Sunday, November 29, 2015

Eddings [Reference] The Rivan Codex (1998)

Finally, the last volume in the Belgariad / Malloreon saga (I wish there were an overarching name for the entire thing, but alas).  This is a somewhat unique book, as it's a mix of reference material and essays on the world and writing process.  It would be akin to The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time if Jordan had also explained why he did things the way he did.

Before you continue:
  • This is part 13 of my The Belgariad and The Malloreon retrospective
  • See this blog post for an overview of the retrospective
  • These blogs are most effective with your own re-read of both series

What I Already Knew

Reviews of this book were generally positive, and I was anxious to read it... but in the end I skimmed through most of it, as chunks of it were material I'd already read in the main narrative of The Belgariad and The Malloreon.  Like the "Book of Alorn" that Belgarath recites way back in Pawn of Prophecy - it's almost lifted word by word from this.  Most of the prologues throughout the two series come from these notes.  Which makes sense, considering that much of this material was background made beforehand, to give them a foundation from which to write the story.

There are sections with holy texts for each race, and then sections on the history of each race and country.  These take up most of the book, and I skipped most of it.  Seriously, there are dozens of pages dedicated to the entire succession of Tolnedran Emperors (yes, every single one) - something that I was not the least bit interested in.

The Malloreon Gospels are in here, which I did read, as well as a section at the end from the personal journal of King Anheg, which appears to be set up for the storyline of The Malloreon, as it focuses on the events leading up to it and into the first book, Guardians of the West.

So I probably only read about 1/4 of the book.  All of the racial minutiae I didn't care about.  But it certainly was an interesting look into the amount of preparation that went into creating this series.  As a writer myself, it's always helpful to see how successful authors go about creating and writing in a world.  Although in the end there's no right or wrong way to do it... it's all up to the individual author and how they work best.  I personally have never gone into that much detail regarding a race or people when plotting something.  It would bore me to tears.  I want to get on with the writing!

What I Didn't Know

I had no idea Eddings had such a substantial background in medieval literature.  This is covered in the Introduction of the book, which is the most interesting part of it, though most of it reads like a condescending lecture (more on that below).

Since much of his writing was done pre-Internet, there aren't the typical fansites that crop up while a series is being written, with the inevitable wealth of information you generally can get on a writer in the current Internet age.  So there was very little I knew about his personal life, even now.  He says in the Introduction that he is very private, and that it's going to stay that way.  Mission accomplished, I suppose.

Anyway, Eddings spends a lot of time in the Introduction explaining the roots of contemporary fantasy and how you should respect medieval literature above all (which explains why he was so good at writing "High Style" dialogue - thee and thou, etc).  He also originally intended to do just a trilogy, but Lester Del Rey (the publisher) said it had to be five books due to the length limitations bookstores would impose on them (shelf space = premium).

Eddings then goes on to say that "you're not qualified to write epic fantasy until you've been exposed to medieval romance," which I think most people (including myself) would disagree with.  Maybe 40 years ago, when there weren't many epic fantasies on the shelves, this would be true, but today... not so much, unless you want to be formulaic and boring.  It doesn't hurt to know (I took a medieval literature course in college for my own amusement), and it's certainly influenced modern works such as George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, but necessary?  You can get along without it.

One thing I do agree with, though, and what most writers will tell you, is to write every day, as often as you can, and to toss your early work.  I wrote dozens of short stories and four novels before I decided I had one good enough to publish (Bonebearer).


Most of my theories or thoughts from previous blogs on the series were confirmed here.  I'm only going to discuss the major ones that have always bothered me.

Anachronistic Cultures
Eddings confirms that he deliberately drew from different cultures from across the globe, though some differ from my guesses.  Here's what he said they correspond to:

Sendars = rural Englishmen
Arends = Norman French
Tolnedrans = Romans
Chereks = Vikings
Algars = Cossacks
Ulgos = Jews
Angaraks = Hunnish/Mongolian/Muslim/Visigoth

None of the rest had a specific analog in our world.  I got a few of them right, though, and of course the anachronism is intact, as not all of those cultures/races are from the same time period in our history.

Malloreon Made Up Later
Eddings also confirms that much of The Malloreon continent and backstory was not created until after The Belgariad was done and they had to come up with another story.  Which is what it totally feels like, especially with the contradictions that come up between the two series.

Ideally, you don't need to detail all of the backstory and history in order to write a series.  Sometimes you don't need it until you have to make it up as part of the narrative (which I have done).  However - you should always try to make it fit into what you have so far.  Avoid contradictions and inconsistencies like the plague, as there are plenty of sharp-eyed readers who will gleefully point them out.

The Prophecies Don't Exist
That's right, he never actually wrote out the entire Mrin or Darine Codex - the impetus for much of the story.  As he says, they are a literary device and nothing more, used to occasionally set our characters on a new course of action.  He simply came up with lines as needed.  That's all.

Retrospective Conclusion

So there you have it.  I'm not going to create a separate blog post to "conclude" this Retrospective, like I did for The Wheel of Time, with things like favorite volumes, characters or scenes.  First, because I don't feel it needs one, and second, I want to be done with this Retrospective.  You'll note that I didn't even talk about the cover this time!  Lucky you.

Instead, I'll just wrap things up with the below:

The Belgariad and The Malloreon are not paragons of modern fantasy, but they will always hold a special place in my heart, as they are the first fantasy series I ever read.  I notice so many holes and issues with it now, but they still remain fun and nostalgic for me.  I would recommend them for young readers as a perfect entry into the world of fantasy.  Are you ready?

I'm thankful Eddings stopped doing "honest work" to write these two series.  They had a great effect on my life and my own writing.  Many people may scoff at it these days, but I'll never get rid of my copies, and I'll continue to read it every few years, no matter how old I get.

Online References

One last thing.  Throughout this Retrospective, I've referenced a few Eddings-centric websites.  There aren't many, but if you want to explore sites that actually still exist, here you go:

The David Eddings Wikia
Eddings Chronicles
Guardians of the West
The Eddings Trivia Page

Note that most of the links on the latter two sites are dead.  One is even linked to Geocities!  The content is somewhat outdated as well.  The Wikia site is pretty much the only currently maintained site on Eddings and all his (and Leigh's) works.


Related Works
Novel - Polgara the Sorcerer
Novel - Belgarath the Sorcerer

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