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The Belgariad: Volume One by David Eddings

It all begins with the theft of the Orb that for so long protected the West from an evil god. As long as the Orb was at Riva, the prophesy went, its people wold be safe from this corrupting power. Garion, a simple farm boy, is familiar with the legend of the Orb, but skeptical in matters of magic. Until, through a twist of fate, he learns not only that the story of the Orb is true, but that he must set out on a quest of unparalleled danger to help recover it. For Garion is a child of destiny, and fate itself is leading him far from his home, sweeping him irrevocably toward a distant tower — and a cataclysmic confrontation with a master of the darkest magic.

Hmmmm, where to start? I’d heard quite a few people around LibraryThing and different blogs I follow mention David Eddings’ Belgariad series and talk about it like it was A Big Deal, so I figured it was about time I discovered what the fuss was all about for myself. My library had the handy-dandy omnibus that you see above, which consists of the first three books in this series (Pawn of Prophesy, Queen of Sorcery, and Magician’s Gambit), so I figured it was as good a place as any to start.

At first, I could kind see what got all these readers so excited. The initial main characters seemed interesting, the story itself was an intriguing one, if typical of the genre (I suppose quests of unparalleled danger are the norm for high fantasy), and the author certainly knows how to turn out a humorous bit of dialogue. Consider exhibit one:

“Garion, dear,” [Polgara] said as she approached. “It’s time for your medicine.”

“Medicine?” he replied, confused.

“A most forgetful boy,” she told the countess. “Probably it was all the excitement, but he knows that if he doesn’t take the potion every three hours, the madness will return.”

“Madness?” the Countess Varana repeated sharply.

“The curse of his family,” Aunt Pol sighed. “They all have it — all the male children. The potion works for a while, but of course it’s only temporary. We’ll have to find some patient and self-sacrificing lady soon, so that he can marry and father children before his brains begin to soften. After that his poor wife will be doomed to spend the rest of her days caring for him.” She looked critically at the young countess. “I wonder,” she said, “could it be possible that you are as yet unbetrothed? You appear to be of a suitable age.” She reached out and briefly took hold of Vasrana’s rounded arm. “Nice and strong,” she said approvingly. “I’ll speak to my father, Lord Belgarath, about this immediately.”

The countess began to back away, her eyes wide.

“Come back,” Aunt Pol told her. “His fits won’t start for several minutes yet.”

Is  that  not a clever way of  discouraging an unwanted suitor, or what? I think I need to come up with something like this when friends and relatives insist on setting me up on blind dates.

However, once I got past my initial excitement of starting a new book and having a new world to explore, things began to turn a bit sour for me. My problem, dear readers, is that I’ve been spoiled by fantasy authors who are incredible world builders. I mean, take a look at Melina Marchetta, for example. She’s brand-new to the fantasy genre (though highly respected in the realistic fiction realm) and her Finnikin of the Rock featured a number of people-groups that might have their physical and personality characteristics that defined them in the eyes of others (in a joking sort of manner), but each of her characters were still well fleshed-out and unique  and  easily distinguished from other characters in the book. And then there’s Tolkien, who created whole histories and languages for the various races in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now obviously, not every author can rise to the caliber of Marchetta or Tolkien in this respect, but Eddings is so far off that he doesn’t even manage to be Tolkien or Marchetta-lite. He’s more like the fat-free version.

The Belgariad features a number of different races and people-groups, so many, in fact, that I’m having a little difficulty remembering all of them. Never fear, though — Eddings has done all he can to help ease his readers’ confusion. Each of these races, you see, have a stereotypical characteristic and each and every one of the people falling into that particular ethnic background are affected by this trait. So every single one of the Arends are empty-headed idiots consumed with the code of chivalry, all the Nyissans are drug-addicts, everyone from Sendar is a prude, and every man, woman and child belonging to the Murgo race, as dear PFC Janovec from Band of Brothers has so graciously pointed out for us, is evil. Seems like a ridiculously black and white view of the world, wouldn’t you say? That’s like saying absolutely everyone living in Eastern Kentucky is a cousin-marrying inbred with six fingers on each hand. Some people may like to believe that, but it simply isn’t true. It would be one thing if Eddings was poking fun at the stereotypes that run rampant in this genre, but I’m pretty sure he was in an entirely serious frame of mind when he wrote these books.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Every quest must have its participants and the one in this book has plenty of them. As with the people groups on this planet, there are too many questors for me to keep track of, so Eddings comes to my rescue yet again. Just in case I have forgotten what each character looks like from paragraph to paragraph, Eddings has seen fit to remind me almost every time a character says or does something. I’m seriously considering creating a drinking game out of this (i.e. knock one back every time Ce’Nedra is described as a tiny girl, or Barak’s red beard is mentioned, or Silk is mentioned along with the descriptions ‘rat-faced’ or ‘small man.’ Chug if the latter are found together in the same sentence), but I think I would be absolutely schnackered within five pages. I’m not sure if that says more about my light-weight status or Eddings repetitive nature.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a good number of the characters were absolutely obnoxious. Initially, I was quite taken with Polgara and thought she was a strong, sassy sort of female character, but she seemed to quickly morph into a bossy, mean-tempered nag. She had the gall to tell her fourteen year old nephew that he was acting childish while he’s going through this moral crisis after killing a man for the first time. Give the poor boy a hug and do your best to reassure him, but don’t call him names. And don’t get me started on Ce’Nedra. My goodness, I don’t think I’ve met another character that I’ve been so inclined to roll my eyes at or want to smack upside the head as her. I will admit I felt a bit sorry for myself having to suffer through reading about her tantrums and melodrama, but I really felt sorry for Garion, who was long-ago destined to marry the horrid creature because of some prophesy/codex thingamajig. I’ve never been so thankful for modern free-will in that department in all my life. The bad thing is, I think I’m supposed to be rooting for the two of them to get together, but I can’t bring myself to do so.

What I really don’t understand is why I can’t seem to stop reading these books. In my determination to prove that they can’t get any worse, I’ve already downed the fourth book and I’ve started perusing the fifth. I swear, they’re like crack and I can’t give them up. Someone needs to stage an intervention or drag me to one of those Anonymous groups stat, because, heaven help me, I seem to be a bad book addict.

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2 comments on “The Belgariad: Volume One by David Eddings

  1. David
    July 23, 2012

    Haha, I can easily understand your reactions. Does it help to know that Eddings was probably not in a serious state of mind when he wrote these books? I’m pretty sure his goal from the beginning was to include as many fantasy cliches as he possibly could and make them as fun as he possibly could. From what I can tell, he never apologizes for being unoriginal — that’s the whole point. I think he wanted to see just how much people loved these high fantasy tropes: if he could write something that technically we’ve all seen before, just more energetic, funnier, and with more lively characters than before. Seen in this light, I think he mostly succeeded. The Belgariad is definitely not great literature, nor is it particularly imaginative or affecting, but I do think it’s a heckuva lot of fun. The main characters, defined as they are by a few primary traits, nonetheless stand out bright and distinct like few fantasy characters have managed that don’t have the benefit of being in a bonafide classic. This quote of his from his website also suggests this kind of approach to his story-building:

    “My magic is at best a kind of pragmatic cop–out. Many of my explanations of how magic is supposed to work are absurdities – but my characters all accept these explanations as if there was no quibbling about them, and if the characters believe, then the readers seem also to believe. Maybe that’s the “real” magic. That’s the basic formula for fantasy. Take a bit of magic, mix well with a few open-ended Jungian archetypal myths, make your people sweat and smell and get hungry at inopportune moments, throw in a ponderous prehistory, and let nature take it’s course.”

    Not groundbreaking stuff, but fun when you throw in his amusing, sometimes hilarious dialogue and character interactions. Those are the real reasons I read the series (and its inferior, but not without merits, sequel series The Mallorean). I view the books as essentially adventure-comedies with a light mythic backdrop. This is why the books are so addictive, as you said. While I don’t count it as one of the great fantasy series of the modern age, I did read all the books late into the night, like I haven’t even with other superior books. Eddings knew a thing or two about pacing and keeping readers interested.

    I agree with you on Ce’Nedra, though. I think I’ve been secretly in love with redheads in general since at least Eilonwy from Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, but Ce’Nedra annoyed the heck out of me. I have no sympathy for her.

    Have you finished the series yet?

  2. Jenn
    July 26, 2012

    Ahhh, I stand corrected. That’ll teach me to neglect using my librarian skills to back up my claims with proof . . . 😉

    I’m glad you cleared up my misunderstanding, because, honestly, the series makes so much more sense knowing that it was written in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. Does knowing this make me adore the series and want to pick it back up again where I left off (I think I briefly skimmed book four before abandoning them)? Eh, probably not, because the greatest draw for me is a book with characters of depth and substance.

    If someone was looking for a fun romp in the fantasy realm, I might tell them to have a go at The Belgariad, though probably not before, say, Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series or Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series (because Eugenides is freaking awesome).

    Oh, and I’m glad I’m not alone with my thoughts on Ce’Nedra. I can take a character that is initially annoying, but she never moved beyond that stage.

    Lloyd Alexander, did he write the Westermark (?) series as well? I’ve heard a lot of good things about his books, but I sadly have not read anything by him. Clearly I need to remedy that.

    Thanks for your wonderful comments — I love discussing books with other people and I don’t get to do it nearly enough.

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This entry was posted on September 8, 2011 by in Adult Fiction and tagged , , .
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