#Secondthoughts is a series that Debs and I are starting to explore writing: the journey of, reactions to and reflections on writing. We’re hoping that we’ll be joined by others along the way. For this inaugural one, I’m going to reflect on a body of work that has probably had a huge effect on how I think of Fantasy novels and the second thoughts I’m having now that I’ve got my eye in as an editor (day job, mainly) and now that I’m getting serious about my non-job writing.
David Eddings, if you’ve not come across him before, is one of the big names in fantasy. He has written about not one, not two, not three but four separate fantasy realms. Up front, I’m going to say that it later transpired that his wife had a big hand in co-writing almost all of the books he wrote, but when they were starting out the advice was that a husband and wife team/multi-authors would be problematic, so only his name appears on the books.
I started reading the Eddings’ books when I was in my early to mid-teens – I think that’s probably true of most of the readership. They were still writing into the early part of the new millennium, but by then I’d moved on for all sorts of reasons, so I didn’t get round to reading the last series, The Dreamers. I might one day, but the TBR pile is pretty big (and growing). Anyway, when you’re that age, the Fantasy trope is pretty much a given, especially if there’s a bit of magic, some sword play and the world to save. And the Eddings oeuvre was pretty readable: a friend loaned me the first four books in one series (The Belgariad) and I was itching for the final book, so when I stumbled over a copy in bookshop I bought it and read it straight through twice in less than 24 hours. I think I got the entire second series (The Mallorean) for a birthday and read the lot over half-term. There were a fair few summers when I would undertake to read the whole lot through again. It was a similar story (excuse the cliche) a few years later when I started on the Elenium and the Tamuli.
What really works for me about these series is the world-building: whole nations are involved, in some cases whole continents. There are numerous cultures, some of which are intimately bound up with their local geography and geology. There are some brilliant and memorable characters and, as I write this, in my mind’s eye many of the scenes from the novels are evoked and play out.
The journey of my second thoughts begins with a stand alone novel, the Redemption of Althalus. At university I was reading for a degree, spending a bit too much time on archery and reading a lot of new things (I really shouldn’t have worked my way through six books of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant in one semester). A few years along and one of my friends at archery was also a big reader and a big fan of Eddings and several other of my favourite authors. (Bonus points if you know why she was put out when I proposed a toast to the Walker Evans Memorial Society, whilst minding the barbecue…). She was a big fan of RoA. I’d been putting it off, I can’t remember why now, and even then it took me quite a few years to get round to reading it, but I eventually did, in part because of the remembered recommendation. It was absolute tosh, and not the good kind. I think that my friend had latched onto a particular character, and forgiven the book a lot of its faults. There are some really good ideas in there, but my guess would be that the book did not have an editor, or if it did, one that couldn’t stand up to the writer.
Roll on a couple more years and I decided to sit down and reread the Belgariad. I couldn’t do it. The magic, the glamour was gone. I found the writing verbose and clunky, it didn’t have the same flow. Maybe I’ll give it another try in a few years. We’ll see.
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So, my second thoughts on the writing of David and Leigh Eddings: there are some really great ideas in there, and if you are an aspiring writer, particularly of Fantasy, you can learn a lot about world building. I’d also suggest that you can learn a lot about writing – clearly they were doing something right, given the number of copies sold and the significant fortune left to charity when they died. But I also think that there are lessons to be learned about how not to write. For example there might be a couple of tropes that aren’t used, but I’m not sure what they are off hand…