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Monday, March 10, 2008

Underappreciated ’80s: The Belgariad by David Eddings

I read a lot as a kid.

In the ’80s, it didn’t matter if it was fiction like Tom Clancy books and 1984 or nonfiction like The World Almanac and Trump: The Art of the Deal. I soaked up just about everything I could get my hands on.

I especially loved science fiction and fantasy. It’s no surprise, then, that I found myself reading one of the most successful fantasy series of the decade: David Eddings’ The Belgariad.

These five books with chess-influenced titles—Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician’s Gambit, Castle of Wizardry, and Enchanters’ End Game—mixed politics, sorcery, and epic adventure in an easily accessible prose.

Let me tell you: It takes a long time to get through five books.

The story follows the coming-of-age of young Garion, who doesn’t yet know his earth-shattering destiny and consistently bitches and moans about it when he does figure it out. What saves the series from Garion’s churlish whining is the diverse cast of characters—ranging from a knight to a spy to sorcerers—accompanying him on a grand quest that spans all five books.

Some elements of the series, in my young mind, paralleled life around me in the ‘80s. For example, Eddings’ world contains a global struggle between the nations of the West, disunited internally and squabbling among themselves, and an evil Eastern alliance of countries.

The country names (like Cthol Murgos, Tolnedra, and Gar og Nadrak) sure were different, but it wasn’t a stretch to see this as a superficial rendering of the Cold War.

But like all good fantasy, The Belgariad had elements alien to our own world. Most notably, Eddings centered this world’s magic around “the Will and the Word,” by which a sorcerer could make amazing things happen by focusing his or her willpower and finding the right spoken word to channel it.

The books weren’t without downsides. Eddings generally gave citizens of each country the same characteristics—making the nations easy to distinguish, but annoyingly one-dimensional. Maybe that’s fine for a few hundred pages. Unfortunately, this series went on and on, making such racism increasingly grating.

The writing itself was quite simple and too often repeated predictable character interplay or stale jokes. This became more of the problem in Eddings’ five book sequel series, The Malloreon, which was virtually unreadable from the hack repetition.

Notwithstanding these elements, The Belgariad was fun—a way to see our world better by living briefly in another.

Even if it took five books to get there.

26 Comments:

At March 10, 2008 6:55 PM, Blogger LisaBinDaCity replied to my musings ...

Great minds, I was about to do a book review too.

The series sounds interesting!

 
At March 11, 2008 12:35 AM, Blogger Phats replied to my musings ...

I read alot too when I was young, still do, but I have never heard of this series. learn something new everyday

loved 1984

 
At March 11, 2008 1:44 AM, Blogger Jim replied to my musings ...

Carson Daly is a hack.
Carson Daly is a tool.

oops! Sorry about the 'hack repetition.'

As usual, I've missed the whole point.

wgmpxq<--I got nothing

 
At March 11, 2008 7:17 AM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Lisa: Book reviews are funny things--if I'm not interested in the genre or the author, I don't read them. So I kept this one short and tried not to focus on the plot much.

Phats: I don't know why 1984 popped into my head as I wrote this, but it did.

Jim: No, I think you got the whole point. Maybe Carson Daly read these books, too.

 
At March 11, 2008 11:49 AM, Blogger Tai replied to my musings ...

"churlish whining" That made me laugh!

I liked Eddings as a child, but I never read that series...maybe I should look into it!

 
At March 11, 2008 4:39 PM, Blogger Janet replied to my musings ...

This post reminds me of the first Science Fiction book I remember...and these were in the days before I truly knew what "science fiction" was. The book was A Wrinkle in Time and I recall having big discussions about it when I went to library. It's weird the things you remember and ironic that a book entitled "A Wrinkle In Time" has stayed with me...all this time, too.

 
At March 11, 2008 4:59 PM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Tai: It's odd what words pop into my head sometimes. This Garion punk was, indeed, churlish.

Janet: Your experience isn't unusual ... A Wrinkle in Time may have been one of my first "SciFi" books, too. Targeted at young readers, it was a fascinating book!

 
At March 11, 2008 6:18 PM, Blogger zen wizard replied to my musings ...

You youngin's just lose me with yer Dungeons & Dragons and your Harry Potter Magic School and yer whatnot.

 
At March 12, 2008 11:58 AM, Blogger BV replied to my musings ...

Reading is my crack. My dirty drug. I could never see another soul again in my life if I knew I would never run out of books.

 
At March 12, 2008 9:08 PM, Blogger Lee Ann replied to my musings ...

Had to stop and say hi! Still feeling a bit sick :(
Have a great week David.
~xo
Lee Ann

 
At March 13, 2008 4:59 AM, Blogger tworabbitshow replied to my musings ...

Cthol Murgos sounds so Klingon. But then, so does my word vertification, "fruaoek".

 
At March 13, 2008 9:11 PM, Blogger :P fuzzbox replied to my musings ...

To quote from the movie 'Idiocracy', "There was a time when reading wasn't just for fags."

 
At March 14, 2008 8:47 AM, Blogger Stacy The Peanut Queen replied to my musings ...

I read a lot as a kid...hell I STILL read a lot. I'm a book junkie.

That sounds a lot like one of my favorite fantasy series by George Martin called A Song of Ice and Fire. It's an EXCELLENT fantasy series.

 
At March 14, 2008 9:11 AM, Blogger Pixie replied to my musings ...

I read a lot growing up, usually Famous Five books ( don't know if you guys had them here?)

I do try to read as often as I can now but rarely seem to get the time.
Have a great weekend =)

 
At March 14, 2008 10:41 AM, Blogger cube replied to my musings ...

I've always been an avid reader too. Sci-fi has been a favorite genre, but I've had trouble slogging through fantasy.

With the exception of Lord of the Rings (I've never read The Hobbit), if I start reading about elves, trolls, fairies, unicorns, and other denizens of a forest, my eyes turn up in my head and I fall into convulsive fits. I just can't help it ;-)

 
At March 14, 2008 3:23 PM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

ZW: I still haven't read any of that Harry Potter stuff.

BV: There are many worse addictions than reading.

Lee Ann: I hope you feel fully better soon.

TRS: I always wondered what inspired the country name Cthol Murgos. Not enough to really research it, mind you.

 
At March 14, 2008 3:31 PM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Fuzz: It is great to have you back!

PQ: Martin's books are great! Did you hear that HBO bought the rights to make a Rome-like series of those books? If you liked Game of Thrones, check out the book that came out last year called Acacia. I can't recall the author, but it was quite similar and pretty good.

Pixie: I agree that more time to read would be nice.

Cube: I'm with you. I enjoy the gritty, politically
oriented fantasy, not the animals coming to life ones. Yuck.

 
At March 14, 2008 5:16 PM, Blogger Perplexio replied to my musings ...

I've tried to get into fantasy but it's never grabbed me-- not even J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings got to me. I only saw one of the movies (The Fellowship of the Rings) and I was bored to sleep.

That being said I too love to read, but my interests growing up and even now lean more towards contemporary fiction, classics, biographies, and a little bit of sci-fi. The best friend of one of my brother's thought I was nuts when at 10 he saw me reading The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (I only got through about 100 of the 900 plus pages and that drove me to boredom as well).

 
At March 15, 2008 1:39 AM, Blogger TheBullRDR replied to my musings ...

You're right, that was a fun series. My favorite Eddings book is "The Redemption of Althalus". I too read constantly, hence the reason I find myself reading blogs on the internet. I grab at everything from Stephen Hawkings to GRRM. The Song of Ice and Fire series is amazing. I check his page every couple of weeks to see when "A Dance With Dragons" is going to be done. If you like these types of books look into The Death Gate Cycle by Wiess and Hickman. I think it's 8 books long but it's a great series. For those of you that like the historical fiction check out W.E.B. Griffons "Brotherhood of War". An absolutely wonderful read.

 
At March 15, 2008 2:18 PM, Blogger Mike replied to my musings ...

It's funny how when I was at that age I was reading Catch-22, Clockwork Orange, Anthem, Hemmingway and Steinbeck. My parents never really thought the fantasy stuff was worth it, but they did let us play Dungeons and Dragons. Crazy, I guess. Or it made me crazy...

 
At March 15, 2008 3:16 PM, Blogger angel, jr. replied to my musings ...

I was introverted and also read a lot. I remember seeing this set of books, but never picked it up. I read a lot of the Zanth series by Piers Anthony.

 
At March 17, 2008 2:18 PM, Anonymous kim replied to my musings ...

I read these in junior high too! I preferred his other series - they had gemstone titles, but Eddings was a fun, light read and I enjoyed them.

 
At March 20, 2008 10:43 AM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Perplexio: There was a good article in Wired last month about why sci fi/fantasy is really the only good literature left.

Bull Dr.: I'm glad you read this series, too. I haven't gotten into his other ones, mostly because I got sick of his writing. I'll check out the Death Gate Cycle.

Mike: I read some of those, too, when young. I still haven't read Catch 22, though.

Angel: Those books just went on and on and on. Fun, but they never ended!

Kim: Ahhh, another Belgariad reader! I didn't get to his other series, but I agree--his writing is light and easy.

 
At March 22, 2008 6:35 PM, Anonymous kim replied to my musings ...

Have you got a link to the Wired article? I'd love to read it and couldn't find it on the website. I also loved the Terry Brooks original Shanarra series at around that time.

 
At March 26, 2008 12:05 AM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Kim: I don't know if it's out there on the Web or not. It was in the Feb issue, I think--the one with Sarah Silverman on the cover. I think it was called "Take the Red Book."

And I LOVED the Shannara (Shanarra?) books--at least the first three. I've heard he did more, but I never read them.

 
At April 14, 2008 1:59 PM, Anonymous kim replied to my musings ...

Someone just bought the movie rights for the original Shanarra (however you spell it) trilogy, but I think they're gonna make the second one first or something. Ah Hollywood - figuring out they're out of ideas and Lord of the Rings did well...

 

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