David Eddings: The Belgariad

The Belgariad is a 5 book series by David Eddings (1931-2009), which would be followed by the Malloreon Series, and 3 prequels co-authored with his wife Leigh. As stories within the fantasy genre there are certain plot and character staples one can expect: there is a dark lord trying to rule universe, and our hero is an orphan living a mundane life until one day a wise old man whisks him away, in the nick of time, just before some mysterious bad guys get their hands on him. It turns out the boy is not some ordinary kid but in fact, the secretly hidden away heir to a throne, magic power, and the focus of prophecy. And so a fellowship of the outmatched, yet heroic good guys is formed to help our hero (Garion) retrieve the magic object (the Orb of Aldur) from the bad guys (The Disciples of the Evil God Torak).  [Aside: in the Rivan Codex, Eddings offers an essay in which he outlines the principal elements of a fantasy story.]

The appeal of Eddings’ writing is the depth and detail of his character’s and plot line. We watch the characters develop and change over several years as the endure hardship and loss and suffering, as well as celebrate the occasional good day. Although the villains are rather 2 dimensional, as villains should be, the 4 main characters and numerous supporting characters have full lives aside from the quest. So you cannot help but become attached to their fortunes. And the plot lines are intricate, subtle, and developed over the course of the series.  Although you obviously recognize that Garion is going to be the hero of the story right away (by virtue of him being the main character), it is book 3 before you fully understand the implications for him. Eddings is very careful to build towards the revelation, rather than dumping it in your lap in the first chapter and then making the rest of the story only about the chase. In fact the full scope of the plot line isn’t revealed until the  second series, The Malloreon, although you would not realize it at the end of the Belgariad, which feels complete.

Plot

There were a number of unique and interesting elements to the series, however, the truly original twist that Eddings’ put into his stories was the personification of prophecy and fate. The driving force behind everything are these 2 prophecies. In ancient history known only to the Gods, an event took place which altered the the universe by interrupting its natural course, causing the God Torak to be born instead of the God Eriond. This created 2 possible ‘fates’, the original and the new. Each fate has its own prophecy. Due to the vastness of space-time, it has taken several millennium for the dominoes to fall on this event. But now the situation must be rectified, the universe can have only one destiny, and its up to a young boy named Garion to kill the evil God Torak or the entire universe will descend into chaos.

These prophecies are not just predictions, there are actual sentient forces behind them. These rival forces are characters in the story, able to manipulate events, people, even the gods, to their will. Although the Human Garion and the God Torak fill the traditional roles of Protagonist and Antagonist, it is these 2 prophecies that are actually moving the story in that manner.  Ultimately both possess the same desire, to force a final showdown between their vassals, the “Child of Light” (Garion) and “the Child of Dark” (Torak). At which point either we will be returned to the original path, or stay on the new path until it destroys us.  The end goal of the Light Prophecy is the ordered, stable universe, while the Dark Prophecy desires chaos and destruction.  And nobody, not even the Prophecies, know how the final meeting will end. (Spoiler: the good guys win)

Art

Although the definition is oft disputed, originality is always a key element to the credibility of a work as art. A hurdle science fiction and fantasy genres are regularly accused of failing to overcome due to the appearance of formulaic plots and rehashed concepts. This is a criticism that could easily be applied to any artistic medium if the observer only offers a cursory glance, rather than truly seeing the individual creations of the great artists. David Eddings is one of those rare great artists.

Now, the concept of good and evil coming to a final showdown is not particularly new. Nor is the idea of being compelled by some metaphysical force to your fate. But the concept of circumstance causing the birth of competing, thinking destinies affecting our lives for their own ends, essentially turning the universe into a timeless game of chess, is both new and interesting.  This is not God and the Devil playing with Job, in this story God and the Devil are but tools of Destiny just like Job. Eddings is presenting the cause and effect of history, on a cosmic scale, as being so complex that it organically develops an intelligence of equal complexity.

This idea that a) there are competing fates created by ancient events, and b) there are ethereal beings who personify these fates, and c) play active roles in the competition as manipulators of events, is an invention entirely belonging to Eddings. (which is to say, as a fan of the genre I’ve never encountered it elsewhere). I find this thematic invention very compelling, because he asks the audience to conceive of the universe from a different perspective.  This is more than the suspension of disbelief required to accept magic or space travel, in order to understand the outcome of the quest you have to understand the nature of Eddings’ universe. And doing so inevitably causes you to consider your perspective on the actual universe, because we comprehend the new by relating it to what we know.

In this story Eddings asks you to accept 2 key points about his universe: 1) every seemingly minor event is actually a necessary component in the puzzle of the universe, and 2) therefore individuals choices can change the ‘identity’ of the universe.  Which makes Destiny the synergy of all history, and our relationship to it, and each other, symbiotic.

And this is where the work becomes art, by moving the audience, through an original metaphor, to reconsider their perspective on the world.

 

 

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