#s 6-10: The Belgariad, by David Eddings (Rereads)

Pawn of ProphecyLast weekend, Rachel and I somehow ended up discussing epic fantasy. We both grew up on fantasy paperbacks, thanks to my dad’s fantastic collection.1 And we realized that, for all Tolkien is considered the granddaddy of epic fantasy, neither of was able to get into his stuff — too much elvish poetry, if memory serves, though I was pretty young when I attempted them — and so we’d both imprinted on David Eddings as the master of high fantasy. (I was sincerely bummed when he died last year.)

I remember the first time I read the Belgariad pretty vividly. It took me months to get through Pawn of Prophecy, the first book — but as soon as Ce’Nedra, the series’ obligatory spunky princess, showed up in the second book, I was hooked.2 I remember flying through them. I remember the chair I was sitting in when I finished the fourth book. I remember bringing the last book to school and reading it under my desk, because I couldn’t put it down. I immediately devoured the Mallorean, the five books following the Belgariad, and then the Elenium and Tamuli.3 I reread the series a few times — at least once more in middle school and once in high school — but hadn’t read it again since. And I was a little nervous, because rereading something I loved with a more critical mindset now that I’m an adult often leads to disappointment.

Queen of SorceryI wish I could say that didn’t happen, and the series is perfect. But goodness knows it isn’t. Two major things stood out to me now that didn’t when I was a tween. First, a major trope in fantasy and sci fi alike: all members of a race/species are exactly alike in terms of personality. The Belgariad has that in spades. All Drasnians are sneaky. All Chereks are drunks. And all Murgos are evil. Alllll of them. Which meant that the characters often talked cheerfully about wiping out the Murgos once and for all, and sure, in context it makes sense (because of the eeeeeevil), but as an adult I was like, “Whoa, really, genocide is the answer?” It was pretty jarring.

Magician's GambitBut even more so… (Sigh) the female characters. That was particularly disappointing because I remember loving them growing up. There are only two of particular importance, Polgara and Ce’Nedra; as a kid, I loved them both. A lot. In high school, I sort of realized that Polgara is actually extremely controlling and can be horrible for basically no reason. On the one hand, she’s treated with reverence by basically everyone else; on the other hand, there’s a lot of, “Well, Polgara, you know how she gets…” involved. And Ce’Nedra, who I adored… It makes me make this face: :-/ I love what the series does with her, that when she’s left behind so Garion can go off and have his big hero moments she realizes he’s not there to rally the army — literally — and takes it upon herself to do the things he isn’t there for. It’s pretty awesome. On the other hand, there’s a lot of time spent in the narrative on how she’s completely devious and constantly playing mindgames with Garion. And with both her and Polgara, there’s very much a feeling of, “Women: who can understand them? They’re all crazy, amiright? lollllll”

Castle of WizardryEven more distressing, the climax of the second book is Polgara facing down Salmissra, queen of the snake people. Salmissra is obsessed with appearing young and flawless, and the potions she takes to stay that way give her an insatiable sexual appetite. So she’s evil: those horrible things (female sexuality, oh no!) make her willing to ally herself with the villains, in return for said eternal youth and beauty. ‘Cause you know. Women who care about that are all shallow and evil. Again, :-/

Enchanter's EndgameBut with all that said, these books are compelling. I once again tore through them, unwilling to put them down.4 I love Garion; he’s a very, very archetypal destined hero, but he’s basically a sweet kid who wants to do the right thing, even when he’s terrified. And I love the major supporting characters, especially Silk, the sneaky thief (one of my favorite archetypes); Barak, the wry bruiser; and Durnik, who is clever and nice and basically the most awesome ever. One other thing I realized upon rereading is that not a lot actually happens in this series. The first book, in particular, is just pages and pages and pages of people walking to a place, getting sidetracked and having to go somewhere else, and then getting sidetracked and going somewhere else again. Which sounds pretty painfully dull, but these books are so enchanting that it’s enjoyable.

So in summary: as an adult, rereading these books, I had quibbles. I think if I’d read the for the first time just now, instead of having fond memories from discovering fantasy in middle school, I’d have even more — but I’d still have enjoyed them. As it is, I feel pretty confident that this won’t be the last time I reread them. And I kind of want to go pick up a bunch of other Eddings novels now. They’ve got flaws… but they’re pretty much delightful.

  1. I wish I had a picture of this thing. I don’t think my dad set out to have an enormous collection of sci fi and fantasy paperbacks, but loving to buy books is a family trait so through the decades his collection grew and grew. We had an unfinished wall of the house, growing up — the back part and the support beams. Turned out that there was enough room for two novels next to each other between beams. So they were stacked at least waist-high, the entire length of the wall. It was amazing.
  2. This is no shock. I don’t necessarily need a female character to identify with — and goodness knows I’m fond of Garion himself — but having one certainly helps. And I was way too young to identify with Polgara, the only other important female character — but a plucky redheaded princess who gets swept along with the adventures while trying to run away from her arranged marriage? SIGN ME UP.
  3. I actually like those better, because there’s no time spent on the clueless protagonist working things out — Sparhawk already knows what’s going on — and also because omg Talen!!1, who I still have a serious crush on. But I digress.
  4. They even kept me mostly off my computer for a few days. My sore wrists were grateful.

7 Comments on #s 6-10: The Belgariad, by David Eddings (Rereads)

  1. Mike Jung
    March 14, 2010 at 7:08 PM (10 years ago)

    I love Eddings’ books too, despite their flaws. The one thing I would add is his blanket use of dialogue – too many of his characters use the EXACT same voice at times, including specific bits of dialogue (“isn’t he a NICE boy?” or “Alorns!”) and mannerisms (eye-rolls, winks, etc). Which isn’t to say the characters all blur together, but their dialogue sometimes does. Like you, however, I tore through ’em all at warp speed, book after book after book.

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  2. Rebecca
    March 14, 2010 at 7:16 PM (10 years ago)

    Yeah, the number of times Barak said, “Mandorallen, you’re backsliding,” surprised me. I’d assumed I remembered that line for being hilarious in context, but it turned out I just remembered it because it’s said so often.

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  3. Rose
    March 17, 2010 at 2:51 AM (10 years ago)

    Yes, I pretty much agree with everything you just said here. Lord of the Rings just took so long to get started. I’ve read it once but every time I’ve tried since then I’ve got bored before they’ve left the Shire. The Belgariad on the other hand just hold so much nostalgia for me. Seriously just thinking about the first paragraph of the first book makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

    Talking about C’Nedra although I can remember being a bit annoyed the first time I read it when Errand cutes her in to going to Riva. I knew she was learning a life lesson or whatever but hell if I wanted her to stop being all “I’m going to do what I want and damn you all if you don’t want me to.” But it was amusing when in the second series it was pointed out that it took the full force of the most powerful God in existence to change C’Nedra’s mind. Now that is what I like in a heroine.

    And Garion… oh Garion, I don’t care if you’re a fantasy trope I still love you. What I did like, which you often don’t get with the Everyboy heroes, is that all through the books he is allowed to mess up. Even when he’s king. He doesn’t have thousands of years of experience so he fucks around with the weather and screws up the whole system. He messes up and he learns and then he messes up something different but he keeps trying.

    I would say that Edding’s later books, i.e. anything after Polgara the Sorcerous isn’t really worth reading. I tried one of his other series and it was like reading about a strange mirror wold which had all the same character “types” but with none of the originals’ charm. I particularly remember the Flute mirror version. Now Flute had her moments of nail biting annoyingness but believe me mirror!Flute was just terrible.

    (But maybe I just found Flute a bit grating because I wanted to be her. I mean she was gong to marry Talen, how could I not be insanely jealous of her? I did love that boy.)

    I do think that the whole “every race can be defined as x character trait” was dealt with at least a bit in the second series. The “evil” races were individualised a bit more. The Murgos in particular and Zaketh is just a brilliant character.

    What annoyed me the most on a re read was actually the whole prophecy thing. And the idea of the Choice. It just felt a bit… immature.

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    Rebecca Reply:

    I was so jealous of Flute in the Tamuli, because Talen was supposed to be *mine*. But I also loved her as a character.

    I definitely agree about Eddings’ later books, too. I tried to pick up another one of his series — Younger Gods, maybe? something like that — and only bothered with the first one. All the tropes were there, but like you said, none of the charm. It was disappointing.

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  4. Tammy
    March 18, 2010 at 6:16 PM (10 years ago)

    Hey Becky! Love your article, but I’ll bet you didn’t know that I was the one who actually hooked our father on this series! I first read it in college. While some may quibble with the characters all being the same, i think you may be missing the pont of the books. They are supposed to be. As Garion’s mind friend told him when the universe went off course things stopped, nothing could progress or change until it was put back right which started in the Mallorean series with Garions’s friendship with the Mallorean emperor and Silk’s half brother. We see the Murgos as not so evil as well when we see the Queen mother and her friend (forgive me their names escape me) So, the very things you point out as perhaps weak (?) are the very things the series is about.

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    Rebecca Reply:

    I didn’t know that! 😀

    I haven’t reread the Mallorean (I think ever, so it’s probably been a decade since I read it at all) but you might have a point. I did notice a lot of the contries have a focus on using the same names over and over — Salmissra and Korodullin and Mayaserana (all of which I’ve probably mangled because I didn’t look them up).

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  5. Chip
    March 21, 2010 at 6:03 PM (9 years ago)

    Becky, I too have re-read all his books too many times to count. It has gotten to the point that i have worn them out and have to buy new ones.As you pointed out there are many inconsistencies but they take nothing away from my enjoyment of the books, whether it is the first time or the 21st time reading. It must be a family thing, in our genes or something… I really don’t have much to say as far a content goes, basically just wanted to let you know that i am still alive out here and i do indeed try to keep track of family. Btw, have you ever read Edding’s stand alone novel “The Redemption of Athalus”? If not I think you might enjoy it… I agree about his later series The Younger Gods: while I did enjoy them they seemed to be lacking something, i am not enough of a literary critic to get specific, but something was definitly missing..

    Well enough for now, be well!!!

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