spontaneously agree to submit only one question a year. Or we'll all have to reset our watches by the Maya calendar, which (I'm told) predicts the end of the world in 2012. Just a year before the publication of "The Last Dark". Which would be fitting, don't you agree?

Certainly I hope for visible changes on the Glorious Day of Alignment (assuming that private responses haven't already cast that day long into the past). The change I would most like to see is, as ever: LIFE GETS SIMPLER. Er, excuse me, I mean, WORLD PEACE. Although I'd settle, with my usual congeniality, for tougher sentences for repeat offenders (just to show that I'm not *entirely* ignorant of pop culture).


Raymond Luxury Yacht:  Would you agree that we seem to be going through a sort of Golden Age (or at least Silver) of fantasy right now? It seems that more than ever, there is actually a significant quantity of quality writing out there.

In your mind, do the Masters use the same style of martial arts that you practice?

Did you get a chance to enjoy Seattle when you were here for your book tour a while ago, or was your experience limited to airport, hotel, bookstore, with no time for tourism? Do you typically make an effort to see the places you are touring, or is it just a grind of getting your business done?

Have you ever had an author whose work you didn't like claim you as an inspiration? How did that make you feel?

Random questions, but hopefully easy and quick to answer.

OK, quick and easy.

I don't know that a "Golden Age" *is*. Certainly there is more fantasy published every year now than during any other phase of my life. But Sturgeon's (?) Law still holds: 90% of everything is junk. More books published means that *finding* the good 10% is harder.

The martial art of the Haruchai is entirely their own. Doubtless it has many features in common with any number of our codified "empty hand" arts.

I never get to do any sightseeing--or even enjoying--while I'm on book tours. Airport, hotel, bookstore: there isn't time for anything else.

"Have you ever had an author whose work you didn't like claim you as an inspiration?" Not to my knowledge. Hence my lack of identifiable emotion on the subject.


James Douglas:  hello Mr Donaldson. Regarding this post, I am r
writing it on a 3.5 inch ipod touch screen, so i will very prrobably make a few mistakes in spelling.

First I must express my gratitude for answering the questions in the GI. And next that I read in your answers an author of enormous integrity. In a harder time of my life, your books were a great source of comfort and wisdom to me. Molded to to be the reader and aspiring writer that I am now. The way you write about damagedbcharacters really has made me realize my love for books with real "grey" characters. I cannot read books with black and white characters. I cannot express how important I find this is to any story.

Next, in love all your books, I have read all except the short stories. (my liking leans toward long books with rom for character rogression) my favourite are by far the gap series. The complexity of characters andthe speed in which everything changes made me read every page with avidness that is hard to catch. Truly a great set if books.

Which brings us to Fatal Revenant. I tend to have an eye for detail and theorizing... The smallest detail can unveil the biggest things. So... To my questions...

2) *What* is kastenessen's lover? She is described as a "mortal lover". Aside from the Elohim, all creatures seem to be mortal, though some live longer and others. I have a... Not strong enough to be called a theory; but I assumed she may be a giant. And that is why the merewives spare giant males. However, say that is true, if the merewives seek retribution, who better than to attack the very species that their mother was and father assumed. Like I say, not strong enough to be a theory.

4) Why is the Raver giving Esmer advice and not Foul?

7) I talked earlier of my love for stories with "grey" and real characters; do you recommend any authors and stories that fit this?

Lastly, thankyou for your years of answering questions ax decades of amazing writing... The Gap, Thomas Covenant Chronicles, your mystery novels and Mordants Need... Thank god for the day I went through my mothers book shelve on a whim and found Lord Foul's Bane.
Despite the laborious manner in which you wrote your message, and the thought you put into it, I've deleted a number of your questions. Let me explain. As soon as you ask questions like, "Whatever happened to X?" or "Will Y take place later in the story?" or "Is Z relevant to what's coming?" you place me in an impossible position. Any affirmative or negative response is a spoiler. And if I refuse to answer at all, that's another kind of spoiler. I think I've demonstrated that I'm willing to talk about books that have already been published; but I do dearly wish that my readers would stop asking me to reveal my intentions for the upcoming installments in "The Last Chronicles."

That said....

2) Your speculations about Kastenessen's mortal lover are interesting. I can't say that I've ever thought about her in those terms. And I probably never will. I'm content with my original assumption that Giantish men are defended from the merewives by their gift of tongues. (It's often difficult to seduce someone who understands what you're *really* saying.)

4) LF is in hiding. Esmer doesn't even know where he is. This is consistent with the Despiser's new strategy as he has deployed it throughout the story so far. Doubtless he has read "Desecration Through Manipulation," a sort of self-help book for people who want to feel superior and do harm while remaining safe from the humiliating defeats they've suffered in the past.

7) The "reading" and "general literature" sections of this site offer various suggestions. It's generally true that few sf/f writers are as interested in tormented characters as I am. But for shades of grey, you need look no further than Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, George Meredith, William Faulkner, or Henry James. Not to mention Tim Powers. And there are some prominent "grey" characters in Steven Erikson's "Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen".


Anonymous:  The use of the Seven Words is indeed an homage. Russell T. Davies, the creator of Torchwood and the head writer for the new Doctor Who is a huge fan of the Covenant books. He reads them all once a year, every year. Just thought i'd clear it up for you.
Wow! I'm impressed a) that a busy man like Davies would do such a thing, and b) that you know what he does. Thanks!


J C Bronsted:  In your estimation, if, as you've quoted in the interview, making an assumption does in fact make an "ass" out of one or several people, would the same then be true of making a presumption?

I presume this question might interest you.

It's true that pretty much all of us go wildly astray when we make assumptions (or presumptions). And yet, how is it possible to live without them? We're never *not* in the position of having to make decisions based on incomplete information. So we fill in the gaps as best we can. The trick, I think, is to recognize our assumptions when we make them--and then to not make the mistake of thinking that our assumptions are facts.

Oh, wait a minute. You were just kidding....


Ethan:  Having been a fan of yours and obviously reading your work over the years, I find that I’m drawn to the Gap books the most. I think part of that comes from the particular style their written in. They have a dark, realistic feel takes them beyond the realm of space opera or even conventional science fiction. It really reminds me of the works of Arthur C. Clarke, which brings me to my question: are you a fan of Clarke’s? And by any chance did you ever get to meet him before his passing a month ago?

I know you don’t choose your ideas, they chose you, well here’s hoping another science fiction idea chooses you after the Final Chronicles are completed.
No, I never met Arthur C. Clarke. And I was never a fan, although I read some of his stories with interest. I won't quote the review which explained most succinctly *why* I never became a fan. But I must say that I'm surprised by the comparison. If anyone could be considered "the Dean of Hard Science Fiction," it was Clarke. By his standard, I've written (very) soft sf.


John:  I believe it's been a year since Fully Loaded Pictures purchased a 12-month renewable option to develop films based on the GAP novels. I was curious if they had decided to renew the option or if there has been any other news regarding the subject.
Fully Loaded Pictures' option on the GAP books was effectively extended by the writers' strike. There's a legal term for it, which I can't spell. Force majeur? Is that close? It's the moral equivalent of an Act of God.


Drew(drew):  Easy one today.
When you wrote the Second Chronicles, you were planning it to be four books...what was the other title?
I don't remember. Doubtless the answer exists somewhere in my files, but I'm not going to spend an hour trying to dig it out. But I can tell you this: *none* of the present titles is my original title. If memory serves (which it often doesn't, so don't quote me), I planned the story with four one-word titles, of which the first was "Sunbane". (Were they all words that started with "s"? I *think* so.) I came up with the present titles when Lester del Rey informed me that he was going to publish the story as a trilogy--and that none of my one-word titles was acceptable.