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.