N.C. Harrison discusses David Eddings, the fantasy writer whose approachable, down-to-earth work helped Harrison face many challenges of his own.
I have been a huge fan of fantasy novels for as long as I can remember. Even before I was old enough to read “chapter books,” I remember finding my mom’s copies of Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon, by Raymond Feist, and being enthralled by the descriptions on the back and—especially in the case of the brothers Hildebrandt-illustrated Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks—the paintings on the front. Dragons, dwarves, elves and swords. Y’know, cool stuff. I also watched the Rankin Bass editions of The Hobbit, Return of the King and Flight of Dragons, appreciating each one for different qualities, and even got to see Ralph Bakshi’s remarkable, trippy 1978 rendition of Lord of the Rings. Life was pretty darned good.
The first largish book that I can remember reading was The Hobbit, inspired by yet another viewing of the Rankin Bass version of the same on Disney. I was about ten years old and went mad for it. There was so much more than there had been on screen. I’d like to say that I immediately ran out and read Lord of the Rings, but I took a short break and read Outbreak by Robin Cook and It by Stephen King, first, because I was a truly weird kid. The die was cast and my course was set, though, and I knew I’d be reading about demons and wizards for the long haul.
Now, as I sit here with two completed fantasy novellas (they’ll be published… one day) and about two thirds of a novel (it’ll be finished… one day) I must admit that the books which truly inspired me to move out of being a mere reader and into being a creator, of one kind or another, were probably the Belgariad series by David Eddings. It is one thing to read Tolkien, as a young guy, and feel overawed by what he accomplished but also feel, and probably rightly, that one will never match such majesty and detail in one’s own life. Eddings, however, seemed homier, more approachable. The seams showed in his work, for lack of a better term, and I was able to pull at them and see how things worked. I began by copying his scenes and writing them differently, and then just imitating them. I still am, in a lot of ways.
Luckily, however, I had happened upon a set of novels which reinforced the kind of values that any young man or woman would be right to aspire towards. Garion, our hero, comes from humble beginnings, like so many cliché fantasy protagonists ever since the genre really took off in the last quarter of the twentieth century, but unlike so many others does not ever lose his basic humility and modest outlook on life. Even when he sits on the Rivan throne and finds out that he is a powerful sorcerer, Garion’s chief thoughts are not about how far he has come in the world but to ask, instead, why it was him instead of another. This was probably good reading for a young fellow who was reaching that time in life when the changes and responsibilities are coming fast and furious, because Garion eventually decides, in spite of his desire to live a simple, quiet life, that someone has to do the right thing even if it is difficult.
The Belgariad also provides excellent characters, both men and women, who model those characteristics which any young person might desire to grow up and embody. Although much has been made of Polgara the Sorceress (probably Eddings’ most famous character) and how she operates as a “strong” female character in fantasy without falling into the trap of being indistinguishable from a male character, Eddings also writes men with a great deal to teach. Garion’s companions Silk and Barak, for example, offer the lesson that appearances can be more than deceiving. Barak is a gentle man, in spite of his fierce appearance, and Silk only acts with an acerbic nature to disguise the fact that he cares so much about people. Another companion’s story arc, that of Relg the Ulgo, shows the power of developing compassion for others and not allowing prejudice or narrow mindedness to stand in the way of doing what one knows, in his or her heart, is right. This is the sort of wisdom that cannot be bought with gold.
And so, buoyed by this story—and all those like it, ones about the important things—I moved on to try to write my own. I haven’t put down anything really great yet, but I keep trying. And I will admit that when I heard that David Eddings had died back in 2009, I cried a little bit. He was a good writer and seemed like a good guy… and through his books he’s still helping us to become the same.
 She’s not a swordswoman, ninja or sexy assassin, after all… she’s a cook. In addition, of course, to being the world’s most powerful sorceress. Much could be written about Polgara and Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax.