After much thought and contemplation both on and off of twitter, I have decided that today’s blog post will be a rallying cry; encouraging YOU (yes, YOU!) to read my favourite book series of all time. And yes, that’s even with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings in the mix.
So, let me first present some background information. The Belgariad is a five-book fantasy epic that was written by David Eddings (with a lot of help from his wife Leigh) between 1982 and 1984. This makes these books part of the traditional wave of medieval fantasy that seemed to sprung up after Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings. Some readers may view the books as cliched. I think that The Belgariad is anything but, and is in fact a glorious example of a book which helped to create the Fantastical tropes you see in pulp fantasy fiction nowadays. After he and his wife had written the series, they continued in creating a five-book sequel series: The Mallorean, and two prequels that were written between 1987 and 1998.
Now, you may be considering that a ten-book fantasy series is a fearsome opponent, but you have no need to fear. The Belgariad is actually quite easy to read quickly, and I can finish the first series in a week. The Mallorean can take a little longer, as the text is deeper and more sophisticated than the original five, but you can still read all ten books in a fortnight or so. I forced the book club which I run at school to read the first book in the series last year. Those who only read the first book thought it was good, but the guy who read the whole series fell in love with the world and characters like me.
So, what is The Belgariad about?
The blurb on my copy of The Belgariad: Pawn of Prophecy (the first and shortest book in the series), reads:
Long ago, the evil God Torak fought a war to obtain an object of immense power – the Orb of Aldur. But Torak was defeated and the Orb reclaimed by Belgarath the sorcerer. Garion, a young farm lad, loves the story when he first hears it from the old storyteller. But it has nothing to do with him. Or does it? For the stories also tell of a prophecy that must be fulfilled – a destiny handed down through the generations. And Torak is stiring again…
The Belgariad takes place in a well-lived world, with a plethora of characters and cultures appearing throughout the series. In each book, the novel distinguishes between the different lands while several maps inside the books also help to lower the info dump. Some of the nations that you would encounter throughout the series include: Cherek – who are essentially Vikings with bigger boats, Tolnedra – who bare similarities to the Roman Empire, the ever-warring Arendia – which sets itself in the medieval era; and the Angaraks – who could be compared to Far East Asia. The sole negative point about the books is that the attitude towards the Angaraks has not aged well. At the beginning of the series, there is a widespread paranoia about the Murgo (a branch of the Angarak culture) traders who are moving throughout the west. Later on the in the series, and we are effectively told that each and every Murgo is a spy – which seems a bit unfair, (though Eddings would correct this in The Mallorean).
So, why should YOU read The Belgariad? The Belgariad is the only book series to which I can commit myself to reading once a year, every year. I first read the books when I was ten or eleven, around the same time I first read The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. While Tolkien’s writing style makes Eddings’ look like Fifty Shades of Grey, The Belgariad is written using the vocabulary that the main character, Garion, would use (and as he is fourteen when the adventure begins, we can’t assume him to be highly literate). The Belgariad is also re-readable because of the characters.
There are not a greater ensemble of entertaining characters than there are in The Belgariad. Garion is a more interesting protagonist than the vast majority of literary characters, as you seem him evolve throughout the series (while his awkwardness adds a very good sense of comic relief). Mister Wolf and Aunt Pol are also surprisingly funny as Garion’s much older guides, and the two’s constant father-daughter bickering is a delight to read. From the second book, you will also fall in love with the character of Ce’Nedra; but the scene-stealing award for best guy in the series goes to Silk. Silk counts spying, thieving and being an acrobat among his skills, and counts being the nephew to the King of Drasnia as an unfortunate occurrence which is kept as a hobby. The ‘banter’ between him and Mister Wolf is legendary. Silk comes with at least a hundred quotes of genius:
“I didn’t particularly feel like being arrested, so I argued with the soldiers a bit. Several of them died during the argument – those things happen once in a while. Unfortunately, one of the casualties was Taur Urgas’ oldest son. The king of the Murgos took it personally. He’s very narrow-minded sometimes.”
I would also say that The Belgariad features the best magic/sorcery system that I have seen in a book. Mister Wolf calls it the will and the word; and the process is elaborated on as the series progresses. Sorcery isn’t overused or starved of mentions, and Mister Wolf is more than capable of turning into his namesake.
I dare you to find a book that uses a more appropriate tone than The Belgariad. David Eddings doesn’t try to make the story funny; and it doesn’t use humour and fantasy in a tongue-in-cheek way that someone like Terry Pratchett might. The world and characters that Eddings has formed don’t make comedy on their own. A lot of the comedy comes from the different relationships between the characters. If you liked the banter between Legolas and Gimli in The Lord of the Rings films then you’d probably love The Belgariad; but Eddings doesn’t shy away from making big statements. Using his engaging tone and narrative voice, he is capable of evoking laughter on one page and tears on the next as the characters also encounter slavery, human sacrifice and cannibalism.
The Belgariad may rarely appear on the lists of best fantasy series of the 20th century, but I think that it is a cult gem. You probably wouldn’t want to write an essay on the books, but they are a tremendous yarn. The second time I read the series, I was in floods of tears by the last pages of The Mallorean.
Having read this article, I am now encouraging you to get your hands on a copy of The Belgariad (try and read at least the first two books before making your mind up; as Pawn of Prophecy is incredibly short and simple) so that we can have a discussion about your thoughts of the series. If you’ve read the books before, leave a comment – am I right? Or am I completely wrong? (I would opt for the former)