1. i’ve been re-reading David Eddings’ Belgariad Fantasy series. It’s both awful and charming. When i was a teen, these were my favourite books; even when i felt that e.g. Tolkien or Ursula le Guin were deeper i preferred Eddings, probably because he has no depths. There is something pleasantly undemanding about the utterly superficial.

i haven’t read these books since i was 18 or so, when i was already starting to lose interest in utter juvenilia; i began reading “real books” a year or two later, starting with William Burroughs and TS Eliot: a most unlikely pair.

i probably read the Eddings books at least a dozen times, and so re-reading them now is somewhat strange – my entire adult mind developed after i discarded my old editions, and yet before this point i had read them so many times that i can still, aged 41, remember sections almost word for word.

2. i’m on Book 4 now and was moved to look at reviews on Amazon. The 5 star reviews are typically “great read good storyliene eddgings rite great character loves thees books”, but the 1 star reviews are most amusing, including:

The only reason I am reading this series is because a friend recommended it. The only reason this is not a total waste of time is because everything else is an even bigger waste of time for me as I live in a virtual war zone.

i sympathise: i first decided to load them onto my Kindle as something to read on the long train to Kassel over Easter, but they are really on a par with playing Dune 2, i.e. something to do when too tired for anything else. The plot is typical 80s Fantasy: a farmboy accompanied by a mysterious old man embarks on adventures, meets a scornful girl (whom he will later marry) and acquires a McGuffin and defeats Sauron with a bigass sword, and also he is the true king.

Imagine Tolkien transplanted to an American’s idea of Europe, where all the characters are basically Americans. Imagine Tolkien where the men are all middle-aged Americans exchanging witless quips over the tenth Budweiser:

INT. Kurps Bar, a dive somewhere in Cleveland.

Hero 1: If you’re going to keep drinking, you’re going to get drunk.

Hero 2: That’s what I’m aiming at.

Hero 3: Hey look who just walked in.

ENTER late 40s Mexican illegal whore.

Hero 1: I might have to go over there and see about that.

Hero 2: You do that.

Hero 1: Now that you’ve challenged me, I think I might just have to.

Hero 3 [chuckling]: Now look what you’ve gone.

Hero 2: What did I say?

Hero 1: Nothing, pal, nothing.

Hero 1 walks over to Whore.

Hero 1: Hey gorgeous, what’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?

Whore: Looking for trouble.

Hero 1: Looks like you just found it.

Whore: Oh?

Hero 1: What? I was just trying to get to know you. I’m trying my best and now everything is getting real complicated! I don’t know why I’m even talking to you!

Whore: Be nice.

Hero 1: Yes ma’am.

and so on. The men all fall into two categories: 1) American drunks as above, and 2) Prudes who blush and are very chivalrous and Protestant, and tedious.

The women are all either total whores or supercilious prudes who about once every three books say something risqué with a Roger Moore-esque raised eyebrow, and then return to being terrible snooty cunts

It is, in short, the kind of series The Viking would enthuse about thus: “Doh ho ho! These are seriously cool books! They are like really cool and stuff because people are always like um uh sarcastic and stuff and then the good guy, who is basically me, kills the bad guy, who is like you or the Devil or something, and then he marries this woman who is like his mother and she says, doh ho ho, you are a brave strong Viking warrior and you look like my son! Doh ho ho! And that is like seriously cool and stuff.”

Here is a picture of David Eddings:

3. i gather that Eddings may have written the entire series with his wife; perhaps she even was the main writer. It would explain the oddly strangled sexuality, which i suppose goes well with what are essentially children’s books. People often criticise Tolkien for almost totally ignoring sex and romantic love, but the story itself simply gives few occasions where men and woman meet, and when they do (Eowyn and Aragorn/Faramir) there is an erotic tension.

For all i enjoy the Belgariad, it is terrible; the defect is not merely the characters or derivative plot – it is rather the Weltanschauung, which is fundamentally American and bourgeois. i find it the most irritating with the women, who are almost all high-handed sneering know-it-alls, much like the women in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books. i didn’t make a note of any particular passage but it’s generally thus:

Hero 1: I just killed a dragon and now I’m covered in dragon’s blood! Agh!

Snooty Cunt: Yes dear, try not to get any on your shirt. I just washed it this morning.

Hero 2: Oh God! I accidentally killed my best friend!

Snooty Cunt: Men! If you must wave your swords about all the time, accidents will happen! Now sit down there while I make supper! Hero 2, go and fetch me water from the river!

Hero 2: I killed my best friend! No!!!!

Snooty Cunt: Yes dear, now stop being self-indulgent and fetch me water or you won’t have your supper and then you’ll cry, I suppose.

i find it more curious that i didn’t loathe the female characters in my teens – i think because Eddings (or his wife) were writing from a young-teenage perspective, in which women are either dirty whores or aloof and scornful goddesses, and so at that time i presumably thought this was realistic.

Now i know better.

They are all dirty whores.

4. Actually, i suppose in a Jungian sense one has to incorporate both masculine & feminine aspects in oneself, and cease to have illusions (either negative or positive) about the biologically-distant aspect. A curious thing: of my favourite Fantasy books, and the ones i would say are actually good books, most are written by women (Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising Sequence, Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy (the rest are shit), and Katherine Kerr’s first 4 Deverry books).

There seems really nothing at all feminine in any of these books, but nor do they seem masculine – they are, rather, human. By odd contrast, Stephen Donaldson’s first 6 Thomas Covenant books (the rest are shit) and Tolkien are indisputable masculine.

5. Here’s another thought – although Fantasy novels should really be timeless, Eddings’ seem to me undeniably of the 80s, just as i can’t imagine The Lord of the Rings coming from before the First World War, or after about the 1970s. i think only Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy feels authentically mythic and so beyond authorial provenance – which makes it the sadder that the later books are, more or less, feminist tracts. Tolkien “cordially disliked” allegory and so though people have tried to read Sauron as Hitler, Nazgül as Nazis, Saruman as Stalin, the Ring as the Atomic Bomb, etc., these are unsatisfactory. In Tolkien, it is rather the case that any power will magnetise evil, and corrupt the good, thus creating a plurality of evil powers seeking the same supremacy. The Scouring of the Shire is a good example of Tolkien’s mythic depths: i think some have likened it to to the post-war ration system but if anything it resembles modern England with ruffians and ne’er-do-wells given power over the peasantry, and inexplicable regulations everywhere, whose only purpose is to intimidate and humiliate. Myth may begin in the present moment, as a disguised allegory, but if it reaches beyond such surfaces it comes to seem prophetic.

6. Eddings is a hamfisted writer though i was amused to note that his bad guys, the Murgos, are a swarthy Eastern race who infiltrate the West in the guise of merchants and then fund revolutionaries to overthrow legitimate monarchs for the sole purpose of creating a useful bloodbath and anarchy, as one sees today in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, everywhere the globalists under Bush and Obama have swung their schlongs. i vaguely thought of the Murgos as Muslims in my youth, but in truth perhaps the Thulls (a brutish Eastern nation, comprising a race of idiots) would be better candidates; and for the Murgos, the destabilisers of nations, the infiltrators, the “regime change” operators – well, more of a tendency one could call neo-liberal or neo-conservative, but i would just label “globalist”.

Eddings is, in spite of all his extreme limitations, not all that bad. He can pace the story well, which is harder than it looks. And he seems to like his characters; they are bathed in an authorial affection. It’s corny but there it is. i doubt i would have got past the first book, had i read it for the first time within the last 20 years, but perhaps because in a sense i grew up with these characters and this story, realer and more interesting and familial than my actual (worthless) teenage life, i find i’d rather re-read these books than some worthy new book about some middle-aged Jewish accountant whose wife cheats on him with his cousin and so he quits his job and eats a bagel with lox in Times Square until a sultry Jewish temptress takes him to the World Series and he gets a home run and in the moment of catching the ball experiences an epiphany about something American.

 

 

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