Silent Knowing Awoke in Me

One night I dreamed that I was in a room in my grandmother’s house, someplace that I’d actually spent many nights when I was young. It belonged to an uncle of mine who, being only eight years older than me, had still been living at home at that time.

It was here in this room, when I was about eleven years old, that the whole trajectory of my life changed forever.

That may sound overly dramatic. For me it’s just simple truth, though, because I so vividly remember. My uncle’s room had often been a powerful stimulus for my imagination. He had all the early Iron Maiden records, for one thing, with their enigmatic pictures of “Eddie” on both front and back – vinyl covers, so you got all the blown up detail.

Those pictures only told so much; they invited my young mind to weave its own stories. My first memories of discovering my own capacity for fantasy revolve around this space.

"Chance" Discovery

One night I was perusing the bookshelf and noticed something that I thought read “The Wonderland”. Like most kids, I was a fan of “Alice”, so this drew my interest. When I pulled it down, though, I saw that I’d misread it. It was, in fact, “The Wounded Land”. {Emphasis mine}

That little discrepancy set off a whirlwind of implications in my mind.

I suddenly realized that this book, for all of its fantastical trappings, was not escapism. It was reflecting a deeper layer of life; of the inside of the world, so to speak .

I discovered that the book was the fourth in Stephen R. Donaldson’s magnificent “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever” series. I started reading immediately. My uncle was missing the first novel, “Lord Foul’s Bane”, so I had to begin with the second, “The Illearth War”: Another title rife with implications.

I’ve tried many times over the course of my life to articulate the impact of this upon me, at that tender age. It completely turned all my previous conceptions of story – of what it could touch upon, how deep it could go – on their head.

The magic was real. The Land was real. Of course I knew that on one level it was a “secondary world” that one could read about and escape to for a while. But it was also Covenant’s inner landscape; our inner landscape.

The drama enacted within it personified the forces at work beneath the surface veneer of the world that we all learned to call “the real.”

Background Sketch

Since the novels are fairly well known, I'll provide just a brief description of the premise here. Thomas Covenant's life, as the first trilogy begins, has taken a drastic turn from bright promise to darkness and despair.

Once he had been happily married, a successful novelist; but now that leprosy has begun to ravage him he finds himself surrounded by people who fear and shun him. His wife abandons him and takes their infant son along with her.

In his loneliness and bereavement, Covenant experiences a series of "psychotic episodes" during which he's apparently translated to a vibrant and magical environment known simply (to its wondrous inhabitants) as The Land.

As Within, So Without

For all of its lucid detail, and the searing power and sweep of Donaldson's prose, the crowning achievement of this work, to me, is the underlying sense - which the author never loosens his grip on - that Covenant's entire odyssey within The Land can arguably be taking place inside himself. In a sense he is The Land.

A land is a reflection of the inner state of the beings that inhabit it. From the inside, we each weave the fabric of our physical environment. Exploring our world, we are really journeying through the landscape of ourselves - and discovering ourselves.

As I read this yarn, something – a kind of silent knowing – awoke in me. I was aware of Donaldson’s rare gift to touch upon ‘both worlds’; and I understood that I had this inborn ability too.

I knew in that moment that, to communicate this innate inner understanding through stories, stories that might touch others with the same sense of wonder and intuitive recognition, was unquestionably the one sacred, wondrous and exciting direction of my life.

The question was settled right there and then, in that room on that night. It’s been a journey of more than thirty years, bringing that sensed potential to fruition in the ‘real’ world.