Actually, I've had the story for "The Last Chronicles" in mind for at least 25 years. When I first began to imagine "The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant," the ideas for this final project struck me at the same time. As a result, while I was writing "The Second Chronicles" I was able to prepare the way for "The Last Chronicles" by creating all of the loose ends and back doors I would need.
When I wrote the original "Covenant" trilogy, I had no intention of pursuing either the characters or the setting further. The story seemed complete to me as it stood. But my editor at that time was Lester del Rey, and he was the King of Sequels. As soon as I finished working on The Power that Preserves, he began to push for more "Covenant." Ignoring my protests, he tried to prod me by sending me ideas for a second trilogy. Well, these ideas were all bad (I thought they were inherently bad, but they may simply have been bad because they weren't mine). And they got worse as Lester pushed harder. Finally he succeeded at sending me an idea so bad that before I could stop myself I thought, "No, that's terrible, what I really ought to do is--" And there, almost involuntarily, I conceived the stories for both "The Second Chronicles" and "The Last Chronicles."
As I imagined it at the time, "The Second Chronicles" was a logical extension of the first "Covenant" trilogy. In the same way, "The Last Chronicles" is a logical extension of the second.
|That's complicated. One perfectly valid reason is that I wanted to prove to my readers--and to myself--that I could write other types of stories, and write them well. Another is that a significant number of other stories (in fact, twelve books' worth) came to me to be written. But perhaps the deepest, most personal reason is that I was afraid. At my first glimpse of "The Last Chronicles," I knew that it would be astonishingly difficult to write; that as a narrative exercise it would make the previous "Covenant" stories look like a stroll in the park. If this last story is done right, if it fulfills my intentions, it will complete and unify the entire saga. But in order to accomplish that goal I'll have to go far beyond my known abilities, both as a story-teller and as a writer. The prospect terrified me. It still does. The argument could be made that everything I've written since I first conceived "The Last Chronicles" has been an attempt to expand my abilities and resources; to make myself ready for the story I'm writing now.
No, I'm not ready. But I am getting older--I may not yet be as old as dirt, but dirt and I are starting to have an awful lot in common--and I finally realized three things. First, I'm probably never going to be ready. Second, at my age, being ready is probably not as important as facing my fears. And third, if I don't face my fears, I'll probably regret it for the rest of my dwindling life. So I decided that it's better to make the attempt and risk near-certain failure than to avoid the challenge and guarantee failure. After all, what's the worst that can happen? I'll blow it; everyone will know that I blew it; and my career will end with a whimper instead of a bang. On a cosmic scale, that's pretty trivial.
Linden Avery, like High Lord Mhoram before her, has a few things to say about the redemptive potential of inadequacy.
It's amazing what people can accomplish when they respect their limitations. I take a sparring class every Saturday morning, and everyone I train with has more speed, strength, and stamina than I do. As they should: they're all much younger than I am. Plus most of them can kick me in the head, and I'm just about flexible enough to reach their waists. But you know what they say about age and cunning. I don't stand around feeling sorry for myself--or, worse, drop out--just because I'm slow, weak, gasping, and stiff. Instead I work on timing, distance, precise technique, and tactics. In other words, I respect my limitations, but I don't use them as an excuse. And it's surprising how often those young guys with all their advantages get frustrated because they can't handle what I'm throwing at them.
The corollary is this: facing your fears is probably a good thing; but if you're going to face them, you should probably try to be smart about it.
Now if I can just figure out how to apply that to "The Last Chronicles"--