Masters of Storytelling: David and Leigh Eddings

Belgarath_coverDavid and Leigh Eddings were a fantasy writing couple, the married co-authors of several successful series. While Leigh Eddings is uncredited in many of the early works, she is credited in their later works, and the spousal partnership was referred to as “the worst-kept secret in fantasy.” That, specifically, was written on the cover of Belgarath the Sorcerer, the first Eddings novel I ever picked up. I’m not really sure why, but that introduction has always amused me.

As I read the story of Belgarath, and the Eddings’ other works, I often found myself experiencing the story from a fairly uncommon perspective. How often do you get the story as told by an immortal? Or even a god? It’s my understanding that The Dreamers, which I have not yet read, does this most explicitly, as the protagonists are the gods of their world, but it’s a common thread throughout the whole of their work. It’s an interesting point of view to take, as these divine or semi-divine display very human behaviors, partially because even they are caught up in event bigger than themselves. Which is more than a little daunting for the little mortals, but these are also some very brave mortals.

The best part is showing how much these cosmic beings can care about the “lower lifeforms.” My favorite example is when a being who holds the title of “World-Maker” gets ticked off at a body of religious leaders whose help they need to save the life of a goddess, because they are debating and maneuvering and “talking away the life” of the goddess in question. It does the divine version of scowling (when the Maker scowls, it includes a flashy display of “get off your ass and get to work” that is sure to motivate you) and so they get some results.

Even the greatest beings in the universe are not in control of everything. I remember a conversation between two kings in the latter part of The Malloreon, where one, who is accustomed to being in charge of roughly half of their planet, comments something like, “We are arguably the two most powerful people in the world, yet here we are, being led about by the nose.” Somewhere in close vicinity to this conversation, the other king comments how he has to be careful what he thinks about, because this semi-sentient orb of power he carries around just suddenly started instructing him in how to alter the entire globe like it was nothing, and the first king dryly says, “You know, I always thought we’d be facing each other in battle someday. Do you mind if I miss that appointment?”

These are what show us how human the characters are. They have their relationships, which evolve in numerous ways, and they each have their own approach to solving problems. Most of the Eddings’ work isn’t spent in battle, but in discussion. And these discussions are often poignant and entertaining, as the characters think, and reason, and debate with each other.

That said, the Eddings can capture the devastation of battle brilliantly, with their human, lovable characters suffering losses the audience can feel the weight of. Such as when one man loses a cousin. Another loses a friend, whose greatest pleasure in this life was a single decent meal. A young boy armed only with a flute is murdered in cold blood. To make us feel the loss, whether it be a major or minor character, is no small thing for an author to achieve.

It’s also heartening (and hilarious) when a character finds something more to live for than they had before. Two examples of this:

A berserker who shape-shifts into a bear cannot bear his curse any longer, so he must run himself through with his own blade! That is, until Polgara the Sorceress comments on how she’ll have to present the blade to his unborn son. And the man stops mid-thought, “….son?” She goes on, casually moving to another subject. “….son?” So is he going to kill himself? Not a chance! He has a son!

Another man, who lost his parents a child and lives for killing the barbarians who commit such wrongs against his people, suddenly learns that there is something else he can live for. A young lady, who has long held an unrequited love for him, confesses to him after receiving what she believes to be a fatal arrow wound to the chest. She confesses so she can die in peace. But, small detail, she’s going to be fine. She is so filled with horror at her unintended confession! But this moment is, for the man, the moment he begins to have something truly worth living for.

That second example does touch on a little flaw in the Eddings’ work. For the life of me, though the romantic relationships are well-done so far as the interaction of the men and women are concerned, I can’t figure out how or when or why these characters fall in love with one another. If I hadn’t gleaned from Belgarath the Sorcerer that Polgara and Durnik end up together (rather obvious, since they are married with twin babies), then I would have been caught completely flat-footed when Polgara holds onto her love of Durnik to strengthen her against an evil “god’s” compulsion to be his bride. Okay, actually, I was still caught flat-footed, because there had been no prior indication of this romantic relationship.

If we are aware of such a relationship, we usually come into the story at a time when we can simply be told that at least one half of the coupling already has feelings for the other. There’s only a few instances I can think of where we can see how these relationships develop. My favorite example of that is when a knight who has a certain physical interest in a maid (don’t worry, he’s far too honorable to do anything without consent!) suddenly hears the woman sing. The beauty of her voice strikes him so hard through the heart that he drops a rock on his foot, which he barely notices it. And thus, her conquest of him is pretty much guaranteed.

On a similar note, there is we also don’t really feel much sense of urgency. The main cast almost always survives in its entirety, they have deadlines for their quests which they know they’re going to make no matter what, and the penultimate moment(s) don’t really have anything to foreshadow it, or even much significance outside, “things have now been decided.” So while it’s all enjoyable, there isn’t much suspense.

These points aside, there is a reason why I own copies of most of the Eddings’ work instead of Robert Jordan’s.

I suppose what I’m rambling on about is this:

They produced excellent, personable characters including some who, in other authors’ works, are not always easy for us to relate to. Not a library of perfect works, but certainly enjoyable.

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