PW: Why the 21-year wait between the publication of the last book of the Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and The Runes of the Earth, the first book of the Last Chronicles?
Stephen Donaldson: The short answer is that I had envisioned both the Second Chronicles and the Last Chronicles at the same time, but writing the Second Chronicles taught me how much I still had to learn about writing to have a chance at succeeding in what I want to do in the Last Chronicles. I also wanted to establish myself in other directions and write other books to try and have a more rounded career than one based solely on Thomas Covenant.
Were there points over the 21 years where you thought about revisiting Thomas Covenant, but felt you still hadn't decided how to approach it?
Not really. It's part of my writing method that I often let ideas sit for a long time before I do something about them. My theory is that if I can't forget them, then they must be good. But I don't plan to live forever, so it's become obvious to me that if I don't give the story its turn now, I'm going to run out of time before it does.
Was it hard for you to pick up the thread of Covenant again?
Much of the Covenant material, both stylistically and in terms of its imagery, comes pretty naturally to me—so much so that it feels like this is the kind of writing I was born to do. In that sense it's been quite easy to return and pick up the thread. In a narrative sense it hasn't been quite so easy because there's an enormous amount of detail in the first six books, and if I want to succeed in creating an epic that will eventually be one vast story in 10 volumes, I can't drop any of the balls I'm juggling.
Covenant died at the end of the last novel. Are you at all concerned that fans will be disappointed by his absence?
I worry that people might say, "It's called the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, but Thomas Covenant is dead. It's a marketing device." I assure you it's not. I've shown throughout the series that there are many ways in which the past can become relevant to the present. So I've already laid more than one kind of foundation for Thomas Covenant's developing importance in the present story.
Do you feel the literary landscape for high fantasy fiction has changed since you started writing the Chronicles?
There's clearly a lot more competition out there than there used to be, but also a lot more stereotypical stuff. Every market goes through this: things become established, imitation and repetition become the norm, people lose interest and the genre dies back, and then new voices spring up and it returns to life. I'm concerned that I may be at an unfortunate point in the normal cycle of the growth and development of the genre. But I'm also concerned about competing with myself. There's this fear in the back of my head that readers who loved the first six Covenant books are going to look at the Last Chronicles and think, "I wish he'd quit while he was ahead." So I have both types of concerns about launching this new project. I'm hoping that cream rises to the top—and that what I'm writing is cream.