Heroic fantasy stalks our anti-heroic age as if bent on providing a thesis for every cultural sociologist in the land. What keeps people reading? Part of the answer may be found in Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles. Thomas Covenant, divorced by his wife after the discovery of his leprosy, nurses a numbed obsession with bare physical survival and a helpless rage at the vicious persecution of the frightened local townspeople. An inexplicable accident transports him to another world, "the Land," where he finds himself and his useless wedding ring regarded as mighty powers in an epic struggle. Lovers of the genre will find some striking variations. Covenant comes into the Land not as a clear-browed savior but as an agent of rejection and violence, anesthetized by belief in the unreality of the "dream"-world where his leprosy is healed. The consequences of his first actions in the Land are closely compounded of good and evil, and it is long before he can accept "real" responsibility for both. The handling of the character often collapses into trivial whining, but as a framing image, Covenant is decidedly effective. As for the Land itself, Donaldson does not seem to have it in his bones as Tolkien did Middle-earth, but the various topographies and inhabitants are imagined with a certain solidity. Curiously, the evil powers are least convincing, dissipated in a haze of silly nomenclature ("Drool Rockworm," "Satansfist," the "ur-viles") and cliche-filled descriptions of yellow eyes and green flames. Only the "good" characters (notably a merry and infinitely forbearing Giant) achieve anything approaching life. Unfortunately the writing does not live up to the larger virtues: one may pass without warning from a strong and telling phrase to "empty inanition," people shouting in "livid" voices, Covenant refusing a meal because "the thought of eating made his raw nerves nauseous." Still, if this is a mess, it is a mess of more than occasional stature. Preachier than Tolkien, yet conversely conveying a more sophisticated sense of moral complexities, Donaldson's trilogy is a Hawed and erratic work, but not an inconsiderable one.