Monday, July 25, 2011

Pulp Fantasy Library: Pawn of Prophecy

I readily admit that I'm not a big fan of post-Tolkien fantasy and books like David Eddings's Pawn of Prophecy are a big part of why I feel this way. It's not this 1982 novel is uniquely bad. Much like The Sword of Shannara, I'm not even sure it's fair to say that the first volume of the five-part "Belgardiad" series is actually bad at all; in my opinion, a better word would be "mediocre." Like Brooks, Eddings took a lot of his cues from The Lord of the Rings, borrowings surface elements of Tolkien's tale to craft what is for me Exhibit A in why nearly every fantasy book I read nowadays was written prior to 1975.  

Pawn of Prophecy is a by-the-numbers epic fantasy that tells the story of a young orphaned boy named Garion raised on a farm by his aunt Pol. Garion's early years, though comparatively idyllic, are nevertheless laden with portent, as Garion often experiences visions of what may be the future, though interpreting them is difficult for him. Likewise, Garion hears a "dry voice" in his head that advises him on the best course of action. Eddings thus makes it clear early on that Garion is no ordinary peasant boy but it is in fact destined for great things over the course of the series.

The nature of Garion's destiny begins to become clearer when a mysterious storyteller arrives at Aunt Pol's farm. The storyteller, whom Garion has seen in his visions beforehand and whom he dubs "Mister Wolf," informs Garion that his life is in danger from the same man who slew his parents and that, to save himself, he must flee the farm immediately. Aunt Pol joins him, as does a local blacksmith named Durnik. As it turns out, the companions are doing more than merely fleeing a threat to Garion's life. Mister Wolf is also interested in finding out what happened to a magical artifact that was recently stolen that, it is hinted, -- wait for it -- pertains to Garion's destiny. The rest of the novel consists of Garion, Mister Wolf, and Aunt Pol traveling the world on this quest, in the process acquiring new information and companions to aid them.

Pawn of Prophecy is pretty unsatisfying on its own, since it's very explicitly part one of a five-part epic. It's also terribly clichéd, filled with all the characters, events, and ideas that one has come to expect from post-Tolkien high fantasy. Yet, I find it very difficult to dislike Pawn of Prophecy. Eddings was not a great writer by any means, but he's readable, especially if you're young and have little experience of either the fantasy genre or more talented authors. And, oddly, the very fact that he incorporates so many fantasy tropes and archetypes into this series makes it cohere better than it really ought to.

Let me stress that, like the Shannara series, I don't count myself a fan of David Eddings books. They're derivative and repetitive and don't really bring anything new to the table. I find it hard to view them as anything more than juvenile literature, which, given that nearly everyone I've ever met who read them did so when they were young, is probably the case. I think there's both a place and a need for derivative literature aimed at juveniles and, judging by the popularity of Pawn of Prophecy and its sequels, I'm guessing I'm not the only one who feels this way -- just don't try to argue that David Eddings (or Terry Brooks, for that matter) produced a "classic" to rival Tolkien or Wolfe.

67 comments:

  1. "...in my opinion, a better word would be 'mediocre.'"

    Exactly my feeling, too, which is why I never read past the first book.

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  2. I found this book mind numbingly boring and couldn't finish it. I also could plow my way thru the Sword of Shannara. But yet I really dug the Dragonlance Chromicles and Legends...all Post-Tolkien fantasy. Must be the AD&D tropes that made it more palatable for me!

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  3. I could not plow my way thru Shannara I meant to type. Mea culpa.

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  4. I would never put much stock in the Belgariad's plot, and even less stock in the Malloreon's, which except for the "Life as a King" section at the beginning is strictly by-the-numbers. In fact, the only unique plot element I can think of in all ten books is the god Mara, who's so upset over the centuries-past genocide of his worshippers that the land under his care has turned into a hellscape.

    But I still like these books, almost entirely because of characters. The fact that two of the godly sorcerers of legend are just grumpy old men. Silk and Barack's bantering. Garion's eventual family dynamic. The drug addicted professional poisoner in The Malloreon being one of the only ones with any manners in the middle of the above. They're more alive (and amusing) to me than any other character this side of the Grey Mouser, which I think is an apt comparison because if Silk wasn't a direct rip-off of the Mouser, I know nothing about Fantasy.

    I think it's worth noting that Eddings was deliberately following the Hero's Journey when he wrote these as an "experiment" but don't mistake that for a defence. If anything, it pushes me toward loathing the books outright, because that excuse has produced more derivative tripe than this, in books, film and games. That Mr. and Mrs. Eddings never bothered to branch out means it's hard to impossible to rise to the defence of the original, since the stories that followed walk blindly into the same traps.

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  5. What I recall most about the Belgariad—and it has been a long time—was enjoying the characters. In fact, I believe that was my first realization that the quality of the other aspects of a story don’t matter too much as long as I like the characters.

    I also loved the psuedo-bibilical “previously in the Belgariad” summary that started each of the other four books.

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  6. That "Errand" kid freakin' drove e nuts.

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  7. I don't really see the lack of originality as all that bad. Also I don't know that it's not well written. All I know is that it is immensely entertaining no matter how many times I read it.

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  8. I did enjoy this as a child, quite a bit, actually. I'm not sure what I'd make of it these days. I do know that regardless of what one might say about the 5 books of the Belgariad, Eddings's later works retread the exact same path in largely the same way. Eddings wrote an awful lot of the same material, over and over, and that's no good for the genre. He even claimed, in one interview, that he never read fantasy because he would be tempted to rip off the other authors.

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  9. In the spring of 1989, I was trapped in a hospital room with angry, racist ex heroin addict and a stack of Eddings novels. I had a cocktail of upper respiratory ailments and could not speak for the fist several days. The roommate who had dropped me off in emergency, promptly got drunk and forgot where he'd left me for five days- even when directly questioned about my whereabouts. Unable to eat, contact my friends and relatives, or escape the web of tubes and wires in which I was ensnared, I had no recourse but to read all of the Eddings books. Thankfully the morphine drip I was on seems to have stripped every last memory of them out of my head. None of what JM wrote above rings any bells at all.

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  10. Eddings is the McDonalds of fantasy lit writers. If you're really, really hungry, take a bite...it is food (of a sort). But if you have the time, look around for a better hamburger joint, there's plenty of places out there.

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  11. Excellent review James, agree 100%.
    Also agree with Badmike's comment that Eddings is the McDonalds of fantasists. Tastes okay initially, but very bad for you in the long run.

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  12. I read Eddings in my early teens. Loved his work at the time but have no desire to reread any of it. the same goes for Donaldson.

    On a similar note I recently read the Sword of Shannara again and was underwhelmed but Elfstones I found enjoyable enough. I really dislike Brooks newer work.

    I also tried reading the first Dragonlance novel again. I got about three chapters in and had enough. It made Eddings or Brooks look amazing in comparison.

    My favourite book from that era is Feist's Magician. I read it again a few months back and love. Nothing very new but done a easy breezy work.

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  13. You know what? I cried when I finished the last book of the Malloreon. I thought it was the last time I'd see these characters who'd become my friends sort of. This was when I was 13 or so (and didn't know there'd be another two thick volumes about Pol and Belgarath) …

    Apart from reading Farmer Giles of Ham and abandoning Lord of the Rings after some 170 pages (I blame the willow tree), this was my first taste of fantasy. And frankly, it was pretty much perfect for me. A knight! A guy who turns into a bear! A dude who's good with horses! An awesome sorceress with a white lock of hair that looks totally cool on all of the covers!

    Eddings and his books get slammed a lot by fantasy fans, most often those who've been a bit older when they read the books. Some of it is well deserved, and some of it is pretty much equivalent to badmouthing apples for not being pears. I'm very glad to that this was a very sensible look at the books, and my thoughts on the book and the series are pretty much the same, but more positive (probably because I was the right age when I read them).

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  14. If you start by reading Tolkien and Grimm and Lewis and Engdahl, Eddings doesn't have much appeal even to a young kid. My mom had wordless picture books from the 50's with more fantasy to 'em. And there are funnier books with more winning characters, too.

    OTOH, even though I found it pretty blah going, I didn't have the fiery hate of a thousand suns for it that some have. I just keep my mouth shut when it's mentioned. (Though calling up the shade of Odin with that Mr Wolf stuff, without following up on it much, is a bit over the top.) I won't stare at you disbelievingly if you don't make opprobrious comments about my library's quirks. :)

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  15. It is interesting that so much of the popular post-Tolkien fantasy features what critic John Clute terms an "Ugly-Duckling" protagonist. Is it inherently appealing to children? Or is it an imitation of Tolkien's Frodo (who doesn't actually fit the Ugly-Duckling criteria)? When did children become the default heroes of modern fantasy?

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  16. I liked the Belgariad when I was younger and agree that all of Eddings works after it were very repetitive. With that said, I'm not the huge Tolkien fan that many other D&D aficionados seem to be. I've always been more attracted to the works of Leiber, Howard and Burroughs.

    The best part of the Belgariad, for me, is that it helped me visualize an extended campaign. I was never able to run one until I was in my early 30s but Eddings work showed me how to make sure that the PCs all had a bit of backstory. By seeing this in his books, I was able to interweave many of my players stories within the overall theme of the campaign. Now, I just look for the day when I have time to do it again.

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  17. Having read the "Dreamers" series by David Eddings, I can tell you with absolute certainty that he has not improved his craft over time.

    The story itself is alright, but his characterization is shallow and uninteresting, and he abandons what would normally make for a compelling and interesting world as background (gods romping around, warring nations with vastly different ideologies and styles, a sinister hive-mind presence) into barely tolerable, blatantly juvenile writing where you saw the result 200 pages before it happened.

    The worst thing about it, honestly, is that everything is so cut-and-dried and easily resolved by chapter that it's like writing by numbers. It's all so... formulaic.

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  18. I readily admit that I'm not a big fan of post-Tolkien fantasy

    Agreed. It would be interesting to see your opinion on George R. R. Martin someday, since he is being called the next Tolkien and compared favorably, by fans anyway.

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  19. It would be interesting to see your opinion on George R. R. Martin someday, since he is being called the next Tolkien and compared favorably, by fans anyway.

    I'm not a big fan, both because, like Robert Jordan, I find his books interminable, but more importantly because I find them too dark and cynical for my tastes. I don't deny that he's a talented writer, but what he chooses to write about just doesn't appeal to me.

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  20. "It is interesting that so much of the popular post-Tolkien fantasy features what critic John Clute terms an "Ugly-Duckling" protagonist. Is it inherently appealing to children? Or is it an imitation of Tolkien's Frodo (who doesn't actually fit the Ugly-Duckling criteria)? When did children become the default heroes of modern fantasy?"

    THAT is a really, really good question...

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  21. I started reading Eddings' stuff with the Elenium series - the one about the knight, Sparhawk. The fact that it didn't start out being a series about a young hero destined for "greatness" and instead has a grizzled knight as its protagonist was kind of refreshing at the time in the fantasy landscape. Here was a bunch of guys who would be considered medieval "professionals" solving the crisis.

    The series certainly got more derivative and repetative after the first book, but it gave me more respect for him than the Belgariad ever did. Frankly, it's the one series I probably have been able to get through by Eddings.

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  22. I find [George RR Martin] books interminable, but more importantly because I find them too dark and cynical for my tastes.

    Ah yeah, the trap of many fantasy writers. It misses the point of what made JRR so appealing to so many. One could say it's Victorian-optimist in tone, Modernist style and Romanticism. GRRM seems to "twist" expectations of these elements to keep readers engaged, which results in a nightmare vision like a fun house mirror.

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  23. I give credit to Eddings for one detail: Every once in a while, the reader would be reminded that the barbarous/evil race was not populated by orc/goblins/other-killable-beasties, but humans, just like the heroes.

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  24. I only read them because one of the ladies at the local bookstore said the author would come for a signing. I read them, he never showed, I felt robbed.

    James: Have you ever read Dennis L. McKiernan's The Iron Tower trilogy? Of the Tolkien clones I find these books the best of the lot.

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  25. I’ve read the Belgariad & the Mallorean several times. Not great literature by any means, but certainly an entertaining enough saga. As several people have noted, Eddings has a knack for creating characters you can become quite attached to, and I especially enjoy the established repartee between them.

    I find Eddings’ later Elenium series to be a more interesting and innovative work. As Servo alludes to above, the protagonists are a group of experienced and deadly knights, Eddings’ version of warrior-monks of the various medieval crusading orders.

    One concept from the Belgariad that I found particularly useful from an RPG perspective was his handling of the titular prophecy. The whole series is closely tied to the heroes trying to interpret and fulfill the demands of a detailed and exacting prophecy; the current parts apparently revolving around Belgarion, and if successfully carried out should lead to the defeat of the forces of evil. On the other hand, the forces of evil have a competing prophecy they are simultaneously trying to bring to fruition; so the possibility that the heroes’ prophecy will fail is built right into the foundation of the series.

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  26. "The worst thing about it, honestly, is that everything is so cut-and-dried and easily resolved by chapter that it's like writing by numbers. It's all so... formulaic."

    That, and the quintessential child-hero, are the reasons why I didn't read more than the first series (and the only reason I read that many was a girlfriend *really* wanted me to read them).

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  27. I still enjoy his original 4 series a lot, even if they are very Sword in the Stone generic.

    He filled them with interesting characters, snappy dialogue, and made the cliches work.

    Its one of those things- I don't see any Tolkien at all in any of his works. Unless questing and having a magic item are inherently Tolkien.

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  28. I read the Belgariad in my early twenties. The only thing I remember really well, is that I thought the climax was underwhelming, unimaginative and lacking in adroitness, overall.

    Feeling cheated, never read anything else by the author.

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  29. I actually liked it and I certainly thought that the world building and the characters were very engaging. I thought it quite different and a step up from the standard Tolkien rip offs of the time. Sure, the story takes quite a nosedive and is essentially strip mined into pap in the subsequent books after the first (5 book) 'trilogy', but I find this to be a common problem in the genre.

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  30. McKiernan, whooeee, yuck...

    The first trilogy I read was the most blatant LoTR take off I had ever read.

    Then I found out it was a blatant take off because he had written a sequel to LoTR, but it couldn't be published as such, so he had to write a prequel to his sequel...

    Frank

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  31. I would rather read McKiernan's version than Tolkien's version.

    There, I said it.

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  32. Read the Belgariad as it came out in the early 1980s and enjoyed it. Realized as I was reading the first book in the Mallorean series that I was almost literally getting Pawn for Prophecy all over again and stopped buying Eddings.

    Hesitant to decry the book more than than since it, like Shannara, was absolutely instrumental in creating the very idea of Extruded Fantasy Product that nearly all of our various fantasy RPG settings respond to (either by adapting or explicitly rejecting). Again, an important work in establishing fantasy as a marketable commodity: this allowed for the publication of lots of crap, but it also ensured that good books and series would have a home as well. Without the Donaldsons and Eddingses and Brookses making the shelves groan, I don't think we would have seen much of the McKillipses and McKinleyses and Friedmans.

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  33. Is there a certain irony that so many people playing clones of an old fantasy RPG have such a distaste for clones of an old fantasy novel series?

    It is interesting that so much of the popular post-Tolkien fantasy features what critic John Clute terms an "Ugly-Duckling" protagonist. Is it inherently appealing to children? ... When did children become the default heroes of modern fantasy?

    Personally, I'm waiting for someone to write a novel where the young protagonist discovers he is not the one whispered of in the prophecies of Blah bl'Ahblah, that he's just some guy struggling to get by while the chosen one is actually from the next village over.

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  34. Well, according to Peter Graham, "the golden age of science fiction is twelve" which suggests that the golden age of fantasy is 13...

    I'm with PCB in waiting for a fantasy novel where the protagonist is not "the chosen one."

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  35. It's not quite what PCB was asking for, but Lynn Flewelling's Bone Doll Twin at least has the grace to ask what the cost of ensuring the truth of prophecy is--i.e., how many bones end up under the foundation of the destined hero's utopia? Is the loss counterbalanced by sufficient gains? Or is such loss always incommensurate? The series that follows from Bone Doll Twin doesn't quite live up to the promise of the first book, but the first book is a real doozy.

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  36. There are quite a few video games where the Hero isn't actually the chosen one. They tend to be the ones no one cares about, and I don't much think that's a coincidence. People want the same thing. There's nothing wrong with that.

    Still, I can think of a few examples straight off the top of my head. Unfortunately, they tend to be ones where you end up saving the day anyway - I remember them because I find that more appealing. Sora from Kingdom Hearts isn't the chosen one, he's just a kid with a good heart that's determined to do the right thing, until he fills the role better than the real chosen one. Benjamin of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest finds out that the entire prophecy was a lie the Dark King created to see if anyone would be stupid enough to try. Stuff like that.

    But my favourite is Guardian's Crusade for the PSX. You're not the chosen one. You're just some far-away benevolent dragon's babysitter, and I don't think your character's particularly pleased about it, either. The trouble is that the prophecy was about killing the wrong bad guy. You kill the one, your buddy kills the one in the actual prophecy. This one's doubly good, though, because not only do you meet the real chosen one, but you meet another shmuck that thinks he is, too... and so does everyone else. The game's light-hearted, but it's not a parody: the scene where the shmuck and his allies are killed one by one is actually kind of distressing for a cartoonish PSX game.

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  37. "My favourite book from that era is Feist's Magician. I read it again a few months back and love. Nothing very new but done a easy breezy work."

    I haven't re-read Feist but I did go through a phase when I was starting to really read fantasy in which he was probably my favorite writer and Magician does seem like it might be the zenith of the "farm/kitchen/stable boy with a great destiny" slice of the genre. The video games were pretty good, too.

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  38. I sued to devour Edding's books in my teens. I tried returning to series about ten years and was defeated by an enormous sense of how vapid the plot, the exposition and even the characters were.

    Even as thirteen year old I was able to recognise that every single series of his books had the exact same story. Exactly the same. Only the names had been changed. Once you got past the tweaked character backgrounds it quickly became apparant that you were reading about the exact same group of characters....again!

    At the time I didn't mind so much, but as an adult I find it teeth-grindingly, back-board scratchingly irritating.

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  39. The Belgariad, I admit, is something of a guilty pleasure of mine. Of course I picked it up when I was young, which allows me to reread the books with the tint of nostalgia. The Pawn of Prophecy I still find enjoyable, but to be honest I cannot remember much from the later books that wasn't either a major event or full of sexual overtones (guess how old I was when I read the books *rolls eyes*). I am currently looking in to picking up copies of the books I am missing.

    I do distinctly recall, even despite my age, being disappointed with the climax of the entire series; seriously, a five-book build-up and that was the best you could come up with?

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  40. I probably could've liked this book a few years before I actually read it, which was just after I'd gotten very much into the series of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books that White Wolf released in the '90s. Silk being a paper-thin ripoff of the Mouser irritated me to no end. Back in middle school with scads of Dragonlance novels I might have enjoyed it. In high school, when I was reading Leiber and Moorcock... it didn't stand a chance.

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  41. The Belgariad is also a guilty pleasure but more often the later three books of the Elenium.

    Interestingly, my introduction to Fantasy did not consist of Tolkien but rather the illustrated version of Mallory's L'Morte D'Arthur. By the same token I had the comic book version of the Trojan War (which i loved) and the Odyssey (which I did not understand at the age of 10). This of course led me to Bullfinch's Mytholgy (I already had an illustrated Aesop).

    A disastrous encounter with Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy led me to the calmer waters of Tolkien. I can recall reading the original bootleg version of the American edition (although I was distracted by having read the Harvard parody Bored of the Rings before).

    Needless to say my parents had eclectic tastes - there was a glass closed bookshelf beside the fireplace where they kept the "adult reading" and while it was never explicit the sense we had was that those books were off-limits. So of course my brother and I drawn like flies. There was nothing more racy than Somerset Maugham, R.F. Delderfield or Bernard Malamud. Imagine my disappointment when Herman Melville's book did not live up to its title. There was a large collection of classical works in that bookshelf that we kept mining to find something - to our eventual betterment.

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  42. I found the Belgariad in my school library when I was in 7th grade. I read that whole series, if I recall... but damned if I can remember anything but the characters. I loved Silk and Mandorallen and all the rest, but I don't remember any of the conflicts, villains, or anything else... so I'll have to agree with the other comments about Eddings being sort of forgettable fantasy, but one populated with highly likeable characters.

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  43. I read the five books of this series. I loved some things about them and disliked other things. Overall, it was ... okay.

    I don't think, given when it came out, that it's all that fair to call it derivative. Derivative of what? Lord of the Rings? Maybe somewhat. Shannara? I don't see that many similarities. Most fiction is derivative to a certain point. Lord of the Rings is highly inspired by ancient myths and stories: the One Ring, the elves, the dwarves, etc. Is it derivative?

    Also, I don't think most modern fantasy fiction is Tolkienesque. Sure, a goodly amount is, but not most. Perhaps you are not looking far enough afield. Or you have a wide definition of derivative, which is fair.

    I read a lot of pre-1980 fantasy fiction myself, because I like it. But some of it is not original either.

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  44. The main thing I got out of this series once I found out that the two old immortal characters were based off David and Leigh Eddings, I thought: Wow, he must think his wife is a shrew!

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  45. @Jeffery Fleming "When did children become the default heroes of modern fantasy?": It started when we thought it OK to recruit children as child soldiers into our religious cults to fight our holy wars.

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  46. James, how do you feel about Guy Gavriel Kay? The Lions of Al-Rassan? Sailing to Sarantium?

    George R. R. Martin disputes that mantle people keep trying to lay on him of being the heir to Tolkien. He thinks there is no true heir to Tolkien because Tolkien did two things very well: he commanded language because he was a poet and consummate stylist (in his peculiar, Old English way), and he had the ability to pull together settings and characters into complex but compelling plots that held together (much like how Beethoven astonished everyone by vastly expanding the length of the symphony as an art form and yet holding it all together successfully). That is, Martin says Tolkien mastered both epic language and epic scale, and he's not convinced anyone working in fantasy has achieved proficiency in both things at once nearly as well since.

    Martin says he's one of the writers today working on the epic scale half of the picture, but when it comes to epic language he bows before Guy Gavriel Kay.

    As for Eddings, I'm glad his work speaks to some people - every artist needs to be able to find his audience - but he doesn't work for me. I couldn't get through the first book.

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  47. James, how do you feel about Guy Gavriel Kay? The Lions of Al-Rassan? Sailing to Sarantium?

    I don't count myself a fan, mostly because I think his pseudo-historical fantasies would have been more interesting if they'd have been straight historical novels. But I readily admit that he's a fine writer, even if his stuff doesn't do much for me personally.

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  48. Mouser and Silk don't seem to have that much in common to me at all other than being sorta rogue-y.

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  49. I know that I read these, but they made no impression on me. I can't remember one specific thing about them. My impression is that I thought at the time that they were, at best, workmanlike.

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  50. Do you have any URL for Martin speaking about Kay ?

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  51. I think when "The Nit-pickers Guide to Fantasy Land" was written, Eddings (along with Fiest) were the writers most referenced :)

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  52. As I wrote nearly two years ago I think it is inappropriate and unfair to lump Eddings in with Brooks for a couple of reasons:

    1. Eddings had the same education background as Tolkien: medieval literature. As such the similarities with Tolkien are much more organic that Brooks. Having stewed in much of the same literature, although in slightly different forms: Eddings clearly spent more time on High Middle Ages romances while Tolkien was the Beowulf scholar, it is not surprising they used similar forms.

    2. Brooks clearly tried to ape the LotR down to the multiple race party.

    In fact, I take issue with "borrowings surface elements of Tolkien's tale" especially if used in comparison with Brooks. As I said, Edding's background was in medieval literature. His construction of a quest based fantasy is as logical as your Dwimmermount being a science-fantasy swords and sorcery fantasy without you being accusing of stealing surface elements of Howard et al. You simply immersed yourself in the literature and what came out, came out.

    In fact, the differences between the Eddings's world and Brooks's give the best evidence of independent development from the same sources as Tolkien than a Brooks style imitation. Brooks reads like he had a checklist of elements: elves, dwarves, and so on. Eddings's also reads like he had a checklist but more likely from the later insanely extended medieval romances like the abuse done to Amadis of Gaul.

    This is not to say Eddings's doesn't owe some debt to Tolkien. I just think it's important to note he did go beyond Tolkien and incorporate elements of Tolkien's sources and ones Tolkien himself used less than others.

    While I don't consider Eddings a better writer than Brooks and was very disappointed in his post Belgariad writings I will defend him against the "Tolkien rip-off" accusation. Tolkien looms large and few writers will match his singularity of vision (if for no other reason than it went through two decades of refinement prior to writing LotR) but authors who go beyond Tolkien, be it stops at Morris and Dunsany (the world has changed enough that I think LeGuin's dictum about Dunsany can be lifted) or trips all the way back to Amadis, Mallory, Spenser, or even all the way back to the Sagas should be recognized for doing the research.

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  53. As you stated in your review, this series certainly filled the craving for "more fantasy" my Tolkein- and D&D-addled 12 year old brain demanded back in 1982. I still have them, sitting on a bookshelf in my basement. I have vague memories of also enjoying the Malloreon series, although I could recognize that much of the plot was recycled (not another quest featuring a talented youth!). What can I say? I had much more time back in the 1980's, much less cynicism, and no one around to really guide me to reading the pulp fantasy "classics" that are so often recommended and touted on this site and others.

    Pre-Internet, you made do with what you had at the local bookstores and libraries, often while enduring the scornful looks of the adults running those establishments when you asked after certain authors or books...

    ;-)


    Ironically, the burnout on this "quest" theme is why I resisted friends' recommendations to read Feist's "Magician" and Orson Scott Card's "Ender" series for quite some time!

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  54. On this question: "When did children become the default heroes of modern fantasy?"

    I might think to point to two (rather obvious) things: The Hobbit/LOTR (with its child-statured protagonists), and the Sword in the Stone/Once and Future King.

    In each case, note that the former part (in-story) has a much lighter and more playful tone -- and was (therefore?) also made into a widely-seen animated movie in the 60's and 70's. The latter "darker/adult" part didn't get the same as-successful treatment. And as we all know, a movie has exponentially greater visibility and therefore "sticking power" in the public eye. Combined with the business-case precedence, I bet these combined to fix child-centered fantasy as the model in the minds of many viewers/ readers/ writers/ publishers/ producers.

    Was thinking about this a bit: Siskoid's blog on Sunday discussed how many "sticky" elements we associate with Superman first originated in the animated cartoon in the 40's:

    http://siskoid.blogspot.com/2011/07/reign-of-supermen-277-fleischers.html

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  55. I think the best thing about the Belgariad (and most of Eddings' other works), is the witty back-and-forth between the characters. It's entertaining enough to keep you interested for the entire series. I really enjoyed the Belgariad as a teenager. Re-reading it as an adult, I found it to be frustratingly repetitive. Eddings' other books are even worse - every character fits into a neat archetype, and the dialogue between them starts to be very similar after a while. Belgarath is Sparhawk is Althalus and so on.

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  56. "...think when "The Nit-pickers Guide to Fantasy Land" was written..."

    Oops, I meant "The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land" by Diana Wynne Jones...

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  57. For those interested in fantasy where the protagonist is not the hero, I recommend Lloyd Alexander. As I remember it, the male lead is a pig-boy who is convinced he is the hero; but he's simply along for the ride. I don't know that it's age-appropriate for adults, as I read it in high school and even then, I felt I was coming to it a little late. I'm a little surprised that no-one has mentioned it before now, though.

    I feel the need to defend the Belgariad. I understood it to be a deliberate experiment (on the part of Eddings) to see if he could create a bestseller by including as many archetypes and mythic hooks as he could. I read the final book in that quintet when I was, 15 I think, and I cried when characters I had known died at the final battle. Yes much of the book was trope and cliche, but that made it more accessible to those who were not as familiar with the genre as we are. I put it to you that those of us who read and post here, and by extension our reading habits, are not statistically representative of the bulk of the people who read this book.
    How many people do you think have read Fritz Leiber? Or Gormenghast? Or even Tolkein, before the movies started coming out? As beloved as they are, the first two have made little to no impression on the greater popular culture, and 10 years ago, most people who were not already fantasy fans (that is, pre-selected to support and agree with us) had as much knowledge of LotR as they had of pre-WWII Europe. They knew it existed, they knew battles had been fought, but they didn't feel that it made much difference to their day to day lives. Against this backdrop, claims that Eddings work is derivative ring hollow to me.
    Certainly, it is derivative, but what does that matter if the reader has had no exposure to the work from which it derives?


    I apologize for the length of my reply, but I was frustrated by what I felt as a rising level of elitism. The primary function of stories is to entertain. Let them do so, or fail, on their own merits. "A is better than B" does not equal "B is bad".

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  58. Guillaume JAY, It's not online. Martin spoke in person when he was guest of honor at Foolscap a few years ago.

    Part of what I love about the Foolscap convention is that because it's deliberately small (capped in the bylaws) it guarantees you get real time with the guests of honor and get to have a kind of candid conversation that is easier in the smaller, more intimate setting.

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  59. Re: when did children become the default heroes of modern fantasy?

    Well, I’m not sure children/teens are the “default heroes” of modern fantasy, if modern fantasy as a whole is considered, but the “child as hero” is certainly a distinctive feature of a strong sub-genre in fantasy.

    Clearly a lot of fantasy is written explicitly with a teen audience in mind; in those cases the child or teen hero makes perfect sense – a protagonist the readers can easily identify with. I remember my late mother being quite delighted to discover that in Elizabeth Moon’s “Hunting Party” and sequels, the protagonists were a pair of “older” women, one middle-aged and the other distinctly elderly; “finally characters I can identify with,” she said.

    The idea of the child or teen hero certainly isn’t new; it is after all the defining feature of the entire “Bildungsroman,” or “coming-of-age” genre. Critics date the Bildungsroman genre – where we see the protagonist grow and mature from youth to adulthood - back to the late 18th Century, but its roots really go back much further to European folktales, where the young hero – often the youngest son – sets off into the world to find his fortune. It’s probably not surprising then, especially given the youthful character of much of the intended audience, that the fantasy genre has a strong current of Bildungsroman flowing through it.

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  60. Add me to the list of Elenium fans. I really loved that trilogy and its characters. I liked the idea of basing the story around a group of veteran professional warriors instead of the underdog hobbit/farm hand. I liked that there were several times that the knights had the upper hand and that instead of being a lopsided underdog battle it was often more of a see-saw chess game.

    The only part I didn't care for was the ending, which felt cheap. That's often the problem when you have an all powerful macguffin like the sapphire rose. It's also why I couldn't get through the Tamuli. Story is done, let's not rehash it.

    Conversely I could not get through the Pawn of Prophecy. I'd read Tolkien too many times, I didn't need to read it in five books. But I had several friends who loved it, many of whom were new to fantasy, so it did good work introducing people to the genre. For that I'll give it props.

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  61. This review sums up my feelings about the series pretty accurately now, but as a kid, I remember being obsessed with the series.

    But even I thought the Mallorean was pretty lame being, as it was, an exact reproduction of the first 5 books. I remember looking at the map on the 'new' continent and thinking "Will they go through every province/country?" as was done in the Belgariad. Half way through book 2 (7?) the answer became pretty obvious.

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  62. I first read them in my twenties and loved them. I loved the banter between the characters, the different cultures they all came from. The bad guys had to sacrifice so many humans a day, and pregnant women with 2 beating hearts messed up the count, so they were not sacrificed. As a result women stayed pregnant as much as possible giving rise to this vast horde of an army available. I thought that was a brilliant idea. I loved all the prophecy stuff. The second series was pretty similar, but I must say, once I was drawn in I loved that too. I really don’t understand why Eddings gets such a bad rap. Other than being high fantasy, with a save the world plot, I don’t really see what he stole from Tolkien, compared to say Brooks.

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  63. I read this and its sequels when I was about 20. I thought it was OK then, at least more entertaining than my college textbooks. I liked some of the characters and their banter, even though I was put off by their being obvious archetypes/stereotypes for their individual cultures. And the party had to visit each and every one of the cultures of the land, collecting supporting cast as they went.

    I didn't really want to read the Mallorean, but picked it up anyway. Somewhere in the 1st or 2nd book, one of the characters noticed that they were doing the exact same thing as the last batch of stories. I think that's when I tossed it aside, and never went back.

    I guess I could say it wasn't a good plot, but it was nicely polished.

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  64. I finished reading Pawn of Prophecy about two weeks ago and I have to agree with James, the book was mediocre at best. The plot early on just drags and drags, there's barely any action whatsoever, and while I didn't have to force myself to keep reading, I don't think it'll be on my reread pile anytime soon.

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  65. I was forced to read these books by a girlfriend at the time. How I wish I could have those days of my life back. Eddings is a talentless hack.

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  66. Doesn't the story go that Eddings actually researched the tropes and archetypes of epic fantasy and kind of lumped it all together on purpose, almost as if this were an analysis of the style and method?

    And for the critic of George RR Martin, perhaps his world view more appropriately reflects our world view than than JRR Tolkein did or that of the authors of the burgeoning category of epic fantasy from the 80s?

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