Friday, March 14, 2014

Eddings [Novel] Belgarath the Sorcerer

This is Part 11 of my retrospective for The Belgariad and The Malloreon. Please see this blog post for an overview of the retrospective. Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES, AS IN BOTH THE BELGARIAD AND THE MALLOREON.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

The best way to approach these blogs is via your own re-read. If you have not read the entire series yet and plan on doing so, you may want to wait on reading this.




Novel: Belgarath the Sorcerer (1995)
After Eddings finished The Malloreon, he took a break and did The Tamuli, a trilogy that is the sequel series to The Elenium (which he wrote at the same time as The Malloreon).  Those two trilogies are fairly decent, though they copy many of the same elements from The Belgariad and The Malloreon... so if you like these books and are looking for something similar to read, check them out.

Anyway, after that, he returned to the world of Garion and Co. with Belgarath the Sorcerer, an autobiography by Belgarath himself.  I didn't get this book until it came out in paperback (too busy reading other things, like The Wheel of Time), and I was excited to read it.

This is a book that you probably won't enjoy unless you've read both The Belgariad and The Malloreon and liked them.  There's a lot of history in here and it's quite long (over 700 pages), and it does drag in places, particularly around events we're already familiar with.

The Cover
The covers for this novel isn't all that much different than the main series ones.  Characters in the forefront, some creature / silhouette in the background, map behind.  This one is okay, and I do like the depiction of Belgarath here.  I've always pictured someone like Sean Connery as Belgarath, with a short beard (not the long ass one he had on the cover of Enchanter's End Game).  Donald Sutherland is another name I've seen bandied around... he'd be good too.


On this cover we have Polgara and Belgarath on the left, with Beldaran and Riva Iron-Grip on the right.  It works, though not all that exciting.  I do like the glowing Orb on the sword on the right, though.

The more I do these blogs, the more alternate covers I discover... you can see a bunch of them on the David Eddings Wikia.  Some are pretty cool, while others are bizarre.  Like the one with demon wings... what the hell is that all about?  I'd post it here but I couldn't access the picture separately... so check the link!

A fan cover that I really think is cool is this one:

Belgarath the Sorcerer by Narxinba222 on deviantART

It wouldn't let me direct link to this either, so do check it out!

Inconsistencies
Something this book does a lot is contradict the Garion-centric series.  There are already plenty of plotholes, but this book takes it to another level.  The explanation, of course, is that Belgarath is telling events as he remembers them (and he may be embellishing them... he's a storyteller, remember?), whereas the previous series were told by narrators or historians who may have gotten it wrong.

It's a valid way to explain inconsistencies... after the fact.  To most readers I think it's clear that Eddings didn't plan some elements of the story properly.   He contradicted himself in The Malloreon, then explained it away using this device in Belgarath.  That, coupled with the use of Prophecy as an interfering entity, can explain pretty much anything that seems wrong.  Which almost takes the fun out of it if you're a superfan, because then what can you trust?

Anyway, I may point out noteworthy inconsistencies as we go along, but more comprehensive lists can be found on the following pages:

alt.fan.eddings FAQ
The Big List of Eddings Inconsistencies
Wikipedia - Belgarath the Sorcerer

First Person Narratives
Before I get too much into the content, there's something that bothers me a bit with many first person narratives: it's too clean.  A narrative like this is basically Belgarath dictating his life.  Very similar to what Anne Rice does in many of her novels, though in those she'll actually have the person speaking for a good chunk of the novel (constant dialogue, like in Blackwood Farm)... but it's still too clean.

If someone were sitting there and reciting his or her life story - as is the way this book reads - the wording would be different.  It wouldn't be perfect English and they wouldn't remember exactly what people were saying, reciting whole conversations as if from memory.  It's similar to taking an interview from someone, editing out the boring parts and removing the "uhs" or "ums" or "you know what I'm sayings" from their everyday speech so that it's more readable and to the point.

For some reason that bothers me a little.  I think in one of my future novels I'm going to leave the dictated story "unedited" just to try it out.  It would feel more realistic to me.  Eddings actually does do a good job with this novel - it feels like Belgarath's talking to you in many places - but it's still in the back of my mind when I read it.  Maybe it's just me.  If so, carry on.

The Prehistoric World
Belgarath's story begins in the world before the Gods left, when Torak was whole, the Orb didn't exist and the world had yet to be cracked.  Instead of two continents separated by a sea, there was one giant continent where all various races were spread out.  This is deemed the Prehistoric World in the book's lone new map.


Belgarath started as a young man named Garath, who grew up in a village named Gara.  Much of this early story is dull... he's a thief and leaves the village, wanders about and lives with other groups of people, until eventually stumbling across the god Aldur.  He doesn't know the man is a god, and seemingly becomes his disciple by accident (though of course it's not).

Point of interest: Belgarath talks a lot about the "godless" races (remember, Aldur did not choose a people), which basically became the Ulgos, Karands, Dals and Melcenes... the Malloreon ones are never mentioned in the first series, The Belgariad, yet clearly he knew all about them then.  I mean, his fellow disciple, Belmakor, was Melcene!  Same with the cities in Cthol Murgos.  They all knew about this stuff.  Not exactly an inconsistency, I suppose... more of a glaring omission.

We are introduced to the other disciples over time, including two that we've never seen before: Belmakor and Belsambar.  We'll talk about them more later.  Zedar's fall is detailed - nothing really surprising here, though Belgarath remarks many times on the fact that he didn't notice the blatant signs of his betrayal (the Prophecy distracts him, I suppose) - the Orb is stolen by Torak, he cracks the world, yadda yadda...

Point of interest: Eddings throws in a nice explanation of how all the disparate races ended up close together on the western continent.  After the cracking of the world, they fled to the west, congregating together on the western coast, when in the Prehistoric World they used to be more spread out.  It's a nice explanation, though it still contradicts Eddings' own comments on that.

There's also the glaring inconsistency of the Voice of Prophecy speaking to Belgarath.  He acts surprised in The Belgariad when he learns that it speaks to Garion, but here he talks to it quite a bit.

The Pre-Garion World
The next few sections of the book deal with the period of time between the cracking of the world and the birth of Garion, hitting major events like the re-theft of the Orb by Belgarath, Cherek Bear-Shoulders and his sons, the "death" of Poledra, the birth of Polgara and Beldaran, and the Battle of Vo Mimbre.  Most of this stuff you already know and when the details of the events are simply repeats of other events (like the parallel between the trek to steal the Orb and Garion going to kill Torak), it's not particularly exciting.  Some sections are interesting, while some plod on.  Again, this book is more for fans of the main series than anyone.

"The Time of Woe" deals with the period just after the retaking of the Orb from Torak.  Poledra "dies" and Belgarath is left with newborn twin daughters to raise on his own... though it's actually the Twins and Beldin that do a lot of the raising.  Belgarath goes off on his own, wallowing in his sorrow and being the vagabond we all know he is at heart.  He visits a lot of familiar places, experiencing events that seem all too familiar to us from The Belgariad and The Malloreon - the repetition we are used to by now.  Unfortunately this feels like we're going through the motions and this part of the book is slow, but there are interesting sections here and there (like Riva & Beldaran).

The next section is "Polgara," detailing his relationship with her over the years after Beldaran died from a natural lifespan.  It's nothing we don't know already (except maybe how much of a tomboy she was growing up), as their relationship and history is pretty well defined during the main sequence of books.

The final pre-Garion section is "The Secret," spanning the period of time from the Rivan King's assassination to just before Garion's birth.  An interesting thing is how Chamdar - the Grolim who killed Garion's parents, and whom Garion kills in Queen of Sorcery - pops in and out of the narrative throughout the book.  Who knew he had been a thorn in Belgarath's side for so long?

Once again, no earth-shattering revelations or eye-opening tidbits.  Just a somewhat interesting narrative with Belgarath going around fixing things, keeping things on track by ensuring certain people marry, holding the West together, chasing Chamdar, etc.

The Other Disciples
Early in the book we finally get looks at the two disciples of Aldur who never made an appearance in the main sequence: Belsambar and Belmakor.

While it is interesting to finally learn about these two disciples, whom you really only know from seeing their ruined towers on the map of the Vale of Aldur, they are not particularly important to the story.  Overall I was generally underwhelmed by their storylines.


Wanted a picture here to break the endless text...
pretend this is Aldur and his disciples, ok?
From Wikipedia

Belsambar is actually an Angarak, and I wish he had been present in the main series, because that would have been an interesting dynamic to have during this cosmic battle involving the West and the East.  Although we do have Angarak allies throughout the series providing some of that, like Yarblek and Urgit, now that I think of it.  But still... there's definitely more Eddings could have done with this character.

Basically, all we learn is that Belsamar turned on his people after his parents were killed by Grolim knives, and he made his way west, summoned by Aldur.  He was very smart and the others never let him "keep an eye on the world" in the East... they didn't want him going back.  Eventually he becomes depressed after living too long and simply wills himself out of existence.

Belmakor is Melcene and quite practical, just like the Melcenes we meet in The Malloreon.  He's a smart man, has a lot of "very long conversations" with Beldin and came up with the idea for each disciple to have their own tower.  He also likes to call everyone "old boy," which gets annoying extremely quick, especially when Belgarath and Beldin start using it all the time, too.

Anyway, Belmakor ends up killing himself as well.  He had somewhat given up on the world, from what Belgarath tells us.  Perhaps he was too smart and because of it, like Belsambar simply got too bored with living for so long.

Point of interest: Regarding Beltira and Belkira's absence from The Malloreon, it's revealed in this book that they usually stay in the Vale to "guard" it.  There's also the major inconsistency in that they don't finish each others' sentences like they do in The Belgariad.  Eddings used that for the first series, then chucked it aside.  It's somewhat annoying to me.

Gaps of Time
Something that doesn't really get touched on in this book, or put into proper perspective, is the passage of time.  Belgarath is over seven thousand years old.  This book only details perhaps fifty to sixty years of that.  Much of the intervening years in Belgarath's life is glossed over - i.e. it will say something like "I spent a century studying this."

Think about this for a moment.  Many of us won't even live for a century.  For Belgarath, a century - perhaps even a millennium - is worth nothing more to him than a few sentences.  What did he really do all those centuries?  Wouldn't he get bored?  There's only so much you can learn - especially when the world doesn't advance (remember, the dual prophecies basically stagnate progress in this world until the final Choice in The Seeress of Kell).

It makes you wonder.  Did Eddings make the right choice about Belgarath's lifespan?  I can't imagine living for centuries with nothing worthwhile to mention.  Maybe since he knew he would never die, that he didn't rush to do as much as he could... he kind of drifted through life without any worries or sense of urgency.  That's the only way I can look at it.  Otherwise I find it quite unbelievable.


And Belgarath's road goes on and on...
Credit TheFriendlyFiend


Views on Religion
Now you've probably noticed that Belgarath has some strong opinions about religion throughout these books.  He and Beldin constantly remark on the fallacies of other religions and are disdainful of them frequently, especially priests.  Those of Nedra come to mind; he seems to have little patience with Tolnedrans in particular.

What this means, though, is that Belgarath is basically a hypocrite... Belgarath himself is religious, being the first disciple of a god.  Yet others who follow their own religions are sometimes objects of ridicule for him.  I mean, I understand that he has loyalty to his god, but the other gods exist too - and he knows it.  It's not a matter of belief, he is simply of the opinion that his god is best (isn't any religion like that?), and that his personal relationship trumps the organized religious mindset.

While trawling the internet for Eddings-related information I came across a blog post on Lantern Hollow Press that dives into this subject much better than I have.  I agree with the observation that this probably reflects the Eddings's opinion on organized religion.

Hey Girl
For such a long book (much longer than any of the previous volumes), I don't have anything else I want to talk about.  Kind of like how Belgarath ignores centuries of his life.  It's not worth mentioning, just like parts of this book.

Anyway, now that the grumpy father is out of the way, I'll move on to the beautiful daughter.  Next up is the second autobiographical entry in the series, Polgara the Sorceress.  As I mentioned before, I only read that once (when it came out) so I've pretty much forgotten the entire thing.  Let's go see how many centuries of her life is glossed over too, shall we?

Next:

Related Works
Novel - Polgara the Sorceress

Previous:

The Malloreon
Book 5 - The Seeress of Kell
Book 4 - Sorceress of Darshiva
Book 3 - Demon Lord of Karanda
Book 2 - King of the Murgos
Book 1 - Guardians of the West

The Belgariad
Book 5 - Enchanter's End Game
Book 4 - Castle of Wizardry
Book 3 - Magician's Gambit
Book 2 - Queen of Sorcery
Book 1 - Pawn of Prophecy

All maps by Shelly Shapiro