A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article for Den of Geek about comfort geek. Finding solace in he books, the films, the television that makes you happy. There were many Buffy quotes. It was rather lovely to read people’s comments following the article, celebrating their geekness in whatever form it took. You can read the article here.
In the article I included David Eddings as a starting point for my odyssey into fantasy geekdom. I still remember the first time I held Pawn of Prophecy in the book section of Fenwicks Department store way back in the dim mists of 1986. I was fourteen. I was about to meet my first real book love. That day I started to read The Belgariad.
I suspect if these books were published today they would be classed as cross over fiction between fantasy and young adult. I was walking the adolescent tightrope when I held that scruffy little paperback in my hands, and my soul had the bruises and scrapes that comes from falling off it many times.
In Pawn of Prophecy we meet Garion, the orphaned kitchen boy and a motley crew of characters who slot in around him as he faces both adolescence and the realisation that adults sometimes hide things. Big things. Oh, and the magnificent if somewhat scary Aunt Pol and her vagrant father Belgarath. All of these characters are drawn with skill and love – and each has a clearly defined place within the tapestry of the plot.
Eddings was my first introduction to world building across a multiple book story arc – and he does it beautifully. Yes, it’s simplistic – the will and the word, the seven nations split by seven gods, etc – but it is executed beautifully. A superb starting point for the novice fantasy reader such as myself. If I had to point to a current counterpart I would probably place Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series as the most recent series to give me that same sense of absolute immersion and security in this fantastical yet structured magical world.
At fourteen it was bliss to fall into this world and follow the boy Garion’s struggles as he discovers his path in life both through magic and through his hormones as he meets the feisty Ce’Nedra in the second book, Queen of Sorcery. Red headed, smart, tempestuous – and a short arse like myself to boot – Ce’Nedra was my female heart of the books. Where Polgara was stern, Ce’Nedra was my contemporary who often blundered in head first when she should have been walking. Except for when she was attacked by serpent centred tree men. Then she needed to run!
Friendships are complicate beasts when you’re a teenager. Garion and Ce’Nedra’s friendship stuttered along with added magical complications and verbal sparks. In the second novel Garion meets his first firm friend that crosses over into adulthood when he meets the somewhat dim but ever loyal archer Lelldorin. Ok, so he yanks him off his horse in temper but from little acorns grow great pals. We are learning about THE QUEST and who the Big Bad is (very big, very bad, legions of heart burning followers etc). We are also picking up on the deep affection that is blossoming between the characters.
Magician’s Gambit changed the landscapes. We move from what is broadly familiar to walk with the ghosts of Maragor (a cautionary tale if ever there was one) into the Vale of the solitary god Aldur which borrows heavily from the Norse legend of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. We walk the dim caverns of the Ulgos that shimmer with their never ending song to Ul. We enter the horror of Cthol Murgos where we see Garion begin to understand his birthright as he steps into his magical heritage.
Friendship, first love, a sense of uncertainty about your place in the world, taking substances that fry your mind and lead to compromising situations with unsuitable partners (and a disturbing lack of clothes), beginning to understand the concept of responsibility both for yourself and those around you – sound familiar? The landscape of our teens is littered with the detritus of our growing sense of self as we coalesce into adulthood. We’ve observed all of this through Garion’s eyes as we enter the forth book Castle of Wizardry. Here the portents of prophecy take centre stage and heritage is revealed (though by now most of us have worked that bit out!).
Quest number two begins here – and one of my favourite characters – Silk the rat faced Drasnian spy – takes centre stage as the Guide as he and Belgarath sneak Garion past Pol’s watchful eye on a journey that could potentially end in disaster. You can feel Garion’s panic but also his overwhelming need to do the right thing. That strong sense of duty and practicality instilled in him throughout childhood from the person in the novels I love above all others – Durnik the Smith. The man with two lives.
Garion’s father is dead. My own father was absent. There’s a void to be filled, and Durnik steps into Garion’s life the way my own lovely, funny, sweet stepfather stepped into mine. Practical, solid, dependable men. Not the loudest, not the most seemingly significant. But always there, leading by quiet example. Both men in love with occasionally tempestuous women! Again, that thread of love and the seeking of the greater good that elevates these books from mere formula. Eddings does this so well – and when the books became successful he credited his wife Leigh as being instrumental in their creation. There’s a sense of a wonderful love there, a bond. The novels are suffused in it.
Ce’Nedra is forced to take a good hard look at herself in the forth book. Step out of her own selfishness to take command. Step up and form an army even if it literally makes her vomit. Admit what she’s been trying to hide. I read this one at a time when I hurt someone pretty badly. I ended a relationship I should never have started and I hurt a good person in the process. I vowed never to repeat that mistake. We’re at the tail end of adolescence now and shaping up into our basic adult form. Garion and Ce’Nedra bumbled along from one blunder to the next alongside me. I kind of needed it.
Then we come to Enchanter’s End Game. We have complicated, weak kings, exotic dancers, the hounds of hell, battles and gods. We have wonderful dialogue between characters we’ve come to know and love, playfully antagonistic to one another in order to hide the depth of their feelings. We have several conclusions, all neatly tied up with a smug stone (yes, stone) and wedding vows. Not all of it entirely sweet – there is a spikiness to Ce’Nedra after all. Too much saccharine leaves you sickly. As it it just enough sweet and sour brings you back wanting more. Which was duly delivered in The Mallorean.
I am very glad I picked up that paperback in Fenwicks that day. I was thinking of cake at the time, Victoria Sponge to be specific. I gained a great deal more. A moral compass, a fantasy world where the character’s development and growth clearly mirrored my own. A realisation that coming of age is messy and painful but not without humour and love. Thank you, Mr Eddings. Rest well.