Sunday, March 15, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (E)

I did try, but look as I might, I could only find one author whose work I wanted to include in this list, who had a surname starting with E. I suspect that given later criticism of the value of the work that it will be a somewhat controversial decision, too.

David Eddings - July 7, 1931 - June 2, 2009. As she wrote most of the work with him, and I suspect, did a lot of the heavy lifting, I should also include David's wife Leigh in this. Leigh Eddings - July 7, 1931 - February 28, 2007.

Interestingly both David and Leigh had Native American blood. David was part Cherokee and his wife Leigh was part Choctaw. David was working as a clerk at a grocery store, after leaving his job as a college lecturer, and was working on his first novel High Hunt, when he chanced across a copy of The Lord of the Rings, realising that the book may have been old, but it was still popular and the copy he saw was in fact the 78th printing. This prompted him to return to a doodle of a map he had drawn, and thus was born The Belgariad.

When David and wife Leigh decided that they wanted to publish what they had written, Lester Del Rey showed interest. It was Lester Del Rey who suggested that they go with the one name, rather than a co-authorship. Leigh was credited for the first time on the cover of Belgarath the Sorcerer.

David Eddings was part of the second wave of high or epic fantasy, following Terry Brooks and Stephen Donaldson, along with his contemporary Raymond E. Feist. The Belgariad was a little unusual for fantasy epics of the time in that it was published as 5 books, not a trilogy as was the accepted format, ever since The Lord of the Rings was originally broken into 3 books for publishing purposes.

It was successful enough that it spawned a 5 book sequel; The Malloreon, same world and a recurring cast of characters. While The Malloreon was still being published, the husband and wife team started another trilogy; The Elenium (new world and characters, although many of them had analogues in The Belgariad and The Malloreon). In fact in a bookstore I frequented the staff had a pool going over whether the 3rd book of The Elenium would beat the 5th book of The Malloreon. They were both published in the same year (1991). The Elenium was followed by The Tamuli.

They then returned to the scene of their greatest triumph with Belgarath the Sorcerer, which basically told the history of the world that The Belgariad was set in through the eyes of Belgarath, one of the key characters in The Belgariad. Polgara the Sorceress came along a two years later and that was where the couple lost me. I have a feeling Polgara the Sorceress turned into a DNF for me. I kept getting this nagging feeling that I'd read it before, and I realised that it was basically the same story as Belgarath the Sorcerer, only from the point of view of Belgarath's daughter Polgara. I have a friend who is convinced that what the Eddings' did was run the manuscript of Belgarath the Sorcerer through a word processing program that simply replaced instances of the name Belgarath with the name Polgara.

While I stopped reading, plenty of others didn't, and after Polgara the Sorceress, they put out The Rivan Codex (also set in the world of The Belgariad), then a standalone fantasy called The Redemption of Althalus. I actually did read that one, I was hoping it was something different, alas it wasn't, and it's one of the worst books I can remember reading all the way through. The final series was called The Dreamers and it consisted of The Elder Gods, The Treasured One, The Crystal Gorge and The Younger Gods (startling burst of originality in the titling there).

They also wrote 3 non fantasy works: the afore mentioned High Hunt, The Losers and Regina's Song, which was a contemporary thriller. I did read Regina's Song, and it actually wasn't all that bad. It was clearly an Eddings' book, it had some of the same themes (a few of their books featured twins who spoke their own private language) and while the characters in the book may have been a mechanic rather than a blacksmith or a doctor as opposed to a healer, they were largely the same stereotypical characters that populated the fantasy stories. There the convenient coincidences were also in evidence; a young lady arrives in a new city and moves into a shared house, she has car trouble, but can't afford to get it fixed, lo and behold one of her new housemates is a mechanic who doesn't mind doing favours for friends gratis.

The Younger Gods came out in 2006. In January of 2007, David Eddings accidentally burned a quarter of his office, his Excalibur sports car and the original manuscripts to most of the novels, while flushing the car's fuel tank. In February of that year Leigh passed away following a series of strokes. David survived her by 18 months, and according to his brother, was working on a novel, which was apparently quite different from the works he wrote with Leigh and played a lot with the genre. A shame it was never completed, it may have been interesting to read.

With what has come since it seems to have become popular to sneer at The Belgariad as high or epic fantasy, and it is very cliched and flawed, but it's still an important work. For many people The Belgariad was their entry into the genre, a 'gateway drug'. A lot of readers seem to discover it just before their teens or their early teens and go seeking something similar. For all it's flaws it is compulsively readable and easy to read.

When I first read it I was in my late teens, and at the time there wasn't a lot else in the field. It's a very standard story. The hero is an orphaned farmboy who grows up in an out of the way part of the kingdom, finding out that he's the heir to great power and destiny. He gathers a group of singularly talented adventurers (the roster reads like a character sheet for a D&D game), and they go off to defeat an evil demigod and prevent the apocalypse. The characters are quite two dimensional and are largely defined by their talents, which are often along racial lines. There's a nation of warriors, a nation of horsemen, a nation of spies, etc... One of the most interesting characters, and my favourite, is the spoilt brat princess Ce'Nedra. She's part dryad, and when readers meet the dryads it explains a lot about her. They're largely all like her, in both nature and appearance. A lot of people don't like Ce'Nedra, but I found her more interesting and multi layered than some of the other cardboard cutouts in the series. There's a few chapters in the 3rd book (Magician's Gambit) which are from her self centred, spoilt brat point of view, they're wonderful. I found myself wishing that the rest of the series had been written from that point of view and centred around her.

If someone reads The Belgariad as a newbie or a young reader they're quite enjoyable, unfortunately because of their shallowness and being so cliche ridden, they don't stand up well to rereads, especially if someone has read further in the genre since.

Everything in The Belgariad is very black and white. No morally ambiguous anti heroes here. The good triumph and the bad lose, and that's the end of it. According to Oscar Wilde that's what fiction is, so David and Leigh Eddings weren't reinventing the wheel here.

If anyone did want to read Eddings' work, I'd advise to read The Belgariad and then stop. The rest of their work is pretty much the same story with the same characters over and over again. It reached it's peak for me with Polgara the Sorceress. They have another peculiarity in this day and age when blood soaked epics like A Song of Ice and Fire rule the genre, they simply will not allow anything that can't be fixed by application of a bandaid to befall their main characters. They're also a little unusual in that Ce'Nedra's family aside, they don't really feature magical races like elves and dwarves. The characters are largely human, and if they're not, they're not the standard races. The wizards tend to live longer and I think there's a race of snake cultists whose leader is a giant snake.

It's fun and quite easy to read, but you really don't want to think too hard about it.

I would recommend reading Regina's Song if for nothing other than the novelty of seeing how a fantasy book works as a contemporary thriller.

Further and related reading: if you did like The Belgariad, then you're in luck because David and Leigh Eddings wrote at least one five book series, two trilogies and a standalone (The Redemption of Althalus) that are almost exactly the same story with some of the names changed. I can't speak for The Dreamers because I never read it (I'm told that I'm rather fortunate in that respect). Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress are basically the same book, and I believe The Rivan Codex also covers a lot of that territory, it's described as a collection of their notes and how they built the world. Not many writers can get away with collecting those together and releasing them as a novel, which is actually a testament to how popular they were at their height. David Eddings was at the forefront of a new wave of fantasy authors. Raymond Feist's Magician is closer to The Lord of the Rings than The Belgariad, but a lot of readers seem to graduate from Eddings to Feist. The early books of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series have that group of adventurers on a quest feel to them, as does Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, although it's more of a Tolkien homage than anything else. If you can get past the awful writing (I couldn't make it through the first book) and the Randian philosophy, Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth saga has a sort of classic high fantasy feel about it. One of the closest works to The Belgariad is the original Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, although that band of adventurers did feature elves and dwarves.

Next up we have F, and I promise there will be more than 1 author.

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