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Epic Fantasy still not on the big screen: Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant Trilogies

I saw a bit of Legends of the Seeker, adapted from Terry Goodkind’s books. The whole series while rather entertaining if for nothing else for the constant stream of look-alike blond action babes who trot across the screen. Can anybody actually tell the difference between Denna, Cara, Corlinda, Nicci incarnation two to name just a few? Whoever is casting the series has tunnel vision.

Much of the story seemed to be adaptations of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenenant novels. In just one example, the Mord’Sith seem a near clone of the Bloodguard but with breasts.

Which set me to asking myself whatever happened to a film version of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenenant Trilogies (there’s three of them)? The Thomas Convenant novels are fantasy for grown-ups dealing with issues such as acceptance and exclusion via physical metaphors like lepresy. The sex lives are also very complex, exploring the breakdown of the physical elements of love over time.

Despite some heavy hitters signing up to develop such a film, no studio signed off on it. Here are Stephen R. Donaldson’s own notes on the subject.

"Covenant" film news: it’s over. The producers who optioned "Lord Foul’s Bane" have tried everything they could think of, without success. Now their option has expired, and they have declined to renew it. Bury it now, folks, ’cause it’s dead. 1/29/07

Possible "Lord Foul’s Bane" film: bad news. It doesn’t look good. So far, the project has been rejected by Fox, Sony, and Dreamworks. "Too dark." "Too much like LOTR." The prospective producers have decided to change their tactics. They are now hoping to get a reputable director "on board." If they succeed, this may increase the project’s credibility.

I’ll post more news when I have some. 2005

This past week, "The Hollywood Reporter" announced that "Covenant" is coming to the big screen. This is both premature and misleading. Here are the facts to date.

The production team of Mark Gordon ("Saving Private Ryan") and Peter Winther ("Independence Day") is quite serious about wanting to make a "Covenant" film. "Revelstone Development" has a design in place and a screenwriter on board (John Orloff, "Band of Brothers"). What Gordon and Winther do *not* have is a studio (i.e. money); and without a studio little or nothing is likely to happen. Since Hollywood basically shuts down in December, Gordon and Winther plan to start approaching studios in January.

I would like to emphasize that I have no control over any aspect of this process. After all, the film rights are held by Ballantine Books, not by me. I’ve met Winther and Orloff, and I’m convinced that their respect for and excitement about "Covenant" is genuine: for that reason, I’m starting to get excited myself. And I have no doubt that Revelstone Development will consult with me from time to time, and will take whatever I have to say seriously. But I have no actual power here. Nor do I want any. In fact, I’ve refused every offer to give me any power. I love movies; I hope a "Covenant" movie (or several) will be made; I hope it will be good; and I hope it will be successful. But I’m simply not qualified, either by experience or by personality, to make the kinds of decisions–and compromises–which are essential to film-making. And I have my own work to do, work which pretty much consumes all of my creative energy. So I’m rooting hard for Revelstone Development; and if Gordon, Winther, and Orloff ever want my opinion, I’ll give it to them. But really this is all out of my hands.

More news as it develops….

P.S. I’m just guessing here; but I suspect that peculiar references to "Saturn" in "The Hollywood Reporter" are a confused conflation of "Satan" and "Sauron." I can’t think of any other explanation.

As it happens, Russell Crowe has decided NOT to take on the role of Thomas Covenant, no doubt (drum-roll, please) because he considered it too taxing. Imagine my surprise. As you may know, money people typically commit to a movie, not because they like the project, but because a "bankable" star has agreed to participate. Therefore the "Covenant" film remains purely hypothetical.

I’m amazed that the Thomas Convenant series has never been made into a motion picture considering how far near the bottom of the barrel Hollywood scraped for its Lord of the Rings lookalikes in the boom years. Or that it hasn’t been picked up for a television series.

Too sophisticated?

Ann McAffrey’s Dragon series made it to the big screen on a large scale. Even latecomer to the screen Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy made it Sci Fi channel in 2004. Surely somebody has to get around to the Thomas Covenant Chronicles eventually even if they end up simplifying and whitewashing some of the darker elements.


  1. Christine Christine

    Thanks for the info. Hubby and I were discussing the fact that these books had not been made into a movie (or movies yet)


    But Thanks!

  2. Jan Jan

    So very disappointed that no one has taken up this challenge yet, I feel this could be bigger than LOTR given the right director and actors. Well here’s hoping for the future that someone will be brave enough to take a chance and turn these wonderful books into film.

  3. David David

    I’m seriously disappointed that this truly magnificent work of literature was not able to reach the big screen. but it would be difficult to write it for the screen without loosing so much. It would be like Stephen kings “The long walk” adapted for movies, you’re gona loose something. maybe better left alone.

  4. On my end, I do think someone could do a very good film of at least one of the books.

    The issue is that we have become so accustomed to dumbed down cinema and sacharine in our film that no one is willing to take the risk to make an adult film. On the other hand, Last Tango in Paris is not for the innocent and is a classic.

    Someday someone will take the risk. And perhaps sooner than later as the CGI effects become less and less expensive every year.

  5. David Langley David Langley

    This needs to be done, LOTR set the standard for the Genre, but iv’e always felt that the Covenant, is far superior, sure people will see a similarity, but i feel it stands on it’s own. Bring on Peter Jackson and WETA i say.

  6. joe noon . joe noon .

    having read almost the entire trilogy out so far . its the hight of irony that the thomas convenant books have not made it onto the silver screen as yet, the studios dont know what they are missing, as discribed "comparable to tolken at his best."..and personally the lord of the rings isnt dark .. its just very predictable to movie fans .thus has become a little boring with time and very little apart from the special effects and CGI holding it together . about time these books had serious consideration by film makers .

  7. jesse krisher jesse krisher

    I too have wondered why ,read them a few times would like to see on the big screen ,maybe to complicated to make

  8. Joe Carcione Joe Carcione

    It seems that with the final book coming out later this year, there still a no go on any movie. I am sure that there would be allot lost in the translation of a movie, however I also believe that what would come to life would be close to the books.

    As we come closer and closer to an end of the series, I would like to hope that more and more people in the Hollywood studios would see the light and realize how many of true fans there are out here. Now with the release of the Hobbit and others it seems more are putting there faith in the fantasy relm. What we need is one person to take a chance and see the light of it. If nothing else it would be a major money maker.

  9. Billy Bonus Billy Bonus

    Absolutely ridiculous !!

    With the advent of tastefully done CGI, this series should definitely be a movie, or a Trilogy of movies.

    As the Kansas City Star stated “The ‘War And Peace’ of fantasy literature…”

    An utter travesty that so many lesser works of fantasy have been done yet The Chronicles… remains in the shelf !!

  10. Brian Smithen Brian Smithen

    If these are not the best books of Fantasy Fiction ever written they are very close to it.

    T. Convenant would create an Epic Films series so powerful there would be a huge following through out the world. Everyone would flock to see them, it would be as successful as Star Wars.

    Unfortunately the LOTR’s movies were made first, now the Hobbit. We need someone like Director Cameron who has the power to not only make something like this happen, but also do it right, do it big, in an Epic film series.

  11. phil l. phil l.

    Unfortunate. I have not enjoyed any books as much as this series. Tolkein may have been a bit better at his writing style, but donaldson has more depth and vision. I also feel that this story has even more potentail that the lord of the rings series. I have not purchased a dvd or gone to a theater in many years. For this movie I would do both.

  12. Tina D Tina D

    I started reading these books in the early 80’s, and as each new one has been published, I’ve re-read all the preceding ones. I’ve waited all this time for someone to take up the option to film – really hope it happens some time, done with the right person directing and the right cast – not Russell Crowe!) it would outshine LOTR

  13. sean sean

    First off, Stephen Donaldson had to bring the whole story to a conclusion before any movie could be made. Secondly, LOTR and the Hobbit have to be over at least a year before the void has to be filled. Silmarillion movie, anyone? So my guess is that Lord Foul is a long way off yet. Too bad, as I’d love nothing more than to relive the books again. They were special, and IMHO the best fantasy novel series of all time, simply because they dared to be so dark, so adult and challenging. Other tiny problem: The actor who would play Covenant would have to start at a young age. Each film of the series could only be made at a minimum of one-two years apart. An actor starting out at twenty, say, might finish the last movie fifteen/twenty years later! Forget about having a tandem career in film. My choice: brilliant young Irish actor Jack Reynor. Hell and Damnation!

  14. Hi Sean,

    Good point about actor’s age. I say get paired actors at least. There’s got to be two first rate actors who look similar enough.

    I hope it’s sooner rather than later. If I had to reread either Lord of the Rings or the first Thomas Covenant series now, I’d go for the latter.

  15. Matt Matt

    Great summary of the Covenant movie question thank you! The suggestion of a TV series excites me – imagine how well the characters, story twists, surprises and importantly the parallel timelines could be explored with the luxury of a full TV series for each instalment! Come on TV bosses – get on it!!!

  16. Ellen S Ellen S

    I, too, have read these books over and over. Frankly, the idea of it being translated to screen seems impossible. The books depend on too much introspection to be conveyed successfully on the screen.

    BUT, if it was to be done, I vote Hugh Laurie as Thomas. Looks like him, and he does cynicism so well.

  17. Ken L. Ken L.

    Hmmm…who would play Covenant. If Adrian Brody were younger, I think he would be perfect! Alas, no time machines available.

    There are not many books that I have thought powerful enough that I have thought a couple of times a year about how much I would like to see them made into film. And I have been thinking about this potential film since I read the series in the early 80’s when I was 15 or 16.

    This has to be done. When I daydream about hitting the lottery (which is difficult to do when I never play) and what I would do with the cash, I would pony up $10-$20 million to help get this film started. Thinking about walking into the theater to see “Lord Foul’s Bane” for the first time gets me all excited.

    Let’s hope.

  18. Hi Ken,

    Perhaps it’s a good thing the books transition to film has been delayed so long. Hopefully by the time they make it there, really high quality effects will be far less expensive. I’d like to see something as visually seamless as Bladerunner rather than one of the recent visually hokey dragon movies or even too conspicuously flashy Underworld.

    Special effects were better when more of them were done on camera than all CGI.

  19. I have read and re-read these books over 16 years and absolutely love them. I have always thought about a movie for this film- but I also feel like a movie wouldn’t be able to portray the beauty and darkness within the context. However, a TV series would be awesome. If they can do it for Wizards First Rule, they could do it for Covenant. I vote TV series.

  20. James Burrows James Burrows

    I would love to invest some of my hard earned money. Independent film made by people who love this series and would like to see it done right.

  21. J Gray J Gray

    Kickstarter anyone?

  22. Squeaky Squeaky

    There are at this posting 9 books in the covenant series. I have read 8 of them 3 times each. I love them that much.i bought the last one 3 yrs ago & haven’t read it yet… I’m savoring it for a while. But i agree with all of you, the crappy fantasy movies Hollywood produces, with all the bullshit that the syfy channel produces i too do not understand why there is no Covenant movie. Harry Potter makes it to the big screen several times but Covenant not even Once? Bullshit!!

  23. MarcD MarcD

    I first read “Lord Foul’s Bane” in 1987 when I was 14 years old. Been a huge fan ever since, and Stephen R. Donaldson is my favorite author. None of his work (Covenant or otherwise) has ever been adapted into a movie or TV show. I’d love to have it happen, but it would have to be done by a great writing team and an amazing cast. I’d prefer unknowns to “name” actors.

  24. John John

    Absolutely extraordinary fantasy series, which I would love to see adapted (faithfully!) to the big screen. Not sure if it would work as a series ala HBO though. I think though (as some others here have already pointed out) that the very reasons why I enjoyed it so much, it’s dark themes and complexity therein, are the main reason studios don’t seem to be interested. Lord of the Rings this certainly isn’t, which is a much easier sell being the usual good vs evil.

  25. Wes Wes

    This series would be great for cable. They could easily get 3 seasons. The second chronicles are also good.

    I think everyone is shy because of the antihero. I find that interesting, but I think a studio needs to be committed to that aspect to get it right.

    I hope at least the first three get done professionally someday. If you compare this to something like Outlander, it’s simply better material, imo.

  26. Perry R. Perry R.

    Referring to the ‘complexity of making a movie’ based on the books bolsters my opinion that any movie produced shouldn’t be a ‘live-action’ feature but animated. Maybe along the lines of Ralph Bakshi’s ‘Wizards’ but with more seriousness. With animation they could really explore the story and background and stay true to Donaldson’s vision at a fraction of the cost of a ‘live-action’ movie.

  27. The movies need to be character based on Tom and Linden. The complex and dark issues that drive them both. I think with the fan basis these novels have, a minimalist approach that centers fully on the protagonists’ struggles could do well. Also, fantasy elements need to be subordinated to Tom and Linden’s search for redemption. I seriously loved reading and rereading the first two Chronicles and if the movies could do them justice, and they could, I’d turn over my life savings to a serious investor.

  28. TC TC

    Cameron is too old for this project. Find a director/producer who learned something from Make-It-Take-For-Freaking-Ever-Forever Jackson and let them do it.

  29. TC TC

    Agreeing with Alec (Bladerunner is unforgettable), CGI could ruin the story. Many people think Jackson’s CGI eventually torn down LOTR. Maybe now, at this point, though, CGI is the way to go with COTC; especially in light of the story’s inherent schizo weirdness. But I also believe that live action camera work and great acting is where it’s all at, and probably always will be.

  30. TC TC

    Brody could always play Covenant later in produce — assuming they don’t drag it out like PJ did the actors in LOTR…

  31. Paul A. Nissen Paul A. Nissen

    Glorious series of books, which are superior to LOTR, and with some interesting differences. I was able to buy 6 books plus the small Gildenfire, but have heard of more books. I originally envisioned Harrison Ford playing Thomas Covenant, but the film never emerged. Russel Crowe is more toughlooking, so I don*t know. Anyway why did he refuse? Then Brad Pitt might suit. The Ravers would have to be fiercer than the ring wraiths, and the Lords more magicusing than King Elrond and Gandalf. The ur-viles being another kind than the orcs would be interesting. Good luck.

  32. Will Will

    I’ve been a fan of LFB since it came out, am reading the 10th and final book in the series, and have written Stephen many times.

    I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone hasn’t started production on this epic series…unless, of course, they actually haven’t read it.

    Unfortunately, people who make these decisions always have someone who has someone to read it and oversimplify. When a named director or studio actually READS the books, MAYBE then they’ll decide it’s worthwhile.

    LFB, alone, is worth a trilogy, and the series could easily be made into a successful NETFLIX or AMAZON series, if it’s too dark for television.

  33. Mark Giantfriend Mark Giantfriend

    I have read all but the very last book in the covenant series. ( I went back and re-read the other 3 books in the final covenant series just so I was ready for The Last Dark. I also read the entire Gap series and the 2-book Mirror/Rides Through pairing. Donaldson is such an amazing talent and it would be impossible to fully capture in film what he delivers in the written form of the stories. I think Mirror of Her Dreams/A Man rides through would be the easiest to do and highly marketable to the masses. However, The Covenant series is his masterpiece and, although impossible to duplicate, it would be highly entertaining and successful. The right director and actors would be key. That does not mean that they have to be big names but “talented”. Keep the faith fellow believers.

  34. Michael King Michael King

    It thrills me even at age 58 that these books are soo amazing in Depth Scope and Exhaustion!!! For amazements sake. Reading them as a child, I secluded myself in possessing them. As for the movie version, I have introduced many to reading them and the response is the same. Brilliant, Yes. But most important, Shakespeare in our own lifetime. So, Joy Is In The Ears That Hear. And, quite actually, the movies will happen. I just pray, before Stephen checks into a cemetery. I am introducing these to my son as he is the age I was when I got “Changed” by them.

  35. Jo Hargreaves Jo Hargreaves

    I have just finished reading the Gap series. Seriously would outclass every single space related movie ever made. This needs to happen! As for Covenant would be brilliant as HBO series .. dark, … and Game of Thrones isn’t? Donaldson you are a genius and if I had the money I wotif be making it happen! Maybe we should crowd fund?

  36. It is about time these films were made…with all their darker elements still in place, though not for their horror value, but as they are what make the story real and relevant.

  37. steve steve

    with netflix HBOGO series popular like Game of Throwns, it is the perfect time to put the Thomas Covanant series on netflix or HBO pleasw man do it now

  38. Guy K Guy K

    I read “The Power that Preserves” when I was a counselor at summer camp during rest period when the kids were “supposed to be quiet.” I have been a huge fan ever since. That was 38 years ago so I am very patient on this and besides I want the Movie to be a good one not just a lame attempt to cash in on the the fantasy/science fiction craze. Remember, LOR and Hobbit were both made into animated movies eons before they hit the big screen successes they are now. Also, I personally think that in today’s world, the character of Linden Avery would be more interesting for Today’s modern viewers.

  39. ur-Lord Corey ur-Lord Corey

    Keep the Oath, Unbelievers!

  40. Ron Ron

    I originally read the Chronicles during game high school some 34 years ago, and it is because of this series that I became an avid reader. Thank you Mr. Donaldson for your masterpiece! I agree that the time is ripe with the successes of God and other dark shows such as TWD. I can only hope that they will be done, that many more will be drawn to TCoTC.

  41. Cliff W Cliff W

    I can tell you the biggest hurtle this series has is very early in the 1st book. it cannot be edited out because it is an integral path of the story. Then rape scene between Covenant and Lena! With this in it becomes a high PG or R and cuts out the young ones so there will be no merchandising, no action figures like with LOTR. That is BIG BUCK and the studios know it. So this becomes more Fantasy/Horror which in reality it really is. Another issue is all the internal dialog Covenant goes through. It also is an important part of the story. This does not play well in films.

  42. Paul O Paul O

    Well, there’s always the Gap Series. That would be easier to convey in movie form if you ask me.

  43. Mouse G Mouse G

    With the vast success of ‘series’ books like Martin’s GoT on HBO, and comic books like TWD, the Chronicles really could be great. Though Covenant himself is not usually a lovable or even likable character for the most part, he is the glue that holds the concept together… and the other characters would be so awesome to see on-screen… the blood guard, the waynhim, the giants, people able to shape stone and wood to fit their societies, the Lords… And btw, this epic is really nothing like LoTR… neither the setting, nor the concept, nor any of the characters.

  44. John Lambert John Lambert

    I first read LFB in High School circa 1983. Had already read LOTR and Elfstones and many other epics. Actually worked at the public library so had access to so much F/scifi…captivated then and still now. This series would only be good for a big cable network (maybe competition to GoT) as it is too complicated for any of the books to be condensed to a 2:20 min adaptation. The work is too dark, such as the raping of Lena and then Covenant falling in love with the byproduct of that rape. It would need to be bloody and gory so not a kid friendly flick. Love to see it on the big screen though…lets keep hope alive!

  45. Martin Martin

    Gutted these books still have not reached the big screen!

  46. Ed Ed

    Come on Amazon. These books are right up your alley and at least the first 3 novels are more worthy of movies than anything made since LOtR. And it should be filmed with as much light as possible because the darkness isn’t outside but inside Thomas Covenant.

  47. Ed, I agree. On the other hand, if The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are to be filmed, I’d like it in the hands of a first tier director, someone like David Fincher (cf. The Game for how well Fincher can handle light surrealism and disorientation). Fincher is busy with other projects, and not in the right spot in his career to want to take on a huge saga like this but he’s indicative of the kind of director. Some of the directors from the first few seasons of Game of Thrones were talented visual fantasy/politics directors.

    In retrospect, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy seem fairly poor adaptations. While they were impressive at the time, rewatching is like eating cakes with too much sugar in the icing and without enough flavour.

    In the meantime, a fantasy series which gave me quite a bit of pleasure and had its Stephen R. Donaldson type moments was Legend of the Seeker. Only some of the episodes had suitable gravitas, some were just silly. The element of adult fantasy, beyond just slash and burn, or chase the dragon, was definitely present, along with complex adult relationships. It would be possible to make a sophisticated adult fantasy series. Legend of the Seeker only managed to make it through two seasons before being cancelled, despite eleven books of source material.

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